Interview: Printmaster Wesley Wong, part two

_G000078 copy
The master at work.

Continued from the first half of the interview yesterday with printmaster Wesley Wong.

13. The colours of some objects/ scenes are difficult to reproduce in a photograph for several reasons – gamut, transmissive rather than reflective surfaces, matte vs shiny textures etc – how do you bridge this gap in print? Personally, I’m a big fan of baryta (fibre-based substrate with a barium sulphate surface coating) papers because of their tonal richness and semi-organic feel and ability to reproduce fine detail in a way that feels continuous and not digitally discrete due to the fibre structure; these are very similar in type to the paper used for a traditional darkroom print. Explain to us a bit about the different types of printing materials available, and what they might be most suitable for – both from a subject and usage/installation standpoint?

It all depends on the image, composition, and choice of how the final work is to be framed (with or without glass), ambient lighting conditions, etc. To keep things simple, I would normally advise customers to use a semi gloss/glossy paper, regardless of whether the substrate is resin-based or cotton/fiber based (like barytas) if higher perceived contrast is required. This is because the Dmax (maximum ink density) is much higher on glossy papers than matte ones. For example, Canson Infinity Platine Fiber Rag can produce a Dmax of up to 2.5-2.7 – translating much deeper blacks. By comparison, Dmax is limited to about 1.7-1.8 on typical fine art matte papers. That said, images printed on matte fine art paper give a more artistic feel; the choice between smooth or textured paper is also highly subjective. For most of my art reproduction work, it is almost natural to select a more textured surface to mimic the original work, such as canvas. One of the strengths of fine art giclee printmaking is the ability to have a wide selection of paper types.

14. What types of paper are most popular – both for normal consumer/ prosumer prints, commercial reproductions and fine art?

For most of the first time work (in print), I would recommend my customers to try printing on semigloss resin coated-based photo paper. It is not pricey and it feels exactly like a minilab print but with much higher paper quality, color accuracy and archival lifespan. There are also customers who like canvas prints, so it remains the only choice for them. For very large sized prints exceeding 48” width, I would also recommend canvas, because it is hardy and easier to handle. Also, at those sizes, framing becomes tough to handle. My personal favorite has always been cotton or fiber based fine art papers.
15. Printing during the film days was commonplace; the dominance of negative film meant that you couldn’t simply project it in the same way you could with slides. People were used to viewing images as prints, albeit in printed form. Those were mostly optical enlargements on photographic paper; how does the digital print process compare – where are the strengths and weaknesses?

The optical enlargement process is a thing of the past. Digital files today are interpolated to final output sizes through software such as Photoshop/ Lightroom or a RIP. Not all interpolation engines are the same, and depending on the mathematical model used i.e. BiCubic, Lanchoz, Fractals, Spline, etc…there can be a significant difference to the final file. Inkjet printers use a dithering process to make up intermediate colors and tones, squirting ink from densely packed fine nozzles (either through a thermal or piezo-electric printhead) which requires a higher PPI from the source file to make a print print. The advantage of this process is apparent with the ever-increasing resolution: a 24MP (6000px by 4000px) native image at 300dpi yields a 20” x 13.3” print without interpolation. With a good interpolation engine, it is possible to upsize it by 200-400%, maintaining a good visual appearance within a 3-5ft viewing distance without any apparent pixelation.

I believe that the interpolation engines can be further improved, perhaps to the point a 72dpi file becomes printable at least at life size to the viewing screen. At present, it is almost impossible to make a decent print from a 72ppi file to the size of a 24” monitor – even though it looks stunning when viewed at 72ppi on screen.

16. From a printing standpoint, do you think there are still reasons to shoot film, perhaps with a hybrid digital process similar to the one I use? Do you see any difference in the files?

