FAQ: The Basic Darkroom Copyright 1994-1997 Paul Light This question was added November 4,1997. Q.1 I just got into printing my own B/W's. The only way I've found to determine how long I should expose my paper is to play with different exposure times. Also I've learned that the farther away from the paper the enlarger head is, the longer I must expose the paper to get the proper results.So bascically I'll cut a 5X7 sheet into smaller sheets and do tests to see what comes out best(which is geting costly) My question is: Is there a more scentific method for determining how long I should expose my paper? A. Two alternatives are a print exposure meter and a testprinter sheet. Ilford makes the print exposure meter. It is called an Ilford EM-10 print exposure meter. The second alternative is a Jobo Testprinter plastic sheet. Both items will speed up your printing. **********Previous Questions************* Section 1: Enlargers Q1. How much must I spend on an enlarger? A. Omega and Beseler,two of the most reputable enlarger manufacturers both make very basic enlargers for about $150. These may not be adequate for all of your darkroom needs, because they sometimes have columns that are not rigid enough to make 16x20 or larger prints, although they are rigid enough for smaller prints. They make very nice,basic 8x10 black and white or color prints. Q2. What about used enlargers? Any brand and model that you would recommend? A. If you are buying a used enlarger have a camera repair person check the alignment as well for any excessive wear from misuse before making your purchase. There are often good Omega and Beseler used enlargers on the market. Some popular enlargers that often available as used equipment include the Omega B22, Omega DII and Beseler 23C. Q3. I've read your FAQ and wonder if you have any recommendations on any particular features or parts that I should consider when choosing an enlarger? A. To me the most important feature of the enlarger is the column. It should be so rigid that it will not shake while exposing paper. Most 4x5 enlargers are very rigid and also print 35mm and 120 film. Enlargers don't wear out as quickly cameras. Spend a little extra on it - it could be a lifetime investment. Another important thing to think about when buying an enlarger is the lens. Buy the sharpest lens you can afford. I'd personally compromise on the enlarger before the lens. Good lenses and good enlargers are expensive, but they are the heart of your darkroom and should be where most of the money is spent when setting up a new darkroom. Q4. Can you use a black and white enlarger to make color prints? A. Yes. To make color prints with a black and white condenser head type enlarger you put color filters in the filter drawer instead of contrast filters. For optimum results it is better to use a color enlarger. With a color enlarger you have a dichroic head which has two advantages. It is easier to adjust your filtration and the diffused light diffuses the dust on the film reducing the amount of spotting needed. Both will produce exhibit quality prints. Q5. Do you need a special enlarger to make prints that are bigger than 8x10? A. Yes. When choosing an enlarger that can make prints larger than 8x10, it is important that the enlarger has a larger baseboard to accommodate the larger easel. Also you need a longer column to separate the distance between the film and the paper. For really big prints you may want to choose an enlarger where you can rotate the head to project the image onto a wall or a rotating column to project an image onto the floor. It is also important that an enlarger for big prints be really rigid. Thin columns and warped baseboards have a greater chance of ruining a big print from the enlarger moving slightly while exposing paper. Q6. I want to do only B/W at home and I'm not quite sure what kind of enlarger I should get. I think there are condenser types, diffuser types and dichroic types. Which one will be suitable for B/W? Somebody told me that with dichroic one I don't have to hassle with filters to use variable-grade papers. Do you think I should get the condenser type? I also read from the book that the condenser type will produce sharper images than the diffusion type. Is there big difference? A. A dichroic enlarger is supposedly less sharp than a condenser enlarger although I've never noticed any significant difference. I use condenser enlargers, because I got them for a good price. If I were to go out today and by a new enlarger I would choose the dichroic head, because the softer light doesn't show dust as much, meaning less spotting time. Dichroic heads generally have built in filters in the head, which is very nice, and condensers generally do not. Section 2: Papers Q1. What are good basic papers to use for someone who is new to printing? A. For black and white negatives I use Ilford Multigrade IV RC paper. For color I use Fujicolor Super FA G Professional Type P paper. I am very pleased with both of these papers. They are very easy to use and I use them for most of my printing. Unfortunately the Fuji paper is presently difficult