Product Review Saal Digital
Browsing on Instagram & Facebook I kept seeing adverts about reviewing a product from a company called Saal Digital, basically, they were offering professional photographers a voucher to try their products, Saal Digital is a German company specializing in printing services whose catalogue includes cards, photo prints, calendars, posters, photo books and more. the fact they were a German company appealed, as quality is almost always guaranteed from any printing company in Germany, the Germans do engineering like no others. I was paid no money and instead of the usual £25 voucher they kindly decided to give me a £40 quid voucher in return for honest feedback on their product. So this is really as far as our relationship goes. Those who know me, know, that honesty and opinions are a few things that I’m not shy in coming forward with. It seems the upgrade to £40 was because they liked my photography.
My first dilemma, unrelated to Saal, was what do I use this voucher for, I am in the middle of wedding season, do I spend it on showcasing some of my favourite wedding images, something to carry around with me to show potential brides. Deep in thought, I decided to edit, I was working on some of my urban stuff. Then it dawned on me. My hard drive must have hundreds of thousands of my own personal urban work, sadly that is where they live unless I occasionally unleash them on the digital social media world. My better half certainly wouldn’t be keen for me to load my walls with my own photos, (according to other photographers, apparently this is a woman thing 😉 )
I thought this one time, I will be absolutely selfish and create something for me, I want to see some of my work, touch it, there is nothing more satisfying and nostalgic then seeing your own photos in print, absolutely no modern high tech technology screen will ever replace the old school feeling, ever. (so get your digital photos printed, honestly, it is a retro sparkly feeling that you should aim to experience often) I have written about the power of the print before in this blog here, read it, please. I have created albums and printed off clients work, but never my own, so this generous £40 voucher was going to go toward me finally seeing some of my personal project work come to life.
Other photographers who participated in this product test all seemed to go for the typical hardback album storybooks, I, however (as expected 🙂 ) wanted to try something different, A lot of my urban stuff is muted vibrant colours, clouds highlighted, bricks accentuated, texture plays an important part in my creative process, I never click the shutter unless the texture and colours tickle my creative eye. Even my black and white photos are processed to give off this vibe, this is going to sound bizarre, but I like my blacks, black, not washed out grey. This was going to be hugely important when making my decision on what product, and the real test for Saal to produce a final result that pleased me, because it was my own work and not clients photos, my precious O meter was going to go off the Richter scale, my emotional attachment was already expecting absolute failure from Saal digital.
Immediately I was drawn to a bound lay flat Photo booklet, almost like a giant retro Scetch pad, Format: 21 x 30, Orientation: landscape, Surface: art print, 32 pages (Photobook Urban). The important bit in this choice was the paper I chose, I sacrificed the size of the photo booklet, to make sure I upgraded the paper (upgrade I mean more expensive, it is not always about that, it depends on what you are printing and what you want it to look like) I loved the sound of this paper and it fitted in with what I had in mind:
An impressive presentation of your images is provided by the photo booklet with the art print paper. The fine surface structure of the art print gives your pictures a classy appearance. Thanks to our printing process, brilliant colours are achieved in proven HighEnd quality.
- classy appearance
- fine surface texture
- brilliant colours
I was expecting big things from this booklet based on this description, the point was to give me an eyegasm looking at my own photos, to fill me with absolute pleasure on touching the pages, even the smell would be important as well, (it’s the small things 😉 ) all my senses demanded this outcome. No pressure Saal digital 🙂 , bear in mind and also shout for me to get my expectations in check here, but all in, this product cost £40.10p invoice below, including shipping. Realistically it cost me £0.10p….yes 10 British pennies. So for 10p, I was asking and expecting for one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life haha. cheeky bugger!
