Making fine prints in your digital darkroom
Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras
by Norman Koren

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updated Feb. 15, 2005
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Table of contents

for the Making Fine
Prints series

Getting started | Light & color
Pixels, images, & files | Scanners
Digital cameras | Printers | Papers and inks
Monitor calibration and gamma
Printer calibration | Scanning | Basic image editing
Black & White | Matting and framing
Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras
Introduction: RAW conversion | Human vision
Dynamic Range | Exposure | Gamma and contrast
Measuring tonal response and dynamic range
Achieving ultimate tonal quality | B&W | Summary
Color Management: Introduction | Implementation
Profiles with MonacoEZcolor | Evaluating profiles



for Image editing with
Picture Window Pro
Introduction | Making masks
Contrast masking
Tinting and hand coloring B&W images
Example: Sunset, Providence, Rhode Island
 
Related pages: Digital cameras | Digital vs. film | The Canon EOS-10D Digital SLR

Prints made from images captured on digital cameras can have extraordinary tonal quality, comparable to the finest full-toned traditional prints. But to reach their full potential they must be processed properly, which involves changing default camera settings and moving away from standard file formats. This page covers the key steps for achieving ultimate tonal quality, which include,

When you store images in RAW format you can also take advantage your camera's hidden dynamic range; you can access tones that may be obscured or lost when images are stored in a standard file format such as a JPEG-- the default for most digital cameras.

JPEG is a lossy compressed format that sacrifices a small amount of information to achieve a large savings in storage. But it is not this information loss that concerns us here; it is the loss of tonal levels that takes place when the image sensor's digital output is converted to any standard 24-bit color file format; JPEG is merely the most common. Image sensors in high quality digital cameras have a bit depth of at least 12; they have 212 = 4096 discrete tonal levels. Standard 24-bit color files have a bit depth of only 8; they have only 28 = 256 discrete tonal levels. Tonal levels are lost in the conversion. The techniques presented here minimize this loss-- they maximize tonal detail throughout the RAW conversion and image editing process.

This page shows you how to obtain optimum tonal quality from your digital camera and how to take advantage of its hidden dynamic range.

Introduction: RAW conversion

Digital sensors (both CCD and CMOS) are linear. That means the voltage generated in each pixel, and hence the pixel level emerging from the A-to-D converter (the device that converts the sensor output to discrete bits), is proportional to exposure-- to the light energy reaching the pixel. But neither human vision nor CRT monitors are linear. Hence the color spaces (rules that map pixel levels to visible colors) used for standard image files are intentionally nonlinear. The luminance represented by a pixel is not proportional to the pixel level. Luminance in a print or monitor is related to pixel level by the following simplified equation,
Output luminance = (pixel level)gamma
To obtain the pixels, the raw output of the image sensor, which is proportional to exposure, must be converted to a file with a standard color space using the inverse of the above operation.
pixel level = (RAW pixel level)1/gamma ~= exposure1/gamma
Gamma is the exponent of the equation that relates luminance to pixel level. Every color space has a characteristic gamma. Gamma = 2.2 for sRGB, which is the default color space for Windows, the World Wide Web, and most digital cameras. sRGB has a color gamut that approximates typical CRT monitors. Another popular color space is Adobe RGB (1998), which has a slightly larger color gamut. It also has gamma = 2.2. ( Older Macintosh computers have a default gamma of 1.8, but newer models seem to have switched to 2.2.) In the illustration below, the first process-- converting light energy (RAW data) to file pixels-- is shown on the left. The second process-- converting file pixels to print or display-- is shown on the right. The two processes are complimentary; when you combine them you get a straight line.
 
Figure 1. Characteristic curves for the two conversion processes in digital printmaking.

File pixel level (normalized to 1) as a function of exposure (raw pixel levels).
Output luminance (print or monitor) as a function of normalized file pixel levels.
Both shown with linear scales. The same data is displayed with logarithmic scales in Fig. 3.

Gamma correction is one of several functions of RAW conversion-- the process of converting the output of an image sensor to a standard file format, such as JPEG or TIFF. Depending on your camera's Storage or Quality setting, RAW conversion takes place inside the camera, immediately after the exposure, or afterwards on a computer.

It should be evident from these graphs that RAW conversion compresses pixel levels representing high luminance and expands pixel levels representing low luminance. This means that the converted file, with gamma = 2.2, has relatively fewer pixel levels in the highlights and more in the shadows. This turns out to be an advantage when human vision is considered.

