Is building a darkroom worth it?
Old 06-04-2017   #1
spaceistheplace
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Is building a darkroom worth it?

Hello guys,

Yesterday I came across an ad in a local classfield website. Some guy was selling his enlarger, lens, easel, trays, bulbs, and lots of extra items you may find useful in the dakroom. And all this for what I think is a fair price!

But the thing is, I've never had my own darkroom, I have printed many times in a rental darkroom and really enjoyed it, the only bad thing was the hassle to transport things (it isn't close to my house) which an own dakroom would fix.
So here I am looking for advice, do you guys think I should go for it? Is building your own darkroom worth it in this day and age?

Feel free to give your opinion, thanks!
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Old 06-04-2017   #2
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If you get proper use out of it and have the space, why not?
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Old 06-04-2017   #3
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It kind of depends how much usage you'll make of it and how much space you have - I've always had temporary setups - it works fine, you don't need a darkroom to develop film, and you don't need running water in a darkroom ( just access to a sink outside it) - so any room that you can darken and set up some trays and the enlarger will work
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Old 06-04-2017   #4
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To me it is only worth it to print on 8x10 or larger FB paper. Well. 5x7 will do for albums.
To get enlarger set isn't big deal. To get 8x10 100 pcs of FB paper and have maybe 30 prints under price well above of 100$... This is where question is. IMO.
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Old 06-04-2017   #5
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I do have a small room that will be free to use soon, that's why I think it is a good moment. But it is also a big investment, not only the equipment, which isn't a big deal but paper is! I think I'm going to pull the trigger and get it.
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Old 06-04-2017   #6
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If you have a space that you can work in that is light tight and ventilated it makes sense. If your like me you never know when you will have a window of time for printing. Also you can make it efficient so there is more time for printing and less time setting up. If you only print a few times a year then it is likely not to be worth it.

Just prepare yourself for those all night printing sessions that happen from time to time. Not to mention the "perfect enlarging lens GAS" that comes with having your own darkroom.

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Old 06-04-2017   #7
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If you liked working in a rental darkroom imagine how much you will enjoy your own personal darkroom!

FWIW making black & white wet prints in the darkroom is my favorite part of the photographic process.
I haven't had a proper darkroom in years. Since then I have always used a temporary bathroom setup.

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Old 06-04-2017   #8
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My enlarger is in the bathroom closet! I don't use it much but I'm glad I have it!
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Old 06-04-2017   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by skopar steve View Post
If you have a space that you can work in that is light tight and ventilated it makes sense. If your like me you never know when you will have a window of time for printing. Also you can make it efficient so there is more time for printing and less time setting up. If you only print a few times a year then it is likely not to be worth it.

Just prepare yourself for those all night printing sessions that happen from time to time. Not to mention the "perfect enlarging lens GAS" that comes with having your own darkroom.

Steve
Now that you mention enlarger lens, the lens it comes with is an EL-Nikkor 50mm 2.8. I only use 35mm and print 8x10s, sometime 5x7 for print exchange and the odd bigger size. Should I pick up a Schneider or a Rodenstock lens? Or I won't see much difference in these small sizes?
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Old 06-04-2017   #10
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Sin duda! I built a darkroom in Andalucia. All night printing when the temperature is bearable! Plus you have Fotocasion in Madrid for the paper supplies. They sometimes have very good deals on expired paper which works fine for tests, contacts etc.
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Old 06-04-2017   #11
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Do it.

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Old 06-04-2017   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by megido View Post
Sin duda! I built a darkroom in Andalucia. All night printing when the temperature is bearable! Plus you have Fotocasion in Madrid for the paper supplies. They sometimes have very good deals on expired paper which works fine for tests, contacts etc.
Yes, I know, have purchased those papers for tests many times, and check your messages, please.
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Old 06-04-2017   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spaceistheplace View Post
Now that you mention enlarger lens, the lens it comes with is an EL-Nikkor 50mm 2.8. I only use 35mm and print 8x10s, sometime 5x7 for print exchange and the odd bigger size. Should I pick up a Schneider or a Rodenstock lens? Or I won't see much difference in these small sizes?
The Nikkor EL 50 f2.8 is one of the best. You won't find better. Ive printed since I was 9 years old and have used about everything on the market since the 50's. I still have some Schneider Componon S and Rodenstock Rodagons but use almost exclusively my set of Nikkor EL lenses. The only other lenses I feel are comparable are the Fujinon EX which are very hard to find as they were never officially imported.

