lostin_ostin,

Welcome to APUG! Thanks for the kind words. Warms a girl's heart . You've gotten a lot of good advice already here. I'll add a couple of thoughts.

Inexpensive, good quality film cameras and accessories are not as cheap as they were just a while back. Never let it be said that film is dead. Its role in photography is simply changing. I see it coming roaring back in the art sector, but also high-end portraits and wedding albums. Those observations are my own crystal ball, of course. Time will tell the tale. Anyway, point being, I think you're making a good decision to learn this stuff now.

Also, the 'cart' and the 'horse' are a little different than they have been historically. It's harder (or at least, more expensive) to decide on your format and kit ahead of time. But, there is a serious upside to diy. You can go shopping for an orphan format camera and then fit your plates to its holders. You can even start with one really cheap camera with a p.o.s. lens and one holder. Then, while you slowly assemble your dream kit (and learn to make emulsions), you can shoot out your darkroom door and come back to develop a plate at a time, and/or learn how to use a changing bag.

There is three gotchas to watch out for. 1) Cameras that take book style holders. Make sure you never buy one without getting at least one holder that fits. They are very hard to mix and match, and they do not accept (without modification) regular film/plate holders.

2) Most post-1940s cameras are pretty standard for format size, but not necessarily for glass thickness. My advice is to buy your camera and plate holder(s) first and then take it to a good glass shop and have them professionally measure for fit. If you start to collect misc holders, especially 4x5, quarter-plate and some half-plate book styles, you'll find about half of them take what we consider 'regular' framing glass, and half take thinner. You may have to special order the thinner glass, but you should consider having all your plates made from it. You can always add a sheet of construction paper behind a plate in a holder that takes thicker glass, but you won't be able to squeeze too-fat glass into a too-small space.

3) When you have the glass folks measuring your holders, take along a piece of thick construction paper and add that to the total thickness. You'll eventually have emulsion in addition to the glass. Don't forget the emulsion that will be on the edges.

One last recommendation: Check out the for sale items here and on Large Format Photography Forum (registration is free there.) You are more likely to get good equipment from "the community." I hope all this doesn't sound daunting. It's pretty straight forward and can be very inexpensive. Basically, your coin of the realm is time and attention, rather than money. That's a bit backward from what most of us have become accustomed to in photography, but it can be enormously liberating.

All my best wishes for your fun and success,
d