Can you help me get started with a darkroom/enlarger setup?

Discussion in 'Darkroom Equipment' started by omaha, Jun 16, 2013.

  1. omaha

    omaha Member

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    Greetings! This is my first post here, so a bit of an introduction: I was a fairly active photographer back in the early 1980's. I did news and editorial assignments for my college paper, shot a wedding now and then, took lots of shots "for myself", etc. I have a limited amount of darkroom experience from the college paper days.

    I stopped shooting for about ten years, then in the late 1990's I bought my first digital camera. Around 2005 or so I bought a nice Nikon DSLR, and have been a pretty serious digital shooter ever since. Mainly, I shoot product photos for my company's web site, as well as family shots.

    A few months ago on a lark I bought a Mamiya RB67 setup. Back in the 80's, that was the camera I wanted but couldn't dream of affording. Now that they are practically giving them away, I had to have it. Having run about ten rolls through it, I am totally re-hooked on film. Its been a fantastic re-awakening into the world of deliberate, manual photography.

    I'm very fortunate to have a local shop that still does processing. I can get a roll of 120 processed with lo-res scans (each one is about 2MB or so) for under $10. With my experience in digital, its easy enough to load the scans into Photoshop and tweak them to perfection.

    So that got me thinking that the next step on this is to get my own scanner to bump up the quality of my scans. Looking around, I figure a budget of something like $1k would get me something worth working with.

    But then that got me thinking that what I really should do is start making my own analog prints...in other words, instead of spending $1k on a scanner, put that money into an enlarger setup and go that route. I think that's where I want to go.

    My problem is I really have no idea where to start. I'm looking for some advice on how to get started...how to experiment with various techniques and papers and whatever other variables there are...without going down too many dead-ends that make me start from scratch all over again.

    I'm limiting this strictly to B&W for now, since I have at least a little experience with that.

    I'd like a setup that allows for the biggest possible prints. One thing I like from my digital workflow is being able to make monster prints (I have a 24" HP inkjet). I don't know what the largest sizes of photo enlargement paper are, but I want to be able to use it.

    My question comes down to this: If you had a budget of $1k and wanted to set up a darkroom from scratch, where would you start? I'm not worried about making the "best" decision regarding all the various options to start, but I do have a sense that I want to get the right enlarger, since I expect that's the one thing I'll be living with the longest.

    Are there any books or websites you would recommend? Are there any dealers that specialize in used darkroom gear that I should visit? (Some dealer that is to darkroom gear what KEH is to MF camera gear would be perfect.) Any recommendations on where to buy chemistry/paper?

    If it matters, I'm in Omaha, NE.

    Thank you so much for any comments or advice you can offer!
     
  2. jaschiero

    jaschiero Member

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    If you want to do large prints with MF, I would say go for a Beseler 23CII. Not only can you print on the board, but the head tilts back for super-size printing on a wall. One in good shape can be had on craigslist for $250 or less. Grab the timers, filters, trays, chems, etc. I would say check out freestyle for their line of darkroom equipment as well, great pricing for decent quality. If you want to process the film as well, pick a tank that you are comfortable using with 120 reel (plastic or steel, whichever you are comfortable with). If you haven't got a lot of experience developing film, I would say go with a plastic tank, bleeds less heat and less concern about the temps of the chemicals.

    Just be sure you have plenty of ventilation where you will be working!!!
     
  3. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Welcome to APUG:

    I am attaching a Craigslist listing as an example - a very good, hiqh quality LPL 4 x 5 enlarger with with a good variety of accessories for $500.00 http://vancouver.en.craigslist.ca/rch/pho/3871487848.html

    It isn't anywhere close to you, so it won't solve your problem, but it may give you some perspective.

    There are frequently good quality enlargers as well as lots of other good darkroom equipment posted for sale here in the Classified section.
     
  4. Tom1956

    Tom1956 Inactive

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    Make that budget $500, and put the rest in your pocket. Keep your eye open and something will turn up without just throwing money at it. I just don't think you have to pile a thousand dollars into something like that.
     
