RA-4 Printing for $200
The best thing about digital photography is that these amazing color enlargers are being dumped onto the used market. I acquired my Vivitar 356 enlarger with dichroic color head for $80 shipped and I got my beseler 50mm lens for $5. You can too.
Color NEGATIVE FILM printing is very similar to Black and White printing with a few changes. There is no Variable Contrast paper. There is essentially one grade of paper. All contrast corrections are made during in camera exposure rating. To decrease contrast, you overexpose the film. That is the extent of contrast correction.
Second, you adjust the three color channels separately. That means it's three times more difficult to print. Actually that's not quite true. Everything in color work has been standardized, so all the films posses similar contrast. If you use only one film type at one EI in one set of conditions, all your times will be just about the same.
-A sink with tray/print washer
-An enlarger w/ carrier and lens. You either need a dichroic color head or a set of color filters. Filters are a pain. Get the dichroic head for $50.
-Easel for paper holding
-Two trays for chemistry
-Paper-Start with 8x10, 5x7 is rare. Some people like Fuji Crystal Archive best, others prefer Kodak Endura. Minor detail- the Kodak stuff works with both Fuji and Kodak films. The Fuji stuff is not absolutely optimal for Kodak films. I don't notice, maybe you will.
-Optional Safe light- Amber filter-"will degrade results"-try it if you want.
Get this down. Use a wrist watch or timer for consistency. That's not terribly critical as long as you develop enough. I use room temperature with the Kodak chemistry, no problems. If you want to try the higher temperatures, have fun.
Developer-2-3 minutes. Pick a time and use it.
Blix-4 minutes for a final print, you can get away with less for a test strip.
Wash-Until the paper has no fix left in it. Run the water slowly. I use warm water.
Select a daylight exposed frame of your primary film. Most every color film uses an orange mask. This is to compensate for various inadequacies in the dyes of the couplers. Masks range from darker to lighter, different shades etc. You should take notes on every type film and it's "base values;" that is, the Magenta and Yellow numbers for each film. Then when you want to print a frame, you read your notebook and know which values to set. You may have to change them to get the best look on a frame by frame basis. I scrawl my notes on masking tape on my enlarger base. The old owner did that too
Follow all the techniques of B&W work including size and framing. Focus with a grain scope resting on a sheet of photo paper on the easel.
When you start, you should set a medium value like 25Y 25M onto your dichroic head. Then expose a test strip. On an optimally exposed frame, the orange base of the film will be completely black and the image will be perfect. You can try doing a test strip on the complete black area. Choose a time just greater than when the film turns black. From there adjust your EI for future films, if necessary adjust the time for each frame.
Once you get the time set, do a confirming strip-place a fresh strip of paper on the easel and expose for the correct time. After processing and rinsing to remove the orange blix cast, look at it under the same type of illumination you will view the final print in (important!) I purchased a daylight balanced CFL bulb for viewing. It works.
Print this out and post it in your darkroom:
-If print is too RED, dial +5cc MAGENTA and +5cc YELLOW, print will turn lighter
-too GREEN, dial -5cc MAGENTA, turns darker
-too BLUE, dial -5cc YELLOW, turns darker
-too CYAN, dial -5cc MAGENTA and -5cc YELLOW
-too MAGENTA, dial +5cc MAGENTA, turns lighter
-too YELLOW, dial +5cc YELLOW, turns lighter
Save yourself, don't try to memorize these. These are for negative work. Slide printing is the exact opposite. Notice that for negative work you need not touch the cyan dial 99% of the time.
5cc is a small correction. For blaring corrections, use 20-30cc. For moderate corrections use 10-15cc. Experience will tell.
Once your confirming strip looks the correct color balance, make sure the brightness is good. If not, adjust the time. Now make your final print. Process and wash.
This is for printing NEGATIVES. SLIDE FILM can only be printed digitally (for wimps) or with Ilfochrome materials. The 8x10 paper costs $3 a sheet and the chemistry costs $100 for a 2 liter kit. If you can afford it, the color corrections are opposite these and there are multiple grades of paper.
These are the Kodak product numbers for the 10 liter RA4 kits, Blix 8309031, Developer/replenisher 8415580. Adorama will ship them to the lower 48. Exposure times depend on neg density, magnification, aperture and light source, 15-30 seconds is a normal range. An automated printer/processor goes from unexposed dry paper to dry print in 3 minutes. Home darkrooms users can develop for 2 minutes at 20C.
