First darkroom setup:

Discussion in 'Darkroom Equipment' started by Natron, Mar 3, 2005.

  1. Natron

    Natron Member

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    I've been processing my own B&W film at home for a couple of years now but only used a film scanner to then scan them in. I've never made a single *real* darkroom print with an enlarger. I kept putting off purchasing an enlarger because I was intimidated by the entire process but finally decided to give it a shot and bought a Beseler 23C II with the dual dichro head today.

    It's the enlarger and all its bits, a timer, a couple trays, tongs and measuring cups. Besides the obvious things I'll now need like paper, a paper safe and paper developer, what else would you recommend I stock up on right away in order to just get started? I already have everything I need on the film end so that's no worry.

    Also out of curiosity, can anyone recommend any particular papers or paper developers that'd give me a good starting point? I know that's a loaded question and I apologize for that.
     
  2. eric

    eric Member

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    Start simple. Make mistakes. Get 100 sheet box of ANY brand multigrade RC paper. Get a filter set. Get a few 1 Gallon powedered Dektol. Use H20 for stop. Get no-stink fixer. Practice, practice, practice. Don't was't your money on expensive paper for now.
     
  3. Nige

    Nige Subscriber

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    Actually, it's a fairly easy question IMO. Buy some RC paper, a developer, odourless stop bath and fixer (if the fixer you've been using for film isn't suitable for paper, but it might be). I really don't think it matters what brand you buy, you can get picky and opinionated later :smile:
     
  4. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    Developer, stop, fixer and paper are really the only consumables. 100 sheets of paper will probably last quite a few sessions. And yes, brand doesn't matter too much.
    Do you have an easel?
     
  5. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    Congratulations! Sounds like you took advantage of someone who is going digital :smile:

    I assume that you are talking about Black & White. To get started, I'd recommend getting a variable contrast, resin coated paper. It processes, washes and dries quickly which allows you to become acquainted with printing without the long "finishing up" time. Eventally you will try fiber base paper and decide whether you want to take that step.

    Ilford and Kodak and many others make fine VC (or MG [multi grade]) RC papers. Your Dichro head will let you adjust contrast without buying additional filters. For getting started there are also plenty of developers. I use Kodak Dektol which is economical and gives good results. If you have a local camera store that still sells basic darkroom supplies, you should be all set. If not, the internet can supply you with anything you need.

    You've already found a good source of help and information in APUG so I'd recommend that you get a good music setup for those long enjoyable evenings in the darkroom.
     
  6. Peter De Smidt

    Peter De Smidt Member

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    Hey Natron,

    Where are you in Wisconsin? I'm in Fond du Lac.

    If you live near Kaukauna, go to Badger Graphic Sales and get some Mitsubishi semi-matte rc paper. Glossy RC paper is a little too glossy for me. Another option is Ilford pearl surface. Kodak has a similar paper, but I can never remember which it is. (The 'n' surface?)

    Peter
    www.desmidt.net
     
  7. gchpaco

    gchpaco Member

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    I like Agfa's Neutol Plus as a developer--there's no hydroquinone in it, so it doesn't smell like crazy as the developer gets exhausted. I tried Dektol for a while, and it's good stuff, but mixing it was always kind of irritating, and it was hard to deal with in my mini-darkroom. It'll work with most everything.

    As for fun darkroom toys, a good easel is surprisingly important. I have an RH Designs meter which is very useful, but there's nothing wrong with the old test strip standby. I do suggest you look at stuff for f-stop printing; it's a nice way to deal with test strips, dodges and burns, I find.

    For paper, I mostly use Ilford's Multigrade IV RC. Your store might have a little sample book; that's very useful for figuring out which sort of surface you like. I personally am partial to Ilford's pearl, although I use a lot of glossy and am developing an affinity for their satin surface (which is almost a matte paper). Agfa's Multicontrast Premium is also good. I find the Forte Polywarmtone I have very strange--it seems to emphasize highlight and shadow separation at the expense of midtone gradation, which is bizarre and makes me suspect I'm doing something wrong. Kodak's Polycontrast IV is probably just fine, although I don't use it myself. Pick one of those, use it a lot. RC is good to start with IMHO because it's much easier to process; I still don't have the ability to wash fiber paper well.

