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Are darkrooms cost effective?

AlexandraSD 6 759 United Kingdom
22 Feb 2013 3:34PM
Good afternoons to you all.

In teh past few months i have shot lots of 35mm colour negative film, also some mono, on various vintage camera's, but i have not got round to develloping them yet, which i have been meaning to do but never got the chance (means travelling 12 miles to get them done).

Developing labs are quite expensive now, good ones anyway.

I have not developed my own film or exposed paper in a darkroom since i was 19, so i am a little rusty, but thats not important, what i want to know is, is a darkroom a cheaper alternative to high street labs? Never having my own darkroom, i have no idea how often the solutions need to be discarded and replaced, or how much.

A complate darkroom kit with enlarger can be bought for mere peanuts now, and you'll get change, but do running costs outweigh the expense of high street developing labs?

Thank you Smile

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All i can tell you from what my lecture has said (im a alevel student) is that printing wise it is more cost effective to print film photographs than digital. And think about it this way if you do get your own dark room the chemicals tend to last a while as one solution can last for a week without being changed, and most things are made with part water anyways.
AlexandraSD 6 759 United Kingdom
22 Feb 2013 3:55PM
Oh i can quite believe that, which is why i don't own a digital printer of any kind.

The darkroom was a fleeting thought but one i ran with, and there are worse things to be doing with one's time i guess. I sense its now a dying art which is reason enough to take it up again.
Sooty_1 7 1.5k 221 United Kingdom
22 Feb 2013 4:24PM
It's easy enough to develop film and print a contact sheet with little equipment at home, then scan the better ones for printing if you don't have the facility to print photographs chemically rather than digitally.
By doing a contact sheet, you don't have to scan every image, which becomes time consuming.

Cost wise, it all depends on how much you do. Generally, if you do it yourself its cheaper and you get to process when you want to but if you have different films to do you might need different chemicals. It's easier to stick to one film/process type for best results. Colour is much more exacting for dev and print, black and white less so. Both can be done at home, but printing is more difficult than just developing.

Personally, I'd say go for it, its not too expensive to start. It can be frustrating but also very rewarding and it gives you a lot of control, plus you learn how a film/chemical combination works and can be tweaked for best results.

If you intend to continue, it would be cheaper to get film in bulk too.

AlexandraSD 6 759 United Kingdom
22 Feb 2013 5:12PM
Hi Nick,

We used to load film into the magazines ourselves many years ago, cant remember how many exposures they would take but it was far more than 36. That was when i used the schools darkroom (our headteacher was into photography Smile) and i was able to use it even when i left school.

Have seen a fair few camera's on ebay recently with bulk film backs, expensive but very tasty.

Oddly enough, i still remember how to do the basic mono process despite being years since i did it, but am i right in thinking you can process colour negatives in the same chemicals as mono, if wanting to print in mono anyway? I only ask because im pretty sure myself and another photographer used to use colour film but develope and process it using the mono method, or is my mindplaying tricks on me and it was mono film all along?
Dave_Canon 11 1.4k United Kingdom
22 Feb 2013 7:31PM
My darkroom experience ended 8-9 years ago so the costs have probably increased somewhat now.

As I recall, the equipment can be expensive but so is a computer and you would certainly have to update a computer more frequently. Many of the chemicals did not last long just days once opened (Colour chemicals as I mainly processed colour). If you have a spare room and can dedicate it to a darkroom then that is fine; there was a time I was able to do that. However, with a growing familiy this became impossible and temporarily setting up a darkroom was a real pain. You cannot break of in the middle of processing a film or print in a darkroom whereas you can for digital which is a huge convenience. However, if you are thinking of processing colour and B&W films, some B&W films (chromogenic e.g. XP2) require the same process as colour negatives which can be convenient. However, I found that, it became pointless processing films myself (as they were all C41 process) and had them processed by a local lab (probably difficult now). However it is printing in a darkroom colour or B&W which seemed to intrigie many photographers. I can understand that those who did not live through the darkroom era may wish to give it a try but I would never wish to go back to film or darkroom again.

losbarbados 8 236 United Kingdom
22 Feb 2013 8:38PM
Darkrooms can be fun. I've given mine up now - after around year of none use, but it was an important part of my photographic development,
If you have the space and the time it can be very rewarding, however it can take over things. Had you posted this question say 6 weeks ago you could have had all of my kit for the price of delivery I would have chucked n the lot - film, chemicals, fridge, enlarger, paper the lot.

The most I took from it was the importance of depth in the image, but I also learnt that by experimenting you can get some very good results.

Do it, don't spend much, and enjoy it
thewilliam 9 6.1k
22 Feb 2013 9:15PM
It's worth having a darkroom if you're doing something that's individual and special and you wouldn't want to entrust it to other people.