Frankly, I think this is debatable. The question here is which is the reference? Are we trying to make a digital image look like an analog print or vice versa? This is indeed hard to answer. From the workflow point of view, it rather demands a complicated ‘indirect’ workflow from capture to print, because at some point the analog media (film) needs to be digitized. Personally I have not shot enough film to believe that film output beats digital in resolution and dynamic range. Your film work, however, is highly impressive – but then again, can the average viewer differentiate an image from a film or digital source when both are printed digitally? Or is the intention to converge both so that they are not differentiable?
At the end of the day, the choice is entirely up to the photographer and their preferred workflow and confidence in equipment used. It is very difficult to produce a pure analog print with enlargers these days, so we cannot do an A-B comparison with a digital print from a high megapixel digital source. I am however, very curious to know how much resolving power we can get from a 4×5 scan, and will be eager to make a very large print to find out. ☺

17. Which aspects of printing do you find most challenging? Which are most rewarding?

It is a constant challenge getting the right colors, and smooth gray tones in black and white work – it’s really about pushing the last 5% accuracy. Different papers have different limits in ink density, and they even differ in how ink droplets settle into the coated surface. This directly translates into how much ink the paper can hold, how well it reproduces colors and tones. The most rewarding is when you know you’ve hit the right note when the print comes to life with indiscernible color variation from the calibrated screen.

_G002003 copy
The Forest: guilty as charged.

18. What’s the most challenging file (of mine, perhaps, so I can show an example) you’ve had to print, and why?

It has to be ‘The Forest’ on your November print run. For some reason, I just cannot reproduce the colors from your capture without making heavy manual adjustments in Photoshop. Even after a very meticulous (2hr+) multi-run calibration with the wide gamut Epson Stylus Pro 9900, all of your other images were accurate except for this one! There was no problem with the embedded color profile of the file, either. I still cannot find the reason why is it not printing according the captured colors. It is probably best to treat this as an isolated problem. ☺

MT: Ahh yes. I am starting to suspect in addition to really pushing the edges of the print gamut, it’s quite possible that the colors on that image were out of the monitor’s gamut too, and those two didn’t overlap – which in turn meant that we couldn’t even see the variance accurately.

19. Print technology has been advancing, perhaps not as fast as photography, but advancing nevertheless – what do you think is in most critical need for improvement? What are we missing?

On the contrary, pigment ink-based giclee photo printers have reached a stage of maturity. I cannot think of any technological advances to bring this to greater heights. I have close liaison with both HP and Epson, and they too think that their products have reached the pinnacle, in terms of product features, performance and price. Further improvement has to come from RIP software and interpolation engines.

20. What hardware do you currently use, and why?

At Giclee Art, we use HP Designjet Z6100 and Z3100 photo printers, and have recently acquired an Epson Stylus Pro 9900. Both Z3100 and Epson are 44” wide printers, while the main workhorse is the Z6100 at 60” with a take up reel for unattended continuous printing. I love the HP Designjet printers for their reliability and low cost of ownership. It is probably the only printer in this class with user replaceable print heads. I love the Epson for its color especially on matte fine art media, paper handling (straight) and speed which almost matches the Z6100. Both brands give me excellent support.

21. Let’s talk about handling and storing prints: aside from the obvious like not touching the surface any dos and don’ts?

One of the obvious reasons for us to leave a white unprinted border on a print is handling. Most print surfaces are very delicate, so they have to be handled carefully. Besides that, we have to consider other factors that will deteriorate a print over time such as humidity, UV and fungus/mould. Conservation-grade framing is an expensive process, and not many framing shops in Malaysia are aware of such procedures.

22. What’s the best method for storing prints?

I would suggest using archival boxes in areas with relatively low humidity. With that, fungus will not grow. This is especially true for tropical countries with all year high humidity like Malaysia.

23. How durable are modern giclee prints on an absolute scale, and compared to traditional optical darkroom methods?

Essentially, they are the same. Take the baryta papers for example…the substrate used are the same which are fiber based. Both surfaces are coated with barium sulphate, and they even smell the same. The only addition is the inkjet coating on the inkjet version of the same paper.

24. Are there ageing or curing effects, and do they need to be compensated for?

All fresh prints out of the printer are best left for a period of up to 24 hours for the curing to happen; inks settle, solvents dry, and tones separate out. Most prints are dry to the touch out of the printer, but it is a good practice to allow the print to fully cure and dry before storing it.

_G004619 copy
Monoblocs and stretched canvases (larger prints).

25. You also do mounting and exhibition installations – several of mine included – aside from the traditional matte-and-glass-frame methods, what else is available? Any particular recommendations?