Unfortunately, Kodak no longer makes an easy-to-buy kit for RA-4 (AFAIK). The result is that you need to buy several different things. At the very least, you need an RA-4 developer, an RA-4 blix, and a stop bath (regular B&W stop bath works fine). I believe some of these get broken out into multiple parts by at least some sellers, and there are variants (package size, etc.). You can buy either ready-to-use stuff or a combination of starter and replenisher. The former is easier for small-scale hobbyist use; starter/replenisher systems are meant for commercial or other high-volume operations. As you say, it can be confusing.
Originally Posted by GGardner
IMHO, for somebody just getting started with RA-4 printing, a non-Kodak kit may be the way to go, at least to start. That way you get almost everything you need in the way of chemicals by ordering one item from the store. (Most kits lack a stop bath, though.) I see that B&H ships the Fotospeed RA-4 kit, which is another plus; but it's currently listed as a special-order item. Freestyle ships Fotospeed and their house-brand (Arista) RA-4 kits. If you want to buy Kodak, go to Adorama or Unique Photo; they both sell and ship Kodak RA-4 chemicals.
In my experience, color papers are much faster than B&W papers. I typically expose color prints for half the time or less that I use for B&W prints -- and that's with yellow, magenta, and cyan filtration in place! (I generally use about 100cc of cyan and another 50cc or so of magenta and yellow. That's equivalent to over a three-stop ND filtration.) Typical times for me are 5-20s. These times are at minimum aperture (f/16) for 4x6 prints and larger apertures for larger prints. This is with a Philips PCS130/PCS150 enlarger. YMMV, as they say.
I understand that I may need to make test strips, but can you give a ballpark amount of time that paper exposure takes -- 6 seconds, 6 minutes?
Different people have different opinions on the washing. I'm told RC paper only requires 90 seconds because it's plastic (which makes sense) but yet our school has used a 3 wash process 2-2-2 wash, fixer remover, and wash for RC paper for a very long time. Who am I to correct anyone? I use 5 minutes on the wash for final prints, 4-5 swishes in a bucket for confirming strips.
Using a beseler 45C dichro digital head, and a 50mm lens, I get times of 18 seconds at F8 going to 11x14 paper. It seems to climb sometimes but that may just be my chemistry slowly dieing...
I made the jump to home RA4 processing a few years ago. So much easier than I thought it would be. I agree with the posters here, stick with Kodak chems and paper. I have been using Edge paper in rolls cut to size, at room temp. Results are great. As for washing, I wash for about 1 min in the drum, then run the print under running tap water for another minute before hanging to dry. No fading, and the whites remain white. The Kodak chems seem really versatile. I have been using the LORR ready mix chems at twice the standard dilution for 2 min at 70F with excellent results with edge and endura papers. The LORR blix I use at standard dilution for 2 min at 70F. I'm using the LORR chems because my local pro lab sold me some of their new chems to try. (nice of them!) The chems worked fine, so I ordered some from fleabay. I have no idea what age the chems are. They are darker than the new stuff I tried from the local pro lab, so I assume that they are old and starting to oxidise. However, they work fine with no difference to the fresh chems. I bought a bunch of 250 ml glass jars from fleabay and repackage the chems into the smaller bottles with no airspace. I find I can use a 250 ml jar up without it oxidising and becoming unusable. The old chems I bought are now going on two years in the topped up jars with no ill effects.
My exposure times are about three to five seconds at f11 (35mm to 6X7). I use a Beseler 23C with a dual dichro head and condensers with a 200W bulb. ...not much time for dodging and burning... damn digital compatible paper! Oh well, I can always stop the lens down and increase the time if I really need to dodge and burn.
"I'm still developing"
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Here is the revised set of directions with links to products that you want to purchase:
Don't use fuji paper. It's not made like the kodak paper and requires its own developer at the full 97 degree temperature process. Kodak paper looks great when processed at room temperature in trays using Kodak Ektacolor RT replenisher (just mix the developer from the three bottles, don't add the starter). Use this with the bleach fix and you are golden. For papers try either Kodak Supra Endura or Kodak Edge (search for it on ebay.)