A tiny, cheap darkroom - is it possible?

Discussion in 'Darkroom Equipment' started by rkathleen, Sep 21, 2006.

  1. rkathleen

    rkathleen Member

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    I've just stumbled across this place and I'm looking for advice. I hope my questions aren't terribly repetitive...I searched the board, but didn't come up with results that seemed completely relevant. Anyway, here goes:

    I'm hoping to set up my first home darkroom in my apartment -- specifically, in a smallish bathroom (which also happens to be my only bathroom) or in my kitchen. I purchased a book ("The Darkroom Handbook"), which made me think that it might be possible to do this without going completely broke.

    If I use the bathroom, enlarger placement would be very difficult. I thought about constructing a sturdy homemade enlarger table over the back of the toilet, but I don't think that there's a way to do that without making it impossible to use the toilet, which is obviously a problem. Also, securing the enlarger in that location would be quite challenging. My other thought was that I could put the enlarger on the floor, and lay on a mat on the floor while using it -- this might sound crazy, but I did manage to sleep on a mat on the floor for months without problem, and I figured this couldn't be worse than that.

    The kitchen has far more space, but still no obvious enlarger-friendly location. If I were to construct a table, it would be difficult to secure because of the aging and nearly paper-thin plaster walls. I could put the enlarger on the floor in there as well, though. The other problem with the kitchen is that light-proofing would be a nightmare -- the only entry to the room is a big doorway (no door), and there's a big window as well.

    Anyway, sorry to be so long-winded. The bottom line, I guess, is this...is it completely nuts for me to even think of putting a darkroom in a little apartment? (Somehow I feel more pessimistic about the idea after typing the above paragraphs.) Any advice or suggestions would be very helpful!
     
  2. DBP

    DBP Member

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    I did my first darkroom work in a small bathroom. I used a small typewriter table for the enlarger and put the trays in the tub. You could put the enlarger on a table over the toilet while in use, and then remove the table after printing. It's less than ideal, true, but worked fine for many people over the years. You may want to consider a smaller and cheaper enlarger if you don't already have one, as some of the nicer ones can be more difficult to move. Where are you located?
     
  3. Stephanie Brim

    Stephanie Brim Member

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    Lots have done it before you, believe me. Needing something you can put up and tear down when you're done with a printing session is what I'm going through right now. My suggestion would be to get some kind of a cart on wheels...big enough to hold the enlarger...with drawers/cabinets under it to store all your supplies. Then you just wheel it in and out of the bathroom as needed. The other thing that I'm aquiring is a folding table. I plan to put my trays on that. For a very small bathroom, a piece of wood over the bathtub seems to be a very popular way.
     
  4. rkathleen

    rkathleen Member

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    Thank you for your fast replies! What kind of enlarger would be appropriate (keeping in mind that I am a small person and can't deal with extremely heavy loads)? I shoot 35mm almost exclusively (though I have a few larger negatives lying around). I'm in Philadelphia.
     
  5. Stephanie Brim

    Stephanie Brim Member

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    You'll want to get an enlarger that will cover your largest format. If that's 6x6, you'll be able to find quite a few good ones cheaply.
     
  6. PhotoPete

    PhotoPete Member

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    rkathleen,
    Now is a great time to enter the world of analog photography on the cheap. Everything yo uneed in terms of equipment is being given away every month on your local craigslist, or at least it is here in Boston. Check http://philadelphia.craigslist.org/ regularly for deals.

    As far as space, i think that many bathroom darkrooms use a piece of plywood placed over the tub to support the enlarger. A "portable" enlarger, such as those formerly made by Federal and others makes setup and breakdown easier.

    Good luck!
     
  7. DBP

    DBP Member

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    What formats do you shoot? 35mm only, or 6x6, or larger? You'll have trouble finding an enlarger that handles bigger than 6x9 and can still be schlepped easily. For what it is worth, when I was carrying my dad's old Federal to and from the bathroom, I was 14, 5'2" and around 130 lbs. Stephanie's cart idea makes a lot of sense - maybe something solid like a microwave cart. You might also want to look at some of the enlargers that come with carry cases - I know Meopta made several and Federal made a couple.
     
  8. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    There are many lightweight 35mm enlargers around. For the first year or so in my first darkroom, I had the enlarger on the floor. Eventually I built a table which I still use. The small table over the toilet option (for the enlarger) is probably the way to go in terms of using space effectively. Also the board over the bathtub still works well for me for holding the processing trays, etc.
     
  9. MenacingTourist

    MenacingTourist Member

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    I've been contact printing 5x7's in my very small half bath with great success. I recently got an enlarger to make prints from my medium format negs and put it in the equally small garage. Since the only time I have to print is at night after the kids are in bed the garage is darkroom ready but there's no sink or running water.

    I end up making the exposures in the garage then transporting them to the bathroom (which is just inside from the garage) in a film box. So far it's worked fine. Sure some people might think it's a pain but that's what I'm faced with and I do the best I can.