Setup your darkroom. It can be a great source of enjoyment. To me it's still magic. I just bought a new house last summer and the first thing I did was have a nice darkroom built.
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Old 06-04-2017   #14
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Really between all the premium enlarging lenses there's very little difference. I like the Scneider Componon S optics in the 50-2.8 but don't care for the plastic mount. Rodenstock Rodagons are excellent too. I like the Nikkor so much I replaced the Leitz Focotar on my Focomat with a Nikkor 2.8.
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Old 06-04-2017   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by x-ray View Post
Really between all the premium enlarging lenses there's very little difference. I like the Scneider Componon S optics in the 50-2.8 but don't care for the plastic mount. Rodenstock Rodagons are excellent too. I like the Nikkor so much I replaced the Leitz Focotar on my Focomat with a Nikkor 2.8.
Nice to know then, thanks a lot for your help.
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Old 06-04-2017   #16
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Most of the gear needed for a darkroom can be snatched up for free or very cheap. The only concerns are light proofing and proper ventilation. I set up mine in my laundry room with darkroom gear I got for free on craigslist. Depending on the chemicals you get (especially for B&W), they should last a long time and are pretty inexpensive. As for whether or not it's worth it beyond the cost--- that depends on if you'll actually use it, and only you can decide that.
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Old 06-04-2017   #17
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Design it around the largest print size you plan to make. 16x20 for most people is the largest. 35mm film will print well at that size.

I mostly made 8x10 and 8 1/2 x 11 contact and test prints. Finals were usually 11x14. I used 35mm and 4x5 cameras. I tray processed my 4x5 film.

I now scan 35mm film and pigment print. If Agfa paper was around, I would again plan a darkroom.

I had a fume vent over the chemical trays in my sink. It sucked the fumes out. If you do this, be sure your room is very clean and well sealed. As the suction (negative pressure) will suck dust into the room. You don't want that. Also, make sure the door is closed before turning on the vent fan. I forgot a lot of times and paid by doing a lot of dust policing.
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Old 06-04-2017   #18
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PKR you should try the new Bergger fiber variable contrast papers. I'm a huge fan of Agfa and still have 200 sheets of glossy MC111 in my film freezer but after trying the Bergger I've not used any of my Agfa. I've printed on a lot of papers and found none that look as good as the new Bergger. There are plenty of great fiber papers now. I still like Ilford Warmtone FB and some of the Foma. Each have their own beauty for certain negs. Each are unique imo. Also the developer makes a huge difference especially with Ilford Warmtone. Desktop gives green tones and LPD gives warm rich tones with deeper blacks and better tonal separation. For the Bergger either Dektol or LPD produces great images.

The Bergger gloss has the richest surface Un-glossed I've ever seen.
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Old 06-04-2017   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by x-ray View Post
PKR you should try the new Bergger fiber variable contrast papers. I'm a huge fan of Agfa and still have 200 sheets of glossy MC111 in my film freezer but after trying the Bergger I've not used any of my Agfa. I've printed on a lot of papers and found none that look as good as the new Bergger. There are plenty of great fiber papers now. I still like Ilford Warmtone FB and some of the Foma. Each have their own beauty for certain negs. Each are unique imo. Also the developer makes a huge difference especially with Ilford Warmtone. Desktop gives green tones and LPD gives warm rich tones with deeper blacks and better tonal separation. For the Bergger either Dektol or LPD produces great images.