or maybe even impossible to purchase in the United States. One somewhat similar paper is Kodak Supra paper. Q2. What is an archival print? A. An archival print is a black and white or color print that is printed on a type of paper and/or processed in a special manner so that the print will last a very long time. This is especially suitable for photographs for art collections, historical records and family photographs that are being saved for future generations. Prints not processed to archival standards will only last about 20 years in theory. Hopefully the theory has some flaws, because a lot of photographers are working exclusively with printing materials that have a bad track record for permanence so far. Archival processing is discussed in tremendous detail in the book "The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs-Henry Wilhelm and Carol Brower." Archival photographic theorists say that fiber based prints and tricolor carbon pigment prints may last 100 years or more. Q3. What papers are not archival? A. Most papers are not archival. If a paper is designated RC (this stands for resin coated), you can safely assume it is not archival and cannot be made archival. Many people using RC paper feel that if the print is processed properly and stored carefully it will last a very long time. It is certainly faster and easier to work with RC paper and may be worth the risk. I have made thousands of RC prints, but I do not expect them to last even 50 years. I have processed them and stored them carefully just in case they really do last for many years. To make an archival print in black and white is not too difficult. In color it is very complex and for all practical purposes impossible in a home darkroom. To make a black and white archival print you must use fiber-based paper. Fiber-based paper is not difficult to use, although it is a bit tricky to get it to dry flat. You will have no trouble finding whatever RC paper you use in a fiber-based paper if you contact a large camera store. In the event that you cannot find a store that carries the fiber-based paper you are looking for, there are several large mail order stores in New York and Chicago that will have it. There is more than one way to process a print archivally. At present I think the method worked out by Ilford (800 262 2650) is best. It is straight forward and efficient. Once you have made an archival print, it is important that it be stored archivally. A good source for archival storage supplies is Light Impressions (800 828 6216). Making your own color archival prints is a bit more complex, quite a bit more expensive and more time consuming than making a conventional color print. Archival color prints use a modified version of the classic tricolor carbon pigment printing process. I really don't think it is a great idea to make these yourself unless you have already invested over $10,000 in your darkroom and/or have experience in making laser scanned separations. UltraStable prints are made using this process. To the best of my knowledge these materials are only directly available from UltraStable Color Systems (408 335 2169). EverColor is another similar method of making tricolor carbon pigment prints, although they are a lab. I do not think they will sell you materials to do it yourself. EverColor Corporation can be reached at 916 939 9300. Contrary to popular opinion dye transfer prints and Cibachrome prints are not archival. However they are a good choice for moderate term stability type of prints. They stay a very long time, but are no match in terms of stability for contemporary tricolor carbon pigment prints. Section 3: Other Darkroom Information Q1. Why not just send everything out to a lab? A. To set up a darkroom is not that expensive and is very rewarding. You can make 8x10 prints for a lot less than sending them out to a lab and best of all have complete control of the quality of the print. Q2. How does changing f stops vs. changing the print exposure time change the appearance of the print? A. Generally it should have no effect. However some lower quality lenses are visibly less sharp at some f stop settings. Also if you use unusually long printing times some enlarger shake may occur. Q3. How do you get a long gray range in a print? A. With existing negatives use a low contrast filter or low contrast paper and do lots of burning and dodging. You can also control contrast range beginning with the exposure by exposing for significant shadows and film development by developing for significant highlights. A good system to keep contrast in control is the Zone System. You can also use low contrast developers, such as Hutchings PMK Pyro developer. And if none of these solutions appeal to you try shooting 10 minutes before sunset and 10 minutes after sunset and then develop and print your film as you normally do. Q4. How about a more complete idea of what is needed for a home darkroom? Equipment like trays,tanks,safelights,washers, plumbing. A. This would vary a lot depending on your budget. If you have a big budget any camera store can solve this problem for you