A darkroom update

Last week was the end of my Intro to Darkroom course. It was nominally a ten week course, but I missed four classes due to sickness and other things, and one was outright cancelled. So I went only six times. I had fun and did learn to print my photos. It was indeed a magickal experience when the first print developed.

But I still have a ways to go. I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to printing. And I didn’t feel like I printed my best photos, so my inspiration lacked towards the end. The answer, of course, is to print more. And that’s easier said than done. There’s not a lot of public facilities left in Portland, but thankfully it’s more than a lot of places. I could do another semester at Portland Community College, where I did my initial class. The winter semester is full, so going into Advanced Darkroom will have to wait until spring at the earliest. That’d be another three hundred dollars or so for another ten week course, plus extra studio days. 1 And the competition to get into any of the twenty-four total slots 2 available is fierce–if you don’t register within the first hour it’s open, you are not getting in.

This leaves the Portland Darkroom, the other option that I visited in spring. I couldn’t use them before since I didn’t know my way around a darkroom, but now since I do, they are in the mix. I booked two Open Darkroom nights in January, which set me back $70 total. And the demand there also outstrips supply: I booked those two sessions within the first hour it was offered. I went back to add a February date, and it was already gone. At least they’re now offering two Open Darkrooms a month; it was only one a month when they re-opened public darkroom hours last year. Still, it would be nice if they could go back to their pre-pandemic weekly Open Darkroom offerings.

This lack of darkroom access has me thinking about the possibility of setting up a home darkroom. I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon, since getting an enlarger and other equipment is going to cost a bit, and where exactly would I do this? In the interim, I’ve been thinking about a better scanner. The consumer-grade Kodak Scanza has done an OK job and is easy to use, but I’m running up against its lo-res limitations. A better film scanner is going to cost $300-400 at the minimum. I’m steering towards the Plustek ones, as they have a reputation for quality and are easy to use. But they can only do 35mm, not 120. The cheapest that can handle both 35mm and 120 would be an Epson Perfection V600 flatbed scanner, and I’ve heard that flatbeds for negative scanning are a bit more of a pain to use.

Stay tuned as I hope to do more darkroom stuff and share it here with you folks. And if you have any recommendations for an affordable (let’s say $100-ish or lower) and decent 120 camera, please let me know.

La Conner, Wash. 9 August 2022
Like my stuff? Go to my Ko-fi page to buy me a coffee!

1 I never managed to get in any bonus studio days this semester.

2 For both the beginning class and the two advanced classes.

10 thoughts on “A darkroom update

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  1. On the scanning front, I’ve gone the “shoot the negative with a digital camera” route. And after some missteps, I have a process that works really well. I can “scan” an entire roll in about 3 minutes, which kind of blows my mind. Instead of buying an expensive copy stand (why are they so expensive?) I’m using a gas pipe, flange, a clamp, and a piece of plywood. The light source that Cinestill had begun selling is about $30 and excellent. The rest of the kit I already had, basically a camera with macro capability. If you need one, these days you can get a decent camera for not much. The Fuji X-T1 I splurged on in 2014 is about $300 today and still excellent, just get a Minolta adapter and you’re set. There are some big advantages to this approach.

    1. Hmm, I’m getting deja vu of this talk about scanning with a digital camera, Alex. 😉

      I hear what you’re saying about using a digital camera for scanning, and understand that it can be useful for other things. But, I got into film again because I didn’t want to get another digital camera. If I already had a good one, I can see going that route. But I’d rather spend that $300 on a dedicated scanner.

      (Also, it appears that your blog is down.)

      1. Oof, I’m definitely losing my mind (March feels like a really long time ago). I get what you’re saying. Before you entirely dismiss the thought, I’d like to point out that I’m getting better results than I ever did with a scanner and much more quickly. Scanning used to feel like a dull, endless slog. And, who knows, you may find that a digital camera has more utility than a scanner. We still have one, but I don’t think we’ve needed to use it in ages.

        (The http://alexgalt.com site is loading on my end, I did change the URL—I’m changing focuses over there—maybe it was just a temporary hiccup?)

        1. Alex, once again, I hear what you are saying. And it may just be pure stubbornness on my part, but I don’t want to buy a digital camera right now. I got back into film because I did not want to buy a digital camera. Using a digital camera to scan may be better/easier than a scanner by a factor, and a digital camera may be more utilitarian than a scanner. But I do not want to buy a digital camera, at least not any time soon.

          As for web issues, I clicked on your link from the March post that goes to squarefoot.blog and that doesn’t seem to work. The alexgalt.com is working.

          1. Nah man, you are okay. My position may seem like a weird one. But I’ve thought about it a bit more, and beyond stubbornness, here’s three reasons why I don’t want to go the “scan with a digital camera” route:

            1) I would need to get a digital camera. Sure, there are plenty out there and can be found for not much. But I’d still have to search. I’d have to educate myself with the ins-and-outs of certain digital cameras, then spend time scouring eBay and the like for a “good deal”. I already spend too much time doing that with other stuff. And the “near mint” camera may be a dud, so I have to return it and start the process again. With a new dedicated film scanner, I’m limiting myself to a few options. And if I buy new from a reputable spot, I get a warranty and hopefully tech support.

            2) The whole talk of jury rigging with “a gas pipe, flange, a clamp, and a piece of plywood” makes me anxious. I’ve grown out of futzing around with stuff (I barely do anything to my bikes anymore, and have to muster energy if I want to) and while I appreciate aspects of “DIY”, sometimes I want something to just work out of the box. With a dedicated film scanner, I don’t need to rig a copying stand and find an appropriate light source, it’s all there already.

            3) If I do go the digi-cam route, there are still issues that can happen. And I won’t have tech support if things don’t work right, instead I’d have to throw myself at the mercy of the internet, where I’ll get a dozen different (and conflicting) answers from dudes who live on forums. If I was in the mood to futz with stuff, this might not seem like much of an issue, but see point ones and two.

  2. Darkroom printing is definitely mind blowing!!! When I first started back in the 197os seeing the print “appear” on the paper actually changed the way I draw!!! I was always more liner and did outlines (I wanted to be a comic book artist) … I really started paying more attention to light, especially in my drawings from live models.

    I still have all my darkroom gear, but have embraced the develop analog and scan workflow. I have a Plustek 8100 (no IR cleaning of negs) and also an Epson V800. I use the Epson for all formats other than 35mm. I had an Epson 550 and that was the model before the V600. Flatbed scanning can be a little slow but there are some batch scan modes for the Epson with their supplied software.

    1. The Plustek 8100 and the Epson V600 are the two models I’m looking at, as they are the best of the lowest cost options, and are both around $300. I’m steering towards the Plustek because of ease-of-use and my scant use of other film formats, but I’m not committed yet. A good flatbed comes in handy for art, too.

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