Rookie darkroom advice

Discussion in 'Darkroom Equipment' started by R/D, Dec 5, 2009.

  1. R/D

    R/D Member

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    Hello, folks. I just moved into a new house and after some reconfiguring of my ill designed basement laundry area, I think I have finally settled on that area as my future darkroom. After shooting Digital for years I just started shooting medium format less than a year ago and I am proud to say I have only picked up my DSLR once since. I shot quite a few rolls but have only printed only about a dozen prints in a rented darkroom before it shut down for the summer and now, for good. I recently purchased the books: Build Your Own Darkroom by Duren and McDonald and The New Darkroom Handbook by DeMaio, Worth and Curtain. Between these books, and Ansel Adam's, The Negative/ Print, lies my limited knowledge of the darkroom. My main concerns are the size of the sink I will need and choosing an enlarger.

    The size of my room will be about 10' by 5'

    I will be shooting 6X7 mostly (RB67) along with 6X6 and 35mm.

    I love B&W now, but would like to print color as well.

    The max print size I would like to make is 20X24 although that will be aways off until I get somewhat good at printing.

    I would like to eventually begin toning in selenium and it seems as if the sink would have to be as long as my house to accommodate all the chemistry trays plus some type of print washer.

    What would the best type enlarger and lens be for my needs ? Perhaps something with bulbs that aren't too expensive

    Im handy so I planned on making everything from wood.

    I have a decent amount to spend and my local Craiglist seems to have a good selection when I have checked it.

    Can I achieve what I want within these constraints ? I realize these are extremely open ended questions. If anyone could point me towards some websites or other info I would be highly appreciative.

    Thanks,

    Joe
     
  2. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    Hi, there. For starters, You will need to economize your space if this is your limit. I would arrange a sink/counter along one ten foot wall about three feet deep leaving you about 24 inches wiggle room. You will need to split it mentally in half (five feet for wet and five feet for dry.) Seperate the two by some sort of semi-permanent partition. On your wet side I would probably have a 24"x24" or so sink leaving about two and a half feet for a vertical setup for your trays and whatever else you can squeeze in there. Hang your timer and install lots of shelving over the wet side.

    Good, because at 5x10 you do not have the space. But I would think you have plenty of space for 11x14.

    This is where you need to install some cabinets under the sink/counter as well. The wet side can hold chemistry and anything that will be used on the wet side of processing/printing.

    Good to be handy. Remember to measure twice and cut once.

    One thing not covered here is the dry side. Make sure you have enough counter space for the enlarger to stand upon and have your paper safe and dodging/burning tools close at hand. 3x5 should be more than sufficient. I wish I had that much room myself. Shelves above and cabinets beneath for all dry side related material. Paper, paper safe, film, safelight, timer (again, attach to the wall to save). I would, if you can afford, get a basic egg timer for your processing times (film/paper). If you can find one cheap like I did, get a Gralab for your enlarging. Safelight for the wet side and the dark side each for better visibility.

    Yes, you can easily fo thi swithin these constraints. Just need to be inventive with your space. I am envious. Have fun.
     
  3. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Hi Joe:

    Do I understand correctly that you are in the New Jersey area? Your location is relevant when it comes to recommending enlargers.

    The 10' x 5' space should work well for a darkroom.

    While it is nice to be able to include toning as part of a single, multi-step process, I find it easier to re-soak and then tone on a separate day, after initially drying my prints. For big prints, you can also make use of a "tray ladder" as well - it permits a sort of stacking of trays.

    There are lots of good enlarger recommendations. I'll start out by recommending something local to you - a Beseler 23C series enlarger. They are durable, common and they are still being made. You can use them for everything from 16mm miniature negatives to 6x9 negatives.

    You may also want to consider a 4x5 enlarger. They tend to be robust and very flexible with both larger and smaller sizes, and are the sort of equipment that, even if they have had heavy, professional use, are likely to be fully functional. A Beseler 45 series enlarger, or an Omega D series enlarger (D2, D5 or D6, as an example) would be worth considering.

    There are also a large number of enlarger models that are designed to "max out" at 6x7 size. Some of them, like the Beseler 67C I used for many years, are excellent choices, and reasonably plentiful on the used market.

    Good luck, and have fun.

    Matt
     
  4. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    Oh, and don't forget a decent stereo. I don't play music while timing something but it is nice to have it handy when you want it. And hang an inspirational photograph of a favorite photographer, not too big. Just a couple more ideas to personalize your space. And I'm glad Matt followed up with the enlarger advice as my experience with differing enlargers is rather limited.
     
