Vincent Isola
Vincent Isola

Vincent Isola has won numerous awards for his work and teaches digital photography, printing, and lighting techniques to photographers throughout the country.

First Impressions: the PIXMA Pro-1 with Explorer of Light Vincent Isola

October 26, 2011

"...there is a distinct advantage to working with Canon printers because of the Canon in, Canon out theory"

CDLC: What were your first impressions of the PIXMA Pro-1 Printer?

Vincent Isola (VI): The first print I saw off PRO-1 was a black-and-white image of a saxophone player I had made for a project I just completed for the PIXMA printer group photographing and producing prints of musicians performing live on stage. It was an image of Sonny Fortune playing with the "4 for Miles group" at Yoshi's jazz club in Oakland. It was a shot under very contrasty lighting on stage utilizing a very high ISO I set at 6400. I had sent this file along to the people in charge of the project early on to show them some examples of the work I had done on this project. It really wasn't a finished image, I just made some quick contrast adjustments. In fact it was made from a version of the file that wasn't close to the final version I had in mind, so when I saw the print I was surprised and a bit concerned because it wasn't optimized. It was printed on one of the early prototype versions of the PRO-1. As I said, it only had some quick contrast adjustments to see how the image would hold up at 6400. I hadn't done any kind of noise reduction or sharpening or any other enhancements I usually make to the files. I remember quietly looking at the print, examining it for the flaws I thought would certainly be present in a print made from a file in such a raw state. Upon further evaluation I remember being pleasantly surprised at just how good the resolution was, how beautiful the transitions were between the tonal values present in the image and how little I was affected by the noise present in the image. More than that, I was blown away at how neutral the image was. I wasn't really sure what to expect, so I can say without reservation I was very impressed. I hadn't expected the printer to be anywhere near as good as it was. I thought about how much better the printer would be in later versions, even though the results I had in my hand were very impressive and far surpassed what I expected from a printer with such a small footprint that was aimed at the advanced amateur market.

CDLC: How do you approach color management and what are your 'best practices' or methods to achieve predictable color in your prints?

VI: Color management is the most critical part of anyone's workflow. Working within a color managed system is the only way to ensure consistent and predictable results from input to output. It is more critical than ever to maintain a tightly controlled color calibrated environment because of the ever increasing speed at which clients are demanding to see finished products. In my workflow, especially for my professional and business clients, I always use Xrite color checker, an expo disc or a gray card to custom color balance in the camera before I shoot. it saves me a tremendous amount of time not having to color balance later. I use the Xrite color checker as the first shot I make for every portrait session. I use the Xrite i1 system to calibrate my monitors and build my printer profiles with the Xrite automated scanning table. I usually process my files in DPP or Lightroom and start by building a 16 bit Master File in the Pro Photo color space. I do all my work on the master file that I save as a PSD and adjust a copy of the master for all of the specific output according to the printing process of digital file I will deliver. I always strive to create a nondestructive workflow making all my image adjustments in layers. I work from the perspective of leaving myself an exit strategy, and I always have a clear destination in mind for the final output of the image. Employing a Master File strategy ensures the file is flexible enough to be adjusted and repurposed in the future based on any need I have or any possible need I haven't yet thought of. It also allows me to adjust the file as my skill set grows or my needs change. I have learned to leave myself an exit strategy and don't put myself in the position of having to start from scratch every time I have a different idea.

I don't treat the data any differently than I would using any other printer. I have always used printers as a default device and adjusted the file based on the merits of the file and skill set I have at that time. I always create a master file making all adjustments based on the needs of the file itself, not according to the printer that I'm using. That is what the copy of the master file is intended for. I start with a good basic foundational approach, all my adjustments are done is layers and I always save the file as a PSD. I would then move on to some light overall sharpening to put back some of the sharpness lost in the file building process. I adjust the overall image first, this includes spotting any dust and scratches, and then move on to overall noise reduction. From there I proceed to adjust the overall contrast of the image by doing global adjustments for lightness and darkness (luminosity) using curves adjusting them in a luminosity blending mode so I don't add any to the saturation to the image or pick up any color crossovers or contamination. I'm just working with the lightness and darkness at this point.