I have always been asked by customers where they should send their prints for framing and how to best frame them. As I do not offer any framing services, it is hard for me to recommend any framing method other than recommending them to some reputable framing shops which handles the prints well. In 2013, I designed and offered a product called the Monobloc – it is a flush-mounted solution without glass and a substantial border; this has proven to be the most popular. [MT: my recent Engineering Art in Metal exhibition was mounted on Monoblocs.] We can also mount to Kapaline 5mm foamcore boards and DiLite 3mm aluminum sheets. I also intend to offer acrylic face mounts, as soon as the right material is available here.

26. Lighting – both direction, brightness and colour temperature – play a huge part in the perception of a print. What would you recommend?

I would still recommend a ceiling mounted daylight balanced fluorescent lighting system. It is easy to install, relatively low cost and low UV radiation. It also minimizes reflections due to the size of the source. I am still not too convinced by LED solutions as the color temperature is not consistent.

27. A personal question: since you’re also a photographer, does it feel odd to print other people’s work – and sometimes also have to optimise their files to make them look good? Ever feel jealous?

Not at all. To most photographers, I am a master printer. Since I do not do commercial photography work, I am not viewed as a competitor in any way. I shoot mainly stock for project requirements, and personal consumption. In most cases, I am just testing cameras and their output in print. I am usually impressed with high quality work and compositions from other photographers. I don’t envy their work, rather, I learn from them too. Not that I am copying their style, but it opens up my mind and inspires me artistically to take better images.

28. Do you have any advice or recommendations for photographers who are just starting to put their work into print?

Start with a smaller image, say 4R or 8×12”, and enjoy the process of making prints. You may start by getting your own desktop printer or sending it to an experienced master printer. The experience of holding your own print versus viewing it on screen is totally different. By completing your workflow in print, you will also learn to appreciate your equipment, while understanding its strengths and limitations. When one grows in confidence, he or she may try a larger print size. Besides that, it is also important to price your prints carefully if they are intended for sale – think of the time and effort invested, not to mention the equipment!

29. Finally, where would you like to take your work next?

I would like to productize more of my services, and designing custom framing ideas so that customers will purchase them as complete products rather than just being a printing service. Meanwhile, I will like to continue to push the limits of printmaking, both for color and black and white work. There are still limits which I have to breech to achieve the level which I will call the ‘ultimate print’. Getting to work on more high quality files is essential, and I believe that is where you come in… 🙂

MT: A big thank you to Wesley – that was a very detailed thorough dialogue. So much so we had to split it into two parts to make it readable 🙂

Tomorrow, the focus on printing continues. We present the evolution of the printmaking process and the result of a lot of joint R&D into, print production, perceptual psychology of viewing prints and refinements in post processing…

Wesley Wong is the founder of Giclee Art, offering extremely high quality printing solutions at a range of sizes. In addition to exclusively printing my fine art and commercial work, he also prints for quite a few of my students and a large number of the eminent photographers in Malaysia. He can be contacted via email here, or via his website. He also ships finished work internationally.


Places left for 2014 Making Outstanding Images Workshops: Havana and London – click here for more information and to book!


Visit the Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including workshop and Photoshop Workflow videos and the customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!


Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. Hi Ming, Your work is outstanding, I really love photography I’m kind of amateur, wish i were like you. By the way excellent interview, a lot of useful information. I live in Mexico, I recently made some prints in a really nice printshop, they used the same hp printer as you and also ilford and baryta paper, the color photographies and also the b&w were amazing, the only thing that i noticed was some “bronzing”, that is what they told me the effect was called. That is some metallic appearance in the b&w print that appears in some view angles. They told me that was an effect that inkjet prints have when printed on lustre or glossy paper, does that happen to you too? I love printing because the choices I have in paper and the control I have. That’s what I also love your work and the way you do it. Congrats again for you exposition and your work.

    • Ahh, bronzing. We either embrace it and print images where the metallic tones would help the artistic intention of the image, use the gloss optimiser, or adjust the file so that no level cuts of at 0 (no ink) for even bronzing.

  2. Great article. As a long time commercial large format printer (stopped in 2009) I can identify with the “file that will not print”. In my experience some files will not print as seen on a monitor despite all the calibration and profiling in the world. These rogue files appear in every lab once in a while and, in my opinion, are difficult to print because they contain highly saturated yellow and green values that do not appear over saturated on screen but in fact require the color management software to make a large correction to bring the value back into gamut. The problem is that while the calculation succeeds in bringing the color into gamut but it is not a color that makes sense to the viewer who saw a different color on screen. This illustrates, at least for me, the need for the artistic and human eye to overcome the weaknesses of the numerical solutions.

