19 February, 2014

Epson ABW, Is it better? Pt3

Bowman Park, Brisbane Queensland

This is the third, and final, installment in my experiments with Epson's Advanced Black and White (ABW) printer driver.

In Part 1, I started with A4, Canson Baryta Photographique. Then, in Part 2, I used that same paper, but in A2. And now, in Part 3, I'm having a look at the results with a matte paper: Epson's Hot Press Natural.

But first, a slight digression:

Epson produced a series of videos to advertise their "Signature Worthy" papers. And, Hot Press Natural is one of those. The photographer in Epson's HPN video is David Lynch, who most people know for his movies. At one point Lynch says of the paper,

It feels very organic and proper. And the image that pops up off of it is phenomenal. This Hot Press Natural is, I think, a paper that I've been waiting for all along.
Before I tried the paper, I thought of his comments as advertising hyperbole. It's now my favourite matte paper. It's warm, so it's outstanding for portraits. It's a very smooth paper, unlike the Cold Press papers that have more texture. It's free of optical brightening agents (OBAs). And it feels like paper. (Epson, feel free to send me a couple of boxes of paper for the plug. Aw, go ahead, I dare you.)

Back to ABW.

This time the comparison was only between the black and white print from the usual Epson driver printing out of Lightroom (using the canned Epson color profile), and ABW (with the printer managing the colour). I couldn't produce a third candidate (a profiled ABW print) as there's no B&W ABW profile from Eric Chan for HPN. Eric has one for Hot Press Bright, but that would have been more experimentation than I was looking for.

I think that in images with more subtle transitions, with fog or mist for example, there might be advantages using ABW. But in the image I used for this exercise ("The Wall," shown in Part 1), I couldn't see an ABW advantage.

Once again the native resolution was 241ppi, that I "rezed up" to 360ppi. At the A2 size, the apparent resolution was on a par with the Canson. The detail in the shadows held in both prints and there was no banding and no colour cast in either print.

So, after using more paper and ink (on the Epson 3880 there's an additional ink impost of a few mils in switching from photo black ink to matte black, and then a couple of more mils when I go back the other way), what's the verdict?

Unless I have a special case, I won't be using ABW. I didn't see an ABW benefit in this matte paper; and the benefit in papers that take photo black ink, seem minor to me.

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