    For drying, I made do with a shower rod across my bathtub and clothes hangers to hang prints on at first. Nowadays I have a Paterson Drying Rack, which is actually kinda neat even if it is overpriced, but still do the shower rod thing for when I'm making contact sheets and I start knocking those out well in excess of my ability to dry them.

    Dante Stella's Guerilla Darkroom and Part 2 are pretty good.
     
  8. Bob F.

    Bob F. Member

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    Paper safes are an optional extra. I don't use one: they make me nervous...

    Do you have a spare thermometer (use one to "calibrate" the other) - ditto spare enlarger bulb - really annoying breaking either on a Saturday evening with no spares in the drawer...

    Agree with what everyone else says about using any decent quality VC RC paper. I use Ilford, but it's not the cheapest. I would suggest glossy surface as this gives the greatest sharpness & contrast to the image, though in RC it is a bit "plastic" which some do not like. I would suggest 8x10 as a starter size as I find smaller is difficult to dodge & burn. I'd also recommend low odour stop and fixer as others have - makes a considerable difference. For developer, Neutol @ 1+4 lasts for a few days and has little odour. I decant it into a bottle between sessions.

    Once you get the hang of things you can start experimenting with paper types, toners and different developers etc - half the fun....

    Cheers, Bob.
     
  9. BWGirl

    BWGirl Member

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    Hey Natron!
    I sent you a PM, so if you live close by, let me know!

    I agree with the others that RC paper is your best first shot. You also said a "couple of trays"...I am hoping that, in this case, 3 is a 'couple'! :wink: You should have one for developer, one for stop bath & one for fixer. You can do with a bucket or other makeshift tray for your rinse.
    Where is your darkroom? Have you got that part down? There's a great thread here that shows people's darkroom setups, including many limited space ones!

    Well, congrats on the Beseler! I have one with a condenser head and I LOVE it!
     
  10. Natron

    Natron Member

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    Wow! I'm shocked at how much information I received. Thanks everyone! (I'm in Marshfield in the center of the state)

    One additional question I had was which safelights are safe to use for this type of work. I see red, yellow, amber and brown safelights and am assuming each one has its own application. I don't want to pick up a red safelight and a pack of VC RC paper only to find out they aren't compatible and I just ruined my fresh pack of paper instantly. hah!

    I'm a bit worried hearing of everyone's sink setup as well since I won't have the possibility of setting up any kind of sink in the rooms I have available. I have no easel at this point but am considering ordering one when I order the rest of my equipment and chemicals from B&H.

    Being an ignorant newcomer, I'm not quite sure what you mean by this.. mainly the 'stuff' portion of it since I'm not familiar with this type of equipment. Just looking for as much info as possible!

    I've heard of people getting away with temporarily using their 50mm enlarger lens for making prints from 6x6 negatives. What are the limitations if I decide to give this a try (just a bit anxious to finally put the old Rolleiflex to good use)?

    So, some Dektol or Neutol, pack of paper, 3-4 trays minimum, stop bath, fixer, extra thermometer or two, extra bulb, tongs for each tray, possibly an easel and... anything else small I may be missing here? Thanks again, everyone! I really appreciate the info and help.
     
  11. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    My nearest running water is in an adjacent room and it is only a small inconvenience for the amount of work that I do.

    You'll probably want to get some sort of easle pretty quick. You use it constantly while you print and it is a major help to position your paper under the enlarger and hold it flat.