  5. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Chris' advice is excellent, but it makes me smile.

    Clearly, I have spent more time than Chris has in darkrooms that are smaller than 10' x 5' :smile:.

    Bigger is however, better!

    One thing to keep in mind though is that it is not absolutely necessary that the trays be in a deep sink - a water resistant table top with a small rim can work too. Just be sure to have a usable smaller sink or two (laundry tubs work) nearby.

    Have you looked through the darkroom portrait thread? http://www.apug.org/forums/forum43/10966-darkroom-portraits.html#post84482

    Matt
     
  6. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    No, on the contrary, Matt. I have a 3x6.5 downstairs half bath. That includes space for the hopper. There is a 2x2 sink alcove. And I process and print in there. I would be doing the frickin backstroke at 5x10.
     
  7. jeroldharter

    jeroldharter Member

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    You have a small space. I agree with the one long 3 foot deep work area. I would go with an Omega or Beseler 4x5 enlarger (I use Beseler).

    I think you should draw out everything to scale on graph paper before you start anything. Take into account your vertical space also so that you are sure you have room for the top of your enlarger extended to maximum.

    You will need an area to dry negatives so a homemade version of a Jobo Mistral film dryer using a PVC frame and shower curtains would work well. It is collapsible and can be stored away when not in use.

    You will need space to dry prints also. You don't have room for drying screens so a retractable vinyl covered clothesline (or two) strung the length of the room will give you plenty of print drying space.

    You have limited room to store chemicals. Try to settle on one shot chemistry for all processes so you don't have to store anything beside stock solutions.

    You will have limited space for processing trays. Consider single tray processing if you have a good water source and use plastic 2000 ml beakers from US Plastics to hold your solutions while using just one tray.

    A floor drain would be ideal. You could build a cart for your print washer and store it under the sink when not in use so it does not hog sink space. You could run tubing from the water source to the washer and then drain it into the floor.

    Build a shallow sink that is sufficiently high for your comfort level. Build some vertical slats under the sink for tray drying/storage. Build some horizontal shelves under the sink also for storage of solutions, beakers, etc. If you are handy enough, make the shelves extendable (even though you have only 2 feet for extension) for easier access.

    Hang a large dry erase board/greaseboard on the short wall for writing notes. Some are also magnetic and handy for attaching instruction pamphlets etc.

    You small darkroom will likely be cluttered and prone to dust. Use semigloss paint that is easier to dust and clean than flat paint. Use a smart floor surface as well (e.g. sheet vinyl).

    Under the enlarger, you have a lot of potential space if you use pull-out shelves. You can store paper safes, dodging tools, contact print frames, focusing aids, negatives, etc.

    If you are really handy, put a small air compressor in an adjacent room with a switch and outlet hose in the darkroom to dust negatives.

    Use a flush, steel, exterior door because it is relatively cheap and easier to lightproof than a wood door.

    Pay attention to ventilation. But if you use single tray processing you will have a much easier time with vapors because less surface area is open to air at any one time.

    Put anti-fatigue mat material along the length of the darkroom.

    Install twice as many electrical outlets as you think you need. Put some under the sink and enlarger (you might want a timer or tempering bath under there). Put some up high near the ceiling.

    Ideally you would have some space outside the darkroom for storage, framing, etc.

    I would paint the area around the enlarger and its ceiling gloss black. The rest of the room I would paint pure white or pure pale gray.
     
  8. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Member

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    Why gloss?
     
  9. jeroldharter

    jeroldharter Member

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    I know most people say flat black due to worry about reflection. But I have never had problems with that. Flat black paint is a pain to wash off and seems to attract dust more than semigloss paint.
     
  10. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Member

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    I see. Maybe luster or semigloss, then? I used flat black without issues.
     
  11. youngrichard

    youngrichard Member

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    Two things I encountered when I went down to the cellar. 1.The street drains are above the level of the cellar floor, so I have to have a submersible pump in a container under the sink to pump the outflow up to the drain. 2. Ceiling height may be restricted; work out how much height you will need if you really mean to print up to 20 x 24; you may need to build an enlarger platform that can be lowered for those extra large prints. I have to use wide angle lenses which doesn't work quite so well, for me anyway.
    Richard
     
  12. R/D

    R/D Member

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    Thanks for all the great advice. The stacking and staggering on trays is a great idea. One could almost fit two trays in the footprint of one, a huge space saver. Maybe I could place the developer and stop trays as usual because they are more time sensitive and then stack the others. The only remaining question I have is about enlarger lenses. Ive always seen "50mm is good for 35mm". So what would I need for 6X7 ? And would this mean that I would need a different lens for different formats and print sizes ?
     