  5. Doc W

    Doc W Subscriber

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    There are lots of great deals on quality enlargers. Spend some time looking at ebay to get a feel for what is out there and take your time. Make sure you get a top quality lens which is more important than the enlarger itself. Keep an eye our for local online sales of other darkroom equipment like trays, etc. There are still people dumping this stuff and it is usually dirt-cheap.

    I just looked at craigslist in Omaha and found a Saunders enlarger for $100 (and it comes with a bunch of other darkroom stuff). It will be neither difficult nor expensive to get rolling.
     
  6. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    It depends: do you want excellent scans for archival/backup purposes and in order to share with people online, or do you want to make prints? Obviously the former calls for a good scanner (Nikon 8000/9000), the latter calls for an enlarger. You do give up some control in the darkroom compared to photoshop, but other qualities are far better.

    Seconding the people saying you can have a darkroom for well under $500. I think I spent about $350 all up on enlarger lenses and a DeVere 504 (4x5" colour) and I spent -$40 to get a new-in-box 6x7 enlarger (paid $60, came with 2 lenses, sold one for $100). The DeVere came with its own electronic timer but I recommend (see my signature) a proper f/stop timer and they can cost a fair bit unless you're handy with a soldering iron. Trays are practically free if you're creative with your shopping. Use red LEDs for safelights: $3 for a bike light or one of those cheap red-LED E27 bulbs you see online.

    If you really want to spend the money :wink: you should be able to get a Jobo CPP2 with the remainder of your budget; that will let you process your own colour film and do colour prints easily. Or at least do 6 rolls of 120 at a time instead of one or two, it's a lifesaver when you come back from a month overseas with 100 rolls! The Jobo will pay for itself pretty rapidly compared to having someone else do your processing.

    Book recommendation: Way Beyond Monochrome, second edition. Read a bunch of that before going any further or doing any shopping.
     
  7. omaha

    omaha Member

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    Thanks for all the comments, everyone!

    Some followup questions:

    - Currently there are a few Beselers and the above mentioned Saunders enlarger on my local Craigslist. Frankly, they are cheap enough that I probably should buy one of each, but otherwise, how do I choose? From what I gather, the Beseler is far more common (true?) which suggests to me a greater availability of spare parts over time.

    - It also seems like these were setup for 35mm. Which means I'm going to need to source film holders and a lens? Doc W commented that the lens is the thing to put the money into (makes sense to me). Since it looks like I've got plenty of headroom in the budget here, what specific lens would you recommend? From what I've read, 50mm lenses are the standard when working with 35mm, but for 120 (more specifically, 6x7 coming off my RB) I've read stuff that says 75mm up to 105mm. Does it matter much where I fall in that range? What are the functional differences between 75mm and 105mm? Right now there is a El-Nikkor Nikkor 105mm f5.6 on eBay for $135 and an 80mm for $50. Is that the sort of thing I should be looking at?

    - If I go with the Beseler 23C, I think I need the "8070" negative carrier for my negs. Does that sound right?

    That "Way Beyond Monochrome" book looks fantastic! I'm all over it! :smile:

    Thanks again for all the advice.
     
  8. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    ME, too! Only the "wanted" was in the 70s ... :tongue:

    You are correct that the Beseler is common, but that does not mean it's low grade. It's a fine machine. And yes, parts and accessories will also be common and readily available.

    Recommended reading:

    Ilford (many pages - look around the site)
    http://www.ilfordphoto.com/applications/page.asp?n=16

    Kodak: Teaching Basic Darkroom Techniques
    http://www.kodak.com/global/en/consumer/education/lessonPlans/darkroom/fullCourse.shtml

    Kodak: Darkroom Design for Amateur Photographers
    http://wwwcaen.kodak.com/global/en/professional/support/techPubs/ak3/ak3.pdf

    And get a 105mm lens for the 6x7 negs. An 80mm will do, also; I just prefer the 105.
     
  9. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    Call the sellers and see what neg holders and lenses, if any, are included. You'll probably find one that has a 6x7 holder and suitable lens. Glass holders with cropping blades are ultimately flexible and perfectly flat but really hard to keep clean. Glassless holders are trivial to use but can suffer film-flatness issues in some enlargers, particularly if there is notable heating of the negative.

