I can't believe I want to setup a darkroom

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by houstonphotographics, Feb 17, 2012.

  1. Hello everyone,
    46y/o photog here. I grew up on film like so many of you, had a darkroom 20yrs ago, then got married (maybe NOT so many of you..:), raised family, etc.. Adopted digital fully about 7 yrs ago, but never gave up on film. Now child is grown and off to college, other family dynamics have changed, and YES I want to start up a darkroom for MY personal enjoyment! Shooting 120 6x6 b/w only. Would like to hear a few pieces of advise on equipment (enlarger and lens mainly) that I need to shop for. The chemicals, trays, etc. i can always pickup anywhere within reason. I have already looked into some archived threads (about 2008-2009) related to this topic but wanted to hear some current views and opinions. Cheers!
  2. I use an app on my phone that searches Craigslist cities in driving distance.

    It is a great time to get a darkroom, lots of the stuff is in good condition and can be had pennies on the dollar.

    Takes some patience though. Keep an eye on people liquidating the whole lot, and sell what you don't need on EBay.
    Sometimes you can sell one or two things included in a package to cover the cost of what you keep.

    The Beseler 67 is small lightweight and will do your 6x6, you can use a condenser or a dichro head for diffusion. A Nikon
    or German 80mm lens. A four blade easel. Grain focuser. Gralab 450. trays and chemicals and you have the printing side down. Keep
    an eye on dry mount presses, took me two years to find one, got it in a package deal.

    For the film side, a dark bag, a tank, thermometer, measuring cup set from Walmart, and clothespins. Chemicals and
    distilled water. I like a small pair of scissors for cutting dogears off the film for easy advancement. I recommend getting
    the plastic reels that have the cheater flanges on them; makes quick work of spooling. And a box of nitrile gloves to keep
    your finger prints off the film and chemicals off your skin.
  3. Yes, bargains are everywhere! You might not have to pay anything at all for a good enlarger with accessories. Even though you plan to shoot exclusively 6x6, don't rule out a 4x5 enlarger-- they are generally more professional/sturdy/robust than MF-only enlargers, but this is not an absolute-- there are very high quality MF enlargers, too.
    My preference is for a color head, with an analyzer/timer, but good results can be had from any serviceable unit. Be selective (it's a buyer's market), and enjoy! If you're interested in my rather idiosyncratic views on darkroom design, just ask!
  4. Enlargers are ridiculous to ship, which is why Craigslist is the best source. But do know the eBay prices, so you don't overpay.
    Omega B22-XL would be fine as well. If you're only doing 120/6x6, you won't even care if the auxillary 35mm condensor lens is missing! If you have the space, the Beseler 4x5 or Omega D-series 4x5 enlargers are all absolute tanks. It's a lot easier to find a cold light source for a 4x5 enlarger.
    As Richard says, get the BEST lens -- they are so cheap on eBay. Hopefully, your Craigslist enlarger will come with a good lens.
    eBay is great for Nikor reels and tanks, which is my preference. (I know that SS versus plastic is a "religious" issue.)
    You may be surprised how hard it is to find a local source of chemistry, and shipping of liquids is expensive. Freestyle and Adorama are good mail-order chemistry sources, B&H is very very limited about what chemicals they will ship. Another approach is to buy the ingredients from Photogrpahers Formulary, Artcraft, or Bostick & Sullivan, buy a $30 digital scale, and mix your own D-72, D-76, stop bath, fixer, etc. That is (by far) the cheapest way.
  5. Check out local photo stores in your area. Many are getting completely out of film and are almost giving away chemicals.
    Considering putting a wanted ad in your local Craigslist photo section. Many people are happy just to get rid of the stuff.
  6. Do seriously consider the suggestion of 4x5 enlarger, they are so solid and who knows if you might not go to 6x9cm or 4x5 later. Having said that you can pick up 6x6 only enlargers for peanuts these days.
    Digital is the best thing to hit darkroom workers for years, darkroom gear is at near giveaway prices, I bought a Durst L1200 with all the different mixing boxes and accessories for $99 from a hospital, and an Omega D5 with Ilford multigrade head for $79 from a lab closing down, both off ebay, both within two hours drive.
    I also got a full set of mint componon-s enlarging lenses and never paid more than $75 for any of them. I would also second the suggestion of looking for people getting out of film and selling complete darkroom setups. They might not match exactly what you want but it's easy to sell what you don't need. I recently bought a complete darkroom just to get the process timer, sold the rest and turned a profit by selling the items seperately.
    I would suggest you hunt down a good easel, they make life a lot easier than a cheapy.
    Good luck and above all enjoy, darkroom work is the fun hands-on craft element that keeps me going.
  7. The only darkroom I have left is a 3/4 bath and a bag of dark.
    Several years ago when I added onto the house, I toyed with the idea of making the bathroom in my library into a darkroom as well, but even with the costs of equipment already mentioned, I just couldn't justify it. I still develop film, but I do all 'printing' now on the computer.
  8. With a little bit of patience, Craigslist and eBay should be able to get you all the equipment you need. For buying paper and chemicals, check out www.freestylephoto.biz - they have a house brand (Arista) that is well-received by many and is a little cheaper than the usual brands.
    Beseler and Omega enlargers in the US are pretty much everywhere and therefore parts are available if repairs are needed. And they are mostly built like tanks so repairs usually aren't common. If you can join a camera club in your area, do so and let them know you're going to build a darkroom. Anyone who is getting rid of theirs will likely make you a good deal and they probably would have kept their equipment in good shape. You may have to deal with a few naysayers. Just remember that what matters is what YOU want to do. I absolutely love spending time in my darkroom - it's relaxing for me in a way that sitting in front of a computer cannot be.
  9. lwg


