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Thursday, October 22

Darkroom Ponderings

I've been messing about with an iPhone app that makes it easy to plan room layouts. The house it looks like we'll be moving to has a tightish double garage that I'll have to convert into a darkroom. One half will house the Saab and I'll have a space about 9ftx7ft for a darkroom adjacent to it.

It involves building a couple of walls, hanging a door and fitting the worktops and cupboards for storing all those darkroomy bits and pieces. At the moment, I have four enlargers - the Leitz 1C and V35, a Durst L1200 and a Paterson PCS150 - and I don't think I can justify taking them all with me even though it looks as if I might be able to make them fit with a little room to spare.

So, after a bit of faffing around, here's what I've come up with (see above). It's by no means cast in stone and I've already noticed one flaw - there's no space between the enlargers for timers, transformers, etc. Forgot about that! It could easily be cured by removing the 10x8 trays from the bench and putting the 1C there. It's quite a compact enlarger with a small footprint.

Although I've named the enlargers in the graphic above I've yet to decide which ones to keep and which to sell on. I've written about the dilemma here. One thing that is becoming increasingly clear, though, is that I don't think I'm going to make a large format photographer so the Durst could be on borrowed time. LF is just not clicking. There seems something virtuous in using 5x4 or larger - in some respects, it's "real" photography in a way 35mm isn't - but I'm not taking to it too well.

It's not the process of using a large format camera, although it takes a little getting used to, nor the issue of composing upside down under a dark cloth. I haven't found either to be much of an impediment to be honest. Finding the love for the whole big neg thing is what's missing.

I haven't really warmed to the idea of setting up and taking down the camera without exposing any film just because the scene didn't look the way I imagined it might on the ground glass. This happens not infrequently and uses up a lot of time. Some days I'll see the best shot quite quickly in which case large format is fine. But on others it might take me a few frames to work out the most pleasing composition or viewpoint - not a problem with 35mm or 6x6 but a bit expensive and time-consuming with sheet film.

It happens too often that I'll be passing a scene and wonder if there might be a photograph there only to keep moving because the thought of stopping, setting up the camera, etc and then realising there isn't puts me off.

The weight is an issue as well. I gave up using the old Mamiya Press outfit I had because I got fed up lugging it around and the Speed Graphic or Kodak Specialist II is the same thing but on steroids. I appreciate that if you want a big neg then it comes with the territory but that doesn't make it any less of a burden.

Then there's developing a single sheet - or maybe a few - at a time. The Mod 54 gadget for using with Paterson developing tanks can enable the photographer to develop six sheets in one go but, failing that, you're really back to tray developing - and what a pain that is! I've got a few sheets of 5x4 that have been sitting in their dark slides for several months awaiting development. I just can't be bothered! (note to self: get the bloody finger out!)

All these complaints are familiar territory for me. I've been here before on a few occasions which is why I've bought, then sold, then bought, sold and bought again the same or similar large format cameras. When I don't have one I think how nice it would be producing big negatives and making technically lovely prints. When I buy one I can never seem to fire up the necessary enthusiasm for some extended use. I normal shoot a few sheets then sort of fall away from it.

I'm tempted to off-load the Speed Graphic and Kodak Specialist, especially with the house move just over five weeks away, but I'm concerned that I'll miss them again and then the search will start to find a replacement.

I've reached a bit of a compromise with myself: I'm going to shoot some 5x7 negatives in the big Kodak and contact print them. If they don't blow my socks off in some way then that'll be it. Sadly, that would mean off-loading the big Durst. Since it's not something that's easy to wrap up and post, I'd probably find it easier to strip it of everything marketable and then ditch the chassis. What a waste - but what's the alternative? If I broke it up it would also fetch around twice what I'd be likely to get if I managed to find a local buyer for it.

There is an answer to all of this and it comes in the shape of the 35mm to 6x9 Leitz IIC. That would comfortably handle both my 35mm and 6x6 negs. I keep searching locally but to no avail so far. What are the chances?


Mary Willette said...

Did you leave room for a darkroom sink? That's been one of my biggest problems trying to setup a darkroom in my apartment. Not a big enough bathroom to do anything in.
I just bought a house and am currently planning out a corner of the basement for my darkroom. Probably the easiest place to light proof.

DougH said...