easily. However, if you are someone standing around with a new enlarger and no more money to spend - here are some recommendations. For trays use anything that holds liquids, including plastic food storage containers, paint trays, old record player covers -anything that holds liquids. If possible, it should be the size of your printing paper. These trays should not be used for other things once used for photography. Chemical deposits on trays from photographic chemicals can be hazardous to your health Work in black and white. A color darkroom is more expensive to both set up and maintain. Use a 7 1/2 watt red bulb as a safelight. Use your bathroom for a darkroom. It's an easy room to seal light out of. Put a strong, rigid board across your bath tub as a table for your enlarger and trays and when you are done printing, remove the board and wash your prints in a tray in the bath tub. For frequent use of a bathroom as a darkroom ventilation is critical. Fumes from photographic chemicals can be hazardous to your health. Q5. What would you recommend for a safelight for a black and white darkroom? A. If you want to use a safelight that offers more options than a 7 1/2 watt red bulb does one good option is the Thomas sodium vapor safelight. It cost about $215-$260 and will make a home darkroom bright enough to read in. There are also a number of safelights between these two that cost $25 to $75. These safelights include several manufactured by Premier and Kodak. Where there is a choice of filter you should use an OC (Light Amber) filter. Premier safelights are designed for table or wall mounting. Kodak safelights are designed for socket mounting. Calumet Photographic (800 225 8638) also sells 48" fluorescent safelight sleeves. These fit over any 40 watt fluorescent tube and are $30 per sleeve. Q6. Are there enlargers that have built in AC/DC converters? A. I'm not aware of any. This problem can be easily corrected by purchasing an AC/DC electrical converter kit containing several adapters plugs. These are about $10 in the United States. Q7. What considerations should be made when choosing an enlarger lens? A. Sharpness is the most important issue. Your enlarger lens should be as sharp as your camera lens. I have been very pleased with Schneider Componon-S lenses. With some lenses your lens should be longer than your normal lens for the given format, otherwise the image will be soft around the edges. If you can find a lens that is shorter than your normal lens and is not soft around the edges , you will not have to raise the enlarger head nearly as high when making 16"x20" or larger prints. Lenses that have very wide aperture settings offer the advantage of making it easier to print very dense negatives as well as make focusing easier with 16"x20" or larger prints. Q.8 What is the ideal black and white film and developer combination to get professional quality negatives? A. A good starting point is Kodak Tri-X and Kodak D-76. This film and developer are widely available throughout the world. If you are in a location that does not have one or both of these supplies make the following substitutions. Choose a film that has a film speed of 400 and a liquid general use black and white film developer. Do not substitute black and white paper developer for film developer. Try to use film by one of the major film manufacturers. Two very good substitute films for Kodak Tri-X are Ilford HP5 and Fuji Neopan 400. Some good substitutes for Kodak D-76 include Kodak HC-110, Edwal FG-7, Sprint Film Developer and Ilford Ilfotec HC. This is by no means a complete list of substitute films and developers. Tri-X and D-76 are only a starting point. You get your best results when you fine tune your film speed and development procedure. The only way to do this is to use the same film and developer over and over, readjusting your film speed and development time, until you find you have perfect shadows and perfect highlights. Shadows are controlled primarily by your choice of film speed and highlights by your choice of developer. The film speed and development times suggested by the manufacturer are only a starting point. What film and developer you use is secondary to fine tuning a combination to produce predictable results. I am an adjunct professor of photography at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, MA, and The New School in New York City. I have been teaching photography since 1972 and spend part of every day working in my darkroom. The answers to the above the questions reflect my own views and may or may not be shared by other photographers or teachers. Thank you for your questions. I will continue to post expanded versions of this FAQ as I receive questions. This FAQ was updated on November 4, 1997. -- Paul Light Lightwave Photography Workshops Lightwave Stock Photography lightwav@tiac.net http://www.tiac.net/users/lightwav/ -- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sean Borman (sborman@nd.edu) Doctoral Student, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Notre Dame --------------------------------------------------------------------------------