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Wednesday, 20 February 2013


I gave up Dye-Transfer when Cibachrome became available. Understanding about masking was the key to making wonderful prints.
Now, I'm convinced that good Inkjet prints are not only 99% easier to make than Dyes, I actually like them better (never could get yellows to look just right).

Dear Bill,

You've mentioned this before. Just so everyone is clear, whatever problems you had getting the yellow right were entirely of your own making. One of the particular hallmarks of dye transfer is an excellent yellow.

Experienced and well-practiced dye transfer printers find many things to complain about in the craft and the materials, but poor yellows is one that never comes up, I can tell you.

I agree about the masking. With advanced contrast and color control masking, you could make excellent prints with Ilfochrome. Without it, they looked like crap.

As for preferring to live in the digital world, you will notice I'm not crying a bit over running out of dye transfer supplies nor busting my hump to find new ones.

That said, people will pay lots, lots more for a dye transfer than a digital print of the same photograph. Maybe it's the mystique, maybe it's the cachet, maybe it's the hand-craftiness of it all. Mister Buyer Market thinks in ways totally alien to we mere practioners.

If he didn't, my custom-printing clients would've evaporated and I'd have shut down the darkroom years ago.

pax / Ctein

Pictures please! I would love to see what this gear looks like. I'll never use it or see it in real life, so this is purely out of morbid (ha!) curiosity, but this post needs some illustrations... ;-)


Maybe get a video team in there to record the process? It would have been nice to see how Kodakchrome was developed before it went away.

Ctein, I second Michael's comment--it would be fantastic to see the dye transfer process documented for posterity. I've seen dye-transfer videos in the past, but they've all been visually underwhelming--either SD video or handheld consumer camcorder type-stuff.

I'd love to see some macro video of each step of the process--the individual matrices with and without ink, and the paper itself at each step from bare white to technicolor masterpiece.

Any chance you could talk Michael Reichmann into visiting you again for a future issue of the LLVJ?

Dear Ctien,

How are your adjusting to your new Superfocus glasses?

I second Michael's suggestion. I would volunteer my filming/editing services, but Toronto is a long ways from Daly City...


Don't sell the Apo-Rodagon-D 75/4; it makes for a great macro lens in the 1:3 to 3:1 range. It also works for digitizing a slide with a camera, but I recall that you don't like that approach. Nevertheless, it's a very nice taking lens even on the latest cameras and last I checked, used prices were way below new prices. Still, even at the new price it's a very competitive lens for shooting around 1:1.

Dear Michael, et.al.,

Michael Reichmann Is such a brilliant man that he anticipated your request a full decade before you made it:


You can check out a two-minute clip from the interview portion, here:


pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Oskar,

Just about any top-tier enlarging lens will make an excellent macro lens. The thing is, to make good use of it you need either a helicoid focusing mount or a really good bellows unit (the cheap bellows unit will not keep the lens well aligned with the plane of the sensor). At that point you're in the price range of a dedicated macro lens. Personally, I'd rather sell the Rodagon and buy a proper macro lens if I wanted one, which would also give me auto focusing and auto aperture.

If I were going to keep one of my enlarging lenses for close-up work, it wouldn't be the Rodagon, it would be the 55 mm f/1.9 Computer with the floating front element. It would be a pretty spiffy performer over the entire range from 1:3X to 1:30X.

Likelihood, though, is that I'm going to sell all my lenses. Even at used prices, that will easily pay for a really good m4/3 macro lens, if I want one.

Used prices for the Rodagon, when you can get one, are indeed very good. Well below even B&H's new price, which is substantially below list. I decided to ask for $450 for mine, which is $200 below B&H but somewhat above the lowest price I've seen on eBay. I can command a bit of a premium' cause of my reputation.

One caveat, here. Like all the Rodagon lenses, this is not a true apochromat, no matter what they've named it. It does not fully correct both lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration for three colors, which is the definition of an apochromat, no matter what lies the marketing droids promulgate. It's a very, very good enlarging lens, don't get me wrong. But it's not remotely in the same league as a true apochromat like the Apo-El-Nikkor 105mm. On the other hand, it doesn't cost anything like that lens, either! If you're looking for the platinum standard for enlarging/close-up lenses, that's the one to get.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Ctein - Mr Buyer Market - i.e. me - will always pay more for something I like (and can afford - I have a couple of your dye transfer prints) but cannot do myself. And I rate the possibility of my doing my own dye transfer printing at about the same odds as my building a rocket-ship from cornflakes and flying to the moon.

" Guess what? Ya fergets stuff!" "As with most "manufacturing processes" there's a lot of stuff that's never written down."

I get that when I've been away from my shop for a while.

Plans tell you what pieces of wood you need, and how they go together... But cutting and machining the wood is something of an intricate 4D ballet. Setup blocks and test pieces have to be machined alongside the workpieces. (*And* sometimes the difference between a setup block and a piece of scrap is a small checkmark on the block-to-be...) You may not really need to touch part M for many steps yet, but if you need it to match part A... you better machine while the tool is setup for part A. Etc...