Then I move on to global color adjustments by setting the gray balance with the gray color picker in a separate curves layer, that is if it's a landscape that I haven't set a custom color balance in the camera. I remove any color contamination that may have occurred. Then I adjust the colors to enhance the overall mood and feel of the image. Again trying to direct the viewers eye where I want it to go.

I then move on to global adjustments for saturation and move on to regional adjustments for contrast and color, and finally local adjustments to improve any areas of lightness and darkness in the image to focus attention on the area of the file I want to bring out or play down. I might use a gradient mask to burn down one area or lighten another. I might create a composite layer and using the lens blur tool and might try and simulate a distance blur effect to the layer with a layer mask. If there are people in the image I might set the layer at this point to open up the figures face and apply some mid-tone enhancement to increase in mid-tone separation and finish it off with a vignette to focus the viewers attention right where I want it to go.

When I'm done with all that I do the creative sharpening and some local noise adjustment. At this point I'm ready to soft proof the image and view it through the color profile of the specific paper and printer combination I'm using. I would change color and contrast based on the changes the profile of the specific paper and printer combination are making to the master file to try and get it as close to my original vision as possible before I commit the image to paper. And then finally I would apply the output specific sharpening to the file based on the size of the final print and type of paper I'm using to try and achieve the type of look and feel I'm trying to create when printing in house.

If I'm sending the files to a lab, I might have to dumb down the file for the printers the lab is using and leave the 16-bit pro photo color space for either Adobe RGB or worse yet if it's a chemical based process even go down to SRGB. This is why soft proofing is so critical in order to get as close as you can to your original vision. I can exactly see how the final printing process is going to compress the colors, and I can make the necessary changes to get the contrast and colors as close as possible to the colors in the master file.

CDLC: How often do you deliver printed images versus delivering digital files to clients, or do you deliver a combination of both?

VI: The average print size I deliver to clients is between an 8 x 10 and 12 x 18 inches. In order for them to be able to purchase digital files there is a minimum print purchase they have to exceed, so I always deliver prints as a final product to my clients. The final product is usually a combination of prints, low to medium resolution files and some type of digital slide show.

The papers I find myself printing on most are generally thicker and stiffer than anything you can get from a lab using a chemically based process. I like my paper to feel like the paper I used to get in my wet darkroom. When my clients pick up the prints I want them to immediately feel a difference from what they are used to getting anywhere else.

CDLC: What are your favorite paper types to work with right now?

VI: I like using the ILFORD GALERIE GOLD FIBRE SILK because it has a baryta (barium sulphate) coated layer underneath the ink receiving layer equivalent to the structure of a traditional fibre photographic paper base. The media offers enhanced definition, extended tonal range, and excellent archival properties, all of which should be important to the demanding professional digital photographer and printer. Coated fibre papers have a unique look and feel, which has become a standard among fine art photographers worldwide over the course of more than a century.

I also really like the Moab Entrada Rag Natural 300. The Entrada Rag I use is what put the Moab brand on the map. This award-winning 100% cotton smooth fine art paper helps bring my vision to print through superb ink handling and sharpness. Entrada is an archival acid- and lignin-free paper with an expanded color gamut, natural contrast and high ink load. It is compatible with both dye and pigment inks ensuring that when used with archival inks, your prints will last for generations. It is available in both a Bright and an OBA-free Natural version allowing you to match the color to your project's needs.