  3. Peter Boender says:

    Ming, what a wonderful homage! It is very justified to put Wesley Wong in the spotlights. Can’t wait to swing by when I’m in KL to see the master at work.

    This two-part interview is filled to the brim with technical information as well. As others have already rightfully pointed out: not easily attainable elsewhere, so a very worthwhile addition to your blog. Wesley and you are to be applauded for this.

    Two questions for Wesley and you, if you allow me:
    1. It’s not always very easy to find the correct ICC profile for the brand and type of paper one wants to use in the preferred printer. One is usually at the hands of the paper brand and their support. Any way around this (short of writing your own ICC profile…)?
    2. Lately I have been hearing a lot about “metallic” papers. Is that something Wesley and you have tried? Any thoughts?

    Keep it up Ming! Learning so much here 🙂

    • Drop him an email and bring some files over and I’m sure he’ll be pleased to oblige.

      Education is always important: there is no point in trying to sell a 200mph car if you have no concept of speed. I need my clients and students to understand the difference – and of course also to see why the Ultraprints are Ultraprints (and the first Ultraprint run from the Autumn in Tokyo set will start tomorrow).

      1. Wesley profiles the paper/ printer combinations himself with an i1. After that, I will make a number of proof runs with the actual images until I’m happy with the way things look, making a custom profile in the process. I find that we usually have one master custom profile that works but needs smaller and smaller tweaks as we fully map out the gamut – eventually this profile ‘works’ for my typical style/ colour palette. That said, different styles will require different profiles, and B&W is something else entirely.

      2. Yes. They’re overrated and very difficult to handle without buckling or scratching the surface. Gamut and dynamic range are also limited because of the coating. They work for some subjects, but not all. I think this is a special purpose only option for certain subjects/ images.

  4. Fabulous articles on an interesting part of photography lost in the techno age of pixels and internet forums talking gear only.

  5. Hello Ming. These last 3 articles on printing and Wesley Wong are outstanding, as is all your work. I read them with great interest because I have been printing on art papers and other substrates since 2000. Your description of the development of printing for many people is very much on point. I have heard many similar accounts from some of my associates, clients and students. Wesley Wong’s insights will, hopefully, remove some of the mystery from the printing process and thereby get more people involved. It can be truly gratifying to produce your own, or others, work to the highest standard. I believe more people will be able to do so if they use these 3 articles as an essential guide for what to learn to be able to print fine art photography. This would be combined, of course, with an incredible amount of ink, paper, research, development and hard work. There will also be new skills, pride in craft, mastery, new friends and opportunities and big fun. Life is good when you are a photographer!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Glad you enjoyed them.

      Life is good…so long as you can live with the uncertainty of income and creative compromises associated with client work…

  6. hehehe, I’m sure the gear heads have a few Ming effigies that are dusted off when you write a review that doesn’t align with their point of view 😉

    As you say education is the key element, it also for me highlights how much potential the fine art market has if this point is conveyed effectively – sadly, the costs of setting up a gallery to promote/sell to a wider audience are still too high without suitable backers (nothing is better than seeing prints in the flesh)….

    • Maybe there’s a market for them haha

      Unfortunately there is no way to allow people to experience a print other than in person. I can make them reasonably accessible price-wise, but that’s about it…

      • Sigh, true…..seeing some shops in Europe selling ‘photography fine art’ and I oh so wish to have the same deep pockets to be able to have a go at it myself….

  7. Excellent interview and a real insight into a world which for most is still some sort of voodoo process!

    One thought – printing to this standard and fine art go hand in hand, but does the fine art market actually understand how much of an influence the printing process makes on the final product?

    Looking forward to the rest of the series!

    • Thanks Junaid. I’ll cover the use of small effigies of the photographer and pins in the fifth part of the series. That’s what Wesley uses when I send him a file with lots of subtle out-of-gamut areas or insist on using a paper so thick the print heads collide with it regularly.