The Bergger gloss has the richest surface Un-glossed I've ever seen.
X-Ray and everybody, what are some of your favorite papers? Foma are the most affordable ones here but I still don't know which one to choose, have only used Fomatone from them.
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Old 06-04-2017   #20
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I would love to have a dedicated Darkroom...for now I set up in a downstairs bathroom...
When I live with my parents they let me build one under their patio...it wasn't that big but enough space to have everything I needed...currently, I have three enlargers and would love to have a permanent home set up for them.
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Old 06-04-2017   #21
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I'm 68 and setting up a darkroom again. Haven't had a dedicated darkroom since 1974 and looking forward to a relaxing evening occasionally.
I'm going to cheat and use Ilford MG4 RC paper, 8X10 size. The purest will only go with FB and I have some 25 year old FB Ilford paper (still good) but like the convenience of easy to wash and dries flat RC paper.
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Old 06-04-2017   #22
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I agree; for speed, ease, convenience and economy resin-coated papers just can't be beat.
Todays RC papers are so improved I wouldn't hesitate to use them even for exhibition prints.
Ilford Multigrade IV RC Deluxe in Pearl finish is my old favorite for everyday use, and more!

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Old 06-04-2017   #23
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I haven't had space for a darkroom for many years.

I sold off and gave away all my darkroom gear, other than my GraLab timer and the bare minimum required to process film, in the 1990s and bought a tabletop dark tent in which to load the film developing tanks. Now I only rarely use that anymore either because I have the Agfa Rondix/Rondinax daylight loading tanks.

All my rendering and printing has been using scans and image processing to inkjet printers since the middle 1990s.

Buying, setting up, and maintaining a darkroom is worth it only if you a) have the space and b) enjoy the experience IMO.

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Old 06-04-2017   #24
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I would feel deprived and unhappy without a darkroom. I built one in the basement of my previous home. When my wife and I bought our present home, I made sure there was a good space in the basement and the darkroom was one of the first priorities. I can while away many long winter days and nights in my darkroom.

Yes, it's worth it!
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Old 06-04-2017   #25
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35mm enlarger & 8x10 prints , your space requirements are a non issue ! Go for it !
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Old 06-04-2017   #26
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PKR you should try the new Bergger fiber variable contrast papers. I'm a huge fan of Agfa and still have 200 sheets of glossy MC111 in my film freezer but after trying the Bergger I've not used any of my Agfa. I've printed on a lot of papers and found none that look as good as the new Bergger. There are plenty of great fiber papers now. I still like Ilford Warmtone FB and some of the Foma. Each have their own beauty for certain negs. Each are unique imo. Also the developer makes a huge difference especially with Ilford Warmtone. Desktop gives green tones and LPD gives warm rich tones with deeper blacks and better tonal separation. For the Bergger either Dektol or LPD produces great images.

The Bergger gloss has the richest surface Un-glossed I've ever seen.
Thanks x-ray. I trust your judgment as we have similar backgrounds. My assistant has my 4x5. She hasn't done much with it yet. If I rebuild a darkroom she will want to use it. Most of her stuff is digital. I'll talk with her about it.

I was going to mention enlarging lenses. On my old Focomat, Fuji EX lenses have surpassed any Focotar (2) or EL Nikkor (3) or Schneider (2) lenses I've tested. This includes Fuji ES, which are cheaper. I owned about 7 enlarging lenses until they were tested over time. The Fuji EX was so good I couldn't believe the difference. Leica came in 2nd followed very closely by a 50 2.8 EL Nikkor.

Enlarging lenses and a glass carrier make a huge difference in quality. Used a glass carrier on a D5 also. Time consuming but worth it on long exposures. I always extended exposure time when burning and dodging were necessary. Learn to burn with a poly-contrast filter in your other hand for selective contrast control.
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Old 06-04-2017   #27
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PKR I agree about the Fuji EX. One of the pro labs I used said they preferred the Fuji EX above the rest and then Nikkor EL as a close second. The Fujis were never officially imported so they were hard to find. I needed a replacement for my 135 Componon that I accidentally punted across the darkroom. I fortunately did find a new 135mm and bought it. This was probably 1990 or so.