    I would get a 4x5 enlarger. You will have more options for heads with this. I have two Omega D5s, one for color and one for black and white. The black and white one has an Ilford Multigrade 500 head on it, which really makes printing nice. Combined with the RH Designs f/stop timer you couldn't ask for a nicer setup.
    I have seen more Omega mount Ilford heads than Besseler, so that is what guided my decision. It's easy to find parts for either make.
    Get the best lens you can find. For 6x6 you will want an 80mm or maybe a 105. The 6 element Nikon, Rodenstock, and Schneider Componon-S are all nice. I have one of each, but usually use the 80mm f/5.6 Nikon for 6x6.
    Where are you located?
  10. While a 4x5 inch enlarger is nice, it is BIG. If you have the dedicated space, go for it. Otherwise, a 6x7 or 6x6 cm enlarger can be broken down and put away when you need to reuse the space. Personal opininon, do NOT go for a DURST enlarger. It is a darn good enlarger, but spare parts are hard to find and expensive when you do find them. Bessler or Omega are better options, as parts are easier and cheaper to find.
    Get the BEST lens you can afford, and there are darn good deals available today. I would look for: Componon-S, Componon, or El Nikkor. Just be aware that the Componon and El Nikkors use different lens mounting so you have to get the appropriate lens boards and mounting rings. I have found Componon and El Nikkor 50 and 80mm lenses for less than $50 each.
    For liquid measuring devices, I have always used standard kitchen measuring cups. They are a LOT cheaper than "photo" measuring cups. You will still need ACCURATE measuring cups of various sizes for mixing up chemicals. But by using the cheaper kitchen cups for other purposes, you save $.
    gud luk and N-joy your new venture
  11. Oh since this is a film processing section...
    I use stainless steel (SS) developing tanks + reels. But that is what I learned on, and so for me it is easier to load a SS reel than a plastic reel. However each person is different, some just can't get the knack of loading a SS reel, so for them the plastic reel+tank is a better option. Sorta like manual vs. automatic transmission. To be honest, you probably have to try both to decide which one you prefer. And not all plastic tank+reel systems are the same, some are easier to use than others.
    I have not shopped about for a while, but I have not found anything that could replace my old Gralab timer for timing the various stages of developing. These are expensive new, but shop about and you should be able to find a used one at decent price, or as others have said, as part of a bundle of other parts.
    If you can find a 4-blade easel at a decent price, grab it. They are much better than the cheaper 2 blade easels. When I started out, the only thing most of us could afford was the cheaper 2 blade easels.
    Another enlarging item to keep an eye out for is a good digital enlarging timer. In a pinch, you could use the Graylab timer (the model that is equipted to switch power). I used my Gralab on the enlarger when my enlarging timer died.
    As others have said, keep watching the local Craig's List. I've seen some greal deals, and got a couple of them. I would have grabbed a 4x5 enlarger, but I don't have the space to permanently set it up. A color enlarger is nice, but for B&W I prefer a condenser enlarger. But you should adjust your processing (for negative contrast) to the enlarger you use, so that isn't that much of an issue.
  12. I won't disagree with Gary's comment - "Personal opininon, do NOT go for a DURST enlarger." - but I will add a couple of thoughts about Durst countertop enlargers, which I've used for several years and found satisfactory.

    Do be sure the enlarger is complete. The following parts are not impossible to find, but are usually overpriced when purchased apart from the enlarger. This applies to almost any enlarger - even if replacement parts are readily available they may not be worth the cost, unless it's a specialized enlarger.

