Reader question

A reader asks the following question:

The issue of aspect ratio: most D-SLR cameras don’t shoot in the traditional 4×6 ratio (or at least I don’t think they do). That’s why whenever I send my photos to be printed off (in 4×6) they always come back a little cropped around the edges.

Good question. Infuriating,  isn’t it?

And yes, you are almost right: other than 4×6, other photo sizes tend to be different: 5×7, 8×10, 13×19 and so on. So why 4×6 is cropped I do not know: most DSLR sensors are 3×2, which is 4×6. So it must be the printing process.

But your question stands: most aspect rations are very different, as are most frames. And the reason is simply history.

And the solution: crop them yourself to the correct aspect ratio, in Lightroom. That way the lab does not have to guess (bad) and you get full control.

Either that, or print at the original aspect ratio on larger paper (i.e. with edges), and then cut those off.

5 thoughts on “Reader question

  1. (Warning: far more information than you need)

    SLRs do, in fact, shoot with a 3:2 format (at least Nikons do). Point-n-shoot camera formats however do vary. Of course, 4/3 cameras use the 4:3 format. As Michael suggested, the slight cropping of the 4″x6″ edges is due to the printing process:

    – Some print machines automatically increase the image size by a couple of percent or so. Since the roll of photo paper may not be perfectly aligned as it passes through the exposure step, enlarging the image by a small amount prevents any white paper edge(s) from showing up due to misalignment. How much the image is enlarged depends on the make/model of machine and the operator. This resize function can usually be turned off, but the average one-hour lab either (a) doesn’t know how, (b) isn’t allowed to change the machine setup, or (c) just won’t do it.

    – Since the roll of paper may not be perfectly aligned, when the 4″-wide roll of paper is cut into 6″ pieces, a little bit of the ends can get cut off. But this also depends on the make/model of machine being used.

    What to do:
    – leave space around the edges when you shoot, but this may not always be possible.

    – increase the *canvas* size of your images by a couple of percent. When the picture is enlarged and printed, this extra canvas area will get cut off. Yes, this adds an extra step to your image preparation. (I usually add black canvas, so in case the edges don’t get cut off, I end up with a nice black border).

    – gets prints made with a border. But this may not be what you want.

    Problems are:
    – make/model of printers vary, and each can have different printing options turned on/off. Some machines are set to auto-colour correct, auto exposure, auto sharpen, auto…etc. Some machines have most auto options turned off. You can sometimes tell by reading the code on the back of the prints.

    – different make/model of printers are optimized for different image resolutions.

    – high(er) end print operators will usually turn options on/off if you request it.

    – two machines may be the same make/model yet they may produce different results if they’re using different software or different paper.

    – everyone loves using those little self-operated photo kiosks. But, apparently, some may re-compress the image files and do some auto corrections automatically. Some kiosks appear to send the image straight through with no auto changes.

    – some labs do not calibrate or maintain their machines properly.

    – many one-hour labs brag that they use “Fuji Crystal Archive” paper, but that’s just a generic family name. They don’t say what version they use. “Fuji Crystal Archive Pro” papers are superb and is usually used by high(er) end labs. One-hour labs usually use a, uh, more economical version of Fuji Crystal Archive which has a lifespan of *up to* 26 years (normal storage) to *up to* +100 years (cold dark storage). These numbers are better than other cheapie paper prints but quality inkjet prints can surpass these numbers. These numbers are better than colour prints made last century (except Cibachromes).

    • Yes, not just Nikons. SLRs shoot at 3:2. And you are quite right, printing to the edge needs a bleed area, so you lose a part of the picture.

      Remember though, in your viewfinder you typically see less than the full image, so they two effects negate each other to some intents.

    • Indeed. I would say another very good option is to do it yourself. Yes, you will spend time figuring our colour spaces, drivers. and more – significant time – but you will be the master of your own domain and in the end you will get quality and consistency.

  2. Most point & shoot cameras are 4:3 which corresponds to 3R prints at the store, while most dSLR’s are 3:2 which corresponds to 4R. All the stores we have tried will fill the paper with a centered image and crop off whatever falls beyond the edges. If they are given images that are the correct shape for the paper size ordered any cropping is negligible.
    The best results we found are at Kodak Express which we use when traveling and at Blacks in the Toronto area. We wanted three slightly different sets of prints from a family outing and to save time at the store made up three CD’s so we could tell the kiosk to just make a complete set from the contents. We dropped the order off at Costco and when we picked it up, we discovered each order had been processed differently so brightness and tones varied across three prints that should have been identical. We tried several of the other less expensive photo printing outlets and eventually decided the premium charged by Blacks is worth it.

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