The Online Darkroom Store

Monday, October 12

Light and intermittent posting

Regular readers will know we've had our house on the market for about ten weeks. Well, we now have a buyer for it and, all going according to plan, will be moving out at the end of November. Our own house hunting has been continuing and it looks like we'll have a property to move into by then but we're in a bit of a chain - not too common in Scotland - so it's not entirely under our control. If it doesn't happen then we'll rent for a few months while we look around.

The upshot of this is that I now have about six weeks to get two garden sheds and half a garage of vintage racing bike parts and frames cleaned, photographed and onto Ebay. It's the same story with a lot of my camera gear and possibly an enlarger or two as I don't want to start off in a new home burdened by a surfeit of stuff. It was fun collecting all these bits and pieces and I've thoroughly enjoyed them but simplifying is the name of the game now. Plus, I have to dismantle the work tops and cupboards in my darkroom and reinstate it to something approaching a normal room.

Unfortunately, I can't plough through all this merchandise and decorating and still write three posts a week here. The biggest problem is that - despite my favourite weather now being here - I'll be struggling to get much camera time. A shortage of pictures usually means a shortage of blog material.

Although I'll still be writing from time to time, the next two or three months will inevitably see the blog updated less frequently. Even once we're ensconced in another home, there will no doubt be much to be done to get it the way we want it - and then I'll have to turn my attention to a darkroom.

As I was discussing with Phil Rogers just the other day, real life has a knack of getting in the way of the important stuff - photography in this case. So please bear with me during this busy period. I'm not quite sure when I'll be back to posting three times a week but I'll get there at some stage.

Monday, October 5

Putting the HP in HP5 Plus

If I could get as much atmosphere in my night shots as they did during the 1940s and '50s, I'd be a happy man. Of course, that would be impossible as a large part of the charm of these old photographs is the time in which they were made.

My late dad, John, learned his photography during this era, making a home-made enlarger and using low grade cameras. Working class life in those days was spartan compared to what we have today. As a result of his interest in photography, I started getting involved, too. He gave me a few pointers and then I just devoured the photography books he had lying around the house.

Thursday, October 1

Leica: Last man standing

Sad news from Stephen Gandy's CameraQuest website via The Online Photographer that Voigtlander - or, at least, the company Cosina formed to continue the name of the famous German marque - has decided to call it a day.

The company has announced that it's ceasing production of its line of film cameras and a variety of related accessories. As Mike Johnston at TOP says, "The move leaves Leica as the sole surviving manufacturer of film rangefinder cameras."

I suppose it's fitting that the company that started the 35mm camera movement should be the one to carry the torch - but for how long, who can say?

Saturday, September 26

But I've no darkroom!

David M.'s week of darkroom related posts must have whetted some printing appetites but I'm sure there will be plenty of people who feel they just can't get started because they've nowhere to set up an enlarger.

It's understandable because temporary arrangements require a lot of dedication - not least because of the work involved in finding a solid surface for the enlarger and enough room to lay out the trays. And then, there's also scanning to fall back on which means that you can still see your photographs blown up to practically any size without having to get your hands wet.

In the middle of the last century, scanning obviously wasn't an option. Unless you could afford to pay someone to produce enlargements from your negatives then you had to do it yourself. That provided a level of motivation that's missing amongst many film photographers today.

Another wee magazine I found whilst packing stuff away in the darkroom is Photoguide from 1951. The article "No Darkroom At All" caught my eye. Reading it showed some remarkable dedication by the author in producing prints for publication and competition mainly during the darkness of winter nights.

Is this sort of approach viable today? For most frustrated darkroom workers the answer is probably no. Modern life isn't like it was back in 1951 - aside from anything else I doubt many men would be able to continue their printing in the dining room whilst their wives did the washing up!

But putting aside the different roles performed by the sexes in the good old days*, it might still be possible for some people to gain encouragement from this man's determination to do some printing. If that means that a few readers decide to follow his example then reprinting this article will have been worthwhile.



Last month we showed how it was possible to make contact prints with the aid of a special work-bench even if you have no darkroom. Now here is a solution of the more difficult problem of making enlargements.

Do you really mean to tell me that you are tied to the D. and P. man because you have no darkroom? That although you might manage to develop a film or two in your bathroom, you couldn't possibly make an enlargement?

Come, now, let me disillusion you. I have been doing serious photography for at least twenty-five years. During this period, I have not only developed more than 5000 negatives of all sizes from 35 mm. to quarter-plate, but I have made hundreds of enlargements. Many have been published. Some have won prizes in competitions. Some have been hung in exhibitions and reproduced in books. Yet I have never had a darkroom.