Occasionally you can find them on the auction site but over time I bought Nikkor EL's and they're exceptional too. I have a couple of 50's, 80, 105 and 150. I also have a Rodagons 80, 135 and 210 and a 50 Componon s and a 180 as well. I probably have a few others stuck around too.

The Rodagons are excellent but I never fell in love with them but they are excellent. My Componon 180 is a fine lens too. I had another 180 S and foolishly sold it when I started to retire and move out of state. I thought I'd go all digital but just couldn't bring myself to do so after selling my 183 Durst 5x7 with a 180 Componon S and my EX 135 Fuji.

I wound up hating retirement, moved 8 miles rather than out of state, built the best darkroom I ever had, re acquired all the gear I foolishly sold and only semi retired. Now I'm content!

The question of paper, it's a personal taste thing. Having printed almost sixty years in used everything from Ansco Indigo to DuPont Varilour, Agfa, Forte, Foma, various Eastern European and American papers. All are different and it's really important you try each yourself. You need to see what suites your taste and your negs and subjects.

I should mention I only use fiber base.

My favorite papers, in the 60's there was a Luminos paper (I think it was) that was graded and had a very rich olive brown color. I loved it for portraits! Also in the 60's and into the 70's I used huge amounts of DuPont Varilour R and RW (whitened glossy) it was the best general purpose variable contrast paper I've ever used. I wouldn't call it a fine art paper but would call it a commercial paper.

I was never a poly contrast guy but printed a lot on it at various places I worked. Etkure G was beautiful as a warm rich portrait paper. Azo and Velox were contact speed papers and I particularly liked Azo for commercial subjects from 8x10 negs and contact sheets.

Kodabromide and Medalist were popular in those days but I never cared for graded papers for general use.

There have been a lot of papers come and go. Gallery was great and not sure if it's still around. Kentemere is a tad hard in contrast for my taste but if contrast is your thing then it might be for you. Ilford makes great paper and it's my second choice. I'm a big fan of multigrade Warmtone. Forte is fine now but I still have some 11x14 Poly Warmtone plus. It was truest old school and contained a ton of silver chloride and cadmium. It was a very rich, flexible paper with an amazing smooth mat or gloss surface and beautiful rich warm color. It toned beautifully and worked exceptionally well for lite printing. I think the cadmium was the issue and then Forte went out of business. They also made some old school B&W films.

Foma makes some really nice paper. It's painfully slow in speed but I think it more of a chloride paper more so than chloro bromide. There are some beautiful and unique surfaces too. The Mat and satin surfaces have nice contrast and tone really nicely in selenium and Veridon (brown) toner. I'd guess polysulfide would be nice too.

Last but not least I'd my all time favorite Bergger warm time. It's simply brilliant in tone. I get the richest tonality, clean whites and can handle those subtle details on the edge of white as well as detail into those deep deep shadows. If it's in the beg it will pull it out. I primarily like the gloss and the mat / satin finish. Also it's a very heavy weight and a touch heavier than double weight. It reminds me of the old old DuPont triple weight. It works equally well in Deltol and LPD (my favorite). Another thing I like very much is the whites almost don't dry down. Maybe they darken less than 5% where as many papers dry down in the whites about 10-15%. It too tones very well in selenium and Veridon.

Oops, Forgot Oriental Seagull. I used some but it's been decades so I'll not comment.
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Old 06-04-2017   #28
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YES. It is worth doing.



