Manufacturers of inkjet printing paper often tout they have succeeded in the creation of a true darkroom surface, one which produces prints that have the same immense, deep blacks reminiscent of the papers and developing processes made famous by Edward Weston and Ansel Adams.
Canson Infinity, one of the oldest fine art paper manufacturers on Earth, argues their Baryta Prestige 340gsm does just that: deep blacks, smooth surface, darkroom feel and archival quality. When a paper manufacturer tells me they have a product that “evokes the look and aesthetic feel of traditional darkroom papers”—a claim often made and seldom delivered—I head off to the testing lab.
What did I find? Keep reading.
Ansel Adams often printed his most famous image, “Moonrise, Hernandez,” on Oriental New Seagull G paper, a stock which allowed exceptional subtlety at the same time as providing powerful blacks. If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to see “Moonrise, Hernandez” in person, like I have on a number of occasions, you become very aware of the power of the chemical and paper selections Adams made.
Similarly, both Edward and Brett Weston’s prints exhibit these same strengths. The photograph is elevated by the process and paper, highlights and shadows made stunning. Even today, Oriental calls New Seagull G the “Cadillac” of their line of traditional photo papers.
Canson Infinity describes their Baryta Prestige 340gsm in much the same way:
- Outstanding density
- Superb sharpness
- Excellent smoothness with a homogeneous (uniform) surface
- Low bronzing tendencies (the difference in glossiness between parts of the image, as well between printed and non-printed surfaces)
This combination of characteristics is difficult to achieve, and so I felt testing the Baryta Prestige 340gsm with my new, more rigorous techniques was a fitting task.
Before I continue any further, I’ll say this up front: When you choose to purchase printing papers, printing materials, photo supplies, framing materials, or device protection, please do so using the links on this blog. And as a point of assurance, I only allow advertising from companies I use for purchases of my own materials:
- Dick Blick Art Materials provides papers, materials, and framing supplies including brands like Hahnemühle, Red River, Epson, Canson and Moab
- Red River provides its paper and some materials direct
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- Western Digital offers reliable digital image storage
Most important is that whenever you purchase by clicking through from this blog to these sites, it helps pay for all the materials, ink, time and technology I need in order to provide you with these reviews. If you value what you read here, return the favor and purchase your supplies from Griffin, Western Digital, Blick or Red River. Thanks, in advance.
So, now on to the meat of the test. In this article, first I’ll look at the data Canson Infinity provides for its Baryta Prestige 340gsm, and the paper’s characteristics. Then, using my improved zone testing system method, I’ll show how the paper performs in black and white tonality on both the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 and the Canon imagePROGRAF-1000; next, I’ll show the results from printing one of my standard testing images, “Young Cowboys.” To conclude, I’ll provide some parting thoughts, as well as my Zone Ranking for the Baryta Prestige.
Paper Data and Characteristics
As I have noted above, the Baryta Prestige has a weight of 340 grams per square meter. It boasts a thickness of .37 millimeter (see Table 1), and I note this because it is important to remember that just because a paper weight is heavy, it may not correlate to a thicker paper. However, in the case of the Baryta Prestige, its weight and thickness are substantial.
As a comparison, the Epson Legacy Baryta is 314gsm and .3 millimeter. That means the Baryta Prestige is 8 percent heavier, and 23 percent thicker than the Epson, and it shows in the feel of the paper in hand: the Canson feels substantial, much more so than the Epson. I found the paper to be heavy in hand, imparting a sense of permanence and importance; it feels like it means business. This also requires it should be fed through the manual feed slots on both Epson and Canon printers.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I refer to Wilhelm Research for my longevity ratings, and to the Image Permanence Institute at the Rochester Institute of Technology for my archival techniques. The issue here is that Baryta Prestige is so new, I have found no available permanence testing data, meaning that I’ll be making some general judgments about the paper’s permanence based on its buffering (pH neutrality), composition (alpha-cellulose, cotton, or a blend of both), and its optical brighteners level.
The paper is buffered for permanence and uses an alpha-cellulose and cotton blend. This doesn’t mean it is any less archival, however. It is 99 percent opaque with a “very low” optical brightener content, and its baryta coating is archival-friendly (and allows the use of photo black pigment inks). With these facts in mind, I see no reason the Canson to present any concerns for archival applications.
|Table 1. Canson Infinity Baryta Prestige 340gsm Specs|
|Optical Brighteners||Very low|
|Additional comments: Paper base permanence meets the ISO 9706 requirements; Optimized for pigmented inks, but compatible with dye inks.|
The Baryta Prestige has a CIE brightness of 112, meaning it reflects a higher percentage of light than a light source emits, due to the presence of optical brighteners. In other words, it is a white, bright paper capable of exceptional black and white contrast. I found it to be slightly whiter in relative whiteness comparisons than another competitor, Hahnemühle’s FineArt Baryta Satin (see Figure 01).
Glare is also fairly well-controlled (see Figure 02). Even when working hard to reproduce glare, such as in this image of my “Young Cowboys” print, I found the paper to be the nearly the equal of the Epson Legacy Baryta, which is the best-controlled glare luster paper I have tested. Both allow wide viewing angles in conjunction with a wide range of lighting, meaning this is a paper well-suited for gallery and museum applications.