How is it done? Why, by the where-there's-a-will-there's-a-way method. And I never use the bathroom, spare bedroom, or cup-board under the stairs, for enlarging. They aren't available. I don't have to tell you how to develop a film because, with a tank, you can do that almost anywhere. It is enlarging which worries you, if you haven't a darkroom.


The first point is that if you haven't a darkroom, you just wait until it is dark. As simple as that! Of course, double summer time was a curse, and I often had to stay up until one a.m., but that's over, thank goodness! The natural effect of this is that, by and large, you do your developing in the summer, in a tank, and your enlarging in the winter.

To enlarge in the summer, you have to get everything ready and start about 10 p.m., staying up late. I enlarge in the dining-room and develop in the kitchen. Yes, the family is a nuisance. Yes, the washing-up has to be done first. Yes, my wife does interrupt me in the middle to get the supper ready. But I manage.

First, I keep my enlarger and my bromide paper in a specially-made cabinet in my bedroom. I begin by carrying these downstairs, which is quite a job, after taking other photographic equipment out of the cabinet so that I can lift the enlarger out. Then I fix my pendulum timing gadget on the side of a bookcase, take my dark-room clock and lamp into the kitchen, and plug the photometer into the enlarger circuit. The enlarger goes on the top of a revolving bookcase. While I am doing this, my wife is clearing the table and washing up, and the children are cleaning their shoes in the kitchen.


Next, I fetch the developing dishes, measures and bottles of solutions in from the garage and park them on the kitchen floor. As my neighbour's kitchen window faces mine, and he seems to spend his evenings practising signalling with his kitchen light, I have to cover my window even when it is dark. I use two large sheets of 5-ply wood (a relic of the black-out), which are kept in the garage. Before it is too dark to see, I stand these on the window-sill outside the kitchen and clip them in position with little screw hooks. These "hooks" are right-angled, not curved, and are screwed into the window frame.

The darkroom lamp goes on the washing machine, the clock on the window edge, the hypo dish on the floor. By its side I put a dish of water. I develop on a corner of the draining board. I am lucky in having a service hatch from kitchen to dining-room. The orange light in the kitchen enables me to grope my way across the dining-room and switch the enlarger on, for a little of it comes through the hatch.

Of course, I find and dust the negative with the ceiling light on, but once it is in the enlarger, out goes the ceiling light until the print is developed, and there is no darkroom lamp in the dining-room. I draw the curtains close. When I have made the exposure, I place the paper on the flap of the hatch, walk into the hall, close the door, then walk into the kitchen, lift the print through the hatch and develop and fix it. In case of interruptions, I have a cardboard light-tight bromide-paper box of proprietary make which will hold prints while lights are on.


When supper time comes, I shut the hatch and continue enlarging in the dining-room, while my wife does her stuff in the kitchen. Prints go into the light-tight box, to be developed when I have had my cup of tea and sandwich in the lounge. The essence of this system is my discovery that you can leave bromide prints all night in water, unwashed, without damage.

I choose week-ends for enlarging. When I have made the last print, the dining-room table is quickly cleared while the prints are in hypo. (Incidentally, I do not move them or use two baths of hypo.) The enlarger stays on its bookcase all night. Dishes go on to the hall floor until morning. The prints are put into water in a dish and covered with another dish, inverted. 1 generally leave them on the kitchen floor until I get up next morning.

Next day the shutters come down and the dish containing prints goes upstairs and lies in the bath till I am ready to deal with it, after breakfast. Later, the enlarger has to be carted upstairs, timers, dark-room lamp, solutions and measures put away, and the print washer fetched from the garage.


I did have trouble with washing prints. I used to put the washer in the kitchen sink when I thought my wife had finished. But she seemed to live at that sink, and sometimes I had to wait all day. We were both patient! Now I use the bath for washing prints. The washer stands in it and I attach a very long piece of rubber tubing to the tap on the hand basin. The bath tap is too large.

Having worked like this for some twenty years, I can assure you that: 1. No harm comes to your prints if they are left in water, unwashed, even for 24 hours. They must be washed eventually, of course. 2. No stop bath or hardener is necessary. 3. You can put three prints into acid hypo on the top of one another. When you add a fourth, put it at the bottom and remove the top one into a dish of plain water. You will only get staining if you accidentally leave part of one of the prints sticking out of the hypo, exposed to the air.


When they are washed, I blot the prints with photographic blotting paper and hang them to dry on strings fixed round the kitchen walls. My wife uses these to dry socks and dusters on. I generally have to clear these away to make room for my photographs, although they were my idea! I use little metal clips to hold them.

Finally, I straighten the prints by pulling them across the edge of the dining-room table, and flatten them in a book with a typewriter standing on it. Dare you really tell me, now, that you can't do your own enlarging because you haven't a darkroom? I shan't believe you, if you do! 

* Better than a society run by radical feminists anyway!

