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  1. #1
    omaha's Avatar
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    Can you help me get started with a darkroom/enlarger setup?

    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. #2
    jaschiero's Avatar
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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. #3
    MattKing's Avatar
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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/rc...871487848.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.
    Matt

    “Photography is a complex and fluid medium, and its many factors are not applied in simple sequence. Rather, the process may be likened to the art of the juggler in keeping many balls in the air at one time!”

    Ansel Adams, from the introduction to The Negative - The New Ansel Adams Photography Series / Book 2

  4. #4

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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. #5
    Doc W's Avatar
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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. #6
    polyglot's Avatar
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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 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. #7
    omaha's Avatar
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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!

    Thanks again for all the advice.

  8. #8
    David Brown's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by omaha View Post
    A few months ago ... 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.
    ME, too! Only the "wanted" was in the 70s ...

    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/consu...llCourse.shtml

    Kodak: Darkroom Design for Amateur Photographers
    http://wwwcaen.kodak.com/global/en/p...bs/ak3/ak3.pdf

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

  9. #9
    polyglot's Avatar
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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 polyglot; 06-17-2013 at 09:33 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  10. #10

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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.



    Quote Originally Posted by omaha View Post
    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.

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