      On a more serious note, if the market doesn’t understand – then just as with photography, it’s my job to educate them 🙂

    • Ansel Adams changed his printing of the same pictures over time (Moonrise over Hernandez, for example) as he learned more and improved his process, and probably also depending on how he felt that day. He says himself that no two prints of Moonrise are the same.

      • In some ways we have more variables to change an image nowadays. Digital/RAW I guess also allows you to revisit an image and have another go at processing. Combined with printing and possibly changes in your own colour perception and no doubt an image you print say 3 years ago versus if you had a re-do now would be quite different!

  8. Ming, these latest 3 articles epitomize the qualities that keep me following your blog: enlightening, thought-provoking, thorough and RELEVANT. Looking to expand (actually, return) to printing this year, this latest series could not have come at a better time for me. Thanks as always for sharing!

  9. An excellent outcomes requires practiced skill in the hands of a dedicated artist – at each an every step of the process. No wonder to do a thing well requires so much time, effort, and thought! This is often a good thing because problem solving is like bread and butter to the curious mind. If a thing were easy and one dimensional it would no longer be of any interest! Thank you for introducing us Wesley Wong!

    • Precisely 🙂 And the more people understand the effort required, the higher the appreciation…

      • That image on the wall is like the tip of an intensive, extensive, and expensive iceberg in terms of time, luck, artistry, and skill. It’s all rather humbling – and aways so much fun!

  10. First off, I dont want to rain on anyone’s parade, but subjective issues must be at least discussed, if not debated. To me, colour fidelity is a myth. “Its accurate”, one declares, yet another will declare the same colour fidelity to be totally off; woe befall you, if the latter was the one that signs the cheque.
    30 years of agency experience has thought me one thing if nothing else, colour perception varies greatly amongst each individual, even amongst yhe management team that is vetting your work, so much so, that its a lost cause when the one that signs your cheque is the disagreeable one.
    The rest is very well attested to and I have no issues with it, as in lack of skill in raw processing, lack of understanding that sharpening is output sensitive or consumption-technology sensitive etc.
    The other issue I would like more effort to be spent on is the issue of equatorial climatic effect on mounted prints. I spoke to the man himself, yet the answer given was, to be diplomatic about it and paraphrased to his advantage, “something we are still struggling with”.
    Its something to consider if we are to truly advance from status quo; except colour perception, which has no solution, unless dna can be stopped from degeneration.

    • I believe (not a professional’s point of view) that color is something you define for yourself, equipment and all and then stick with it.
      So, yes it’s totally subjective but once you set your own standards, it’s controllable most of the time.

      • Agreed from an enthusiast photographer’s or videographer’s point of view.
        The reason why multi-million colour/video suites exist yhat charges thousands per hour rate, is just to ensure that the one that writes the cheque is satisfied.
        Doubt my words?, just go to your latest tv multimedia superstore, there is no colour unison amongst the brands. It was the scenario we had in pre-millennia 2000 and now post 2nd millennia.
        As long as the cheque was cleared, who cares what comes next.
        Its ugly, yes, so unless one aspires to solve a problem not yet deemed unsolvable (like colour accuracy perception, unless one is colour blind, which is NOT my contention, colour accuracy can never be defined by those looking, ie, there is no saying that science will not come up with a quantum, just that it will not be able to come up with enough humans to justify that quantum),
        Why not try and solve the climatic issue, where it has not be proven to be unsolvable.
        I collect classical guitars and is now in active participation with british guitar case makers to first jnderstand that yhere is a problem with their products in my equatorial climate, much like european cars of the early 70; today, due to those pioneering efforts, european rust less in asia.

      • I agree with Dimitris. Perception of color may be subjective, but the point of a calibrated color workflow is that you can make subjective impressions predictable and therefore reproduceable. If you have a client who always wants a red that’s more saturated than you think it should be, it’s easy to deliver this kind of red consistently with a calibrated color workflow. Without that, there are too many uncontrolled variables for consistent output.

        As for TVs in stores all looking different, that’s a well-known ploy by TV manufacturers to attract your eye. Most of those TVs have default settings that are too sharpened and too blue, and the store lighting is all wrong. Once they are calibrated in a proper environment, the good ones are more alike than different.

        • I’ve yet to meet anybody who bothers calibrating their TVs though – I honestly can’t think of any consumers who use it for colour sensitive work; perhaps the manufacturers have their strategy right after all!