|Photo booklet, Format: 21 x 30, Orientation: landscape, Surface: art print, 32 pages (Photobook Urban)||1||35,1500 £||35,1500 £|
|Shipping costs:||4,95 £|
|Voucher:||– 40,00 £|
Saal-Digital provides their customers with software to design the product. The Software can be downloaded from the website and is easy to install on a Mac or PC. After installing and starting the application a couple of options are offered. Once you’re done selecting the product and its specific details you end up in the design area of the software. Here you can pick or design a standard layout for your photo book. Photos can be selected from a window that looks like a regular explorer or finder window, which is quite easy. You can simply drag the photos to the desired page. This works well. After filling the photo book with photos and selecting a front- and back cover the book is ready to be ordered. I only wanted to fill a page with my photo so I used the blank template, all in all, the hardest part was choosing what photos to fill it with, again, it needed to please me visually, and this is a review so I wanted to make sure those printers were put to good use, choosing as many different textured, cloured and noise packed black and white photos as I could find. As I said before, unconsciously setting Saal up to fail. I have way too many photos to chose from though, and after an hour or so decided on my final 36 pages. on a plus side, it was nice to review past work, to even see it again, highlighting the blatantly obvious fact that I need to print more, especially as I’m a professional photographer, and so do you!
I ordered this product last night, so I am making a head start on this review blog, and will complete when my product arrives, on checking my e-mails I notice that it has already been shipped, that is incredible, I honestly finished uploading the final product at 23:21pm last night, and 08:18am the next morning, I received an e-mail to say it was shipped, wow, that was super quick. they must work round the clock in the printing lab :). let’s hope the speed doesn’t affect the quality, I’d rather it was a few days later than the quality jeopardized, just to provide a rapid service. I’m worried now :/ .
So, 2 working days after ordering, which is absolutely awesome, my Photobook arrived on my doorstep. It was packaged well, so the risk of damage was minimum, which is another added bonus. I must admit to being nervous when I ripped open the packaging, finally, I was going to see a booklet of my own personal work for once. A mini judgement day. I knew some photos would be fine as I had won some prestigious awards for them, so the award-winning images weren’t going to be too much of a concern in the context that I knew they were great images, the concern was more about did they print well?
I held the book in my hand, about the size of an average laptop screen so big enough, remember, I sacrificed size for the quality of the paper. The cover and back cover is pleasantly covered by a hard see-through plastic cover, the aim probably to protect the covers, a nice unexpected touch and did not jeopardise the quality of the images on the covers, both images were intense black and white images, and I am delighted to confirm that they printed absolutely beautifully, honestly I’m not just saying that.
Opening the booklet was a relief and a joyful moment, there was my images on high-quality art paper, and they looked fantastic, I quickly flicked through holding my breath to get a quick fleeting glimpse of my images. Seeing your photos in print is a special occasion, the Power of the Print can’t ever be overestimated. After the warm fuzzy feeling of astonishment and excitement settled (didn’t go away, only settled 😉 ) a little bit of pride crept in, my images looked breathtaking (if I do say so myself, haha). Honestly, a sense of relief, for years I’ve stored these images on a hard drive and to see them come to life is truly a joyous sight.
I’m reviewing this Saal Digital experience and book, not my images, let us agree to differ that they are all awesome and that I am always correct ha-ha. Whats important about this review is that I genially and deliberately picked images I thought Saal would fail to print the way I wanted, the identity of a final image is just as important as clicking the shutter to capture the image. What you see in your minds-eye, is what you want to see in the final showing of the image. I don’t think I could have provided Saal with any more difficult images than I did, strong blacks, the important detail, vibrant colours, and even sun flare.
There were three particular images that I submitted with the overall aim of setting Saal up to fail, one was of the Tennent’s brewery wall in Glasgow, which was a texture and colour composition, the photo of the man holding the two pints (Sam Heughan of Outlander fame), the colours muted and then popped vibrant, along with the texture of the street art against the beautiful Glasgow brickwork giving an almost soft HDR look, was going to be a task to get it the way I wanted it. Scrutinizing it, deliberately trying to find fault I can report that it was flawless, colour rendition, detail, and quality of print was completely flawless and simply stunning. I can’t, even after a few days, find anything wrong with it in terms of the quality of print, it is a great image, but printed it has become a stunning image. Even right into the corners, the print has come out wonderful, zero detail lost, and the colours beautiful, crisp and vibrant, the cloud detail and the change from blue to white is fabulous. Another photo of trees in sunset (photo below is magical), the subtle blending of the sunset colour against the horizon is just amazing, well done Saal.