    You need at least an 80mm for 6x7 unless it's a special wide angle enlarging lens (eg Rodagon-WA; $$$$). 75mm is really only for 6x6 and some will insist that no less than 90mm is necessary but that's IMHO quite conservative. Shorter lenses (assuming enough coverage) give bigger enlargements for a given enlarger height, so don't buy one unnecessarily long like 105mm unless you like making smaller prints: the longer lens will give you more room for dodging and burning. Get a 6-element lens (Rodagon, Componon(-S), some EL-Nikkors; probably $50-$100) not 4-element (Rogonar, Componar; $0-$20). APO is nice but not worth the $$$ at this point unless you find one for non-APO pricing. I'd be really surprised if you couldn't find an enlarger with lens included for the value of the lens or less.

    (I use a Componon-S and Rodagon 80/5.6, they're sharp enough to render the grain clearly on fine films at 16x20")

    If you have a choice, get an enlarger with a colour head (not LED, not cold-head, a basic incandescent with dichroic filters), it makes life easier for B&W too (no separate contrast filters that might be faded)... and you can print colour later! A 4x5" enlarger is likely to be sturdier but obviously will take up more room. Consider also bench top vs free-standing, and the ability to project horizontally. And ruggedness: go look at them and have a feel, look for abuse; they must be totally straight.

    My FAQ (see my signature) may be of some use and many of your questions are covered nicely in WBM2.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 17, 2013
  10. Mark_S

    Mark_S Member

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    Back when that RB67 cost an arm and a leg, if you were setting up a darkroom, the big ticket item would have been the enlarger. Enlargers are big and expensive to ship, so find one locally, and they are practically giving them away. Today, you will spend the bulk of your budget on all the rest of the darkroom stuff if you aren't careful - trays, safelight, lens, print washer, negative holders etc.

    On Craigslist you will often find listings for entire darkrooms for pickup. You may need to drive a bit. I would look for a good quality enlarger and lens - Beseler 23 s are pretty solid and were very popular - Beseler 45 would also work.

    When I got back into darkroom work, I bought such a setup - I paid $500 for an entire darkroom from a retired photojournalist, and it included everything that I needed. It barely fit in a minivan with the seats removed, I got several lenses, a Beseler 45MX, negative holders, trays for 8x10 up to 20x24, print washers, film tanks, timers, safelights etc..... It was a 2 hr drive away, but I still use much of that stuff now, 15 years later.



     
  11. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    What's worked for me: (but there's more good stuff out there)
    Omega or Beseler enlarger
    El-nikkor or Componon-s lens (I like the schneider componon-s for it's backlight dial)
    some plastic trays.
    some formulary chemicals.
    ilford and foma paper.
    red LEDs for safelight.

    watch on c-list for good stuff at lawnsale prices.
     
  12. ac12

    ac12 Member

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    In the US, would look at either Beseler or Omega enlargers, simply because parts are easier to find in the US. My personal preference between the 2 is Omega, only because that is what I started on in high school and am familiar with.
    If you have the vertical clearance, get the taller XL chassis. That will let you print bigger prints on the baseboard.

    Download the manuals and study them. When you look at an enlarger, you want as many parts as part of the package. Buying individual replacement parts can get expensive, turning a good deal into a not so good deal. Things like; negative carrier, lens boards, lens adapters, condensers, etc, etc. all add up and increase the total cost. The more formats you want to set up for, the more the total expense because of the need for format specific stuff like negative carriers, lenses, separate lens boards/adapters.

