JAMES CRAIG PHOTOGRAPHY

b&w images • blog • easter island journal

since May 2006

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The Moon has been Eaten Volume II – More Images from Easter Island

Monday, October 9, 2017

…from BayPhoto Books comes a work of art I am using Bay Photo Books for the ultimate in quality photo-book printing, for which the word "book" is something of a misnomer. They are high resolution fine art B&W prints done straight from my print files, with the same pigmented inks that I use on my display prints, on a double sided version of the same paper I print on, and then hard bound in embossed black linen. Even the jacket is quality printed and coated for protection. 

Nan says: "It's tempting to ask people to wear white cotton gloves to handle the thing".

if one wants to get a book of fine art photography printed, especially B&W, there are now only two ways to go – low end and high end. The low end will cost about a hundred bucks for dye-printing, lousy quality control, rampant inconsistency – a final product that is barely fit for a family vacation momento. The high end will cost $150 to $175 for the same 8.5X11 book – except that the quality will be astounding, printing will be consistent, ink will be pigmented, paper will be top drawer, binding will be heavy duty – it will be a very desirable work of art (assuming that the print files submitted are "ready for prime time”).

I now have three copies of The Moon has been Eaten, Volume II – More Images from Easter Island. Every image as if I printed it myself here in my studio. One of these will go out to each of the two Islander friends the book is very gratefully dedicated to – and one goes to Nan. At a cost of $170 each, I'll have to order more if and when they are ordered. See the BOOK'S page for details.

It's not as if even $100 to get a fine art book printed isn't already high – there's no pricing break involved for ordering hundreds at one shot – but relatively, $70 more isn't much considering what you get is so beautiful. The only caution I would add here is that the photographer or artist ordering (or putting together the image files) has to both know what they are doing and understand the materials being used by the printer. Not for the faint of heart.

Below is the detailed, long version of my observations, comparing results from BayPhoto Books, MixBook and the now defunct MyPublisher for anyone who is interested:

 REVIEW:  Bay Photo Books vs MixBook vs MyPublisher (now defunct)

The Long Version

Since I wound up posting a rather harsh review of my negative experience with MixBook books, I thought I should follow up with a look at the results from Bay Photo Books, using comparison notes. As I stated in my assessment of MixBook, I come from years of good experiences with MyPublisher books. So that this doesn't wind up as a long, involved read-me, I'll put everything in list form according to category:

Speed of Ordering:

MixBook wins hands down here, I had my first attempt in less than a week. MyPublisher always took seven or eight days, while Bay Photo Books can take a couple of days more. Then, after all the time it takes to put a book together, a few extra days makes little difference – especially if it looks like that time might involve something in the way of quality control.

Convenience setting up the book:

MyPublisher was by far the best here, with their own on-computer software. I never had any problems being as exacting as I wanted. But again, they're gone.

MixBook is an on-line app that is frustrating to use. Precise custom alignments require sizing the page on the screen and holding a ruler up to it. Actually not all that difficult, but surely they can do better than that.

Bay Photo Books' on-line Java App is a total nightmare IF you opt to use it to compose your book. BUT if you use their template in Photoshop or InDesign it's a simple matter of dragging the exported pages, with all text and images arranged, into the book in the app. In fact, almost any layout app that can accept high resolution images and then export a page as a 300dpi high end jpeg can be adapted to do the job.

Price:

MixBook prices are in line with MyPublisher, about where one would want them. List price is high but MixBook follows the lead of most of these printers and has monthly forty to fifty percent off sales.

Bay Photo Books actually posts slightly lower list prices, but don't bother looking for a sale. That makes the same book that would be $100 from MixBook a whopping $170 from Bay Photo.

I have to add a rather strong criticism of BayPhoto Books here – their order form, compared to anything with a semblance of sanity, is confusing, convoluted and frustrating. I'm now very familiar with it and still cannot seem to be able to send in an order without having to call later to make a correction. Even on this book reorder, which should have been simple, I noticed a couple of days later that ordering two copies of the same book did not mean I was ordering two dust jackets. When I called to correct this I asked the young lady on the phone if she realized how insanely confusing their order form was – a Java app of all things. She just laughed admitted that they were well aware of the situation.