    Sounds like you are on the right track, you'll be printing in no time :smile:
     
  12. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    Amber or light amber/yellow will probably give you the most light and is OK with VC paper. Red is used with ortho (green sensitive) film, and brown has some other application I don't recall at the moment. Placement (distance to the paper) is the key issue. You'll want to do the "coin test" where you place a scrap of paper in the easel with a couple of coins on it with the safelight turned on for 5 minutes or so. If you can see the coin spots, the safelight is too close.

    I wouldn't worry about the sink. While convenient, it's not essential during printing.

    A 50mm lens will only enlarge a portion of a 6x6 negative properly, as they are designed to cover only the size of the 35mm neg. It might be OK for cropping a portion of the 6x6 neg, but for normal full-frame use, you'll want an 80mm lens.

    The easel is pretty essential. There are inexpensive two-sided ones that have 8x10 on one side, and 5x7, 4x5 and wallet on the other. That's a good choice to start. Eventually, you may want the more versatile 4-bladed type (e.g. Saunders).

    You'll also need some means of accurately timing your exposures. Enlarging timers are made to accept the plug from the enlarger, so the timer turns it on and off at the right time. The newer ones are mostly digital, with various features, but an old inexpensive used Graylab black box timer would be sufficient to start. It's about 10" square, with glow-in-the-dark numbers and big sweep hands.
     
  13. Nige

    Nige Subscriber

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    I use a red safelight with VC paper and it's fine (ie. doesn't fog) but most people say an OC (amber) is easier on your eyes. I used to have one that colour but it was so dim I can't really compare to my current one. I use a multi sized/sided masking frame like Ralph mentions and it's very handy but you can't alter the shape of the image if you need to make a long skinny print, etc. I use it a lot (probably 90% of the time I'm using 8x10 paper) but occasionly I have to use a regular 2 bladed easel to do what I want.
     
  14. Jeffrey A. Steinberg

    Jeffrey A. Steinberg Member

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    Ok, I have been at this for 25 years and I never knew there was odorless (how we spell it over here) stop bath and fixer.

    What brands/products can people recommend for each. This is going to go a long way to improving the number of hours I can spend in the darkroom.

    Is there a downside? Does less stink result in some other isuse other than cost difference?
     
  15. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I recently started using Sprint brand chemicals. They are all purpose chemicals, they work well, and are not nearly as smelly or irritating as the all purpose Kodak chemicals I've used in the past.
     
  16. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

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    A 50 mm lens will not work well with 6X6, you really need a 75 to 90mm for 6X6. If you don't have a sink you will to watch the tempature during the winter so you can keep the developer around 68 degrees. You will also need a good basic reference book and sheets of black cardboard for test strips and dodging. Go to E bay and look for a few additional trays, dodging tools, ( a set of black plastic shapes that attach to thin wire to hold light back during exposure) and the like. The safelight needs to match the paper, most modern papers are safe under amber. If you are starting with 35mm I recommend that you start with 5X7 until you learn the basics. For an easel you can use sheet metal painted black and magnets. Save as much as you can and buy paper and chemistry.

    Have fun and good luck.

    Paul
     
  17. rjr

    rjr Member

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    Odo(u)rless

    For stop, you can use either plain water or citric acid - go to your supermarket, you´ll find it in the section with cleaning agents at low cost.

    It comes as crystals, 20g/l make a decent stop bath suited for film and paper. 20g, thats one film canister or two table spoons.

    Discard it after use, drain it when you clean up - it won´t keep well in a bottle.

    Fixer? Get a neutral or alkaline fixer designed for color film processes E6 and C41 from Agfa, Fuji-Hunt, Kodak or other companies (TF4 isn´t different in composition, just in price). They are cheap, long lasting, very stable, very unobnoxius to your nose (slight tint of ammonia). Biggest point are the costs - it´s dirt cheap ´cause those minilab operators run under heavy cost pressure and pass it on to the companies making the chemicals. 2l of concentrate costs 6EUR and makes 10-15l of fixer at film and paper strength. But I´d recommend you to get the big 5l jug, even cheaper and it will keep a long while without detioration.