Canson lists the paper’s surface as “extra smooth,” a claim I found to be true upon examination (see Figure 03). In fact, I found the paper to be nearly as smooth as Epson’s Legacy Baryta, a paper I regard as a benchmark in inkjet smoothness. This means the Canson Infinity Baryta Prestige should have outstanding detail, excellent crispness and nuanced tonal gradations.
Does this mean the Baryta Prestige makes good on its claim as a successor to darkroom silver prints? The numbers would seem to be in its favor, but let’s let the tests decide.
Zone Testing the Canson Infinity Baryta Prestige 340 gsm
This is the first test in which I use my new, more rigorous Zone Testing System, so it’s important to explain my methodology before I continue. First, from time to time I have been asked why I choose not to use a spectrophotometer when testing papers. What’s a spectrophotometer, you ask? In brief, it’s a color checking tool used by the industry to match exactly colors or tones in all sorts of products, such as paint, cloth, graphic arts brochures, and yes, even photographs.
While I prefer such tests for their accuracy, the general public will never see photographs in the neutral environment these devices impart. Rather, prints will be seen close to other colors, and not just 50 percent gray. As a result, I designed the Zone Testing to moderate but still incorporate these real-world viewing characteristics. That’s why I print and then shoot the prints on a 5350 Kelvin copy stand at 1/30 second, ISO 400, and f/11 every time; it provides a consistent gallery- or museum-similar environment that reproduces some, but not much, color interaction, glare, D-max (black density) reduction, and the like.
For this test, I printed four zone scale test prints on my Epson Stylus Pro 3880, using the Advanced Black and White mode in neutral tonality, and in Normal, Dark, Darker and Darkest iterations (see Figure 04). I also printed my new OCP/Zone Testing combined chart to test the paper’s capability for printing black and white tones in color mode on both the Epson and Canon’s imagePROGRAF-1000. Finally, I printed “Young Cowboys” as a real-print litmus. All were produced using both printers’ manual feed rear slots, and then taken to the studio for copy stand shots.
The first shot on the copy stand is my X-Rite Color Checker Classic, as its black and white color patches have known luminance values of 21% and 95%. This allows me to test that the lights are still properly calibrated in both brightness and color temperature, as well as then to tonally correct the test shots in Lightroom during post production. That color-corrected set of patches is then copied into each zone print to provide a consistent luminance marker. In short, by using this system, I can provide reasonably accurate real-world estimations of paper performance when viewed under proper lighting; values should be +/- 3% luminance at any point.
In this first image, we can see that the Baryta Prestige has strong visual black density, registering a luminance value of 12 (+/- 3) in Zone 0. Generally, Zone I prints a bit “hot,” or toward the top end of the target value for that zone. However, this is also typical, since no paper will likely achieve a relative visual density lower than 8 or 9. Keeping Zone I values a bit high allows for better visual differentiation between Zones 0 and I.
Moreover, on the Epson’s “Darkest” setting, it’s easy to see that the Baryta Prestige keeps very accurate tonalities, usually within 3-5 points of the target. This is very impressive, and means predictable results for black and white prints.
Contrast is also strong. Zone X registers 96 for luminance, meaning the paper allows an overall dynamic range of 84 luminance points (+/- 3 in either Zone 0 or X). This is an impressive result, especially for photographers fond of using the widest range of tones possible in their images.
Let’s move on to the color OCP chart with the imagePROGRAF-1000. In my work with the new Canon over the last five months, I’ve found its relative visual density to be slightly better than the Epson. That impression was supported in this test, but not significantly, since the Canson Infinity Baryta Prestige registered an 11 for Zone 0 and a 97 for Zone X. Again, accuracy across all zones was impressive for the paper.
Detail was also impressive. Part of the new testing protocol here at Field&Studio involves OCP’s perspective-diagonals test, and printers with poor ability for line resolution will fail here, as will luster papers with poor smoothness. The Canson performed well (see Figure 07), with little aliasing (jagged diagonal line details).
Finally, black and white print performance was quite strong—in fact, impressively so—with the Epson marginally outperforming the Canon. I use “Young Cowboys” for a number of reasons when testing paper or printers:
- The lead cowboy’s hat is very close in value to the sky, making it a tough test in terms of visual differentiation
- The lead’s cowboy’s facial detail is hard to resolve
- The third cowboy’s right pupil is very detailed in the file, and hard for printers or papers to produce accurate detail
- The thin, wispy cloud at the left requires more value accuracy
- The silver clasps on the lead cowboy’s chaps are hard to reproduce without bronzing
In all cases, the Canson Infinity Baryta Prestige exhibited excellent characteristics when printing “Young Cowboys.” Tonality, sharpness, tone differentiation, and bronzing were all well controlled (see Figure 08). Edges were very sharp, and there was little evidence of overspray.
I can only write one, brief sentence regarding the Canson Infinity Baryta Prestige 340 gsm:
It’s very, very good.
It may be the best luster paper I’ve tested, in fact, and it certainly is one that the other paper manufacturers should be prepping to beat. Perhaps the only negative is that we have no archival testing data—as of yet.
It’s rare that I feel a paper is good enough to merit a Zone X rating, but this one earns it in spades. Museum curators will simply love the results this paper achieves, as it is smooth, low-glare, tonally accurate, and sharp. I love its heft as well.
Does the Baryta Prestige make good on its darkroom promises? I can say with little reservation that it comes closer than any paper I’ve seen. Good enough for Ansel? Frankly, it’s worth a very serious look if you need a luster paper. Period.
As always, I hope your next print, is your best print.