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The Digital Print Advantage

The above three images illustrate why digital printing produces a better result than traditional darkroom prints with an enlarger and chemical processing.

The top center image is the original image, a portion from the center of the San Juan Mountain Sunset with Rainbow image. Below left is a digital print from a Lightjet 5000 onto Ilford Classic (Cibachrome), developed in the traditional chemical process, but without the analog enlarger. Compare the image on the left to the traditional enlargement (below, right) from a custom professional photo lab. At the size of the above images, the full San Juan Mountain Sunset image would be approximately equivalent to 6 x 9 feet on a 72 dpi monitor!

Because of the magnification, you may want to move back 5, 10, even 15 or more feet from your monitor and view the apparent sharpness difference between the left and right images at these different distances. The digital sharpness advantage should be quite apparent.

Not only is the digital print sharper, but the contrast and color balance are precisely controlled, for every print. Note the subtle color shading in the original scan that also shows on the digital print, but not in the traditional print.

The Lightjet print scanned above does not show all the detail in the digital file, but larger digital prints do. Lightjet prints 18x28-inch do show all the detail, and appear quite sharp. In fact, professional photographers have asked, upon seeing the large print, "is that medium or large format?" They were stunned when I said 35mm!

Finally, this test is not a unique or rigged test. I have consistently gotten sharper prints from digital methods than I have from traditional analog enlarger methods from professional photo labs. However, I have also been able to consistently produce slightly sharpher prints in my own darkroom than I've gotten from professional photo labs (I've only done black and white). I believe this is due to my setting enlarger lenses at their sharpest settings, (usually resulting in longer print exposure times) and taking more time to critically focus. But even so, I can't match the digital sharpness in my experience.

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First published sometime before Mar. 23, 2002 Last updated November. 24, 2009