Getting down to the fine points:

     Help: There are a so many variables in getting a photo book printed that it can be important to be able to talk directly to someone, especially the first time. Here Bay Photo Books is the only printer I know of that is there for you at that level – to the extent where, if necessary, you can even let their graphics guy take over your mouse and keyboard over the web and show you what to do.

     Feel / Heft / size: while the MixBook book was slightly thinner, at a half inch, than it would have been from MyPublisher, the Bay Photo book came in 50% thicker at three quarters of an inch. At the same time it weighs at least that much more. And Bay Photo Books measurements are calculated the old fashioned way (like MyPublisher) based on the size of the pages. An 8.5x11 book therefore is considerably larger when closed. MixBook is giving you the outside dimensions of the closed book with jacket, making the pages considerably smaller.

     Dust Jacket: None with MixBook. While Bay Photo does offer the new image-printed hard binding popular for family books, they still offer dust jackets over classic covers. And it is very heavy, about as indestructible as one can get.

     Cover: There are so many cover options with Bay Photo, but as far as I'm concerned, the only one worth mentioning is the heavy, plain linen book cover. Heck, it even comes in any color imaginable (black, always black here). And yes, one can have the title, etc. embossed on the front. My only complaint here with Bay Photo Books is that there is no embossing offered on the spine. Then again, if the jacket is on, it's not needed. Classy, quality binding there.

     Pages: Mixbook uses a similar paper to that used by MyPublisher, actually pretty nice – heavy enough yet still flexible. But Bay Photo uses paper equal in quality to what I print on for my originals here at home. It's a little heavier and stiffer, but paper is almost as important as ink and workmanship in producing a quality image. Their standard paper, as is, is phenomenal.

     Ink: Bay Photo Books prints at double the resolution of MixBook – I got suspicious and took out my trusty 10X loupe and checked it out. That makes a big difference in sharpness, contrast and overall effect. And the inks are different. MixBook obviously uses dye inks, which MyPublisher used with higher resolution and quality control to die for. Bay Photo Books can get blacks and mid-tones rarely seen in a book because they use pigmented inks – the same inks I use for my own printing. 

     B&W: yes, this is a category, or maybe more like a very difficult to realize target. Digital fine-art B&W printing can be done two ways, using three black inks or using those three inks blus a touch of light magenta and light cyan. A printer like this, because they pretty much can't be resetting printer preferences between books, is pretty much stuck doing B&W books the second way. I opt for this myself at home for a number of reasons, though it requires me to work a little harder to keep a noticeable magenta or cyan tint out of the final product. Because of this, expect all B&W photos to come with a slight tint in photo books. With MixBook this tint tended to be magenta and far too evident on a number of the images (oddly a couple broke the pattern and looked Cyan). Old MyPublisher B&Ws had a slight magenta tint, to a degree that you never noticed it unless they were looked at next to a true B&W. Bay Photo Books B&Ws have a slight cyan tint that is so undetectable that one has to lay an image next to a true B&W to tell. On their site they hold that this has a "smoothing" effect on the B&W – probably true. The result is a bound collection of original prints.

     Bay Photo Books obviously prints for viewing in good strong light. Take it outdoors or shine a bright light on it, and the images are striking and perfect. No light can wash them out, but nothing is blocked. View the images in dim light and they don't look blocked – there's simply and urge with some images to move into a brighter light in order to look into the shadows – where one is rewarded with detail because of the high resolution. Take one of my MyPublisher books outside in bright light and watch it come close to washing out. It's a judgement call. Admittedly there were two images out of 53 that I decided to brighten very slightly for printing subsequent volumes from Bay Photo after the first volume – on the rest I “dodged the highlights” a mere 10%, Nan assuring me that she could not see any difference whatsoever (but happy for me that I could). The big advantage with print-to-order digital books is that fine tuning or micro-tweaking is always an option.

Conclusions:

     I'm not going to look for a cheaper way to go – You get what you pay for. Bay Photo will give me the top in quality for small-edition fine-art books. I'll have my own copy. Beyond that, I'll post the information on them and order one if anyone wants one. This will be an extremely limited edition. See my "Books" page for prices and details.

p.s. All this leaves my very large, comprehensive first volume of The Moon has been Eaten as my one and only offset printed book. Digital books have a page limit of about 120 – that would rule that path out. While tritone B&W offset printing isn't all that much different in quality from lower resolution digital printing, neither can measure up to the, admittedly more expensive, digital printing.