The second photo is of a man in Glasgow, with sun flare coming camera left to the ground, I wanted to see how the printer handled the colours, wow, I’m not even exaggerating when I say perfect, the colours don’t even disappear with the strong black, they are still vibrant and sharp, no run or loss of colour, the black is strong. What makes it more remarkable is that its printed on Art paper, the high-quality paper has natural grooves and perforated textures and not one white spot can be seen other than chewing gum and lines from the street. It really is incredible.
The ultimate test was a photo of my son at fireworks night, Several factors would come into play to make this image difficult to print well, the lack of any background, as it is completely dark behind my son, all you can see is a silhouette of his profile, fading due to it being pitch dark, he is turning his head toward me wearing a pair of Neon light up glasses, with neon tracers where his head started from, ha-ha this was going to be the image that Saal could never print well. The image that I would focus my whole review on, where I could absolutely slaughter Saal digital for. The Neon blue would blow out and the printer would instead print a really ugly shade of blue, green with horrible white blown out patches, the neon vibrancy would be lost, especially on this high-quality paper. It would be a horrible mess of faded colour, detail and the atmosphere lost, the printer would never handle this photo, or deliver anything like I wanted it to.
Or so I thought, those who know me, know, a loss for words is not something that happens to me. I was actually speechless, I could not believe what I was seeing. This photo is now one of my all-time favourites (emotional attachment aside cause it is my spawn that is the model) but it printed astonishingly well, it printed like a work of ART, it is a work of art, jaw-dropping excellence, not one single pixel of detail lost, the colour and the deep, black dark background looks beautiful, enhanced by this spectacular paper. The fine detail around the face, eyes and even the trace from the glasses is special. But the colour!, the colour is heavenly. A photo I liked is now one I love.
Believe me, when I say I didn’t want this to be as positive as it is, I wanted it to be balanced good and bad, unconsciously I wanted it to be bad, I am better at being bad than good. If you are honest you also wanted it to be a bad review, as it will no doubt give you the same dilemma I now find myself in which I’ll explain in a bit. You only have to read some of my other blogs to know that I am anything but Mr Positivity. So this isn’t a kiss your ass kind of blog because I got the book free to review. I lose nothing by writing an obnoxious blog, they can’t come and take the book back, can they 🙂 . I am disappointed almost that I could find no fault in this book, none, it really is as good as I claim.
Instead my dilemma is that Saal Digital has given me plenty to think about in future, as not only have they delivered to me a faultless and I mean faultless & stunning quality photobook, they have made me rethink some of my suppliers, I have bought books in the past that would cost 3 or 4 times the price of this book had I purchased it, and the quality has been nowhere near the quality of this book. So not only are they in my opinion world class printers, but they are seriously a cost-effective alternative. There is no way they made an extra effort to print this book knowing a blog was being done as it was literally shipped out 8 hours after I ordered it and arrived 72 hours later.
Maybe I was clever and picked the correct paper, format of booklet and photos, however its important to know I made a very deliberate attempt to catch them out by submitting really complex photos, in regards to noise, grain, colour and texture, they delivered way above my expectation, I can’t believe it cost me 10p. As I try and wind up this blog, I am trying to think of something negative , I’m scratching my head , not even the software is enough to make me write something negative, because it really isn’t complex to work, some people might be frighted by the software, but I’m used to this kind of software, if you struggle there is an option to hit auto fill so it more or less builds it for you if this is something that you feel you would struggle with.
This really is one of those it’s almost too good to be true scenarios, if Saal wishes to offer me the chance to try out other products then I’d happily do so, as I must have received a faulty perfectly printed and delivered product, nothing can be that perfect, clearly, something went wrong he says sarcastically. As it stands, unless something dreadful happens all my photo books will certainly be going through Saal, I need to try prints and wall Art next, and a wedding album before I fully commit to adding them to my list of trusted suppliers for weddings, right now they jump to the top of my photobook supplier list. And yes it smelled okay as well 😉
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Mark Mutch O’Hare © McSnappy