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October 2000 Vol. 26, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Perfect Prints From Slides Every Time?

yes indeed, thanks to a new Kodak process

from the October, 2000 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

After shooting a few rolls of print film while snorkeling in Aruba a few years ago, Randy Fredlund was disappointed with the blue-green haze and the lack of true color. The Eastman Kodak research scientist scanned his prints into his computer, then used picture-editing software to get the colors back. Voilŕ! Thanks to his work, this summer Kodak introduced Sea Processing, a print film development process that removes the haze and restores the reds, greens, and oranges.

Clearly, the process has applications for snorkelers. But what about serious underwater photographers who use slide film only? Undercurrent sought an evaluation from two experts, well-published photographers Mike Haber and Mike Mesgleski — both long-time associates of Jim Church — who now operate Underwater Camera Here is what they found:

* * * * *

We’ve shot thousands of rolls of film underwater over the past twenty years, yet we can count on one hand the times we’ve used color negative film. Is there any reason, we wondered, for the slide film shooter to pay attention to Kodak Sea Processing (KSP), a new method of printing photos? To our great surprise, we found very good reasons.

First, we had to overcome our own misconceptions. We discovered that the "P" in KSP has nothing to do with processing. In fact, no manipulation of the actual film is ever performed. It is processed normally, then scanned by an industrial strength film scanner and converted into digital files. The KSP operator loads the digital files into a computer and views them on a monitor. Using Kodak’s patented software, he adjusts each image to Kodak’s standards using their algorithms. The operator has some latitude in this process based on his training.

The Proof Is In the Print

After studying KSP marketing material, we attended several demonstrations to see the results. Compared with conventional photo printing, we saw that KSP could dramatically improve the print results of underwater photos made from negative film. This was especially true of poorly exposed images, where KSP magically inserted color where there had been none.

Kodak’s software corrects exposure deficiencies by reading information hidden within the emulsion of the film. By extracting traces of that information, KSP can digitally reintroduce absent colors to an image shot in poor light. Using a variety of our color negatives, KSP prints showed a remarkable improvement compared to prints made using traditional printing techniques.

What About Slides?

With slide film, however, what you see is what you get. There is no latent color information for KSP to draw upon to improve the printed image. A lousy blue/green slide is going to result in a lousy blue/green print.

Still, KSP is great for great slides — the ones you worked so hard to light perfectly, the ones you carry to your dive club to share with your buddies. For these, KSP prints have significant benefits.

We brought several color slides to Dale Photo Labs in Hollywood, Florida, the only U.S. lab qualified to produce KSP prints. Printing from a Kodak digitized image produced a much sharper print than did the conventional method of enlarging a slide through an internegative. Our slides exhibited extremely fine detail, and KSP captured that detail exceptionally well.

The KSP operator views each frame of film printed through KSP. By viewing the original slide and the digital image on his monitor simultaneously, he can tweak the on-screen image to match the original slide.

A slide that is enlarged through a Direct-to-Print process (DTP) such as Cibachrome can normally maintain excellent detail, yet DTP detail often suffers when the original slide is too contrasty. You might maintain highlight detail but lose shadow detail — or vice versa. Contrast control in a DTP process is more complicated and difficult to control than with KSP. In our KSP tests, a good amount of highlight detail and shadow detail was held simultaneously.

Multiple custom enlargements from a single slide often vary from print to print. That’s the nature of custom printing. It's an art rather than a science. Conversely, an enlargement made from KSP should not have such variation, as the technician locks in image corrections before the print is made. KSP is consistent. It’s distinctly more science than art.

We always fear relinquishing our precious original slides to have prints made, so it’s helpful that the lab holds the digital file for two weeks for reprint orders. As an added benefit, the digital files can also be transformed to a picture CD for home use.

Still, in some ways KSP compares less favorably to custom printing. With KSP, color, contrast, and brightness corrections must be made as overall adjustments, much like you would adjust a TV picture. It cannot handle selective dodging, burning, or color control. If your slide requires special attention to specific areas, custom photographic printing will be preferable.

So why not just shoot color negative film? Well, try a few rolls with KSP to see if you like the results. The narrow exposure latitude of color slide film forces you to be at the top of your photographic game. The twostop exposure latitude that color negative film enjoys, combined with the ability of KSP to correct color, could certainly improve your number of keepers.

Of course, E-6 slide processing at dive resorts and on live-aboards gives us immediate feedback so that we can adjust accordingly. Since there is so little room for exposure error, this is often critical to the photographic success of a trip. To many photographers, this is reason enough to stick with slides.

Print options for slide shooters have been limited to local labs that didn’t understand underwater photography or custom labs that made us pay the price. So KSP comes close to providing us with a simple, cost-effective method of obtaining precise prints from our better slides. Although it won’t take a bad picture and make it good as it will with negative film, it will reproduce your best work accurately. And in the end, isn’t that all we’ve ever asked for?

How To Order KSP

The price of KSP enlargements is competitive with conventional printing and less expensive than custom work. It runs from $6.50 for an 8x10 to $16 for a 12x18, the maximum size available by KSP. To try KSP, log onto Kodak’s website: You will find a list of Kodak’s 29 dealers in 18 states. Each is a dive shop that acts as collection station. Your unprocessed film, processed color negatives, or color slides can be brought or mailed to any of these shops. They in turn forward them to Dale Photo Labs. The entire process requires at least a ten-day turnaround. Dale Photo Labs cannot accept direct KSP orders — they must all be forwarded by a participating KSP dealer.

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