Getting used with M-E while using of film M Leica cameras was keeping me with one question. Prints? I’m not so overwhelmed with negatives scans cheap prints on thermal paper and high quality lab prints comes with impressive price tag. This is why I learned at home bw darkroom printing.
M-E bw photography has grown on me quickly. No DNG huge and slow to handle files are needed, just switch it to bw JPEG1 and 10 MP size is enough. I tried it first with ISO400 and lower, same principal as for maximum quality in color. Results were often boring. Typical digital lifeless black and white. Well, free and official download of Silver Efex Pro 2 available from Google is very sufficient tool to get more juicy low ISO Black and White M-E files for viewing at computer screen. It all simplified after I decided to use ISO1600-2500 for bw. Low light or indoors photography – not a problem! Results looks better and more natural looking for film user, darkroom printer as me. BW SOOC JPEG1 files with big enough resolution for regular sized prints, yet, small sized files. Fast to write, lots of space if any space taken on 16GB memory card, easy to transfer and edit, process on computer without multi-dozen CPU cores and water cooling radiators. Just our dusty seven years old desktop HP with Win 7 which I “confiscated” from family room after getting new compact and power sufficient PC for family use. Well, it is old HP desktop, but with recently added 30$ additional video card in it :). And Adobe Lightroom 6 which came as free download with new M-E.
So, nice&easy BW M-E files are available. What next? In the larger (basement) room to the small room where my dedicated corner for digital photography now is, I have my small darkroom setup for prints up to 8×10 size. Nothing, but small darkroom Vivitar enlarger on the countertop beside kitchen sink. We don’t have space for larger prints at our home walls and none of the people we deal with are living in mansions, either. My previous experience with Canon, HP inkjet printers at home was negative. Bad looking color prints, awful black and white and instead of buying ink cartridges it was cheaper in Canada to buy same printer model with new inks included. Not Eco friendly situation at all.
But common retail stores labs cost effective options for bw still ain’t better and less convenient. I started to question Google. Lots of choices. I knew what something called as “Piezography” exist. I searched for price of inks for it. Insane prices! And heck a lot of cartridges to deal with. Not my thing at all. So, I was keep on asking Google about bw digital printing. And the sun started to shine thought the internet cloud. Apparently, Epson still makes very simple, compact and cheap inkjet printers, almost the same they were making decade if not two ago. BUT!!! Instead of non-archival dye inks it now comes with archival pigment inks. BW and Color, yet, it is still just four cartridges, not two for black and six for color. Cost? Well under 100 USA dollars from local Epson. Two days delivery for free and third-party compatible inks available in re-fill cartridges (not expensive), plus CISS high capacity units as low as 39 USD. This is what I call cost-effective, no gauging pricing. Epson also have matte paper for photography. Very similar in surface with darkroom paper, but less heavy. 100 sheets of 8.5×11 costs me two and half time less than 8×10 RC darkroom paper (which is not as good as more expensive FB paper).
It took five minutes to get Epson C88+ from the shipping box to be set on the table and another ten or so minutes to introduce it to Win 7 OS. Easy and smooth! Just tell Windows to skip the sitting on obtaining of printer driver from Microsoft useless ritual.
And this special moment came! I configured printer properties for grey scale prints and matte paper. What to print first? I decided to print one portrait taken with M-E and Voigtlander VM Nokton 50 1.5 and one portrait taken with grainy ISO400 film and Kiev-19 film camera with its Helios 50mm f2 lens (good lens, actually).
Film scan print from TIFF file wasn’t impressive. The film ISO400 heavy grain better handled by the darkroom enlarger. But M-E in camera handled bw JPEG1 file print was one of those prints which are magnetic. One of those you want to check again and again.
Like any print, representation of it in the scan or on the internet is nowhere near the actual quality, tonality and resolution of quality print. It is up to you to trust me on this one, not the iPhone picture I took to show here for illustrative purpose… While color images from M-E sometimes, again, sometimes lacks of dynamic range on the screen (but in nice, film color-slide like style), the bw prints from M-E are very deep in the range between white and black.
So, I’m satisfied. Not expensive, not much space taking, at home bw printing with archival bw pigment ink and awesome, punchy, easy to get/done prints. No Photoshop, curves and else not directly related to photography! Just small adjustments in the Lightroom before asking to print. Maybe one test print. Not a big deal. I do many darkroom test prints.
Next, I’m going to try some color prints on old glossy paper I have left on the shelf for years from previous use of old, dull and slow inkjet printers.
And here is one more question to ask almighty Google. Transparency 5×7, 8×10 prints. I wonder if I could use Epson C88+ for it?