WAACNewsletter
Volume 5, Number 1, March 1983, pp.7-9

Technical Exchange

Various authors

PUSH! POP! BEEP!: An Evaluation of 35mm Slide Printers

Several self-contained units are now available to produce instant color prints, black and white prints, and black and white negatives from your 35 mm slides--they are not slide duplicators. All are conveniently portable, compact units, some complete with flashing lights and bells, and all eating film and offering the instant gratification associated with the Polaroid tradition. The basic operation is standard Polaroid button pushing that activates an electronic flash with the exposure being automatically controlled by built-in photo cells. Adjustments are available for more precise exposure and contrast control.

General Specifications

As of this writing we are aware of four instant slide printers with potential for conservators: Polaroid Polaprinter Slide Copier ($595), Vivitar Instant Slide Printer ($220), Samigon Rapid Image 205 ($495 plus Polaroid #405 Pack Back: - $63.80), and O + ER Proprinter Slide Copier ($595 plus cost of desired backs, see below). A summary comparison of all four plus the Durst Diacopy 810 can be found in "Modern Photography," November 1982, pg. 98. At the LACMA Conservation Center we have tested three units: Polaprinter, Samigon, and Proprinter. The Durst Diacopy 810 ($300) uses only Kodak PR 144-10 and Kodamatic H5144- 10 (with a neutral density filter) and, since it apparently has no available black and white print film, we believe it is not worth considering for conservation purposes.

All of these printers were originally designed to make color prints from slides as their primary purpose. For conservation documentation our concern is also for the printers to provide acceptable black and white prints from pre-existing 35 mm color slides. While instant color prints may be satisfactory for many purposes there are some disadvantages which make either conventional or Polaroid black and white prints more desirable: lack of accurate color rendition, less permanence, poorer resolutions, and greater cost. Many conservators are reasonably adept at taking color slides but less experienced with black and white prints formats. Hopefully, the availability of black and white from color slides will make photographic documentation easier.

The Polaprinter, Vivitar, and Samigon all use Polaroid Pack (3- 1/4"x 4-1/4") films: Polacolor 2, Polacolor ER: and Type 665 Positive/Negative black and white. The Proprinter uses all of these and has the extremely significant advantage of accepting Polaroid 4" x 5" films and all conventional 4"x 5" films. (In addition to the Polaroid #405 Pack Back, the Proprinter takes Polaroid #545 4"x 5" back [$129], Polaroid #550 4"x 5" Pack Back [$120], and Graflox back for conventional 4"x 5" sheet film [$130].)

Print Format

The major drawback of the Polaprinter (tested) and Vivitar (untested) is that the Polaprinter film format (3-1/4"x 4-1/4") is not proportional to the normal 35 mm slide and these two systems respond by cropping a portion of the slide image, thereby not reproducing the entire slide on the print. Each has a viewing system which allows you to preview your slide. The Vivitar claims infinite adjustments in all directions, but unfortunately will not give you a full uncropped image at its maximum opening. The Polaprinter tested allowed one to crop approximately 6 mm from either end of the long (35 mm) axis or to split the difference, taking 3 mm from each end. These systems do not permit flexible cropping to enable a true optimum image selection within the reduced format. Because loss of a full image is of particular importance to a conservator we feel that this is a serious drawback of these two systems. To overcome the problems of cropping during printing, the conservator might wish to mask off his 35 mm camera's viewfinder or viewing screen during shooting to match the printer's format to insure easy reproduction of the entire desired image in a subsequent print. Note: Such a masking technique may only be possible on 35 mm cameras which provide access to the focusing screen.

The viewing screen with the Polaprinter, for example, shows a 27 x 20.5 mm format which should theoretically be directly reproduced. In fact, the unit tested reproduced a slightly larger portion of the slide, gaining approximately 1.75-2 mm on the left and bottom sides (for vertical format) as viewed on the Polaprinter (this might vary with particular units). Thus the final area of the slide which is reproduced is approximately 29 x 22.5 mm. The correspondence between your camera and particular printer would have to be determined by testing.

The Samigon and Proprinter overcomes the drawback of imposed cropping by delivering a full image of slightly smaller dimension than the full print size. The resulting print will have a blacked-out border on the top and bottom of the horizontal axis, but we don't find this objectionable. Both also allow for some cropping similar to the other units, if desired.

Exposure

To obtain optimum results all units provide built-in filter shots for the more critical color control generally required with color film emulsions. For instance, Polaroid suggests the use of CC10R filter with Polacolor 2 whereas with the particular emulsion batch of our test film, a combination of CC10M and CC10B proved more satisfactory. Ideally, a test slide with a gray, white and step wedges should be used to set the filtration for each film batch. And remember, as with all Polaroid films, the prints suffer from loss of saturation and shift in hue in the blues and greens.

