So Hahnemühle had something to announce at Photokina. It wasn't a GFX50R, or a Canikony thing. It was paper. And it was something that had my interest. And when On-Line Paper announced they'd be getting some in stock, my first question was... How much??
At the time of writing, Hahnemühle Photo Rag Metallic is the single most expensive paper I've ever handled. £55ish for 25 sheets works out at £2.20 per A4 print which is a lot of money to me. My "go to" papers are in the £1.50-£1.60 per A4 print so this paper is almost 50% more expensive. For printing at 13x19 get ready for an eye watering £136 (£5.40/print!!!).
Is it any good though?
Looking at the photos on their website, the Hahnemühle Photo Rag Metallic seems to be very similar to the (currently) unavailable (in the UK) Museo Silver Rag in texture. I've currently fallen in love with Slickrock's Metallic Silver paper (read more here) which has a downside of feeling very cheap & plasticky. As long as you don't touch it though - it looks fab. I was really keen to see if the new Hahnemühle paper had the proper feel of a cotton rag with the effect of the metallic paper.
A lot of my photography these days is infra-red, and as my progress moves further towards black & white (film) medium format infra-red, I've been looking for a suitable paper to showcase the work in a unique way. At the moment, I'm trialling Ilford's own Gold Fibre Gloss in an attempt to emulate their darkroom papers and considering a move back to gloss paper for my black & white film work. I really don't want to have that plasticky feel though... Anyway, I was really surprised when I received a call from Alex at OnlinePaper (unaffiliated link) offering me a single sheet of the Hahnemühle paper to run off a test print. It felt almost ordained that I was looking for a new paper, and a single sheet was going to wend its way to me free of charge (Thanks Alex!).
It's more than just colour rendition for me with paper. It's about feel and about how the light reflects off it. It's about texture and finish. I've lost count of the words used by manufacturers to describe paper. Gloss, Matt, Hi-Gloss, Satin, Silk, Lustre... It's like walking down the paint aisle in B&Q. All it's done is prove that there's no real substitute for making a print and holding it in your hand because the words can very often mislead.
The single sheet of Hahnemühle Photo Rag Metallic arrived on Wednesday, and my first dilemma was "test print" or "B&W"? Then I opened the envelope and took it out...
I so wanted to hate it. I wanted it to be terrible so that I could moan about price, and how much better x, y and z were. Above all, I didn't want to have to find a small fortune to get a full box. I wanted to reply to Alex's email and say "thankyou for saving me a ton of money". *Sigh*
Before printing, I did a handling and texture "test" (jeez I sound sad...). It's got that cotton rag feel and feels very similar to Hahnemühle's Photo Rag Baryta or Canson's Platine Fibre Rag. It's a nice heavy weight at 340gsm and the printed surface doesn't feel too plasticky.
(Above, L-R Ilford Gold Fibre Gloss, Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta. Hahnemühle Photo Rag Metallic, Moab Slickrock Metallic Silver)
Texture wise - again, it is very similar to the Photo Rag Baryta and Platine Fibre Rag, however there is a subtle metallic sheen to the overall paper, and as you can(not) see below it's not white like Ilford's Gold Fibre Gloss, nor yellowy off white like the photo Rag Baryta, but neither is it the almost blue of the Slickrock Mettalic Silver. It's more of a yellowy-white with a subtle grey sheen.
<Failed attempt at getting a photograph that accurately renders the different shades of white...>
My 2 favourite papers are Canson's Platine Fire Rag and Museo's Silver Rag. And this was equal to them both in terms of feel and finish. Damn. Time to run off a print and see if it looked as good as them with ink on it.
It was better.
With my printer profile.
Hahnemühle have yet to put their profiles up, so I just let the printer control the colour and ran off a 50/50 print - half proper test print, half B&W because I was thinking about this paper chiefly for B&W work.
Every metallic paper I've tried has always been plasticky. It's been a major downside (IMO) to "metallic" papers. This however looks like any other high quality Baryta paper but the metallic sheen is so subtle I'm not sure I can replicate it here. And it just seems to "lift" the image off the paper. I'm in danger of almost saying it gives images a proper metallic plate style look which is something I was really looking for after returning to film photography.
I love it. I can't wait to see how my infra-red work will look on it. I suspect a significant improvement over the Slickrock Metallic Silver which feels better suited as a plastic raincoat than photographic paper (even though it looks awesome!). Because it's a darker paper, the image is overall darker, but looking closely at my test print, I can still see a large degree of detail retained in the shadows. Once I profile this, I may nudge the overall image brightness up a third of a stop or so to compensate, but because you're not looking at it next to anything else, it may not even be noticeable.
Everyone raves about Hahnemühle papers. I always wanted to not like them because of this (I'm totally rational - honest!). I've done significant testing of lots of paper, and cheaper alternatives (Canson's Platine Fibre Rag, Ilford's Gold Fibre Gloss, St Cuthbert's Somerset Photo Satin) often equal their more expensive offerings and in some cases better them. This paper though is special. Even if Museo opened up shop in Chester I'd still need to have a box of this.
A4 or A3+ though...? Might have to see what Santa fetches...
Thanks Alex (at On-linepaper.co.uk) for sending me a sheet through though.. I don't think I would ever have risked £55 on an unseen paper and I wonder (hope) Hahnemühle slot this into their test packs asap. To be clear, I receive no revenue or endorsement from Hahnemühle or On-line Paper. All I've received for free is one sheet. And you can always ask them if they'll send you one too :)
In summary: Is Hahnemühle Photo Rag Metallic worth it? Ultimately, only you can answer that as your budget is... well... your budget. It is easily in my top ten papers though and provisionally is in the top three. I'd need to do more prints to confirm, but the results from this single sheet of A4 are outstanding.
Well done Hahnemühle!