Next year I may be right-sizing similar to your current situation. Its an opportunity to decide on what format(s) to continue with. I may settle on MF and 5X7 with the latter only for pt/pd contact prints. I've been keeping the 4X5 Shen Hao ( and 2 Durst enlargers) for architectural photos; but find the MF is good enough for most of what I do. The other formats are just collecting dust.

DcAnalogue said...

No space for a sink.....? ;-)

tjen dezutter said...

Wawww this seems for me to be very small to put 3 enlargers in . I've made some photographs of my space which is for me too small .But I see there is no way to post this photo's here .In my room I don't have space to set up the Krokus 66 SL .Only the durst is there in stand by It's been a year that I moved from the old house where the darkroom was set up in very "luxury " conditions to my own house where I miss the place that I 've got before . Of course it seems you have more head space ... What I mean is the roof of our house make it just possible to stand in the middle of the darkroom .The outside walls are due to the roofconstruction not straight so I'm losing this surrounding space .I have to take in another room and reorganise my stuff . I have other place but the dillemma for me was that's visitors sleeping room (my children) but with the carreer of my daughter , the times that they come and stay to sleep are very limited .So I have to think about it .And for the moment I will go on with developing even when the Epson scan stands besides me ....GREETINGS!!!!

Bruce Robbins said...

I've had four dark rooms so far but only one with a sink. I'd prefer a sink but it can become very expensive installing the water and waste pipes if there's nothing already in place so my fifth darkroom will be "dry". I'll just use a holding tray and wash the prints in the bath as usual.

Kenny Wood said...

Could you not advertise the Durst on eBay as collect only? If it becomes absolutely necessary to sell it.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Sinks are a luxury but not a necessity - as you'll know Bruce I've never had one . . and as for size of room, yours sounds luxurious after my cupboard!
The Durst - hmm . . a problem and yes, better stripped and disassembled - sad isn't it.

With regard to giving up LF - only you can say, but you can always borrow my Sinar should that itch need scratching again. I am in the same dilemma myself - it is the sheer time involved, albeit worthwhile in the end, that gets you. I made a small viewing frame from an ice-cream tub which sort of worked for judging composition, but I have to say 5x4 is the hardest of all to compose for.

As for your Leitz dream - why not a Magnifax? - very fine and precise and well made - 35mm - 6x9cm. Also considerably less eye-watering in price.

Frank said...

My suggestion is:
-Get rid of all those trays and find a used (or new) Nova print processor. I found a 12x16 for about £150 on ebay.
-Have the Durst converted to a Heiland split grade system. Could save material and most of all a lot of time. You can finance at least part of it by selling the 2 Leitz enlargers and maybe some other stuff.
When I started to think about a darkroom again (must be number 7 or 8 after moving house quite a lot) after 15 years of scanning, I did some research on the internet to find out what happened in all those years and found only very positive user expiriences about the Heiland system. Especially what Erwin Puts wrote about it in his blog helped me decide.

Nick Davis said...

I wouldn't feel guilty about dropping 5 x 4 Bruce, if it is not working for you. I struggled for years with large format to produce really nice pictures and failed to do so. Very often I found that by the time I had set up the camera, the impulse to make a picture had gone or the light had changed. All my keepers are on 35mm or medium format. Other people's experience may differ. The onset of arthritis made up my mind for me. There are really two traditions in film photography: the American school of large format photography and the European style of using small format cameras such as the Leica. I think you clearly belong to the latter, so don't feel bad about it.

However I would consider keeping the Durst L1200 which makes printing medium format negatives including 6 x 9 very easy. I still miss mine. Please don't break it up for parts on Ebay. This seems to be a trend at present as "buyer collect" things are harder to sell. Soon there will be nothing left but a few parts that nobody wants, all at ridiculous prices, which be bad news for those wanting to try wet printing from scratch.

Nick Berger said...

Hi Bruce,
maybe I'm totally wrong but my conclusion would be a Focomat IIa Color for you.
Do you really work with tilt? As far as I can see that is about the only phototechnical difference between IIa and IIc. You might give it a thought and find a nice machine, currently selling between 20-50€.

It's even got both lenses! No filmstages, and red filter missing.

Hope you find some really nice solution.

Bruce Robbins said...

Nick Davis,
Splitting stuff up goes against the grain with me, too, but it depends on how you look at it. If I sold the Durst complete then I might help one person do some printing. However, if I sell it in bits then there might be five or six people with currently non-functioning machines who might be able to start printing again. I think you're right about my leaning towards small and medium format. I just don't take or want to take the kind of photographs that LF excels at.

