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B&W enlarged from digital print

B&W enlarged from digital print

Digital in the Darkroom

By: Andrea Barbier

February 15, 2018

Hobbyist, professional, or somewhere in between, if you are a photographer you fall into one of two categories: those who started with film and those who started with digital. I am of the former – my high school had a full darkroom setup, my college a massive photo program with intensive black and white printing programs. In fact, I didn’t pick up my first digital SLR until after I graduated college, and only a few times in undergrad did I experience the luxury of shooting with a medium-format digital back.

When I did convert, I was quick to leave film behind (as many were) for the convenience of CF cards and digital printing. Armed with my original EOS 5D, I basked in the post-grad glory of my seemingly unrestricted new digital photo set-up, and what’s more, I genuinely loved the quality and color I was getting off of a 12mp, full-frame sensor. The 5D led to my first 1D series body, and since then I’ve been a fan of the rugged durability that the flagship line is known for.

Photography technique

Fast-forward several years – happily shooting my 1D Mark IV at the time, and printing on my glorious PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II. I find myself teaching Photo 101 and the program is entirely film and darkroom based. Photo majors, graphic designers, and computer art majors are all required to take it as part of their core curriculum. People will tell you that developing film is like riding a bike – once you learn how to do it, it stays with you, even if you’re not practicing. But the real magic for most people happens in the darkroom, and I’ll tell you the exact moment it happens. When you place your exposed paper in the developing tray and see the image appear, that is the moment that photographers think of with longing in their hearts, and what makes them remember darkroom printing with great fondness.

White and black blurred photo

Teaching this class, I too was reminded of the mystery and beauty that can be found in the traditional black and white darkroom. However, I had little interest in reverting back to developing film (I’m partial to my 1DX workflow, and there’s the pressure of finding the time). This led me to investigate several companies that create a product called inkjet transparency film, which allows for the blending of digital shooting with darkroom printing. The film enables you to shoot high-end digital, print out a digitally-enlarged negative, and contact print it in the darkroom, marrying my preferred method of shooting with the delight of darkroom printing.

White and black photo

Negative machine

Suddenly years of digital imagery became fodder for a re-immersion into traditional photo printing, stimulating an extremely worthwhile period of creative exploration. If you too decide to delve into this, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. It is important to shoot RAW to maintain as much highlight and shadow detailing as possible. This is because negatives printed on transparency film do not share the flexibility that traditional negatives yield, so all of the information must be included in the print.
  2. For sharp negatives, ensure that your output resolution is 300 dpi or greater. Negatives must be output at a high-resolution to avoid any image degradation in the contact printing process.

One of the most enticing aspects of this is that the Canon system works seamlessly with this approach, from RAW shooting, to compatibility with the transparency film, to simplified high-resolution printing. It helps to break down the doors between strictly analog and strictly digital in a most refreshing way, demonstrating once again the flexibility that our digital Canon tools provide!

Black and white women photo


The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.