RAW conversion performs several additional functions.

Film scanning software differs from RAW conversion software in only two respects. It doesn't need to perform a Bayer interpolation and it controls the motion of the scanner. Apart from that, all major functions-- gamma correction, tonal control, sharpening, and white balance-- are identical. Most of the advice on this page applies equally to scanning.

The remainder of this page will show how performing RAW conversion on a computer, rather than in the camera, enables you to achieve optimum tonal quality.

Human vision and tonal levels

The human eye is sensitive to relative luminance differences. That's why we think of exposure in terms of zones or f-stops, where changing exposure by one f-stop or zone means halving or doubling the light. The smallest luminance difference the eye can distinguish in bright light (Delta L) is expressed by the Weber-Fechner law,
Delta L/L = 0.01
(G. Wyszecki & W. S. Stiles, "Color Science," Wiley, 1982, pp. 567-570). This is a relative difference of 1%, corresponding to 1/70 of an exposure zone. (1.0170 = 2.0.)

In a photographic print, which has about a 100:1 luminance ratio, the eye can distinguish between 100 and 200 discrete luminance levels-- fewer than the 256 available in 8-bit B&W or 24-bit color. Assuming 200 levels, this is an average of 30 discrete visible steps in each of the 6.6 zones that comprise the 100:1 luminance ratio-- fewer than the 70 indicated by the Weber-Fechner law. The reason for the discrepancy is that the eye distinguishes fewer luminance levels in the dark areas of a print due to visual interference-- mostly flare light-- from the light areas. The number of luminance levels the eye can distinguish decreases gradually from light to dark zones.

In a RAW, i.e., linear file, the pixel level is proportional to light intensity. An exposure change of one zone or f-stop involves halving or doubling the pixel level. Therefore, half the pixel levels are in the top (brightest) zone, a quarter are in the second zone, a fourth are in the third zone, etc. A linear file with a bit depth of 8 (256 discrete levels) would contain 128 levels in the top zone, 64 levels in the second, and so on. The top zone would have far more levels than the eye can distinguish, while the lower zones would have relatively few levels-- only 8 and 4 in zones 5 and 6, respectively. "Banding" would be visible in shadows. If much editing were applied to the image-- if shadow areas had to be lightened (dodged) or increased in contrast, the banding could become severe. In a color space with gamma = 2.2, the distribution of levels is much more uniform: there are 69 levels in zone 1 (close to Weber-Fechner's magic number), 50 in zone 2, and so on. Zone 6 would still have 14 levels. Banding is invisible unless considerable editing is applied. Gamma = 2.2 may well be the ideal value for files with a bit depth of 8 (8-bit B&W and 24-bit color).

RAW (linear) and converted (gamma = 2.2) levels are shown in Table 1 for eleven zones of decreasing luminance, numbered 1 through 11. Columns 2-6 are for RAW (unconverted) data. The brightest Normalized level in each zone, 1/2n-1 = {1, 0.5, 0.35, ...} is shown in column 2 and the fraction of available levels, 1/2n = {0.5, 0.25, 0.125, ...} is shown in column 3. The total number of levels for RAW files from 10, 12, and 14-bit A-to-D converters is shown in the columns 4-6. Most current digital SLRs have 12-bit A-to-D converters. The rightmost five columns are for color spaces with gamma = 2.2. The rightmost two columns show the number of levels in each zone for 8 and 16-bit depths, representative of 24 and 48-bit color files.
 
 Exposure
zone
RAW
RAW
Levels in each zone
 
Gamma = 2.2
 Gamma = 2.2
Levels in each zone
Normalized
level
Fraction
in zone
10 bits
12 bits
14 bits
 
Normalized
pixel level
8-bit
level
Fraction
in zone
 8-bit
16-bit
1
1.0 1/2 512 2048 8192   1.0 255 0.27026 69 17712
2
0.5 (1/2) 1/4 256 1024 4096   0.72974 186 0.19722 50 12925
3
0.25 (1/4) 1/8 128 512 2048   0.53252 136 0.14366 37 9415
4
0.125 (1/8) 1/16 64 256 1024   0.38860 99 0.10502 27 6883
5
0.0625 1/32 32 128 512   0.28358 72 0.07664 20 5023
6
0.03125 1/64 16 64 256   0.20694 53 0.05593 14 3665
7
0.015625 1/128 8 32 128   0.15101 38 0.04081 10 2675
8
0.007812 1/256 4 16 64   0.11020 28 0.02978 8 1952
9
0.003906 1/512 2 8 32   0.08042 21 0.02174 6 1425
10
0.001953 1/1024 1 4 16   0.05868 15 0.01586 4 1039
11
0.000977 1/2048 -- 2 8   0.04282 11 0.01157 3 758

A few things are evident from this chart.