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Old 06-04-2017   #29
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if you are at all drawn towards the print-making side of the photographic journey.....yes
Personally, without a darkroom, i'd sell my cameras and pass more time at my other indulgence which is playing acoustic guitar.
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Old 06-04-2017   #30
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X-ray;

I used Kodak polycontrast RC for my contact sheets and all Repro prints. I normally would deliver a flat print for the press (often 2 color b+w, sometimes 3)and a really nice RC target print for my client if they were doing the press check, or I guess the press operator would get the set. It really helped in getting good printing. For my stuff, I used Agfa FB graded papers. Usually #2, #3 the most. I kept things as simple as possible. I did most of my 35mm stuff on plus-x, FP 4 for 4x5. I now use Neopan Acros and HP5. D76 1:1, Dektol 2:1. I worked that way for years. Paul Fusco was a friend. He helped me when first taking on work. He got me to keep the tech stuff really simple, know it backwards and forwards... concentrate on the photography.
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Old 06-04-2017   #31
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If you get proper use out of it and have the space, why not?
Seems to be the only answer...
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Old 06-04-2017   #32
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I built a darkroom in my basement a year and a half ago, and for me it has been 100% worth it, in spite of the fact that I don't get to use it nearly as much as I would like. It's wonderful just to be able to pop down there when the opportunity arises.
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Old 06-04-2017   #33
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I had a 30 gal. Gas Water heater for the darkroom. Has anyone used an "on demand" gas or electric heater? My only long wash times were for big runs of FB 11x14 prints. I could loose 68 deg F at the end of a run if I wasn't careful.
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Old 06-04-2017   #34
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Good idea to keep the tech stuff and hardware simple.

I started working as a PJ in 1968 when I was in college. After College and after getting shot at and nearly getting my head separated from my body I apprenticed in a commercial studio. I stuck with commercial, editorial and documentary ever since. No regrets.

No RC back in my day until about 1973. Polycontrast RC was pretty bad back then. In later years when RC got better I used it when pressed to get something out fast. Until a couple of years ago I still used my Pako high gloss drum dryer. You just can't beat the brilliance of a properly ferotyped fiber gloss print.

In the PJ days I shot almost exclusively TX (the original not this stuff they call TX today).

Over the years I shot different films depending on what I felt was the best at the moment. Doing studio work and very controlled location work I used a medium speed film mostly. Agfa pan 100 was a favorite for years with a little 25 tossed in. Of course original TX 400 and 320 sheet was used.

I did trade trial testing for Kodak on TMax 100 & 400 but hated it. Also did testing for Ilford on Delta 100 & 400 which I dropped all my other films and went to Delta for years. My Fuji rep dropped a couple of bricks of Neopan 400 and Acros 100 in 120 at the studio. I'm not easily swayed from favorites but I switched to Fuji. Years ago I bought a large freezer and filled it with Fuji.

I'm about out now and am going to HP5 and looking for the right 100/125 film. It's most likely going to be FP4. I'm also testing Bergger pancro 400. I'm hoping it is as good as their paper. I recently bought a dozen rolls of Foma Retro 320. Its terrible in my opinion. I don't know why they think this mushy flat film represents film from the past.

I've mainly used HC110 and Rodinal. I got a degree in chemistry and like any good student got into modifying my Rodinal. It had it producing fantastic negscwith TX until Kodak ruined it. I use a little PMK and D76 and if I need to really push I use Acufine.
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Old 06-04-2017   #35
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[quote=spaceistheplace;2729767 Is building your own darkroom worth it in this day and age?

Feel free to give your opinion, thanks![/QUOTE]

No, not worth it at all. Plumbing problems, stinky chemicals, alignment issues, problem after problem. I am dismantling my very large darkroom with two huge sinks that I have used for 20 years in order to better accommodate my digital workflow. I won't miss it i a bit. I routinely made 20 x24 fiber exhibition prints.

Traveling a few years ago, I shot the same picture in film and digital and made matching prints, one on fiber in the darkroom and one on inkjet baryta paper. Over a few months, I showed both prints to curators, museum directors, colleagues, fellow photographers - NO ONE could reliably say for sure which was which.
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Old 06-04-2017   #36
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The satisfaction you found at a rental Darkroom will double at home.
It is one of the greatest "simple" pleasures in life.
I have not had a darkroom since 2011.
All the gear is still here. One Day I would love to have the space (and stability) to set it up.
Nothing inspires seeking out the next image like having the ability to see it through to hanging it on a wall.
Personally I'm much more prolific of taking photos when I can print them at home.
From the moment the shutter closes on a shot you "know" you are going to like, the anticipation of getting the image through the darkroom begins.
It is very satisfying to have that become a part of your home-life.
You should definitely go for it!
Cheers!
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Old 06-04-2017   #37
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[quote=x-ray;2729867]Good idea to keep the tech stuff and hardware simple.

