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This page is copyright © 2000 Stephen M. Dunn.


In June 2000, Black's announced that they were rolling out Fuji Frontier digital minilab printing systems to their stores. I've read many good things about Frontiers in the Q&A forum, including this thread, so I was very excited about Frontiers coming to town. The ads promise significantly better results, and they offered a free reprint to prove how much better it is. I've taken them up on it (more than once :-); I chose prints that had identifiable problems and had them reprinted.

I should state up front that I'm more critical than the average point-n-shooter. I don't actually expect perfection, but that's the standard against which I'm measuring the results.

Important notice: I don't yet have any scanned images for this page; I don't have convenient access to a scanner. I am planning on adding scans if/when I can. Also, I will be getting reprints made of additional photos and will update this page with their results. So check back once in a while.

The Claims (from the ad)

Background Detail

The foreground and background of an image is[sic] adjusted independently of each other, to compensate for strongly backlit scenes.

Contrast Adjustment

When the sun or an overly intense flash leaves the subject too washed out, adjustments are made automatically to provide optimum contrast.

Sharpness Adjustment

Improves edge definition of objects, shadows and colours, while compensating for film grain, to produce crisp, clear photos.

Over or Under Exposure Correction

When overexposed negatives are detected, density and contrast are automatically adjusted to bring images closer to their proper exposure level.

Skin Tone Enhancement

This feature searches for peoples[sic] faces in a photo and creates a more natural appearance, enhancing facial skin tones and compensating for shadows.

The Tests

Image One: First Dance

A photo of a newly married couple dancing at their wedding reception; the room was very dark so flash was used for illumination.

Image Two: Fort Edmonton Park

A street scene at Fort Edmonton Park, depicting a street from the early 1900s. The photo was shot in direct daylight; a polarizer was used to enhance sky colour.

Image Three: Family at the Lake

This is a photo of four people at the lakeshore in Toronto on a bright, sunny day.

Image Four: Generations

This is a cropped version of the original. The original also includes more of the chair on which the mother (my sister-in-law Julie) is sitting. In the original, Julie appears more out-of-focus than she does in the scan.

What about a whole roll?

Having generally liked what I saw, I gave them a whole roll of Kodak Portra 160VC to print on the Frontier. All of the pictures on this roll are of people; the roll is split between our company's summer party (indoors, poorly lit; all shots used flash as the primary light source) and my nephew Matthew's first birthday party (outdoors, bright sunlight; many shots used fill flash, and all were shot with a fairly wide aperture to blur the background). Since I have not had any of these pictures printed traditionally, I can't compare them like I've done with the prints listed above.

I'm generally happy with the results. Skin tones of several ethnic backgrounds look good in general, though there are a couple of shots in which people with moderately dark skin appear flat. The prints are very sharp, and out-of-focus backgrounds look nice. Many shots show jaggies under an 8x loupe, but look perfectly normal to the naked eye.

Other Notes

Colours are cleaner in every picture.

While they don't advertise this fact, the Frontier can do more than print negatives. It also accepts slides (and digital input). I took a slide that I'd earlier used to check out some of their other services and had them print it on the Frontier. The print is beautiful. You can read about it here.

Grain has an unusual look in these prints. Grain normally looks like it has fairly sharp edges. In all of the Frontier prints I've had made that show grain, it looks much softer when viewed under an 8x loupe - almost like it's dithered.

Most images, viewed under a loupe, show jaggies in some areas. This is not a big issue because few people will view your prints with an 8x loupe/magnifying glass, and the jaggies are generally not visible to the unaided eye. However, I plan on getting an 8x10" print made to find out if the artifacts are a result of scanning (in which case they'll be twice as bad on an 8x10", and will likely be visible to the unaided eye in some cases) or printing (in which case they'll be the same size as on a 4x6" and are not a concern).


It's not perfect, but it's a definite step up from traditional optical minilabs. If you feed it a perfect negative, you'll probably get somewhat better results (though a pro lab using more appropriate paper for a given image might do better). If you feed it a flawed negative, the improvement it can make (relative to what you'd get from optical printing) is great. It can't handle the same range of contrast that a good film can - at least, not on the high-contrast paper Black's uses. All in all, this is a definite step forward. I will be using them for most of my printing needs.


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