Hovering over the rabbit hole - RawTherapee - should I jump in?

For quite some time I’ve been wanting to sell my camera equipment and concentrate instead on making a few prints. I’m eager to learn how to maximise the quality of my RAW files. I think I would like to make prints no bigger than 40", perhaps one at 50". I’ve been shooting with various cameras from a Canon 5dmk2 to the Z7 and lately a Panasonic Lumix S1r with its stitch facility able to create 16736px x 11168px images.
Like many digital photographers I’ve got very limited experience with printing I need someone to point me in the right direction. I’ve been told that the best quality, sharpest images come from upsizing an image, sharpening it, then downsizing it. This workflow is, I’m told best achieved using the Lanczos upsizing algorithm in RawTherapee. So before I jump in and start learning can anyone confirm this is true? Otherwise if I only want a 40 or 50 inch print should I just save myself a lot of learning and print through Lightroom. I suppose someone might ask what medium I intend to print on. I’m going to guess that printing on canvas negates any benefit I might get from creating a sharp detailed print! I have to say that at present I’m not entirely sure which paper / print method I’m likely to use, be it Inkjet or Chromagenic, but I won’t be using canvas.
This is my first post to the forum so any advice for a newbie would be much appreciated

Hi @sanfairyanne, and welcome!

Printing is always a real quagmire :slight_smile:
Are you on Linux, Windows, or what?
Here is more info about Lancoz: Lanczos upscale - FYI

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden

Nooo…it’s easy…once you’ve got your head around it :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :sob:

Is it indeed?

All I can say is that in 20 years+ of making 60", and larger, exhibition prints for dozens of clients, this is not a technique I recognise!

I used to print from Photoshop, but now I do it all from Lightrooms print module, as it has the Pixel Genius print sharpening algorithms running in the background.

Don’t know if any of these will help:

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Thank you for replying Andy. I will watch the 4 videos you linked, I’m currently in El Chalten in Argentina where the wifi is horrendously slow. Your comment stating that you do it all in LR would suggest to me that I have no need for RT (unless I want to be cheap and stop paying for Adobe).

I’m just about to receive a MacM2 14" with 64gb RAM, 30 Core. I won’t use the Mac laptop screen to evaluate a print. I’ll use my old 30"Dell Ultra U3014 as it’s got a 2K screen which should allow me to evaluate sharpness more precisely. Ever since I bought into the larger megapixel sensor cameras I’ve never had a computer fast enough to cope.

I am not going to answer your question about upsizing because I do not have experience with this. However, you want to print large prints and you need to find a good place to get the printing done since I am presuming you are not doing the printing yourself. Speak to the experts at the print shop about what they want in terms of color profiles and your questions about sharpening. Also listen to the expert and experienced voices of people on this forum.

Terry I don’t particularly want to print large. What I want is to know more about the method of processing an image so that its output size could be for example 90" but then downscaling that image to make a 30" print. I know this sounds unusual but I’ve been told that this is the best way to make a sharp detailed print. I’m told that Lenczos is the best method to upsize. Regarding talking to print shops; you clearly don’t live in the UK. I could take a completely soft out of focus image to my local print shop and they’d tell me it was ready to print.

Hi Andrew, If this is the quality of the print shops you have to deal with then I suspect all the great efforts you put into your edits will be destroyed by them. I use to own a professional film laboratory in the days of film and know what a bad lab is capable of. I still see this with the average print shop. However, even in my small Australian town there are a couple of excellent print shops run by photographers. I f you can’t find a shop like that I would recommend if you can afford and justify it to buy your own inject printer at home and control the quality from camera to print. Good luck.

I have access to an Epsom 3880, so I may just end up having to use that, I live in hope that somewhere in my country there’s a person or a photographic club with a printer where they actually treat print making as an art form rather than just a way to get people in and out of a door as fast as possible. I’d really like to make a Fujiflex face mounted on either museum grade acrylic or low reflective acrylic but at £1,000 a print it’s just too much and at least double the U.S price. I think if people knew how impractical it was to make prints they would never buy a camera in the first place.

Terry when you write: “I suspect all the great efforts you put into your edits will be destroyed by them” this is precisely what I fear. I could put 8 hours a day for a year into learning processing only to have the print lab destroy everything. So this puts me in a situation where I either buy an expensive printer and do everything myself or maybe, just maybe there’s a camera club in the UK which has a printer and its members are passionate about printing and helping others to get the best out of their work. As it stands I’m still very much hovering over the RawTherapee rabbit hole because there’s so much to learn and everyone has an opinion. I fear the reality is that in the UK printing really is a dying art. I’m still trying to grasp whether RT is even necessary. I use LR and Photoshop with a reasonable level of knowledge. I have no desire to make big prints however I’ve been advised that processing an image as though it were to be printed really big, then downscaling it will give me greater detail. I honestly don’t know if this is even true or just some waffle. I could spend ages learning RT only to make an imperceptible difference to the detail of an image. Sometimes I think it would be best just to stick a fancy swivelling monitor on the wall where I could put images on display (something like the Samsung Sero). That way I could alternate them from one week to the next.

I would like to make a couple of observations. Adobe have created two very good pieces of software and they have polished the softare over the years to make them smooth, slick and easy to use. The ease of moving a few sliders in Lightroom and getting a result that is pleasing is the real strength of Lightroom. The downside is that you need to pay a subscription for the rest of your life to Adobe to get these features. I have perpectual licences for most Adobe Software which means no subscription needed for me, but my Lightroom V6 is not having updates for new cameras, lenses and file formats so it is becoming less useful to me.

