BUYING DARKROOM EQUIPMENT
A complete darkroom is typically divided into two sections: a Dry Side, where
printing and enlarging takes place, and a Wet Side, where the processing
of the film and paper is done. If you are just processing film, you
only need wet=side equipment. Otherwise, you need equipment for both the
wet and dry side.
The hardware you'll need to set up a darkroom can run from a few dollars
to a few thousand depending on what you need and how you shop. On the cheap
end, are the darkrooms put together from garage sales and want ads. Usually,
this equipment is in very good shape. Unlike most photo equipment, such as
cameras and lens, darkroom equipment never goes outside to face the elements,
and doesn't move around much and get bumped. Most people who are selling
the equipment hardly used the stuff. Many people never got around to taking
the stuff out of the boxes. Many of those that did never figured out how
to use it properly or found out that they just don't have time to do the
darkroom work. Whatever the reason, you benefit. If you see darkroom equipment
advertised, check with a store to see how much it sells for new. If it's
so old that the camera shop doesn't carry it anymore, demand a BIG discount.
There are also inexpensive, pre-packaged darkroom kits, however you'll find
that the quality of the materials in these kits is mediocre. In addition,
the kits invariably include items you don't need and lack things you do need.
If you live near a used camera shop that sells darkroom equipment, you can
ask them to help you select what you'll need. If you have the money, you
can get everything new, but even here you will have a lot of options.
For all of these categories, there are many companies that make products
with many different features -- pros and cons, depending on your approach.
If you go to your local camera shop for information, they will usually
steer you in the direction of the products that they carry, which is normally
a small sampling of what is actually available. For specific details,
it's best to request information from the manufacturer. To find out
about manufacturers, check out the photography magazines and
developing reel -- You can divide these into two kinds -- stainless steel
and plastic. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, supporters and
Some like stainless steel because they think they are more durable
that plastic. You can drop them on the floor and they won't break, whereas
plastic may crack, chip, or splinter. But the plastic reels are very durable
and the stainless steel ones can dent -- making them useless. Six of
one, half-dozen of the others.
Steel conducts heat well -- better than plastic. Some say this is an
advantage when you are trying to maintain temperatures. Other say it
is a problem. Six of one, half-dozen of the others.
Most people have difficulty winding the film onto steel reels. Plastic reels
all have special slots to make loading the film much easier -- actually
Steel reels come in single-sizes -- such as 16mm 35mm, 120, etc. You need
at least one reel to handle each film size you plan to develop. So you can
end up with a LOT of reels, if you use different films. Plastic reels
usually are adjustable, so that one reel will handle several sizes of film,
such as 16mm, 126 and 35mm or 126, 35mm and 120 film
developing tank -- Like the reels, the tanks come in plastic or steel. The
same issues apply here. Usually when you buy a tank it comes with a
reel made of the same material. One problem with steel tanks is the cap.
The steel caps may freeze on and become hard to remove -- a BIG problem
if you need to get the film out of the developer.. Some tanks have plastic
lids which come off easily. Unfortunately, plastic lids aren't as durable
as steel -- they may only last 40 years instead of 140.
developing trays -- buy the largest size you think you will use. You'll
need at least three, perhaps more. The big ones are a PAIN to empty.
developing tubes -- an alternative to trays, these save space in use, but
you'll need one for each paper size you use. Tubes decrease your exposure
to chemical fumes. You use less chemical, so you save money. Your
paper always gets fresh chemicals, so your results are more consistent and
you don't have to recalculate processing times. With a water bath,
the temperature is easy to maintain.
plastic containers to hold the chemical solutions -- Several models are available
in the stores, but cheaper alternatives can be devised. The important thing
is devise a system to remove the air and light -- both can deteriorate the
chemical inside. Some of the commercial products are dark brown to remove
the light and some are collapsible to remove the air. Perhaps the best
alternative is to get a wine box from the liquor store. After you have
enjoyed the contents, relable the box and fill it with the chemical
of your choice. The box is compleley opaque and the foil bag collapses
as the chemical is removed.
graduate -- These are available in plastic or glass. Forget the
glass -- broken glass in the dark is best to be avoided. Get several
sizes. If you deal with VERY small quantities of liquids, get a set of hypodermic
needles. These come in sizes from 1ml to 30 ml. If your state
has laws against the purchase of needles, check out a veterinary supply shop.
Make sure you get the fattest needle you can. The ones for injecting
humans are too thin for many photographic solutions.
timer -- Dozens of styles are available. Some are designed for the
enlarger, some for the processing steps. The more features, the more expensive.
For processing. make sure to get one that runs at least to one hour
-- many don't. For the enlarger, make sure you get a repeating timer.
Some have to be reset each time.
thermometer -- These come in three styles: mercury in glass, bimetal, or
electronic styles. The glass ones are very delicate and should be avoided.
They are two easy to break in the dark. The metal ones are rugged.
The electronic ones are more expensive but easy to read in the dark.
No matter what style, the accuratet ones are more expensive. For
color work, you need a very accurate one.
film clips -- Get them at the camera shop or get regular wooden clothes pins
at the grocery store.
funnel -- Get them at the camera shop or get a regular one at the hardware
safe light -- Many styles are available. They can vary in size -- the
large the more expensive, their brightness -- the brighter the more expensive,
and the light source -- this also varies the price. You can get one
large one or several small ones to place around the darkroom. Some
have light bulbs that are easy to change, so that you can increase or decrerase
the brightness. The same thing goes for the filter -- some are
interchangeable. Make sure you can get the types of filters you MIGHT
eventually need -- BEFORE you buy.
easel -- These comes in various styles and sizes. Some have adjustable
edges, some asre rigid. They also come in various colors -- white, yellow,
grey, black. Some can be set for borderless use.
grain magnifier -- The cheaper ones are lower power and hander to use. The
more expensive ones are a joy, but BOY they can get expensive. Can
you imagine spending $250 to focus you print?
exposure meter --
brush -- You can get these in three styles -- standard brush, electronic
static remover, nuclear static remover. Stay away from the nuclear
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