Dynamic range

If we assume that the darkest useable zone has 8 levels (remember, the eye can distinguish fewer levels in shadows), the chart tells us that a 12 bit A-to-D converter has a potential dynamic (exposure) range of 9 zones and a 14-bit A-to-D has a potential range of 11 zones. Both these numbers are far in excess of the range ordinarily achieved with digital cameras. What is happening?

We can gain some insight by looking at a simple imaging system-- a camera/printer combination that reproduces images with no editing or manipulation. The two gamma equations in the section on RAW conversion are applied exactly. The contrast of the print would be identical to the scene contrast-- a nice idea in theory, but one that rarely produces "fine" prints because a print can only reproduce a tonal range of about 100:1-- 6.6 f-stops. In this case the system dynamic range would also be 6.6 f-stops-- well under the camera's potential dynamic range.
 

The transfer curve (on a logarithmic scale) would look like the straight dashed blue line in Fig. 2. (Logarithmic scales correspond to human vision better than linear scales; they are discussed in detail below.) Camera manufacturers are faced with a classic tradeoff: contrast versus dynamic range. Most images look best with enhanced contrast, but if contrast is increased, dynamic range suffers. Dynamic range can be increased by decreasing contrast, but images tend to look flat. That won't sell cameras!

One way around this tradeoff is to apply a curve, shown in solid black in Fig. 2. Contrast is reduced in the shadows and highlights, but increased in the important midtone area, which is responsible for perceived contrast.


Figure 2.

I don't know whether curves are applied in the RAW conversion algorithms used in cameras. There's no reason why they shouldn't, but if they are, camera manufacturers aren't saying. It would be part of the proprietary signal processing package that gives them a competitive advantage. Camera manufacturers could do even more-- they could make conversion adaptive. Low contrast scenes could have contrast expanded and contrasty scenes could have contrast compressed. Again, if any camera manufacturers are doing this, they aren't telling. Perhaps it will be next year's big "advance."

In the meantime you can apply curves manually with a flexible RAW conversion program like Capture One DSLR, or in an image editor. Both approaches are described below. One of the best uses of curves is to bring up dark levels that are lost when RAW conversion is performed inside the camera, as described above. This enables you to access your camera's hidden dynamic range.

The number of A-to-D converter output levels isn't the only factor that limits dynamic range. Noise is another, and it's extremely important. Unfortunately you won't find much about it in camera spec sheets or glossy brochures. It's difficult to quantify-- the amount of noise depends on the exposure and ISO speed, and it has a spectral distribution-- it's not a simple number. But it has a few important properties.

To take maximum advantage of your camera's hidden dynamic range you should set it to its lowest ISO speed. High ISO speeds increase noise and make it difficult to expand dynamic range through the use of curves.

Exposure

It may seem backwards to discuss exposure after RAW conversion, but it isn't. The optimum approach to setting exposure depends on the format you choose for storing the image; it's slightly different for RAW than for standard image formats such as JPEG or TIFF. You select the storage format-- by intent or by default-- before making the exposure. In either case, you should make use of the histogram-- the chart that shows the distribution of tonal levels. A histogram should be displayed in the camera's LCD monitor immediately after each exposure. Your camera's default settings may need to be changed: In the Canon EOS-10D menu I set Review to On (Info) and Review time to 8 sec. I regularly make test exposures and check the histogram to be sure I have the correct exposure. If not, I reexpose using exposure compensation. I delete test exposures immediately unless they happen to be "keepers."

Although I repeatedly stress the importance of saving files in RAW format, there are instances where high quality can be achieved using JPEGs. Claude Jodoin of Michigan uses JPEGs for weddings and other high volume events. RAW conversion is too slow for his workflow. He uses high quality lighting, an ExpoDisc to set the White Point, and he knows how to expose properly, so images look good straight out of the camera. The bottom line is satisfied clients. This doesn't work well for landscape photography, where lighting is uncontrolled and scene contrast varies all over the place.

Comparing digital and film: gamma equals contrast.

