To Get Wet or Not to Get Wet . . .

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by ed_farmer, May 17, 2019.

  1. I just moved after 25 years in the same home. I moved my enlargers (Zone VI 5x7 and two Bessler 23C's) and my custom built water panel and print washers. There IS a corner of the basement with easy access to the water and a drain where I can build a counter and sink. I still have my 5x7 and 4x5 cameras and my RB67 system along with a few Nikon film bodies. I even have a bunch of undeveloped film.

    The question is, at 58 years old, do I rebuild a darkroom? Do I start selling that gear, for what little it's worth, and start investing in what I need to do large format printing at the computer? This is all personal work. Even though I wouldn't mind getting into some print sales, that isn't what this is about.

    I know that it will be EASY to say, "Get your ass into digital!" that's not all that I want to hear. I'd like to hear from those who are still working their own wet darkrooms . . .

    Thanks all . . .
  2. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    Decades ago, I had a home darkroom with a wet side and a dry side. But then I joined the army and converted it into an office so we could sell our home.

    Now, at 68 years old, my wife and I bought a new home, and I'm going to convert a bedroom into a darkroom for me to do 35mm film/print processing. I have a Beseler 23CIII enlarger with color head so I can do cold light B&W enlargements. I say it's never too late to start again.
    ed_farmer likes this.
  3. Ed, I turn 70 next month, and for nearly the last two decades I've been promising myself I'll get back in the darkroom and make those magnificent B&W prints locked into my negative collection..... but scanning or digital copying is sooo much easier, cheaper, more flexible etc.

    Do it now, or never. A heart attack, quad bypass, and just generally getting old isn't a motivating experience, nor much fun. Just do it.... or not. Whatever makes you most happy.
  4. I still have my darkroom set up, but haven't used it in over a decade. My hope is to do a bit of MF and LF work when I retire in a couple years A Canon PRO-100 does everything I need to do in terms of digital printing, so there's no need for digital to cost too much. You've already got the darkroom stuff, so why not keep both?

    Just IMHO, digital was made for color. I've wet printed color and can't imagine why anybody would bother in this day and age. Digital has raised the color bar so high I could never reach it with wet process. I can do a great black and white digital print, but that's really where the darkroom excels.
  5. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Mum used to say, "Getting old is not for the faint of heart". Time compresses and flies bye - strike while you still can! No reason not to do both.
  6. I just moved to a smaller house that needed a little bit of work. I had a big house before with an unused bathroom as a darkroom that was never permanent, which means I had to clean my stuff out after each use. So for my new house, I had the contractor build a good sized room with no windows and an interior door. I put plumbing and connected to the a/c and heat. I'm 58 and this will be my first real darkroom. Do it!
    ed_farmer and Stephen_Prunier like this.
  7. I have my darkroom set up in a spare 6'x12' bedroom. I don't have running water in it, but I do everything except the final washing of prints. For the wet area, I use a 30"x72" folding table with a PVC top. It will hold up to 4 16"x20" trays. I usually just print 8"x10". I've had this set up for over 10 years now. I keep saying I'm going to build one in my basement but I haven't yet. My area has cold winters and humid summers so I would need to spend $$ to make the space doable. Just so you know I'm 61 and I've owned digital cameras for a long time too. I find I prefer black and white so that is a major reason for keeping the darkroom. I shoot mostly with my Mamiya RZ. I also use a Nikon D750 and after 2 1/2 years, I finally reached 1000 clicks with it!

    I say go for it. There's a reason why black and white film is still around. Even color film is adding new formulas. It will never be as strong as in the past, but it's not going anywhere any time soon.
  8. FWIW... at 76 I keep my darkroom up and going (4x5 and 6x6). I made the plunge into digital about 10 years ago and didn't care for it at all. It just wasn't as much fun and I don't care for color at all so I was glad that I hadn't gotten rid of all the darkroom equipment! I did get rid of the 8x10 enlarger after selling the last of my 8x10 cameras (do miss it - the 8x10 was my favorite format).
    Stephen_Prunier likes this.
  9. Dunno; I am leaning towards "just do it!" as a 10 years younger not overworked person who should have everything but is too lazy.
    I did BW darkroom work because hiring somebody else to do it right wasn't affordable. - With digital printing it is maybe the other way around? Where is the fun in printing more expensively than outsourcing the work? - Do you shoot enough to keep your printer going every other weekend? - I wouldn't.
  10. In recent years, I have done wet film developing, but not so much printing.

    Our house has a (tiny) darkroom built by the previous owner.
    After about 15 years, I decided to actually use it. I still have much of my older
    equipment, but didn't have an enlarger. Found someone giving one away.

    I still have, 50 years later, 5x7 and 8x10 trays from when I was 10.
    Also, Nikor tank I inherited about that time.

    I suggest at least getting enough darkroom to do film.
    You can then scan and digital print, and decide later about wet printing.
    Henricvs likes this.
  11. Thank you all for the input . . . I am talking only about B&W printing. In either case, my color printing will be outsourced.

    On the darkroom, my mind says "go big or go home" . . . It's not going to be too much of a compromise. I know plenty of people who have done wonderful work in closets and converted bathrooms but I'm just much more comfortable in a dedicated space even though I have a tendency toward marathon printing sessions.