    I have found that the recommended lens for a specific format sometimes differs based on the manufacturer. For 6x7, some say 80mm some say 90mm some say 100. You should check the manufacturers web site for that specific lens. If you get an XL chassis enlarger, then using the slightly longer lens should not be an issue.
    As for prices, if you are patient and SHOP well, you should be able to find a good 80mm lens for about $60 USD. The 90mm lens is harder to find so you may have to either drop down to a 4 element lens, or spend more time and $ looking for the few 6 element lenses. The 100/105 would be about $75 USD. If you did your enlarger shopping well, the lens would be part of the enlarger package.
    The "big 3" lens manufacturers are:
    - Schneider: Componon-S 80, 100mm (caution, Schneider has several models where the names are confusingly similar; Componon-S (updated 6-el), Componon (older 6-el), Comparon, and Componar (4-el))
    - Nikon: EL-Nikkor 80, 105mm (not the 75mm lens as that is a 4 element lens)
    - Rodenstock: Rodagon 80,105mm (caution, some of the Rodenstock lenses have similar sounding names)
    However, none of these make a 90mm 6 element lens.

    Here are the only 90mm 6 element lenses that I know of:
    - Besler ColorPro
    - Fuji-Fujinon EX and EP

    As others said, watch Craigslist. I have seen entire darkroom packages for attractive prices, or even free where the seller just wants to get rid of the stuff.
    For accessory items; department store and dollar stores are a good source for some of them at low cost.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 17, 2013
  13. winger

    winger Subscriber

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    The Beseler 23C can do medium format as well as 35mm and is a great enlarger, imo. If there happens to be a Beseler 45MX or such available, it might be better to get it because using MF and hanging out on APUG will eventually lead to large format in many cases. I have two enlargers now because of this.
    I use Schneider Componon-S lenses for 35mm and 120.
    Once you start using it, you'll have a better idea of some of the little things you'll need, but I swear some things breed if you leave them in the dark long enough. Somehow, I started with two enlarging lenses and have at least 7 now. I have no idea how many trays are down there (I think I only bought 7) See what you can get with an enlarger and then trade that for something else later. In your early attempts, it won't likely be the lens that causes issues. Once you get the issues worked out, you can move up if you need to.
     
  14. omaha

    omaha Member

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    Thanks again for all your help, everyone! This has been enormously helpful.

    Turns out one of the craigslist Beselers is close by (next suburb over). I emailed them, they say they have TWO of them, which suggests to me there may be a complete darkroom setup lurking out there. The husband is out of town for a couple of days, so I'm supposed to hear from him mid-week.

    Might be the perfect setup!
     
  15. ac12

    ac12 Member

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    When the husband gets back, have a talk with him. As you indicate, you might get the entire darkroom setup in one deal.

    Hey a 2 enlarger setup is nice to have.
    That is my plan
    #1 - Omega C67, for 35mm and 6x6
    #2 - Omega D5 or Durst L1000, for 6x6 to 4x5

    The smaller enlarger (C67) just being easier to use, because of less bulk.

    Although a friend of mine is arguing that I should select both 4x5 enlarger (D5 and L1000) which would give me the most flexibility.
     
  16. Noble

    Noble Member

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    I own a couple of Beselers at the moment. If you are going to do the multiple enlarger thing I would get two from the same company. The lens boards are interchangeable between the Beseler 23C and the Beseler 45. Make sure you get as many assessoires with your enlarger as possible (lens boards, different format negative carriers, large developing trays, contrast filters, safe lights, timers, grain focuser, easels, etc). Lenses can be bought in mint condition on the used market for not much money. An EL-NIKKOR 50mm f/2.8N can be had for $40 or less. It is good for 35mm film. The Schneider 80mm f/4 Componon-S can be had for $80 or less. It is good for up to 6x6 negatives. Unlike some other 80mm lenses it is not ideal for 6x7.

    What I found is buying things in a package deal is a lot cheaper. The only thing I really went out of my way to buy separately are my lenses. I actually ended up with multiple enlargers because I needed a particular negative carrier. It was going to cost me over $50 to get one. So I bought a whole enlarger with the needed carrier and tons of other stuff for less than $40.
     
  17. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    I too would suggest a 4X5 XL enlarger. Either LPL Saunders or Beseler.
    For 6X7 a 105mm FL uses the center of the lens and no worries about vignetting.
    The Beseler 23C came in gray, blue or black. Gray is the earliest, Black the latest & blue in between.
    All will do 6X7 but the later ones can be had with longer girders(taller).
    For the large prints, any of them can be mounted on a wall or a table with movable shelves for bigger print size.