The human eye, as we mentioned earlier, responds to relative luminance differences. Relative differences are not displayed uniformly when luminance is plotted on a linear scale, but they are on logarithmic scales: relative differences such as doubling or halving the luminance (changing it by one exposure zone) occupy the same distance, independently of the absolute level.

For this reason it makes sense to use logarithmic curves to display the relationships between exposure, film density, pixel level, and luminance. This is routinely done for film and papers, where Film Density (-Log10(transmitted light/incident light)) plays the same role as pixel level in digital images. Note that one unit on a Log10 scale (such as Density) equals 3.32 exposure zones (f-stops); one exposure zone equals 0.301 Density units.

When the conversion curves in Fig. 1 are replotted on logarithmic scales, the characteristic curves become straight lines: If y = xgamma, then log(y) = gamma * log(x). Gamma is the slope of the line; it is the change in the dependent variable (y-axis) for a given change in the independent variable (x-axis). Using the RAW conversion plot in Fig. 3 as an example, gamma is the change in Log (pixel level) for a given change in Log (exposure). In other words, gamma is contrast.

Figure 3. Characteristic curves for the two conversion processes in digital printmaking.

Both are displayed with logarithmic (base 10) scales. In contrast to the linear display in Fig. 1, the transfer curves are straight lines.
File pixel level (normalized to 1) as a function of exposure (raw pixel levels). Output luminance (print or monitor) as a function of normalized file pixel levels.

The equivalence of gamma with contrast becomes strikingly apparent when we compare Fig. 3 to film and paper characteristic curves in Fig. 4. The RAW conversion plot (Fig. 3, left) is similar to the film curve (Fig. 4, left) and the print/monitor display curve (Fig 3, right) is similar to the photographic paper curves (Fig. 4, right). Log (pixel level) is analogous to Density = -Log (light transmission) in the film plot and Log exposure in the paper plot. Reflection density is the same as -Log (luminance). The average slope of the film and paper curves is called "gamma;" it is indeed the same gamma used to characterize digital color spaces and monitors.


Figure 4. Characteristic curves for the two conversion processes in conventional photographic (darkroom) printmaking.
Film density = -log10(fraction of light transmitted through the film) as a function of exposure.
Kodak Polymax photographic paper

Print reflection density = -log10(fraction of light reflected by the print) as a function of log exposure (-film density).
The principal difference between the digital and conventional curves is in the "knee" regions near the response limits. The knees tend to be more abrupt for digital.
 
 Measuring digital camera tonal response and dynamic range
With the new Imatest program, digital camera tonal response and dynamic range to be measured easily and accurately using a transmission step wedge-- a piece of film with zones of incresing density. The details of the measurement are in the Imatest Q-13 tour.

Here are the results for the Canon EOS-10D at ISO 400, converted from RAW format with Capture One LE. The upper left plot is the density response curve. The lower left plot is noise measured in f-stops-- a relative measure that corrresponds to the eye's response. Each step represents 1/2 f-stop (a density step of 0.15).

The total dynamic range of the EOS-10D is 8.5 f-stops. Dynamic range improves slightly (but less than I expected) for 48-bit TIFF conversion and ISO 100. Noise is significantly lower for 48-bit TIFF conversion. The shape of the response curve is a strong function of the conversion software settings. The curve on the right for Canon Zoom Browser with Contrast set to Low is very different from Capture One LE (though both are half an "S" curve), but the dynamic range hardly changes.
You can download an evaluation version of Imatest that allows up to 20 runs of individual modules, and you can purchase Imatest for a very affordable price.

Achieving ultimate tonal quality

What follows may seem a bit strange; please bear with me. Fig. 5 is the curve for Kodak Azo paper-- a silver chloride contact printing paper with an exalted reputation for fine tonal quality. Michael A. Smith and Paula Chamlee-- print quality fanatics in the Edward Weston/Ansel Adams tradition (they use 8x10 and 8x20 inch cameras)-- rave about it.
"In our opinion, we have not seen contemporary photographic prints on any other photographic paper, including all platinum and other "alternative" papers, that consistently rival the depth, luminosity, and tonal range of photographs printed on Azo paper."
Unless you plan to swap your DSLR for an 8x10, take a careful look at the curve. It's different from the Polymax curve in Fig. 4 and strikingly different from the digital camera curves in Fig. 3.
Figure 5. Azo characteristic curve.