Friday, September 25

A Week With David M. - Part Five

Reader, What Next?

by David M.

My 5x4 De Vere took pride of place but, yet again, I had two enlargers.

In those days, I went to quite a few workshops (not the current crop of sure-fire tripod-hole tours, but inspirational immersion in photography) so I packed the Vivitar in the boot as I set off for Derbyshire. Happily, the designers had made it very easy to dismantle.

Someone at the workshop was starting a photographic centre in Cornwall, and they were happy to take it away. Now I could be alone with The One, my True Love among enlargers. Have we lived happily ever after? Would I be writing this if we had?

Thursday, September 24

A Week With David M. - Part Four

Really Real Photography

by David M.

The f64 group began to interest me; I’d assembled all the 35mm lenses that I needed. I could make 20x16” prints with comparative ease and I had dabbled in colour printing. Where could I go next?

I’d borrowed an MPP from a friend for a day and liked it. Watching the out-of-focus areas on the ground glass was so entrancing that I very nearly didn’t bother to click the shutter. We didn’t know it was called bokeh in those days.

Wednesday, September 23

A Week With David M. - Part Three


by David M.

Today, it’s hard to imagine the exotic lure of colour, when every print is coloured and monochrome is confined to dedicated weirdoes (almost certainly with beards or even sandals) or imitated by enthusiastic owners of EfexPro.

My gigantic, earthquake-proof MPP enlarger was built for black and white. If I wanted colour, it had to be a new enlarger. No kindly donor needing to liberate space in the garage came forward and I had to contemplate the prospect of paying money for it.

Tuesday, September 22

A Week With David M. - Part Two

The Monster

by David M.

We moved to a bigger house with a spare bedroom and at last I could have a stand-up darkroom, next door to the bathroom. My knees were delighted.

Now that I was a member of a Camera Club, I could see other people’s work and try to emulate it. At the time, soot-and-whitewash was very fashionable and grain was particularly esteemed. I began to push Tri-X beyond all reason. It’s what we did.

Monday, September 21

A Week with David M.

David's a popular writer on The Online Darkroom with his contributions on the essentials of photography and large format amongst the most visited posts on the site. I've never met him but I feel I've come to know him a little through something he manages to achieve in his writing - his own voice.

That's a hard thing to pull off but he seems to be able to do it with some ease. You could, for instance, sprinkle excerpts of his posts in amongst those from dozens of other posts and I'd be able to pick them out at once because of his inimitable style.

When we exchanged emails a few months ago, I quickly formed the opinion that he was an advertising copywriter. That was a compliment as they're amongst the sharpest and wittiest writers out there. I got the industry right but it turns out he performed a somewhat different role within it. He did say that he had once been asked if he fancied switching to copywriting, though, so I wasn't far off.

David has now turned his attention to enlargers and the darkroom and sent me some "fillers", as he put it, about his experiences in choosing an enlarger - or several. I thought it would be fun to post one every working day this week. Through them you'll get to learn a little more about him although, in line with his wishes, he'll remain the mysterious David M.

Saturday, September 19

Olympus OM1 v Pentax MX

It's been claimed that Steve McQueen once said he wished he'd been as cool as the MX*.

Reader Michael Stevens asked in a comment to this post how I thought the OM1 stacked up against the Pentax MX, probably it's most directly comparable rival at the time. Rather than leave a short reply and since I'm always looking for something to write about, I thought I'd turn it into a post. Please note, though, that this isn't a review in the normal sense: it's my impressions of one camera versus another. If you want all the details about specification, etc, there's plenty of information out there.

The OM1 and MX were launched onto the photography market in the early to mid-1970s within just two years of each other. Olympus broke the mould of the large and heavy 35mm SLR with their svelte and stylish camera and then Pentax outdid them by producing a camera that was even smaller.

Both were billed as full pro machines boasting an expansive line-up of lenses, accessories and five frames per second motor drives. However, it's OM designer Yoshihisa Maitani who is remembered: he showed how it was possible to trim about a third off the size and weight of the typical SLR of the period. Pentax were quick learners and went on to produce several models all smaller than the OM1 and all down market from the MX.

It's probably wise to quickly compare the two cameras within the context of their systems and the auto-exposure siblings that quickly followed for each marque since many photographers of the day liked to carry two bodies for colour and black and white and one was often an auto.

I don't think there's much doubt that Olympus had the more comprehensive line-up of lenses and accessories, not surprising since it was designed as a complete system right from the outset.

Nothing fancy left of the prism.
The OM2 that was released in 1975 three years after the OM1 was also ground-breaking (not least for its TTL flash metering and two-minute long auto exposure) in a way that the auto-only Pentax ME, launched in 1976 at the same time as the MX, wasn't. So a better system and a better auto camera and full marks to Olympus. But who had the better lenses?