          • Well, I do. Does that count? 🙂 It makes a remarkable difference for movie watching.

            • You are one of the rare exceptions. I am very particular about my computer displays, but frankly…my TV is about ten years old, tiny, and looks like crap.

              Probably a good thing I hardly ever have time to watch it 🙂

            • Michael K says:

              +1 Once you have calibrated a TV set all others just look garish and gross.

  11. Really interesting two-part and I echo what Andre Y said, in that, printing tends to be a neglected topic. Thanks for addressing that.

  12. I tried in the past to print my own digital photographs at home.
    Then I realized what I was getting into, the amount of variables was enormous -it is described very accurately in this interview- the overall cost was too much for me (accurate monitor, decent printer, inks, paper etc) and I soon gave up.
    In a way I miss the film days when much of the process after the shot was taken out of your hands and into some expert’s hands for color or you could do some acceptable work of your own in a darkroom for black&white.
    In another way, I’m glad for digital. Improving my skills became much easier and cheaper.
    At the back of my mind though is always that day when I’ll start printing and proudly display my images to my friends.
    Alas, something always gets in the way 😉

    • In a way I miss the film days when much of the process after the shot was taken out of your hands and into some expert’s hands for color or you could do some acceptable work of your own in a darkroom for black&white.

      That’s a bit of a misnomer. You just didn’t know how much work went into it, or didn’t go into it – the automated minilab prints frankly are pretty bad; it’s like just shooting with factory default JPEG – for every picture. Yes, you got something back without any effort on your part, but the results were terrible. I honestly had no idea how much I was leaving on the table with film until I took control of the whole process myself.

      • You’re right! I should have clarified that, I wasn’t referring to minilabs. If you wanted accurate color it was a lot of work but not on the average user’s part, still an expert was responsible. But for black&white if you were thorough enough, you could print your own. I’ve seen some archival quality printing in makeshift darkrooms. That was the point I was trying to make.
        I would like the relative ease of darkroom b&w printing combined with the ease of digital shooting.

        • Ah yes – the B&W bit hasn’t changed; that’s still true.

          I think digital printing is still much better for consistency though – once you understand how the printer works (or find a print master who can deliver results you want) then it’s easy to get to the end product. But there are a lot of variables with darkroom printing that aren’t always obvious or easily controlled – oxidation/ ageing of chemical solutions, or crystals falling out of solution, for instance – that can make a huge difference in the final output.

          • I agree, digital is easier to control.
            I’m talking though from the point of someone who wants to work at home with above average results without spending a small fortune.
            Outsourcing is the answer but then you work with someone else’s pace, not your own.
            Imagine this. I see a beautiful sunset or a heartwarming smile, I shoot it and I want to see it hanging on my wall the same day, accurately depicted. This is out of my reach. I can do it on a budget with an inkjet and an IKEA frame but it won’t be the same for my eyes. I hope I’m being clear.

            • The cost of the print equipment relative to the cost of the cameras isn’t that high, to be honest; a large format printer is not much more than a pro FX DSLR. Certainly not the medium format equivalent you’d expect. And as usual, it’s experience that makes the difference even when printing with smaller printers such as the R3000. It’s definitely doable on a budget, but you have to be prepared to invest time and some scientific method in the learning process.

              • Hey,the time and (some) money investment I understand, I might just take your advice for this printer, coming from you could save me a lot of research. Would you care to suggest a decent monitor to streamline the workflow? Feel free to email me if you don’t care to throw brands, I’d appreciate it.

  13. iskabibble says:

    “The optical enlargement process is a thing of the past. ”

    Really? Someone forgot to send me the memo!

    • Commercial printing is almost 100% digital, I suspect.