The key difference is in the knee of the curve, indicated by the red arrow-- the highlight region where density starts increasing. The knee is much broader for Azo than for Polymax-- density increases more gradually. The knees in both film curves are in stark contrast to the digital curves in Fig. 3, which cut off abruptly at their limits. (The polarities of several parameters are reversed; the corresponding knee in Fig. 3, such as it is, is indicated by an arrow in the upper right.) Thanks to the knee, Azo holds highlight detail very nicely. It doesn't easily burn out. The knee gives Azo its superb luminosity. (Luminosity refers, of course, to highlights.)

The knee is not there by accident. It's the climax of an evolution that has spanned several generations of silver-based paper (and photographers as well). Digital printing has evolved enormously in the last decade, but it's still the new kid on the block. There are still some rough edges, or perhaps... sharp corners.

Digital photographers need not despair. The effects of the "knee" can be duplicated by Curve controls using one of two approaches.

  1. Apply a curve control during RAW conversion. This requires a high quality RAW conversion program like Capture One DSLR. (I use C1 LE with my EOS-10D.) The crummy File Viewer Utility supplied free with Canon digital cameras won't do (though it would be a bargain at half the price).

  2. Convert the RAW image to a file with a bit depth of 16: 48-bit color or 16-bit B&W and apply the curves with an image editor. This allows you to get away using Canon's File Viewer Utility, but you need an image editor that can support a bit depth of 16, like Picture Window Pro (my favorite) or Adobe Photoshop CS. Earlier versions of Photoshop had limited support for 16-bit editing and Elements doesn't support it at all. Results will be inferior with a bit depth of 8.
Disclaimer (for Michael): The techniques presented below won't enable you to duplicate Azo exactly; other factors such as tint and surface contribute to its unique appearance. But with practice, patience, and appropriate equipment-- with a well-calibrated monitor and a high quality printer-- you'll be able to make beautiful luminous prints that meet the highest artistic standards.

And there's one more difference with digital. You can fine tune the curve to match the needs of the image, precisely. You aren't limited by the curve of the paper. (In my old B&W darkroom days I would to adjust the curve by mixing standard and low contrast paper developers-- Dektol and Selectol Soft. Digital curves are easier.)

1. Curve applied during RAW conversion

This image of Capitol Reef National Park isn't my favorite-- it could use a stronger foreground to anchor the composition, but neither Mother Nature nor the National Park Service cooperated. It's fine for illustrating RAW conversion using Capture One LE.


Figure 6. Capture One LE Exposure tab.

Figure 7. C1 LE Levels tab with histogram

The histogram, visible when the Levels tab is selected, is shown in Fig. 7. The levels tab allows you to set the minimum and maximum pixel levels. I moved the minimum from its default of 0 to 20 but didn't change the maximum-- I used the Curve for that adjustment. To adjust the curve you need to select the Curve tab, as illustrated in Fig. 6. The curve I chose is quite similar to the Azo curve-- recall that polarities are reversed, so the lower left of the Azo curve corresponds to the upper right of the C1 LE curve. There's nothing rigid about the Azo curve; I choose whatever curve (or straight line) works best with each individual image.

It's evident from this histogram, and from the Canon File Viewer Utility window in Fig. 8, that the issue with this image is not the dynamic range. It's the low contrast of the original image-- the result of atmospheric haze.

Ed Harris uses a pre-CS version of Photoshop, which forces him to do many operations in 24-bit color (bit depth = 8). He often does considerable editing after RAW conversion. To get around the 8-bit limitation, he does several RAW conversions, then combines them. You can achieve similar results (more easily, I believe) with the new Stack Images transformation in Picture Window Pro 3.5.
 
Ed Harris's workflow for expanding tonal range
I have developed a workflow for expanding the tonal range of a single image with Capture One. Some images just don’t make it using multiple exposures with blending. There may be ripples in a stream, leaves moving in the wind, or an animal in the scene.

I select the image in C1, then crop and adjust it normally. The image's tonal limitations become obvious at this stage. Moving the exposure (EC) slider across its 5-stop range reveals the possibilities of what can be done. (I prefer Levels and Curves. C1 gives you several means of accomplishing the same end. --NK) I develop two, three, or more versions at half or full stop EC increments, often applying additional enhancements to each version using C1's corrections tools. I don't apply sharpening at this stage (I use PK Sharpener Pro).

I move each version onto a Photoshop layer. Using a soft brush I erase incorrect tonal values from each layer, revealing the correctly toned portion of the layer below, thereby building a full valued image. The order of layers depends on the image and the complexity of the corrections. I typically place the lightest image at the bottom of the stack and erase the underexposed portions of the darker layer above. I recommend working on just layer pair at a time. The whole array of Photoshop tools, particularly Masks, can be applied to each layer pair. Flatten the image when you are satisfied with the result.