So, when I restart a project, I often need to sit and think it through from the raw wood again. You really can't capture the process in notes and drawings.

Ctein, I'm actually aware of the Luminous Landscape Video Journal segment on dye transfer and it's one of the videos that I found visually underwhelming. In fact, LL was probably my introduction to you. It was one of the early VJs (I couldn't find a date online, but I think it was 2005, maybe 2004), and they could do so much better now.

"One caveat, here. Like all the Rodagon lenses, this is not a true apochromat, no matter what they've named it. It does not fully correct both lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration for three colors, which is the definition of an apochromat, no matter what lies the marketing droids promulgate."

It must be a very special guy to state this above (and proved it!) like Ctein did. What a reputation!

(not to mention the Zone VI spotmeter controversy :) )

Dear Bear,

That is undoubtedly a factor, though I think it applies less in the outside world, where most buyers don't make prints of any kind. Still, I know it affects my inclination to purchase, when I see a work I like that I know I couldn't have done.

Most of the high prices the dye transfers command, though, derive some irrational reactions. Not that I'm complaining, given it's been the mainstay of my career for three decades. Just an observation that the reasons don't necessarily make much sense. Even rarity doesn't cut it. As just one example, signed Jim Marshall dye transfer prints command much higher prices than signed Jim Marshall digital prints, and they are also in higher demand (I don't mean folks competing for the same photo, I mean I get many more inquiries from people possibly interested in buying the dye transfer prints than the digital prints of his that I own). This despite the fact that the dye transfer prints of each photograph exist by the dozens, whereas there are exactly 2 signed Jim Marshall digital prints in existence for most of the photographs that have been printed that way. And, we can be assured that there most certainly won't be any more!

On top of that, in many cases the digital prints look better than the dye transfer prints. I don't mean by a little bit-- it's a difference that would be both clear and agreed upon by an overwhelming majority of viewers. So, if you want a rare artwork and one that looks better, you should try to grab one of those digital prints. Well, people don't.

I don't try to figure this out, I just work with it.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Hélcio ,

That is exceedingly kind of you, but you give me rather too much credit.

Regarding the non-apochromat nature of enlarging lenses, it was Arthur Kramer who pointed that out. It's really, really easy to observe the longitudinal chromatic aberration. Stick any kind of a sharp opaque edge in enlarger, like a ruler or a razor blade or anything. Look at the edge with your grain magnifier and racks the lens in and out of focus. If it's a proper apochromat, the edge will get blurry as it goes out of focus but it will still stay neutral in color. If it's an ordinary achromat, it'll shift in color. For example, when you're focused too close it may appear pink and when you're focused too far green. That's what residual longitudinal chromatic aberration does–– causes the different colors to be focused at different distances from the lens.

Folks see this kind of effect in out-of-focus areas with digital cameras all the time these days, now that they can pixel-peep.

And, just so no one thinks I'm ragging on Rodenstock, except for the previously mentioned Apo-El-Nikkor, none of the lenses from Nikon and Schneider are apochromats, either. In fact, the lens with the very, very worst longitudinal chromatic aberration I ever saw, so bad that you'd get fuzzy black and white prints if you focused by white light, was a larger-format apo-Componon.

As for Zone VI, I can't take credit for that either. You should give my editors at Camera & Darkroom credit for that. Everybody in the business knew that Fred lied about products, both his own and competitors. I didn't discover anything new, it's just my editors said, “Hey, if you want to point out that this claim misrepresents another product, we will publish it.” Most magazines wouldn't do that; they were too leery of the grief they'd get back from Picker. And boy, did my editors get grief for it. They were heroes, and it hurt the magazine badly.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Ctein,

I agree with everything you said; I just look at it from another point of view. Why the Apo-Rodagon is still preferable in some situations with excellent macro lenses for DSLR available is due to its size and design parameters. My Micro-Nikkor 60/2.8 goes to 1:1, but I rarely use it for that, since the diamater of the front is large and the working distance short, which often leads to obscured lighting. Also, the quality of the Apo-Rodagon is still excellent at 1:1 and it could be combined with a tilt bellows if so desired.

Another issue is that at 1:1, I need a mechanism to move the camera back and forth anyway, so a bellows is often preferable. The bellows also improves support by moving the center of gravity on top of the tripod head (I'm comparing to standard DSLRs which attach under the camera). My main bellows is a quality model bought second hand, which some slight modifications; not expensive, since it's not a very fashionable piece of gear :-)

But as I wrote, I also agree with; the question is just which things one values the most. A good, automatic macro lens is an indispensable piece of kit (and the new Olympus 60/2.8 is indeed a tempting offer), but from my point of view for a slightly different purpose: to shoot 1:3 and smaller magnifications.

One question; would misaligning the lens with the sensor be a big issue when shooting only small subjects that are 3D? For reproduction work it would obviously be a disaster and equally so when shooting at large distances, but say an insect at 1:1?

I would really like an Apo-El-Nikkor, but at current prices one is impossible to justify.

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