To upgrade or not
14 February, 2013 by
To upgrade or not
Jon Cone

I recently upgraded to Lightroom 4 and was very pleasantly surprised to experience that it is possible to print directly to QuadTone RIP from LightRoom 4 without any color management interference from Apple by just clicking the Print button.

However, I’m on Lion 10.7.4. Sadly, it is not possible to print directly from LightRoom through Mountain Lion (10.8) without impacting shadow and highlight detail. To print from Mountain Lion, a LightRoom image must be exported with an AdobeRGB 1998 profile, then opened in QTR Print Tool, then printed to QTR from QTR Print Tool. If you attempt to print from LightRoom in Mountain Lion, the shadow and highlights are compressed and boosted prior to printing (by Apple) if the user decides to have the printer “manage color”. It reduces a stop or two of tonal latitude. Perhaps for a casual user – this compression (or boost) by Apple is appreciated. But, for Piezography which is highly sensitive to shadow and highlight detail, this boost defeats the additional fidelity that Piezography is capable of.

I am mentioning this because it is in itself a compelling argument to upgrade LightRoom to version 4, but not Mac OS X to Mountain Lion. I have reported on the many internal color management schemes that Apple has been experimenting with beginning with OS X 10.5. We now advise those on 10.6 and higher to use QTR Print Tool if they want linearized output from QuadTone RIP.

Print professionals (at least in my generation) have only and always upgraded after every last bug had been worked out, and every possible unforeseen circumstance that could railroad a studio had been eliminated in subsequent updates. It is not uncommon for a pay for print studio to lag several OS X versions behind the current. In fact, it is quite common.

MB871_AV4My own studio, Cone Editions Press, is still on OS 10.4.7 because that was the last operating system released by Apple that allows a non-color managed workflow. Piezography requires a non-color managed workflow. The reason is that if you work on a grayscale image perfecting its tonality and contrast, the last thing you want is for Apple to convert it into a new contrast gamma prior to your printing it with QuadTone RIP. And Apple began doing this after OS 10.4.7 when it detected that a user was trying to print without an ICC profile. And it began converting the non-ICC profiled image quite differently from one version of the OS to another – without rhyme nor reason – returning to subsequent schemes or trying new ones.

I am sure that Apple’s intention was to prevent its customers from experiencing poor output from OEM printing systems. And probably it works quite well for Apple’s consumer base. On the other hand, print professionals get hung out as a result. Not all – but those print pros or those users who wish to take 100% control of their output, are unable to. The QTR Print Tool allows a Piezography printmaker to bypass the Apple OS.

front1So, for the moment, Apple and Adobe are again at peace collaborating together in my workflow – probably by mistake or coincidence. But!!! I have it locked down in a new studio we just put into our company.  We bought two spanking new refurbished “2010” version Mac Pro towers so that we coud use 10.7 (Lion). New towers only come with 10.8 (Mt. Lion).  The 2010 is this litte gem you can buy from Apple’s Refurb store and it comes pre-installed with Mac OS 10.7. They are new leftover computers.

We also bought two refurbished NEC PA301W-BK 30″ calibrator reference displays at just over $1,040 each. The SpectraView software for these is only $99 and we can use an existing instrument to calibrate them through their 14-bit, on-board video engines. Big memory bumps of 32GB were purchased from Other World Computing.

pdv-2ed-399x265With a $700 dimming 5000K viewing booth – we have a pair of true PRO printing systems for less then half the price of  comparable new systems from Apple (that would include rather useless (for printing) 30″ Apple Cinema Displays). We get state of the art equipment for our intended purpose. What we do not get is better integration between our iPhone, iTunes, and iCloud – a small price to pay for having tonally correct prints directly out of LightRoom 4.  For us it is easy to bypass the critical10.8 iCloud integration – because cell phones do not work in our part of Vermont. No one can call us. We can not call out. We have no need for an iPhone that integrates with a remote iCloud. And if we did – we still would not upgrade to Mt. Lion if it knocked out my printmaking workflow.

