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The main differences between optical printers and contact printers?


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For general use, I understand that the main application of optical printing was for changing the format size from the negative to the print--whether that be from a 35mm negative to a 16mm print or the inverse. I also know that optical printers were used a lot for effects work, title cards, and credits. Contact printers on the other hand were utilized mostly for the color timing process. 

With all that in mind, I am not too sure of the full extent of one printer's capabilities vs the other. Are you also able to color time on most optical printers? Does one printer generally produce higher "quality"/resolution prints than the other?  Which are more commonly found and are still in use? And why would someone exclusively use one over the other?

Edited by Owen A. Davies
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Both types can do color timing (though I don't think it was as common with optical), and some optical effects like fades and dissolves. But contact printers are faster, running at speeds many times faster than real time. 

Optical printers did get pretty sophisticated, and faster, near the end. And some labs used them to do things like zero-cut printing (vs A/B roll). But with optical you have lenses between the source and the print stock and that's always going to result in a softer image than you'd get with a contact print. 

Edited by Perry Paolantonio
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With optical printing you can apply independent film movements meaning that a scene can be copied backwards as well as forward, parts or the whole can be accelerated or paced down. You can copy away a frame for standstills. The image can be rotated, flipped over, and combined with other images, plain or partially, through wipes and whatnot.

Of course, printing light control is used, not only to adapt scenes to the overall picture but also to introduce colour distortions, over-saturation, desaturation, transitions from black and white to colours or the other way, in focus to out of focus.

An objective lens introduces more contrast compared to contact printing. This must be addressed by special intermediate film stocks and trimming of processing.

Some makes of optical printers are Depue, Debrie, Oxberry, Bell & Howell, Seiki, ARRI, Dunn.

Somewhere between rather slow optical and fast continuous contact printing we have step-contact copying which gives best image steadiness and definition. It’s all about whether producers care about the public or not. IMAX threw the towel in. Recent 70-mm. positives such as for Hateful Eight seem to be continuously exposed ones. I take this opportunity to say that it’s time productions returned to cinema and give audiences a decent screen image via precision 35-mm. prints. It’s possible, I don’t know for certain, that Mike Todd had intermittent prints made of Oklahoma! What he did is to forbid popcorn where his productions ran.

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3 hours ago, Simon Wyss said:

With optical printing you can apply independent film movements meaning that a scene can be copied backwards as well as forward, parts or the whole can be accelerated or paced down. You can copy away a frame for standstills. The image can be rotated, flipped over, and combined with other images, plain or partially, through wipes and whatnot.

Of course, printing light control is used, not only to adapt scenes to the overall picture but also to introduce colour distortions, over-saturation, desaturation, transitions from black and white to colours or the other way, in focus to out of focus.

An objective lens introduces more contrast compared to contact printing. This must be addressed by special intermediate film stocks and trimming of processing.

Some makes of optical printers are Depue, Debrie, Oxberry, Bell & Howell, Seiki, ARRI, Dunn.

Somewhere between rather slow optical and fast continuous contact printing we have step-contact copying which gives best image steadiness and definition. It’s all about whether producers care about the public or not. IMAX threw the towel in. Recent 70-mm. positives such as for Hateful Eight seem to be continuously exposed ones. I take this opportunity to say that it’s time productions returned to cinema and give audiences a decent screen image via precision 35-mm. prints. It’s possible, I don’t know for certain, that Mike Todd had intermittent prints made of Oklahoma! What he did is to forbid popcorn where his productions ran.

 

3 hours ago, Perry Paolantonio said:

Both types can do color timing (though I don't think it was as common with optical), and some optical effects like fades and dissolves. But contact printers are faster, running at speeds many times faster than real time. 

Optical printers did get pretty sophisticated, and faster, near the end. And some labs used them to do things like zero-cut printing (vs A/B roll). But with optical you have lenses between the source and the print stock and that's always going to result in a softer image than you'd get with a contact print. 

Do either of you have any footage or at least an example that shows the level of softness, contrast, deterioration, or loss of resolution from an optical print? I have the opportunity to use an Oxberry one and I wanna see the extent to which my image will be compromised if I have to print and color time on it instead of a contact printer.  

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You can also composite with an optical printer, between the Aerial projector and Main projector you can put four images together and shoot them onto the camera stock.

The camera can also have sensitive stock and a traveling matte stock to mask areas for FX like blue screen.

 

 

OptPrint.jpeg

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We also use our Seiki optical printer to make blow-up/reductions (16-35 both directions) but also, with a special lens designed by Isco, blow-up from Super35 to anamorphic Cinemascope.

Hundreds of shorts were direct blow-up from the S16 negative to 35mm print. This was very common for festivals, only one print needed unless the film was succesful. We made a contact print to S16 positive to screen and adjust the grading, then the final blow-up. 

We actually did some films from Super16 to Super35 Interpositive to Anamorphic 35mm duplicate negative to 35mm anamorphic print. 

Needless to say, all these functions are now history, we still do prints for restauration and artists. The digital intermediate has replaced the traditional IP/DN workflow.

 

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9 hours ago, Owen A. Davies said:

Do either of you have any footage or at least an example that shows the level of softness, contrast, deterioration, or loss of resolution from an optical print? I have the opportunity to use an Oxberry one and I wanna see the extent to which my image will be compromised if I have to print and color time on it instead of a contact printer. 

I have a pretty good example for you here:

See the chandelier shot at 02:56, that's a camera shot done on Fuji Eterna 250D. The shot that follows immediately after of the same chandelier is done on an Oxberry optical printer on Kodak Vision3 50D.

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