My favorite paper is the Moab Lasal Exhibition Luster 300. It has a very stiff feel when you hold it in your hand compared to almost anything else on the market. Lasal Exhibition Luster is the newest addition to the family weighing in at a healthy 300gsm. And the gsm doesn't tell the whole story. Using gsm alone as a comparison can be a bit misleading. You would think that every 300 gsm paper feels the same. I've found this not to be the case because there is another factor you can't quantify when comparing gsm. It is the stiffness factor or feel of the paper itself. The Moab Exhibition paper has a noticeably stiffer feel than most other 300 gsm papers on the market. When you hold it in your hand it has a distinct cardboard like feel much like the black and white rag papers available in a wet darkroom. It is ideal for gallery and exhibition prints that are made with inkjet technology, and their new fourth-generation coating ensures the highest possible d-max and color holdout.

CDLC: How would you compare the Pro-1 to printers you have owned in the past?

VI: The new PIXMA PRO-1 printer has an exceptionally wide color gamut which allows me to print my master files in full 16 bit color ensuring the closest possible match to my original vision and intent. It has excellent tonal rendition and makes exceptionally neutral black and white prints. It compares very favorably to the IPF line of printers that I have, the IPF 8300, the IPF 6100, the IPF 5100 and the IPF 9100.

CDLC: Do you see an advantage working with a Canon printer as a Canon Shooter, and has this new printer addressed your needs that previous models have not?

VI: I believe that there is a distinct advantage to working with Canon printers because of the Canon in, Canon out theory. Who could possibly be better than Canon at designing printers that work the best with their line of cameras and lenses? It truly is a closed loop system just like the color management system and workflow I have created and employ at my studio for the professional prints I deliver to my clients, and all of the personal fine art printing I do for myself.

This new printer has addressed the most important need and problem that I've had since I've been printing my own work. The Gloss Optimizer and ink set that the Pro-1 employs eliminates the need to send my prints out to get sprayed for print permanence and for the elimination of any gloss differential or metamarism present in all inkjet prints, no matter how minimal they might appear to be in the final print. I can now deliver prints to my clients without any further treatment. It is to me the most important and cost effective and time saving feature of this new class of printer Canons PIXMA group has come out with. It saves me a tremendous amount of work and time and gives me the ability to produce a product that is ready to deliver immediately to my clients, right from the printer to my clients hands in four minutes. No more labs or outsourcing of services are necessary. I plan to use these new prints as the final product I deliver to my customers.

In addition to all the benefits I've mentioned above, the new ink set and delivery system max uses is far superior to any of it's competitors. It is faster and has better resolution than any printer in its class. It has larger ink tanks and doesn't dump any ink when printing black and white prints. Switching from matte to glossy paper stock, or waste your time as you wait for it to do so. It is very efficient in its ink distribution which saves me money and time. It's nearest competitor has 25ml ink tanks compared to the PRO-1's 36ml When I print in black and white It saves 3 minutes per print and 3ml of ink when I switch from glossy to matte paper over the competition. Again, saving me time and money.

I can't say enough about just how happy I am to have added the new Pro-1 printer to my arsenal. It has made my life much easier and far more predictable. I look forward to their next line of printers and the improvements they will make. It appears that the digital promises that have been made by printer manufacturers since the mid 90's have finally been realized. Kudos to Canons Engineering and development team!

CDLC: What type of professional photographers would you recommend the PIXMA Pro-1 to?

VI: I whole heartedly recommend this printer to any professional who is interested in producing the highest quality fine art prints, that they can immediately deliver to their customers. Especially to the Portrait and Wedding photographer looking for an edge over their competition and wanting to brand themselves as a fine art photographer. This printer is a must have for anyone looking to take their work to the next level, especially to those who are considering purchasing a printer for the first time. If they are entering the world of making their own prints and interested in significantly improving their skill set as an artist, there is no better choice. The price point of this printer is very low for those entering the market, and for those concerned with space the footprint is very small. The ease of use, cost per print, advantages in efficiency and benefits it delivers are enormous. It is their best possible must have next purchase, it will produce an incredible return on investment in both financial and artistic growth.

 

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

All images are copyright Vincent Isola

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