    In particular, be sure it includes:

    *Both lens carriers. The typical Durst dual format (35mm and medium format) countertop enlarger will need one lens carrier to hold a 50mm enlarger lens for 35mm film format, and another for an 80mm lens for medium format. Typically the Durst lens carriers are shaped like shallow tubs (for the 50mm lens for 35mm film) and nearly flat saucers (for the 80mm lens for medium format).

    *The complete negative carrier. Most manufactured since the 1970s use a hinged sandwich type negative carrier with adjustable easel blades to mask negative sizes from 35mm (or smaller) up to the maximum size of 6x6 or 6x7 cm. Most, perhaps all, use glass. No big deal if the glass is missing - the anti-Newtons Ring top glass is easily replaced.

    *The complete negative carrier & condenser assembly. This is an oddity of the pre-1970s Durst countertops, such as the 606 which combines the negative carrier and condenser into a single ungainly assembly. Frankly, I'd advise avoiding these, or any Durst condenser head. Get a later model dichroic head or, if you can find one, a variable contrast head. Durst condenser heads use diffused light sources anyway (opal bulbs or opal glass diffusers) so they're not true condenser heads. The dichroic or VC heads will provide more even illumination to the edges and corners, fewer problems with visible dust and no perceptible difference in the magical micro-contrast so often touted as the secret ingredient in true condenser heads.

    *The correct power supply or power cord assembly for the enlarger.

    The baseboard may be dispensable with most counter top enlargers, if you have your own tools and workshop. If forced to buy online, it will save shipping costs. However, whether this is a good option depends on whether you want to bolt the enlarger directly to a sturdy counter top, or buy a suitable replacement from a nearby lumber store. If you have to buy the tools to cut and drill a replacement baseboard, it probably isn't worth the hassle.

