A Monday morning rant.
I am unimpressed with the current range of (very expensive) fiber/gloss papers attempting to replicate the ęsthetic of darkroom prints. Like many others on this forum, I have eagerly tried most of the new offerings as they have become available, driven by glowing reviews from folks like Michael Reichmann and Richard Lohmann. However, I just don't see the same improvement in print quality.
For what it's worth, I know what a good print looks like. I live less than an hour from George Eastman House, and I visit there frequently to examine original prints by the masters. I started inkjet printing back in the paleolithic era, with HP's original (pigment!) Photosmart printer, followed by an Epson 1200 with Jon Cone's Piezography BW system. I got pretty good at printing on cotton rag papers with an Epson 7600, and last year moved to an HP Z3100, mostly for the ability to change blacks on the fly. I'm delighted with the quality of prints I get up to big panoramics, and I have no trouble selling them.
HP's professional satin paper is a typical synthetic semigloss/satin inkjet photo paper, and prints on this paper look wonderful, with a deep D-max, wide gamut, and very subtle surface texture. I've been very happy with it. Yet every time I read another sparkling review of one of the newer fiber gloss papers, I feel that "grass is greener" need to check it out. Last night I made two prints of the same image, one on HP Pro satin, the other on Harman FB AL gloss. And honestly, I prefer HP's paper. It lacks the annoying excess gloss and a finely textured distracting "sparkle" I see in Harman's paper, and it's significantly less fragile. And truthfully, the two papers feel identical to my hand.
I'm open-minded about the possible ęsthetic benefits of future papers, but I'm just not seeing it for the current wave of new products. I wonder if it's an "emperor's new clothes" situation where nobody wants to admit that these spiffy new products don't look any better than the old standards, especially after dropping a chunk of change on a big roll.
Of course, maybe it's me, and I just need more coffee.