I started working as a PJ in 1968 when I was in college. After College and after getting shot at and nearly getting my head separated from my body I apprenticed in a commercial studio. I stuck with commercial, editorial and documentary ever since. No regrets.

No RC back in my day until about 1973. Polycontrast RC was pretty bad back then. In later years when RC got better I used it when pressed to get something out fast. Until a couple of years ago I still used my Pako high gloss drum dryer. You just can't beat the brilliance of a properly ferotyped fiber gloss print.

In the PJ days I shot almost exclusively TX (the original not this stuff they call TX today).

Over the years I shot different films depending on what I felt was the best at the moment. Doing studio work and very controlled location work I used a medium speed film mostly. Agfa pan 100 was a favorite for years with a little 25 tossed in. Of course original TX 400 and 320 sheet was used.

I did trade trial testing for Kodak on TMax 100 & 400 but hated it. Also did testing for Ilford on Delta 100 & 400 which I dropped all my other films and went to Delta for years. My Fuji rep dropped a couple of bricks of Neopan 400 and Acros 100 in 120 at the studio. I'm not easily swayed from favorites but I switched to Fuji. Years ago I bought a large freezer and filled it with Fuji.

I'm about out now and am going to HP5 and looking for the right 100/125 film. It's most likely going to be FP4. I'm also testing Bergger pancro 400. I'm hoping it is as good as their paper. I recently bought a dozen rolls of Foma Retro 320. Its terrible in my opinion. I don't know why they think this mushy flat film represents film from the past.

I've mainly used HC110 and Rodinal. I got a degree in chemistry and like any good student got into modifying my Rodinal. It had it producing fantastic negscwith TX until Kodak ruined it. I use a little PMK and D76 and if I need to really push I use Acufine.[/QUOTE



That's funny. I kept 10 rolls of TX in the frig and a can of Acufine on the shelf. Once in a while I would need TX. I always had a couple of rolls with me when working in b+w. About 80% of my work-work was in color with Kodachrome. The b+w stuff was my stuff. I do all my jobs with digital cameras now. Files are delivered on "media". Almost never any prints. Things have changed. I honestly don't like the look of digital photography. Many people can't tell the difference. I'm migrating from FF Sensor cameras to ASP-C. The obvious lens distortion when in close with anything under 30mm makes me nuts. But, it's "in" now. Everyone accepts it and many of the younger marketing people have never seen anything different. But, I have to tell you, film is in with some ADs. I overheard a phone conversation an AD was having with a friend. After leaving us, he was off to Paris to work with a guy using 8x10 film. He was ecstatic. I think the French photographer was getting Albert Watson's day rate, $30k/day. Film is alive.
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Old 06-04-2017   #38
Rayt
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Well the Mrs has to sign off on any addition/furnishing/permanent fixtures/source of perceived toxicity by the uninformed/expenditure of funds etc etc. All this is in the contract I signed in blood. I have hundreds of sheets of 135/120/4x5 negs to go through and have a feeling my local community arts center will still have decent equipment when I retire and have time to make prints.
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Old 06-05-2017   #39
Merlijn53
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spaceistheplace View Post
X-Ray and everybody, what are some of your favorite papers? Foma are the most affordable ones here but I still don't know which one to choose, have only used Fomatone from them.
I ike the Foma papers very much imo it is just as good as Ilford. As you are in the EU, you can buy it very cheap directly from their webshop. Just buy a lot, because shipping costs €25.
Regards,
Frank
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Old 06-05-2017   #40
spaceistheplace
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Wow, so many answers! Thanks a lot guys, I see it's still alive and kicking!!
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