    Spend some time looking through the darkroom portraits thread (http://www.apug.org/forums/showthread.php?t=10966) and you'll see lots of small darkrooms. I'm pretty sure David Goldfarb prints in an even smaller space than I do and is a great example of what is possible.

    Good luck.
     
  10. DBP

    DBP Member

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    Looks like there is a good deal on a Durst there now. A friend of mine uses that model and it is pretty compact.
     
  11. phfitz

    phfitz Member

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    rkathleen,

    the plywood half cover for the tub is very easy to make-up and you can still put the trays in the tub.

    You could make-up a plywood half table that extends the sink area to mount the enlarger or notch it on the bottom to cover the sink and extend the entire sink area.

    Remember electricity and salted water LOVE each other, make sure everything has the 3-prong plugs and a ground-fault circut at the plug.

    Good luck with it.
     
  12. rkathleen

    rkathleen Member

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    Thank you for the many helpful suggestions. The largest film I've used (excepting a good many lith film contact prints) is 220, and I've only used it only 3 times. I've never had occasion to print anything larger than 11x14. The only sort of camera I own is a 35mm, and that is all I see myself using anytime soon.

    Craigslist is definitely a good idea. I see that there are some very cheap Beseler 23Cs there...I believe I've used those and liked them, but I seem to remember that they're quite large. There's a small-looking Durst M601...I don't know a thing about those, however. Is there someplace I can find reviews of various enlarger models? The variety a bit overwhelming!
     
  13. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    FWIW, I've owned two enlargers. My first was a Durst C35, which was Durst's bottom-of-the-line enlarger in the 1970s. It worked well enough for me to learn with, and I mention it because it was small and light enough to be moved around easily, with or without a cart on wheels. Most C35s you find used will be 35mm-only models, but Durst did make a kit to enable them to print 6x6 negatives.

    My second (and current) enlarger is a Philips PCS130 with PCS150 control unit. This can do up to 6x7 (with appropriate condensers, lens, etc.), but it's bigger and substantially heavier than the Durst C35. To use it in a typical apartment bathroom, you'd definitely need a cart on wheels, unless you want your darkroom sessions to double as gym sessions. (OK, I exaggerate a little.) If you were just looking at pictures of the two enlargers on an auction site, it'd be hard to tell the difference in size; the proportions are actually pretty similar, but the Philips is about 50% bigger in all dimensions. Thus, I'd advise you to get measurements from a seller if you buy something via eBay or some other Internet site, so you can be sure it'll fit your space.

    One other comment: I've seen eBay auctions for "suitcase" enlargers that fold up into a carrying case that's similar in size and shape to a suitcase. Such an enlarger would be particularly handy if you can't find storage space for a movable cart; fold up the enlarger and stuff it in a closet when you're done. There's a line of Russian enlargers built like this that crops up on eBay every now and then, although they're fairly rare in the US. Still, it might be worth looking for such a thing if storage space is tight.
     
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  15. fotch

    fotch Member

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    The Durst M301 is 35mm only and is smaller than the M601. Perhaps you could place it a nearby closet, bedroom, and take the prints into the bathroom to process.

    However, this may be small enough to fit into the bathroom anyway. Check out eBay. These are inexpensive. I never used one but had one in a trade and sold it. It looked very sturdy.

    Good Luck
     
  16. dancqu

    dancqu Member

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    Take a look at the Bogan B22. Good for up to 6x6
    and 11x14 prints.
    I generated a lot of space in my compact darkroom by
    adopting the single tray method of processing. I use
    the chemistry one-shot but more dilute than usual.
    Others using the single tray method save the
    chemistry for a next print.

    A second tray is needed for holding and two tray
    washing. Dan
     
  17. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    Can you get some sort of roll cart? Microwave cart etc?

    Something like an Omega B22 or B66 on a cart might work for you. Roll the cart in when you need it. Roll it out when you don't.
     
  18. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    Also take a look at the Omega C760 and similarly numbered enlargers. They take up to 6x7 negatives and are relatively small and light.

    I also have to use the bathroom as my darkroom. I also have a very small laundry room, and I have put the enlarger on top of the washer. I make my exposures there and carry the paper to the bathroom in an old paper box. I find this works very well as I am able to leave one door open while in the other room allowing air to exchange. Thus, I don't need ventilation beyond the regular central heat/air conditioning system.
    juan
     
  19. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Check out the "Darkroom Portraits" thread for many descriptions and images of darkrooms in all sorts of spaces, including my dark/bathroom.

    My Omega D-II lives on a rolling typewriter table that slides over the commode. If you're creative about it, you can do a lot in a small space, and if you do it often enough, you can keep set-up/cleanup time to a minimum. I process film up to 11x14", can print up to 20x24" (though I don't do it often), enlarge 4x5", contact print larger sizes, coat and process albumen paper, all in a 5x6.5 foot bathroom that also needs to function as a bathroom, because it's the only one we have in our one-bedroom apartment.
     