We shut our wet lab just over 7 years ago when we moved. During its last 2 or 3 years, most of our photography was digital and we didn't have a digital enlarger so printing from digital files had to be outsourced. Now we have a wide-format, digital printing is back in-house and the quality is every bit as good as any wet-process prints that I ever made and I printed my own FRPS submission.

Film cameras are now seriously cheap. A mint Nikon F100 can be yours for 100 and V series Hasselblad kit is about 20% of what you'd have paid a decade ago. We struggled to sell our de Vere 504 enlargers and they fetched silly money. The best enlarger lenses like our old Apo Rodagons are almost given away. If you have the space, kitting up won't cost much.

Mono chemicals are quite tolerant of intermittent use so you shouldn't waste much. Rodinal has a shelf life of decades. Dektol concentrate last for years or you could make up your own from raw chemicals.

Colour chemistry needs constant use. Print processing with our Kreonite roller processor was a nightmare when it was only used once every couple of weeks because colour balance kept shifting. For best results, you need to use it on most days. We skipped both of our print processors because we couldn't give them away, let alone sell them. It was sad to scrap a machine that had been worth thousands just a couple of years previously.

It all comes down to whether you want complete control. Provided that you're as competent as the staff in the average lab, you'll get superb results.

If you're professional, forget it and use digital.
Sooty_1 7 1.5k 221 United Kingdom
22 Feb 2013 10:28PM
Google 'caffeinol' developer if you fancy an experiment. It's excellent, relatively easy and cheap for small quantities and you can make different formulae for different applications. Get some fix (I use Ilford Hypam, but there's plenty of choice) and a dev tank and you're away. Have a look at this link to this guy's blog:

I wouldn't worry about bulk backs, 250 frames is a lot to deal with at any one time and its hard to get even development with that much film. Better to stick to ordinary lengths. If you roll your own, you need to add a couple of frames at each end, so for a 36 exposure, you'd roll 40 onto the spool. Much more and you'll have a lot of film to get onto the reel for developing.

Colour dev is very temperature dependent. Fine if you have a thermostatically controlled water bath, but hard without, and temp and time are interdependent for correct development. Black and white is far more forgiving. And yes, you can use black and white chemistry to dev colour neg film (you can get surprisingly good results). I'd stick to black and white (non-chromogenic) neg film to start with.
DerekL 13 191 24 England
23 Feb 2013 12:27AM
I have all the equipment you need to develop and print colour C41 or E6 or black and white. Durst C30 enlarger+ Minolta lens, with colour analyser, film tanks, changing bag, printing frames etc. If your interested give me a ring. tel: 01922 410627
jembo 14 138 United Kingdom
23 Feb 2013 10:29AM
To make developing your own films/printing on paper cost effective, means managing your supply and waste. Whether to do one-shot processing or reintroduce to the supply and adjust times as necessary blah blah blah. Too much of a hassle as far as I was concerned and took the enjoyment out of it. I always did one-shot processing and to hell with the cost - photography is supposed to be enjoyable.
Sooty_1 7 1.5k 221 United Kingdom
23 Feb 2013 11:15AM
For black and white, if you roll your own film and develop yourself, it's possible to at least halve the commercial costs (if you're careful with sourcing materials). That is leaving out the cost of setting up, which if you can source the dev tank, enlarger, trays and all the other stuff for free, will be minimal.
Eg, for film, a quick guesstimate:

5L of ID11 dev at 1:1 will be good for ~30 films, diluted to 3:1 gives you 3x that...10
1L Hypam fixer, at 4:1 for film, ~15 films, but you can reuse a couple of times......10
500ml Ilfostop at 1:19, keep reusing until it changes colour, lasts ages...............5

That works out at around 25 for 30-odd films.

30m bulk film (HP5, FP4, TMAX 100, 400, or similar), gives ~20x36 exp........60

So even using just Ilford stock (which isn't the cheapest, but is good and usually readily available), it makes each film cost around 3, and less than 1 to develop. Even using cheap chromogenic film and getting it devved cheaply will cost 2-3x that. You can also use universal dev for both film and paper so you only need one type for both processing and printing. Reusable cassettes are pennies and are a one-off purchase.
Personally, I don't think cost is that much of an issue....systematic working and repeatability is most important so you don't ruin films.

AlexandraSD 6 759 United Kingdom
23 Feb 2013 2:25PM
Excellent feedback guys, thank you!

So it is completely do'able with little expense, just what i thought, brilliant! The coalshed can be converted easily, though it needs sealing from light and a very good clean up/lick of paint, and ventilation but aside from that, im good to go almost.

I knew i was right about processing colour neg in B&W process, my father (as per) disagreed with me, though to be honest, photography and my dad dont mix very well and as far as iknow he has never been in a darkroom, but he is a knowitall! So he thinks Wink

DerekL, pm on the way, thank you.

Again, thanks for the information, most enlightening Smile
pablophotographer 6 932 334
25 Feb 2013 1:10AM
Thanks Sooty, really good advice there

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