Who would know? Every color picture* I see today, both on and off the computer is a digital representation. I have not seen a color print from a wet process in years!Rob
I was thinking about that myself just today... My daughter is turning 8 tomorrow. Her baby pictures were optical prints from a wonderful little photo shop in Haverhill MA, close to where we lived at the time. Rich in color, sharp detail, wonderful textures. When I got back into shooting film a few years ago (maybe going on 3 now) I was really shocked by the compromises made by the industry, and accepted by the public (even from "Pro" shops) for what passes as high quality. The loss is hard to quantify, but can be found in highlights with detail, high contrast transitions, the loss of fine curves, and the lack of depth due to garbled up tonal transitions, and the limits of the pixel or ink spatter. These losses are very very subtle, I'll grant you all that, but I am one to notice such subtleties, and for me they add up to lessen the enjoyment of the image from anything closer than 2 feet away. Maybe I'll wait before I fully invest in digital imaging until my eyes do what my dad's eyes did in his mid forties - as I rapidly approach the time. I'll probably be amazed by what I see then! : )
Ink jet prints on textured papers are beautiful. But these are prints, not photographs (images made with light), and they have a beautiful quality all their own. I've seen good ink-jet images, and they're fine. They cost about the same as cibachromes to make, they're more expensive than RA4 prints, but they take a hell of lot less time and space, make the process accessible to just about anyone and that's a VERY big advantage that cannot be understated. Still, I can see the jaggies, or the weird out of place dots. People say "who looks at them from 4 inches away?" I do. The wonder of a photograph is that it's an illusion which draws you in. Like the call of a siren, the digital image draws you in, only to trip you up on the rocks of the limitations of a medium built around average best. In painting when you get closer, at the point at which the image breaks up into brush strokes you are rewarded with the dazzling nature of pigments (Childe Hassam comes to mind). In photography that reward is grain and tone, and in some cases more detail than you could imagine from two feet away, in printing it is the scattered bits of process colors. Which is better? I put them in the order I prefer - everybody else can have their own favorite.
I've told this story before, but a couple of years ago I was at photographer's gallery, and I was really impressed by his ink jet work. Such color! He was quite proud of it, and was telling me how he hasn't done analog work in so long, and I could tell how in love with the new medium he was. I went from print to print, and then I stopped at one b&w print, my jaw dropped, and I exclaimed "Wow, this one is digital too!?" "Oh, not that one..." And then he went on to tell me about his Hasselblad and the lens he took that landscape with, etc., and the darkroom he took down but is thinking of putting back up some day, etc. etc. You all know this story.
Well I soon hope to see a wet process color print from my own darkroom. I did the math, and I can get into color photography much more cheaply than I could get into the comparable range of color printing. I'll be limited to 8x10 for some time to come, but I'll live with that, or hire out the work if I really need it. Maybe next year I'll buy bigger trays. I for one want to see color photos again.
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