  20. DBP

    DBP Member

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    The Beseler 23 is a great enlarger, but way too big and heavy for your purposes. I was testing one I helped a young lady find and it took two of us (me and her 6'4" varsity soccer player boyfriend) to maneuver it up and down the stairs. There is a Meopta with case on eBay in Allentown, which should be pretty cheap, especially if you can go pick it up. And I believe that that Durst is pretty compact. The smaller Omegas can be carried pretty easily as well.
     
  21. Soeren

    Soeren Member

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    Do you have a cameraclub near you ?
    When I was "building a makeshift darkroom" some years ago I got most of the stuff including a bunch of enlargers for free. I bought one cheap in a thriveshop. A carpenter suplied some kitchentable leftovers. One that fitted on the tub and a smaller one that when fitted with tall legs could be placed over the wc. I secured the latter to the wall using a hooksystem made for windows and some rubbersealing on the backedge. If space is really small you can "stack" the trays.
    My problem now is that the darkroom have been claimed to serve its (in her opinion) originally tasks
    Cheers
    Søren
     
  22. Phillip P. Dimor

    Phillip P. Dimor Member

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    I used to have a nice dedicated darkroom. Now I only have a walk-in closet and a small bathroom. It can be done. My first darkroom was nothing more than a bathroom. The enlarger sat on the toilet, trays were in the bathtub.

    I use a rolling cart now and sit on a stool. I still keep the trays in the bathtub. The enlarger advice was sound. I use an Omega C700 and find it to be an absolute piece of junk. Atleast compared to an Omega DII.

    It can be done, absolutely. Convenience, bells and whistles, etc. will probably make it not so cheap. :smile:
     
  23. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    Check with local photo stores or any camera clubs about swap meets or photo equipment excanges in the area. Usually the prices are the same or less then you would find on Ebay, you save on shipping and you can see and touch the gear. A couple of years ago I bought a whole darkroom for about $150 for a friend's kid. Included a Lietz Focomat 35mm enlarger with a Focar lens, neg carrier and easel, gralab timer, developing tanks, safe light, and trays. IIRC it even included enough chemistry to get a good start.
     
  24. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I used to have a darkroom/bathroom combo in my 1 bedroom apartment. I had a Beseler 23C which I put on top of a wheeled cart from IKEA (take a look and see what they're offering now...they often have bar carts or other such items quite cheap that are the perfect size), and then had a Nova 16x20 vertical slot processor which sat on the bottom shelf of the cart when not in use. The slot processor is a really neat concept, but quite pricey if you buy one. It takes up less space than a single tray of the largest size the processor will accommodate (ie, a 16x20 processor has a smaller footprint than a single 16x20 tray). If you have an interest in building one, I can send you designs for how to build one out of Lucite for a fraction of the cost of a pre-made one.

    When printing, I could wheel the entire kit into the bathroom, put the slot processor on the toilet seat, my wash tray in the tub, and then print up to 16x20 in a space not much bigger than David Goldfarb's. The Beseler 23C is a tank, to be sure, but once you have it on the cart, it's pretty manageable. You could also look at a lesser model in their lineup if the weight is a real issue- I think they make one that they call the 67, which is a smaller, single-column enlarger that weighs probably half what the 23C does. The advantage to the 23C (above and beyond the weight, which makes it quite stable when printing larger sizes) is that Beseler has been making them for close to 50 years in one form or another, so there are TONS of accessories out there for them, like lensboards and negative carriers, and unless you insist on buying them brand new, most are quite inexpensive.

    One thing that nobody here has yet touched on in regards to darkroom setup is: your enlarger lens.

    This is the one thing you should NOT try to skimp on. Just as you wouldn't put bad glass on your camera, don't put bad glass on your enlarger. Look for a modern, six element, Nikon, Rodenstock or Schneider lens (for 35mm enlarging, an El-Nikkor 50mm f2.8 is a very nice lens that can be had for a very reasonable price). Just about everything else you can get away with cutting corners.
     
  25. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    And these days, enlarging lenses are so cheap you don't have to skimp.

    If you're interested in printing big occasionally, what I do is use trays for sizes up to 11x14" usually (though I do have trays for 16x20 that I'll drag out occasionally) and print drums with a Uniroller for larger sizes.

    Another handy thing that I recommend is to get a couple of retractible clotheslines like they have in hotels for hanging film or other things that need to dry. You can usually find them at a hardware store.

    An office supply should have some rubber coated racks for sorting letters--these are really useful when you have lots of small RC prints to dry, for instance when you join the APUG Postcard Exchange and find that you need to print 40 postcards.
     
  26. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    Note that most manufacturers have at least two "grades" of lens. Often one uses a 4-element design and another uses a better 6-element design. Schneider and Rodenstock distinguish these by model names (names ending in "-on" are the 6-element designs and those ending in "-ar" are the 4-element designs), but Nikon doesn't. If you get the Nikon el-Nikkor 50mm, be sure it's the f/2.8 model; the f/4 model is the 4-element design and isn't as good.