I would never upgrade my OS without first insuring that everything works with it. You can not revert once you upgrade your operating system. So, you should take the responsibility yourself in vetting it by partitioning a relatively inexpensive drive and have the ability to boot off of  either Lion or Mountain Lion. You need a return path these days.

Does it make sense to keep a system which is two or more generations old?  We use a lot of color management at Cone Editions Press and we do a lot of numerical calculations on profile making, etc. We like the DTP 70 instrument and we like some older ICC software that are no longer supported by the processors in modern Mac Towers. Our older systems are superior to the replacements being offered by the color management companies. So, we simply keep systems for using what we need.

s3400_drumPM300-AQUA-1B-unitAnother example is our Hell 3400 drum scanner. This is such a superior system to modern scanners that we can’t even justify having it’s 3,000lb shell rigged out of our studio for free just to recover the huge amount of space it takes up. We could fit two or more large format printers in the space it occupies. The scanner is no longer valuable. It cost $110,000 new and we could possibly eBay it for $1,000. Who in the heck needs a drum scanner these days? Our clients absolutely do! So, we have no choice – we must maintain it and we must maintain the supportive equipment it requires.

We maintain a 1998 Apple PowerMac Blue and White G3 so that we can run a version of Linotype HELL software developed before they went out of business. This software requires OS9 and SCSI-1. We have another 2000s era Mac Tower that is modern by comparison that is using a sophisticated converter  for transforming firewire signals to SCSI-1 signals. We bought this to run the drum scanner off of a hugely expensive 16bit scanner interface. It runs only on an early version of OS X. But, both these systems are antiquated with no further upgrade path to use the software or interface we require to run the drum scanner. We have no choice but to maintain OS9 and OS10 systems on compatible hardware.


syquestWe have been digital printmaking for clients since 1984. You can not imagine the amount of backup systems we have used over the last four decades. We maintain an archive of extremely outdated equipment for the rare occasions when artists need to revitalize decades old projects. To use some of these antiquated drives we must still maintain a 1995 Apple Quadra 950 computer. What alternative is there? We can’t spend the time to transfer image files from Syquest, Bernouilli drives, even floppy sets and all kinds of obscure data systems. It’s all a bit of a Catch-22 trying to keep relevant and it often has little to do with the latest greatest bigger faster. In the end, it comes down to what works.

Finally, my interest in pictorialist lenses is getting the better of me. I spent most the summer milling out lens adapters to fit many of my collected turn of the century lenses onto my 5D MKII. This past Autumn, I decided to revitalize my 4x5 view camera and an early version Dicomed 4x5 digital back that I used to use with my 4x5 in the early 1990s. The problem is that besides needing SCSI-1, the digital back also requires an old serial port connection. Both SCSI and serial ports have been long gone from Macs for decades. So my old PowerBook G3 bit the dust the moment I powered it up (probably due to dust frying the main board). I went on eBay and bought a very good working model of the same one. The keyboard has a tendency to fall off but a little tape and it works like a charm.

I bought freshly made SCSI cables. I need a floppy disk to install the Dicomed software and old PowerBooks (bless their heart) have floppy diskette drives. The point being – is that this Summer I will be lugging a 4x5 with an old brass Pretzel lens (from a wet plate camera) and a WWII vintage Elgeet military lens out into the landscape. I will be primordial photographer man…toting nothing more than a 50lb battery pack and cabling, a 35lb tripod, about 20lbs of view camera and digital back, and a clunky laptop computer with which to make my exposures and save to an external SCSI hard drive (not a particularly light one). I will need water for hydration; food for energy; a first-aid kit in case the camera falls on me once set-up. I am considering looking for an old covered wagon to haul everything around in and getting a mule I can name Hypo.

To upgrade or not
Jon Cone
14 February, 2013
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