    But, I'm still a little bit on the edge . . .

    Thanks again!
  12. My darkroom is just a counter I installed in one end of the laundry room. Doesn't everybody's laundry sink have a temperature control valve?
    ed_farmer likes this.
  13. KRB


    Interesting thread... I don't have much to offer practically as I'm *very* new to film and don't do any printing. But I'm within 5 years of your age so from that perspective my advice is do what makes you happy. If this is a hobby for you and you have the means and the time and wet printing really jazzes you and the space enables you, then do go big!

    Have fun.
  14. I built a darkroom two years ago at age 75. While I enjoy using it, I use it less than I thought I would and feel a bit guilty about it. The problem is that digital is so much easier, especially when traveling and my wife and I travel a lot. I resolve to use film when at home or traveling by car, and digital only when traveling by air. Sometimes that resolution works!
  15. Truth! We've watched our fathers bravely decline and we say "Getting old takes guts" many times. I sympathize with "I knew I was going to get old, I just had no idea how quickly it was going to happen." :)

    But back on topic: if you love doing it, DO it! If you don't ... rethink.

    I gave away two enlargers plus a lot of printing gear a dozen years ago and haven't really missed it. I still develop my own B&W, and I love the smell of fixer on my fingers. I scan any negs I want to keep, and any I want to print get edited with GIMP and sent to a large online printing service. Works well for my simple needs. :) But you have to do what you really deep down want to do. Tell us what you decide to do!
  16. I have taken one film and one digital camera on some trips including air trips.

    I only do darkroom work for the fun of it, though some prints are up around the house.

    First get film processing going, which is relatively less work. You might find that is enough.

    The fancy washer sounds fun, but that is more than you need. When I was young, I did all my
    wet work in the bathroom, with the enlarger in another room, because that is what I had.
    No fancy washer, no special table or sink.

    You should have a scanner even if you don't do wet work, to scan existing negatives.

    Get film processing going, without building anything special. Then you can use your film
    cameras, scan the negatives, and do whatever with them.

    Later, decide if you need wet print ability, or not. But even for that, you don't need
    fancy equipment.

    Another possibility, especially for wet printing, is a nearby photography club or
    something similar, with a darkroom that members can use. I know of when near me,
    though I haven't tried it. (I found out about it when they had a fund raising sale of
    photography equipment, including darkroom supplies.) A community college might
    also have darkroom equipment, though you might have to sign up for a course
    to use it.
  17. How much did you use your dark room before you moved? If it wasn't much, would that really change now?

    What would you do with the time you might otherwise spend in the darkroom? Would it be as enjoyable or does time in the dark room keep you away from other things you enjoy more or are more important to you?

    Personally, I process my own film but don't do prints. I think it might be fun for me to do wet printing, - at least for awhile but this hobby already takes up a good chunk of my time and I know I'd only do the odd print now and then. Most of my image viewing is on screen. I'd probably end up scanning everything anyway to decide what was worth making prints of.

    To me it doesn't make sense to produce prints just to file away somewhere. I'd only do it for something I'd want to display and there's only so much of my "art" that my wife would want hanging on our walls or adorning our shelves. ;)

    For somebody who does this professionally at some level, it's a completely different thing.
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  18. If i could not print, in a red light, darkroom......... i would not shoot film anymore :(
    Do the basics, enough to get printing again, and make improvements over the next 1-2 years. :)
    ed_farmer likes this.
  19. To answer some questions . . .

    How much did I used the darkroom before I move? Well, not a lot for the last few years as kids and business got in the way. Those pressures have lessened these with a divorce and my kids growing up. My daughter is 17 and doesn't really remember me being in the darkroom like my sons do but she is very attached to many of the photographs that I printed and hung up around the house. She has some interest in printing with me but I don't know how long she would stick with it. But, she is very talented.

    Glen . . . as I noted earlier, I know people who did great work in bathrooms and I did some when I was a teen. I don't want to work that way again. It's not as much fun to me. The "fancy print washer" can be hooked up to the kitchen or laundry sink. I already have the washer.

    I don't need a lot of purchases. I have the tanks, trays, bottles, enlargers, lenses, cameras . . . It's some construction costs that should only be one-time.

    Yes . . . I'm here trying to talk myself into this . . .

    I guess that I should also point out that while my darkroom work started around 1973, I started working in IT in 1983 and got back into darkroom work, around 1992 because I spent all of my time in front of a computer. I started shooting wedding in 1996 and that went digital in 2003 so I started spending all of my time in front of a computer for THAT . . . I'm sure that part of this is simply that I don't want to sit in front of a computer screen when I could be standing in front of a tray of Dektol watching prints come up under a safe-light . . .
  20. Well, if this is something you can share with your daughter then it is well worth it IMO even if it's not something she continues to do on her own. My son went off to college last year and now he's back home for the summer. Anyway, having your kids leave has a tendency to wish you'd spent more time with them when they were young rather than less. So if putzing in a dark room brings you closer to a family member as opposed to spending more time away from them, - it's a great thing.

    My kids both enjoy photography to a limited extent and they see my film habit as a strange but endearing quirk since I've gotten some nice shots of them with film cameras. :)
    ed_farmer likes this.

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