    My Durst M605 and 606 were complete when I bought them and nothing has worn out (other than bulbs) and nothing has broken. I was a little worried about the plastic gear tracks in the M605 but so far, so good. Generally speaking, most enlargers won't need replacement parts. Over the past couple of decades I've met only one commercial lab pro who needed to replace an enlarger part - the spring assembly for adjusting head elevation in a De Vere.
  13. Don't forget a good thermometer!
    A contact print box is helpful for selecting the negatives you want to enlarge.
  14. In regards to enlargers, be careful not to get stuck with one that has been abused, can't hold alignment, or can't be aligned. YOU WANT AN ENLARGER THAT CAN BE PROPERLY ALIGNED AT THE LENS STAGE AND NEGATIVE STAGE. Otherwise, you probably won't get the sharp print that you desire.
    True, there's enlargers out there that can be had for pennies on the dollar, but many of them won't produce a sharp print. Headaches come cheap. IMHO, the accessories you need for the enlarger are what you can safely purchase cheap: lens boards, negative carriers, and a good color head which uses a halogen light source (Dichro 45 S Colorhead with built-in filters which haven't faded).
    I went through this about five years ago, and unless my "inexpensive" Omega D5500 could be re-built, it was worthless. Couldn't be aligned, and couldn't hold alignment for anything. I sold it cheap. Then, I purchased a Beseler 45 MXT new, and that was a headache. Very hard to PROPERLY align. Finally, I sold that, took a hit, and purchased a new Beseler 45 V-XL, and never looked back. Aligns at the lens stage and negative stage easily, and holds alignment for years. Vest enlarger I ever owned.
    That's my 2 cents.
  15. I like the Omega and Beseler enlargers, though there are some other good ones depending on where you live. I currently use a Chromega 4x5 as my LF enlarger, and a Chromega B (for up to 6x6). You can also look at a Chromega C for up to 6x7. All great enlargers. I like the Chromega B for its simplicity and speed, but the Beseler 23C is a great enlarger too. I'd also consider Nikor, Saunders, DeVere, and Minolta.
  16. Go for it! Here's mine just to whet your appetite!
  17. Where to look besides eBay, yard sales, thrift stores, contact members of photography clubs (like Meetup.com groups), there are usually one or two people that have or know who have darkroom stuff, University surplus sales, online want ads and as others have said, Craigs list. I started out with a Beseler PrintMaker 35. When I wanted to move up to medium format I purchased a condenser set out of a Beseler 67. The heads are the same, the column on the PrintMaker 35 is smaller than the 67 but I never had any issues at all with printing 120 (6x6) with it. The only reason that I sold it is I purchased a Crown Graphic and purchased an Omega D2 enlarger to print the 4x5 negatives. I purchased my Beseler PrintMaker 35 at a thrift store for $5, it had a lens but no negative carriers or base board. I later sold it for $45 with a timer, a 35mm negative carrier, 6x6 negative carrier, trays (8x10) and a few other small items. I sold my enlarger on KSL.com (a local online want ad site). At yard sales I have been given trays, measuring cylinders and thermometers.
  18. While Besseler or LPL are probably good instruments, I haven't used either. My experience with the Durst, Philips and Leitz enlargers have been first rate and I would not hesitate to recommend each of these (the Leitz IIa or IIc, like DeVere enlargers, are a bit pricey even used and the Leitz has a disadvantage of not accepting more recent 3rd party lenses), as they are mechanically very solid (an important consideration) and have certain adjustments for alignment (also important). If you can get one with a good color head, that is a plus for variable contrast printing papers. Any six element 80mm or 90mm lens from Schneider, Nikon or Rodenstock (and a few others) will likely give you all the quality needed for printing your 6x6 negatives.
  19. Hi Ken,
    I teach pro photography and we have been all digital for the last 7 years. I love the technology of b/w film so I wanted a darkroom. My wife said, "don't talk about it, do it", so I did. While I have 2 or 3 unused enlargers, I was only interested in B/W film processing, scanning and printing via inkjet.
    I already had an 8'X10' wooden garden shed on a concrete slab to work with. At my age (then 79 and with a 4th cancer being treated my wife wouldn't let me any of the work myself). I had the entire inside spray foamed for insulation (central Texas), then plywood sheathed, used rigid foam insulation on the floor and then covered that with 3/4 ply, peg board for accessories, shelving which I painted with epoxy, the entire inside painted in light grey, electrical input work including flourescents, plumbed, I had an unused SS sink and faucet set which I installed, bought and installed a small AC, a small electric space heater, a small hot water heater, and some other incidentals. The entire cost came to $3,300 over and above the other things which I already owned. Actually, the price wasn't bad, all things considered, but I give you this information in case you are considering a similar thought. BTW, I'm now approaching 81, my last cancer is cured, I feel great and I could have done more on my own if I had felt as well then as I do now
  20. Good advice, Lynn. I really need to clear out a closet here and set up a more or less permanent workspace for my enlarger again. That might motivate me to get rid of some stuff I've been lugging around for years and don't use.
  21. I can't believe you would *not* want to set up a darkroom given just how unique it is in today's digital image flooded world. I got tired of looking for space and just made half my storage closet into one, it takes up some 15 square feet with a home made stacked tray system that can handle up to 16 x 20 prints. I have been printing for a little over two weeks and I am starting to pull in cash from print sales. I use a Beseler 45MX with an Aristo Cold Light head connected to a Metrolux II compensating timer / controller. I print 35mm, 35mm x 65mm Panoramic and 6x6 using Rodenstock 50mm and 90mm Apo lenses.
    There is no way I could ever go back to printing fine art using a computer...not after seeing how fun this is and how amazing the results turn out.
  22. I finished up this edition of 45 = 10" x 10" prints last night, it took two 4 hour shifts to get it done but the prints are stunning. Next up, the series in 15" x 15"....Huh, image did not load in this post, look below...
  23. The photo in reference above, shot using a 501C/M, 60mm 3.5 CF lens on Rollei IR400, printed with no contrast grade filter used, Ilford Warmtone Fiber Based paper...
  24. Hi Everyone!
    Thank you so much for all of your responses! I am really stoked now, and actually have landed a local source for dr equipment that I plan on picking up next week! Keep on replying a I am actively reading all of your replies! Cheers!
  25. You're gonna get cat hair all over your negatives.
  26. That's what the can of super duster on the easel is for. :)
    Tight space, but a nice looking print. :)
  27. BTW, Dan,

    Beautiful image. I love the composition.

    I bet it's absolutely stunning printed large.
  28. Hello all. I might be a bit "tardy" in putting my 2 pennies in, but whatever anyone does with a REAL DARKROOM, be sure to have the place ventilated! Do not just blow air around (unless you enjoy spotting), but evacuate the air (ah the aroma of hypo and sepia toning!)...and evacuate the air from down low, under a wet sink is best. This method keeps the fumes from going up and over your face! Place an air inlet away from critical negs/enlargers and make sure it is filtered. Done this for years and I can still smell the flowers. Enjoy, Bill
  29. Not to dismiss any concerns about ventilation, but this is one of the most frequently misunderstood aspects of traditional photography.
    Short version:
    • Bad odor does not necessarily equal toxicity.
    • Pleasant or no odor does not necessary mean it's safe to breathe.
    • Most ventilation does little more than blow stuff around, possibly even increasing the risk of airborne contaminants through rapid evaporation, unless it is carefully designed for a particular space.
    • Darkroom chemistry manufacturers supply Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). When in doubt, read the directions.
    • Skin contact is a far greater risk than airborne contamination. I always wear gloves.
    • Most manufacturers offer developers, etc., that are quite safe to use without any special precautions. Again, read the directions and heed the published precautions.

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