I normally develop 8-bit TIFF files for each of the versions because these will all become layers within Photoshop. Obviously 16-bit TIFF files can be used, but their value is limited because the file has to be converted to 8-bit anyway. Photoshop CS will fix that!

This technique is one of the great plusses of taking your pictures in RAW mode.

Ed Harris, White River, South Africa (near Kruger National Park),  edlizans <at> iafrica [dot] com

2. Curve applied in the image editor

If you're stuck with a clunky RAW conversion program like the Canon File Viewer Utility, tonal control options are limited-- you can adjust Digital Exposure Compensation and Contrast (in 5 steps) as well as a few color parameters, but there is no curves control. Preview image refresh is extremely slow with the Canon FVU. For the most part you're stuck with the image as captured. Here it is with the default camera settings. The quality of the preview image is-- pardon my French-- merde.


Figure 8. Canon File Viewer Utility

Despite the weaknesses in its interface, the Canon File Viewer Utility does a decent job in converting the RAW image. And if you convert to 48-bit color you can edit with no loss of tonal levels. Fig. 9 illustrates how to edit the image with the Color curves transformation in Picture Window Pro.


Figure 9. Picture Window Pro Color Curves transformation.

The original image-- the anemic output of the Canon File Viewer Utility-- is on the lower left. The preview image is on the top. The Color Curves control box is on the right. I especially like the way it combines the curves adjustment with a histogram-- it gives exceptional control. The curves behave differently from Capture One LE, but the overall result is similar. I used the HSL color representation, which tends to increase saturation as lightness (L) is decreased. I also boosted the Saturation (S) (not visible here). There are gaps in the lower (result) histogram because the preview uses 24-bit color. The gaps aren't present in the histogram of the 48-bit transformed image (Fig. 10, right). But they are present when the same Color Curves transformation is performed on an identical 24-bit color image (Fig. 10, left) More information on using the Color Curves transformation can be found in Digital Light and Color's tutorial, Using Curves and Histograms (a 1.34 MB PDF download).
.
The loss of tonal detail is obvious in the histogram on the left, though it's probably not severe enough to cause serious banding. But if you apply multiple edits-- if you do much selective tonal control (dodging and burning), the degradations will accumulate. The tonal gradation of the final image won't be as smooth as it could be. And of course, this image, like most landscapes, can benefit from additional work. It’s by no means complete at this stage.

24-bit color (bit depth = 8)

48-bit color (bit depth = 16)
Figure 10. Histograms after 24 and 48-bit Color Curves transformations.

Black & white

All digital cameras and most photographic printers are designed for color: it takes effort and imagination to turn images into Black & White. What a contrast to my youth, when color was almost impossibly difficult in the home darkroom! B&W is a more abstract medium; it's not as closely tied to reality. B&W prints typically require and tolerate more manipulation-- dodging and burning. Read Ansel Adams' "The Print" if you're skeptical. The results can be striking-- very different from color. And the tones can be gorgeous.

To convert the image into B&W I used Picture Window Pro's Monochrome transformation, which allows you to select and preview a filter of any color. I describe its use in my page on Black & White. I used a red-orange filter because pure red was a little harsh. I also did some tonal manipulation and contrast masking. In some ways I prefer the B&W image.
 

Figure 11. B&W with red-orange filter

Newer printers such as the Epson 2200, which has both black and gray ink cartridges, do an excellent job with B&W, though glossy surfaces still can't quite match the finest silver prints. (However, matte surfaces whip their silver counterparts.) They do even better if you use a piece of software called a Raster Image Processor (RIP) to control the ink mixture. With an RIP you can minimize metamerism-- changes in the appearance of the print under different light sources, which are much more noticeable in B&W prints than in color.

Summary

Digital cameras can produce prints with outstanding tonal quality if you use the proper techniques for capture, storage, and editing. It takes practice, patience, and the right equipment to make fine photographic prints, but if you have the passion your efforts will be well rewarded.

Related pages: Digital cameras | Digital vs. film | The Canon EOS-10D Digital SLR
.


Images and text copyright 2000-2013 by Norman Koren. Norman Koren lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he worked in developing magnetic recording technology for high capacity data storage systems until 2001. He has been working on Imatest since 2003. He has been involved with photography since 1964.