    One brand I know you can get everywhere in the world and which comes with "BW instructions" is Agfa Universal FX. If you are not shy, ask the minilab operator nearby if he is willing to order a jug for you.

    Yes. It´s cheaper than "stinky" unless you fall for some advertising and pay premium for zero advantage. ;-)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 4, 2005
  18. eric

    eric Member

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    Easel...I forgot about that.

    I have a 2 blade easel...it is yours for the postage amount if you like. I can take pictures of it. Of course, I need to find a box to fit it in....

    I prefer a 4 blade but if you are going to do it right, get a 4 blade. But if you want to just practice, anything will do :smile:
     
  19. gchpaco

    gchpaco Member

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    Regarding safelighting: virtually everything works with a red safelight. The only exceptions I can think of are some specialized papers for color negatives. Graded papers respond only to blue light, and so can use yellow safelights; VC papers are sensitive to some of that, and usually require amber. I forget what brown is for. The paper should say on the pack or on the web site what it requires. For what it's worth, I use an amber 5x7 safelight with Ilford, Agfa and Forte VC paper with no trouble.

    I don't actually have a sink setup; I have a tray ladder, which is a thing that stacks the trays vertically. I then put my trays on a card table. So don't worry too much about not having an enormous sink; it's very nice to, but it's not critical.

    F-stop printing is a different way of marking out time; this is a brief description, and there are a couple of f-stop printing tables out there on the net. I like Ralph Lambrecht's, although since I have a timer that does it natively it's not as much of a problem.

    Using a 50mm lens on medium format negatives is probably not going to do what you want. You need an 80mm or thereabouts, which you can pick up fairly cheaply on eBay or whatnot. I really like using medium format negatives in the darkroom; they're easier to handle and easier to print with. So it might be worth looking at that, although probably you should play with 35mm to begin with.
     
  20. Bob F.

    Bob F. Member

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    Odourless stop is citric acid based - it has no smell whatsoever. You can either buy commercial ones with indicator or you can get citric acid powder and use about 5 - 10g per litre.

    Low odour fixer still has a small pong, but not as bad as the usual stuff.
    I use a commercial low odour fix from Fotospeed which is probably not available in the States, but there are bound to be local equivalents.

    Cheers, Bob.
     
  21. GeorgesGiralt

    GeorgesGiralt Member

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    Hi Natron !
    May I suggest a book ? "The art of Black and white enlarging" by David Vestal.
    It is highly illustrated, written in plain English language, has a lot of very good ideas, is availlable second hand for a few bucks, and you will read it as you progress ! It goes from very basic contact printing for proof sheets to archival treatment of FB print, even dry mounting and mixing your own chemicals !
    If you like the Vestal at large page in "Photo Techniques" it's the way to go !
    Next, buy, for a more modern point of view, the Tim Rudman's "Photographer's master printing course" which is, i believe, still availlable new.
    Welcome to the Club !
     
  22. Natron

    Natron Member

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    Well unfortunately, I won the Ebay auction for this during the middle of last week and I have been unable to contact the seller since then. She happily took my money via Paypal but cut all contact after that. Sadly for her, she's dealing with an experienced Ebay user and won't simply let this chunk of money go. Hopefully, I end up with the equipment but we'll have to see. I was able to get her phone number and will ring her up tonight to let her know this is unacceptable and childish behavior.
     
  23. eheldreth

    eheldreth Member

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    Being a relative beginner maybe I can offer a couple things I've found. First 8X10 RC Paper is the best for learning, If you want to print 5X4 or what ever its easy to cut down. Second I've recently bought a 6x6 camera(yachica mat 124ga) and I have only had a 50mm lens. I just bought a 75mm lens off ebb for $13.00. They are cheap and plentiful. Third get a Projection Print Scale, it makes judging exposures much easier, at least for me. Good luck and enjoy