    • About optical vs inkjet: I have personally made an A-B comparison where A was 22MPixel medium format image (Phase One P25 at ISO 50) printed using Epson 3880 to Gold Fibre Silk (Baryta) and B was an image from the same camera, same lens, same distance, same studio strobes setup, but image was taken with 6×4.5 film back (PanF+, ISO 50, DDX), cropped to equal P25’s crop factor and printed optically to Ilford FB (=Baryta) paper. And then the digital image was edited to match in every possible way (including tone color) with the optically printed image and then printed again until it matched to it as well as possible. At A3 size both prints had “lots of detail” – I’d say “equal amount of detail”, but an area with a red cloth texture lost all depth and detail in the digital image while the film image had a nice “3D depth”, and seriously better detail. I’d believe Foveon, Leica MM or Monochrome Phase One could do better with the red, or a camera with _lots_ more megapixels, but then there was another two things in this order of importance: 1) the real silver-halide _paper_ was much nicer subjectively (gloss, lack of gloss differential, “depth”, surface texture, feel, behaviour in unoptimal lighting, etc.) 2) the way how detail was “drawn” by PanF+ was slightly different from that of the digital image, and it was not possible to get the images match 100%, and I preferred the PanF+ look. The optical print also had some dust spots in it, and the paper was curled (I didn’t care about these things). So in my opinion optical prints of B&W film are still very competitive. And here the 6×4.5 is not exactly very large size in the film world, and it was even cropped to match the digital.

      • I must be missing something here – PanF is a panchromatic mono film; it’s insensitive to colour. That Phase One has been bayer-interoplated and at 22MP has less resolution than the film image, so your results are not surprising. The best B&W films top out somewhere around 2500-3000dpi; going with the more conservative figure yields at least 22MP, plus you’ve got the perception of slightly higher detail simply due to grain ‘filling in the gaps’. At 3000dpi, the film image has closer to 32MP equivalence, which would be visible – especially in an optical process.

        • Here’s a fascinating thread I just found a couple of days ago:

          They’re talking about the resolution of film (convert lp/mm to DPI by multiplying the line-pair number by 50.8 (2 dots per line times 25.4 mm per inch)), and it appears that film can achieve much higher resolution if you’re willing to use special films and/or developers. That said, slide films appear to have very high resolution too. The first post in that thread has a link to a comparison similar to what tommi’s done.

          And having said that, at some point, uber-resolution isn’t terribly useful because of something else I also recently learned. The total system resolution expressed as the resolution of its individual parts looks like this:

          Rs = 1/(1/A + 1/B + 1/C + …)

          That is, the total resolution of a system is the inverse of the sum of the inverses of the resolution of each of its individual parts. In the equation above, A might be the sensor resolution, B the lens resolution, C the print resolution, etc.

          Because of the math (make A really, really big like in the D800E), the parts that are much bigger than the other parts tend not to matter very much, and the system is totally dominated by the weakest parts of the chain. That works as common sense, too, doesn’t it? Anyway, the point is that worrying too much about super DPI or megapixels or whatever instead of the balance of the system is probably not the right thing to do.

          My long-winded point is that in tommi’s comparison above, comparing the resolution of a single color channel of a digital sensor may have more than one hit against it. One is the Bayer interpolation and the sensor’s red response (maybe the red cloth was an especially pure red that doesn’t make much signal in the blue and green sensels), and the other is the math of the resolution equation working against you. In other words, just because you can see something clearer or better on a print doesn’t mean that thing has more resolution!

          • I saw that. What they’re failing to take into account is that at 140lp/mm, the contrast is terrible, unlike digital. In practical terms, it requires some care but it isn’t that difficult to get 200+ lp/mm from a D800E. It’s nearly impossible to hit a clean 100 with film, for many reasons – developing all of your film that way is impractical and too slow; you’ve got the grain floor, and then there’s the whole focusing issue: AF fine tune and mirror calibration are possible on a film camera, but it’s going to require an insane number of test shots to make it work since you can’t check the instant review or correlate with live view…

            I stand by the proverbial eyeball dyno: film tops out at 3000dpi (120lp/mm) for practical purposes, and even that’s marginal. If you want clean non-artefacted/ above-grain-floor detail, it’s more like 2200-2500dpi (85-100lp/mm).

            That said, above 100lp/mm you’re going to be struggling to find lenses that resolve the lower contrast structures well…film OR digital.

            • Isn’t 3000 DPI more like 60 lp/mm, since there will be two dots for each line pair? Anyway, I think the general point is that every single piece of your imaging chain has to perform superbly, because the weakest link will severely degrade the final output quality.

              I also wonder how people ensure the planarity of high resolution films in their cameras, especially as the negative gets larger. From my attempts at scanning 6×9, big negatives really like to buckle and that alone will severely degrade resolution.