Nick Berger,
A Focomat IIA would be nice, too. I'll keep looking. :)

Anti electrons said...

I managed to pick up a near mint Leitz IIC in the end.... well worth it. I say get one of them and be done.

Anti electrons said...

I managed to pick up a near mint Leitz IIC in the end.... well worth it. I say get one of them and be done.

Tom Banks said...

I'd second the comment from Keith. In my small darkroom I have a 20x16 Nova tank mounted in a cupboard so that the top of the tank is at normal working height. I have a removable worktop which covers the tank when not being used and frees the work surface for other jobs such as a tray for toning or film developing. The Nova tanks save an incredible amount of space and keep the chemistry at temperature.

With regard to enlarger timers I have my stop clock pro mounted on the wall behind the enlarger and use the foot switch. This way it doesn't take up any bench space.

morris1800 said...

Lot of tray space in there Bruce.My rarely used 16 x12 trays are stacked and stored away . Only to be removed to support a potential multi sized print session up to 16 x12 . Freeing up that space leaves room for an enlarger where the 10x8 trays are. Have you factored in a secure space for chemicals. Something essential for myself with seven inquisitive grandchildren visiting . Especially this time of year where they instinctively know that Christmas presents are usually hidden in Pop's darkroom.....

Bruce Robbins said...

Hi Andy,
I'll be storing my trays on shelves under the work top as well. The drawing above is to scale and it was an exercise to see if there was room for everything and how much space there would be around the trays and enlargers. I'm going with just two enlargers - the 1C and the Philips/Paterson PCS150 - so there should be enough room for everything.

eric de montigny said...

Well bruce to solve the same problem i now shoot one camera one lens and print with only one enlarger...
ok everything leitz (m4-p cron 35 and v35). The main problem is moving the HEAVY V35 from the bedroom to the bathroom every time i feel like printing. Then develop the black and white paper in a tube just like cibachrome so many years ago. oh and roll it on the kitchen countertop, dont have a motor base (the bathroom too tiny lol). wash in the kitchen sink and let em to dry on the dining room table. Finally hang em on the living room walls. think i put the whole house to good use.

Arthur Plumpton said...

I only recently saw your blog on this subject, via a link on Photo.Net to the article on split grade printing.

I have three enlargers, the PCS150/1130 with 35 and 6x7 condensers, the 1-C (bought inexpensively and brought back to life with a bellows replacement (last one they had and reasonably priced) at Kindermann in Markham (Canada), and a II-c in very good used condition. If I were printing only 35mm the 1-c would probably be my choice, although I love the three light positive colour system and electronic unit of the PCS150 and the Schneider optics.

However, I use the II-c most of the time as it is equipped with Dunco light source and Heiland controller (At this time of more expensive paper it saves me test strips until the final stage where dodging and burning are applied). The down side to the otherwise solid and precise Leitz II-c is the ordinary normal 60mm Leitz lens for 35mm negs. Beyond 8x10 printing I see too much resolution weakness towards the edges. That is one thing to beware of if considering the II-c. For 120 films, the 100mm Focotar-II (built be Schneider) if so equipped is fine. Changing the 60mm lens mount to accept a modification for other 50 mm optics is expensive. Kienzle, who make a modern enlarger like the II-c (I suspect they built the Focomat II-c in the first place) do that conversion, but it is beyond my present budget. Still, something to think about if you go the II-c route.

The Philips/Paterson is very very good and I detect no vibration when using it. The negative carrier works well in blocking spurious light spill and if you have the fine focus knob that makes that operation quite sure.

Good luck with your new darkroom, which I imagine is now completed or nearly so.

Bruce Robbins said...

Hi Arthur,

I can tell from your last sentence that you're a new reader - I haven't even started my darkroom yet! I suspect regular readers probably have a more accurate picture of the inertia that plagues me from time to time and stops me getting things done. :)

Thanks for the info about the IIc. It's a shame that the 60mm isn't up to scratch. Realistically, though, I don't see a IIc in my future. I'd have to find one locally and I think that's unlikely. Plus, it looks like I might be building a smaller darkroom indoors rather than in the garage and I doubt there would be enough room for "the beast". Still, the Philips/Paterson gets the job done in a very efficient way so, like you, I'm happy with it.