I describe lightroom as an automatic car. It is really great for driving around busy city streets and doing the daily commute and buying the groceries without having to worry about which gear to select and doing handbrake starts on steep hills. Makes life a pleasure and ease. Just like Lightroom for photo editing.

However, programs like Darktable (or Rawtherapee) are like Lamborghinis. So many controls, so many options, so many gear changes and different driving styles. What fun to drive on winding mountain roads. Darktable and Rawtherapee are about the fun and the artistic skill of handcrafting your images with a range of controls not found in Lightrooms sliders.

I am not knocking Lightroom. I recognise its strength as the ease and speed of getting good edits. So why should you go down the Rawtherapee or Darktable rabbit hole? Only go down the rabbit hole if you enjoy the process of editing and love the extra tools and options these programs bring. If it feels like a waste of time using Rawtherapee when you could do it quicker in Lightroom, then for you it is a waste of time and a rabbit hole you should avoid. But if like me you love the artistic freedom that Rawtherapee and Darktable bring and the joy of spending hours editing images then it is not a rabbit hole but a gateway into the wonderland of photo editing.

Maybe these guys?

Thanks Terry, your description seems to make sense. I was told about RT when it was suggested that I could use Lanczos to upscale an image. I was told that once upscaled to something like 90" I could sharpen it then downscale it back to my print size (probably 20"x30". I was told that if I used RT for nothing else then this alone would make it worthwhile. Having said this I’ve seen nothing to prove this upscale - sharpen - downscale - print method even works. Or if it does work maybe it’s not even noticeable on anything other than a very few select papers. (I bet it doesn’t do a damned thing on canvas). I don’t have any intention to print on canvas, but as I’m from the UK I might find I can only print on Hahnemühle or Canson papers, or some other readily available paper. I can’t hope to use Lumachrome or Fujiflex. I think at present my best bet is to stick with Adobe unless anyone can convince me that the aforementioned upscale/sharpen/downscale method really works.

Many thanks.

Thanks I wrote to the club asking if they have meet ups. They’re supposed to be based fairly close to me.

My 2c… it’s not really impractical at all - (from my perspective!). I have a A4 sized Canon multifunction printer that cost about $80 (new!) and while it’s far from perfect I’ve printed loads of prints that I’m pleased with, using Kodak paper from the supermarket.

Now, this is not quite “gallery” standard, to be sure, but my point is that with a couple of upgrades - a better dedicated printer, and order some decent paper - I could produce prints that compete very strongly with a commercial photo book, or a darkroom print, or a professional print shop.

The results of the kind of sharpening procedures to get the “best” out of an image will never be noticed by anyone except a printing expert (maybe).
My approach is to just apply a little unsharp mask with a suitable radius and amount for the size and paper type - a little trial and error needed initially perhaps.
Actually, TBH, I usually don’t even do that and just let the Windows printing ‘wizard’ apply sharpening. Works fine usually. :smile: (I know some will shudder at the thought).

I guess what I’m getting at is that you may be overthinking it a little… good luck though! (maybe I’m underthinking it… :astonished:)

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Thanks Steve,
I’ve had a long time to think about printing and i think I’ve been sold on the idea that if I do things a certain way i’m going to have the finest detail ‘blah blah blah’. The truth is I live in England where fine art print shops are about as plentiful as snow storms in the Sahara. If I had the chance to print a 60"-70" or even larger print then I’m damned sure attention to sharp detail would be of paramount importance. I’ve been told that by processing and sharpening an image as though you were going to print it at 90" but then downscaling it for perhaps a 20"x30" will give me the finest detail. I’ve yet to see any proof of this and in all reality is it really going to make anyone notice. I might put half a dozen prints up in my home but nobody’s going to walk in and go “wow the detail in that image is mind blowing”. I mean nobody gives a crap about someone else’s photos. Perhaps I should just print them at the equivalent of Costco because at the end of the day it’s the memory of taking the picture that really counts. On the other hand maybe I could buy a swivelling 4k TV like the Samsung Sero. This would allow me to view horizontal images and portrait images and I could change them around as much as I like, incidentally the cost of the Sero is about the same as the cost of a single 48" print face mounted print in the UK. I do have access to a printer that can print at A2+, so with all the work I’ve put into learning about printing I think I should at least t

As you have access to what sounds a decent printer I’d certainly try it! Perhaps a few small prints first to make sure that colors and so on (and sharpness) are looking ok before you splash out on an A2…

I’d never heard of that Samsung - my initial reaction when I saw it was a bit :rofl: but on thinking about it could work very well for viewing vertical images. I find viewing on a screen isn’t the same as a print though - not less good, just different.

Having said all that, I’m certainly not an expert (probably obvious!) so YMMV. :slightly_smiling_face:

You might investigate Qimage, a unique program that is dedicated solely to printing. It has some color editing capabilities but its whole purpose of being is in prepping a file for printing. You might like it because it has several adjustments to optimize the sharpness of prints in ways that no other program does. And it all works very well!

I’ve used it for years. It’s stable and is actively updated and maintained. Give it a look.

Qimage website

Thanks Fasteddie,
I’ll check it out as soon as I can, I’m off for a 3-4 day trip in the mountains but as soon as I get back i’ll dive in.