The Polaprinter and Vivitar both have automatic exposure controls with normal lighter/darker override similar to those found on instant cameras. The Samigon and the Proprinter have manual exposure controls (f/3.5 to f/16). In addition the Proprinter has a + 1 f/stop, manual lighter/darker override in 5 increments at each setting, and automatic exposure compensation for different positions.

With the use of the 3-1/4" x 4-1/4" format Polaroid films, the Polaprinter provides the best contrast control: a definite plus in handling the increased contrast which is inherent in copying a slide, including both lighter and darker than average slides. In our opinion, the means by which the Polaprinter gives this contrast control, unfortunately, results in a softer image resolution.

The full format makes the Samigon appealing; however, it has no contrast control. This, combined with the fact that all Polaroid films of 3-1/4"x 4-1/4" format are very contrasty, results in excessive image contrast, especially in black and white prints. Also, the low power output of the strobe necessitates a relatively wide aperture and the need to pulse two to six repeats for a dark slide.

Unquestionably, our best results have been with the Polaprinter and a Polaroid 545 Land film holder (for individual sheets of 4x5 Polaroid film) using Polaroid Type 52 film. With the high speed fine grain film (unavailable in the 3-l/4 x 4-1/4 format used by the other printers), a #96 neutral density filter was required to provide a 2 stop decrease in exposure to bring the unit and film into compatible range for automatic exposure. The results were superior, with good tonal rendition.

For conservators who desire a black and white negative, the Polaroid 665 P/N and 55 P/N may be used. However, as those experienced with this positive/negative film know, you must either use a normal exposure for a good print or overexpose for a good printable negative--you can't get both from a single shot! Therefore, we recommend sticking with type 52, or, if a higher quality negative is required (and you have facilities for photographic development), going to a conventional 4"x 5" sheet film.

Conclusions

These units may prove useful to an institution or private conservator requiring quick access to prints of reasonable quality (e.g. surveys of collections, traveling exhibitions, mass treatments or processing of archaeological artifacts, etc.) With its full range of films, 4"x 5" format, high power, and more precise controls, we find the O + ER Proprinter is by far the superior unit of those tested. The Samigon Rapid Image 205 lacks 4"x 5" versatility but provides a full format print. However, its poor contrast control is a definite disadvantage. If one can use a viewfinder mask to correct the original 35 mm format during shooting, the Polaroid Polaprinter (and possibly the untested Vivitar Instant Slide Printer) would be able to provide much better contrast than Samigon, although not a high quality as the Polaprinter using Type 52 film.

All units provide prints acceptable for identification and report purposes as well as negatives suitable for enlarged black and white prints. Arguments can be made that the availability of color negative/slide processing may satisfy these needs or that the use of two 35 mm cameras or bodies, one black and white and one color, would be better--but of course the "instant" factor would be lost and it is often difficult to get quality black and white prints from commercial photographic processors without taking the extra time and expense of custom printing. A functional 4" x 5" view camera, a used lens, and a Polaroid film holder, might be obtained for approximately the same cost while providing more flexibility and a potential for higher quality. However, the conservator still would be faced with greater setup, photographic, and processing times, often for the single purpose of having the documentation in black and white on file. With these slide printers, you retain the possibility of instant black and white documentation if and when required.

Whether of not one of these units will help solve your photographic documentation problems depends, of course, on your own operation; if applied intelligently one could be a useful tool when time and space are limited.

Comparative Polaroid Print Costs Per Print
(Prices shown reflect commonly available discounts)


  Color:
  2-1/4" x 3-1/4"     Type 669 ER                   $1.60
  2-1/4" x 3-1/4"     Type 668 Polacolor 11         $1.60
  4" x 5"             Type 59                       $1.96

  Black and White:
  2-1/4" x 3-1/4"     Type 665 Positive/Negative    $0.79
  4" x 5"             Type 55 Positive/Negative     $1.31
  4" x 5"             Type 52                       $1.23

James L. Greaves
Senior Painting Conservator
John Gebhart
Conservation Photographer
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Information Please

Steve Cristin-Poucher is interested in information regarding the conservation of early 20th C painted rubber dolls from Europe or the United States. He is also interested in information concerning the consolidation of stone, particularly with silicon esters and silanes. If you have been involved in either of these conservation projects, or know of any information, please contact him at: Conservation Center; LACMA; 5905 Wilshire Blvd.; Los Angeles, CA 90036. (213) 857-6166.

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