Understanding The Differences Between Darkroom Prints And Digital Prints

Screenshots taken from video. 

While digital photography has taken over film in terms of popularity, there is a recent rise of film shooters, reviving the traditional process of analog photography. However, due to sheer convenience and accessibility issues, many films were developed, scanned digitally and printed by commercial or digital ink-jet printers. This was in stark contradiction to the original full workflow of film that involves the manual labor and expertise of darkroom printing. Therefore, what are the differences between full analog darkroom printing process versus the modern day, digital commercial printing? We have found a useful video on Youtube to compare and contrast results obtained from both digital and darkroom printing.

In the video, two negatives, each with a different image captured with medium format cameras were printed using two different processes. The first process involved scanning the images into the computer and post-processing was done in Photoshop before they were sent to AdoramaPix to be printed digitally on Kodak Matte finish paper. The second process was the darkroom printing using a Beseler Enlarger and the images were printed on Ilford Multigrade FB MGFB warm tone papers. The results of both images from darkroom and digital prints were placed side by side and compared.

The first comparison was done on an image which was accidentally underexposed by nearly two stops of exposure, due to the wrong flash settings on the camera while shooting. This presented the opportunity for the digital process to salvage the shooting mistake, as digital corrections can be applied to the scanned image during post-processing in Photoshop. While the digital print showed a more balanced exposure, the darkroom print appeared to have more depth, having a three dimensional look in comparison to a flatter outcome on the digital print. The second comparison was performed on an accurately exposed image. In this case, the digital print had a distinctive advantage since the image was processed to taste, as envisioned having pure white background and deeper blacks on the shadow regions. To achieve similar results in darkroom print, extensive burning and dodging will be needed and could be time consuming.

We strongly believe photographers should print their work and not just pixel-peep at digital screens. Seeing your photographs on actual paper which you can physically feel and touch adds a completely new dimension to your photography. If you are shooting film, knowing and choosing the right printing medium can make a difference in how your photographs are presented. There is no right and wrong, or which medium is better, as both digital and darkroom prints have their own advantages. Getting excellent results in either medium takes time, effort and can get pricey but being passionate about what you do and a drive for excellence will get you impressive results in either medium.