  13. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    The focal length of the lens tends to indicate how much coverage the lens is capable of - longer lenses cover bigger negatives (some special lenses excepted).

    Generally speaking, a 90mm lens is optimal for 6x7. Some 80mm lenses have enough coverage to be usable with 6x7. Many people use slightly longer lenses (e.g. 105mm) with 6x7, especially if they also shoot 6x9.

    You can use longer lenses, but that will limit you to either smaller prints, or to using special arrangements like wall projection to get larger prints. As you probably understand, longer lenses result in lower magnification.

    By the way, while it is true that you can use longer lenses than those that are optimal, the result may be that the lens is being asked to perform at a magnification that it is not optimized to work at. Good lenses can work well over a wide range, but they are best within a more narrow target range.

    I use everything between 80mm and 150mm for my 6x7 negatives, because I do a fair number of small prints (e.g. postcards) from them. The longer lenses let me work with the enlarger head a reasonable distance from the paper. Otherwise, there can be a problem burning and dodging, or using my 11x14 easel.

    Matt
     
  14. ricksplace

    ricksplace Member

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    I have a fairly large darkroom, and I don't use trays for anything over 11X14. I use wallpaper trays, and see-saw the prints through them. Trays over 11X14 are cumbersome and tend to spill easily. I second the beseler 23C or 45MX. I use both and they're real workhorses. Colour heads are available for both at reasonable prices when you decide to start printing colour.
     
  15. grahamp

    grahamp Subscriber

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    I recently acquired a newer model Beseler 45 (rear struts) and discovered that it is a couple of inches taller than my existing one (front struts). A condenser head hits the ceiling, but fortunately I plan on using the 45S head on that chassis, and the condenser just clears the ceiling on the older chassis. I knew it would be close when I found it would only fit in the car one way around :cool:

    I have 20x16 trays, but my 9'x8' darkroom is a tight fit to use them. 11x14 is much more reasonable. I batch tone separately from printing, partly because of space, and partly because of the time toning takes.

    I tend to use 50mm for 35mm, 75mm for 6x4.5 and 6x6, 105mm for 6x9, and 135mm for 4x5".
     
  16. jeffreyg

    jeffreyg Subscriber

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    Lots of ideas above. Since you are building the sink I assume you are painting it with polyester. Be sure it has a slight tilt toward the drain. Configure it so you can make some removable covers for the sink which will provide extra counter space when not using it for wet work. There are also tray stackers available that accommodate three trays.
     
  17. Dan Dozer

    Dan Dozer Subscriber

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    I have a darkroom that is about 7' x 14' and use trays up to about 15" x 24" (for platinum prints with 8 x 20 film. My sink is deep enough (about 27" front to back) for these large trays. I have a ledge on the back of my sink which gets a lot of stuff on it. If you get a stainless steel and/or plastic sink, it may not have this. If you build your own, you can build it in.

    I recommend that you give yourself more than one sink faucet (I have three). You could connect a simple water filter system from Home Depot to one faucet for cleaner water.

    Consider a shallow shelf on the wall above the sink - that's where I have two timers plus developing supplies. String a wire above the sink and below the shelf for hanging prints to dry if you don't have drying shelf space.

    One thing I would recommend that you consider is making the sink shallow enough (about 5 or 6" or so) but mount it high enough to sit at rather than stand at. Most darkrooms are designed so you stand at the sink and put "fatigue mats" on the floor. However, I made mine the proper height (both sink and dry area) to sit at with a tall stool on casters. When you spend hours in your darkroom, your back will quickly appreciate the ability to sit down to work. Also, my sink is hand built out of plywood and the front surface is the thickness of two sheets of 3/4" plywood. I bought a length of foam rubber piping insulation at Home Depot that is about 3" around and slit on one side. Fitting the slit of the insulation over the front edge of the sink gives you a great elbow resting surface.

    Here's another tip that I found useful - get a little bottle of glow in the dark paint at the drug store and put little dabs of it on key things so you can easily find them in the dark when you are developing film - such as the faucet handles, light switches, and such.

    Hope this helps.

    Dan
     
  18. olleorama

    olleorama Member

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    You could also buy slot processors. Or build yourself. It's not very hard to do and very space efficient.