              • Hmm, good point. I’m not sure – theoretically that seems right, but it does not explain why the 200lp/mm lenses perform better/ resolve more than the 150lp/mm lenses on e.g. a D800E when we have a discrete resolving limit of 100lp/mm…

                Scanning and planarity: there are special negative holders for one, but drum scans are generally the way to go with larger negs because they squash the film flat. I sandwich mine between glass and have the extended DOF of the scanning DSLR to cover any slight planarity issues. I find that it’s actually even more of a problem with smaller formats because you have so little information to begin with.

                • Hmm, it could be that lp/mm by itself doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, one could have high lp/mm but poor contrast (cf. the specialty hi-res films). Another reason is that you might be observing the indirect rather than direct result of using different lp/mm devices in your imaging chain. Using the equation above, 1/(1/150 + 1/100) = 60 lp/mm, while 1/(1/200 + 1/100) = 67 lp/mm. So even with a 100 lp/mm sensor, you can still distinguish between 150 and 200 lp/mm lenses. Anyway, it’s the output that matters, and my loupe is looking forward to seeing that ultraprint! 🙂

                  For planarity, I was actually wondering about the film holder in a camera as another factor in resolution loss (in addition to focus problems, shake, etc.). Planarity in scanning is a pretty big PITA, too.

                  • You’re probably right. The whole question of total system resolution is far more complex than I we appreciate, I think. Frankly it wasn’t a concern to most photographers since until very recently it’s been the capture device that’s always been the limitation – not the lenses, the display, or the printer. That said, it’s about high time the rest of the imaging chain caught up.

  14. What a great interview Ming Thein. I enjoyed the insights Wesley Wong gave concerning printing. I have much to learn! Thanks again.

  15. Great interview Ming. This is really helpful, thanks a lot for doing this. Now, I’m excited on what’s coming up and I really hope it works.

  16. James de Penning says:

    Great interview Ming, thoroughly enjoying these insight from Mr. Wong. Certainly inspired me to send more work to my master printer. It really is something special to see the fruits of ones’ creative labours in glorious tangible form.

  17. This is a treasure trove of information. So good to hear from Wesley as well. Thanks to both of you!

  18. great interviews lately, Ming. Both with Mr. Wong here and with Mr. Brandt the other day. interesting questions and answers.

  19. Ming, this is such a great series, because it speaks to an important part of photography that hardly anyone else touches (TOP is the only other site I can think of), and gives us an opportunity to really see the final output and the results of yours and Wesley’s work in the form of a print — there’s no place to hide if you don’t know what you’re doing.

    Question 25 is something I’ve been wondering about, and as a result, have yet to frame Clouds. Your hi-res prints sound like they will even be more challenging in this respect. Is there an alternative to putting a piece of glass in front of the print, and without gluing the print to something? The glass detracts from the quality of the print (even the museum grade glass my framer uses that’s doped to be quite glare free — it’s not textured ANR glass), but protects it against UV, dust, and fingers, and mounting the print makes the provenance info on the back inaccessible. Any thoughts on this?

    Also, I noticed Wesley recommends that readers may want to get their own printer. 🙂

    • Thanks Andre. And thank you for your support of the print side of things too 🙂

      I can’t think of any other framing methods that don’t require gluing the print to something if you don’t want glass – you have to maintain tension somehow. I don’t personally like ANR glass because of the artificial texture it introduces though; plain glass is the only option.

      Or, you could always do what I do and store (but not display) the prints…

      Buying your own printer: you need to try making your own prints before you realise just how much expertise/ work is required to get the results we’re aiming for 🙂

  20. Will visit your Oct 2 gallery show in Chicago. Want to ask about EM1 IN single shot mode
    Their firmware upgrade features are spectacular vs Nikon and Canon and Sony. Equipment weight and cost substantially less.
    Do you still view the camera so poorly as shutter shock issues surfaced?
    I simply never shoot such that it is an issue. At firmware 3.1 and looking forward to 4.0 in Nov.

  21. It was an issue for long enough that it made no sense to sit around with money sunk into equipment that was not usable and a principal here that offered no support. My needs now have moved beyond what that camera can deliver.


  1. […] Interview by, Part 1 & Part 2 […]

%d bloggers like this: