Darkroom Products

Darkroom Products

Every photokina it seems that fewer and fewer companies show new darkroom products. Unlike film, where technology is constantly advancing, darkroom technology is more static. The basic design of the photographic enlarger hasn't changed much since the earliest days of photography.

Even so, there were enough new products at photokina to furnish a darkroom. In fact, I found an American product which will become central to my darkroom, at least for a while. It is a plastic cart that was actually designed as a computer workstation, but the top shelf will take my enlarger, the sliding shelf will be used for dry storage, and my Nova tank will sit next to the enlarger, but on a lower level. If you need any kind of high quality workstation--for darkroom, computer or projection, contact Luxor via their web site www.luxorfurn.com.

Very few enlarger companies showed new products and I heard that a couple of long-established European manufacturers were no longer producing new enlargers. I did, however, discover a small Indian manufacturer called KB who were looking for distribution.

Kienzle has expanded their line of basic enlargers, starting with one chassis design which will take a number of different light sources. They also have a Split VC which incorporates the Heiland Split Grade printer described later. Kienzle deals directly with the customer and will ship anywhere in the world. Contact them through the web.

Digital To Silver
For professional labs, the De Vere digital enlarger allows you to make high quality silver halide enlargements (up to 20x24") from digital files. The body of the enlarger is a De Vere 504. The computer interface slots into the negative stage. All of the composition, focus, and color balancing is done through the software. Then you simply press the button and you can make the print on conventional paper. Obviously this is rather outside the budget of the hobbyist, but technology has a way of trickling down from high-level professional applications, so it is well worth reporting. For details contact www.odyssey-sales.com.

Split-Contrast System
Split-grade printing has many devotees and you can do it with a simple conventional timer and a lot of trial and error. Or you can buy a Splitgrade Management System from Heiland. This clever machine is an analyzer, timer, and variable contrast light source. It has actually been around for a while, but Herr Heiland keeps updating and improving it. It is programmed for a multitude of papers and it can be fitted on a number of brands of enlarger. You choose the paper by pressing a button. With a probe you measure the lightest and darkest areas in which you want tone. When you are ready to make the exposure, you press a button. The shutter on the light source opens and makes the exposure with the yellow filter, then it closes and re-opens to make the exposure with the magenta light. You can also time test strips and burn-in. For a more complete description contact Heiland at www.heilandelectronic.de.

Wash & Dry
Other hardware for the darkroom included a new Eco-washer from Nova which, as the name implies, cuts down on the amount of water you need to use to get archivally permanent prints. Details are available from Jobo, Nova's American distributor.
Deville, a French manufacturer of darkroom equipment, had a drying rack for fiber base. The fiber glass screens can be stacked, but the clever part is a wall-mounted rack on which up to 10 screens can lie flat for drying, but are folded out of the way when not in use. Deville has no American distributor, but sells directly via their web site, www.argentik.com.

Keep It Clean
Kinetronics came up with several new cleaning products which are extremely useful in the darkroom. Most important of all is the spray gun which attaches to the top of "canned air." With a combination of basic physics and clever engineering, this new gun gets rid of the disadvantages of using canned air (tinned wind) by removing any static charge. Also new was the SpeckGRABBER (see Roger Hicks' coverage) and the Optical First Aid Kit. I suggested that they package a special darkroom kit with a glow-in-the-dark cross, because the small StaticWisk, Tiger Cloth, Precision Cleaning Solution, and SpeckGRABBER are just as important to the printer in his/her darkroom, as to the photographer in the field.

Other Darkroom Gear
Herma had a new glue dispenser. It is the same basic design as the existing one, but the glue strip is permanent rather than peel off. Herma products are distributed in the US by J-V Enterprises in Utah. Contact them via e-mail at jvent@quantium.net.

Keencut had a new Ad-vanced Rotary cutter which has two clamp rollers. These keep whatever you are cutting in place. With a five-year warranty and the promise of cutting anything from tissue to non-ferrous metals, this is a cutter worth looking at.

Loupes and magnifiers included two new professional units from Peak, one inspection loupe and one microscope and a "spy-glass" style magnifier with LED lights around the rim, from Heiland.

Paterson have revived their single format easel and their black plastic "five finger" test strip maker. These had been dropped from their line-up, but customer demand has made them bring them back.

Papers And Chemistry
There was the promise of four new black and white papers. Two are fiber-base warmtone papers, one from Oriental, the other from Bergger. Then in prototype form there was a new woven polyester VC linen from Maco and a new silver paper from Kentmere. The warmtone papers are both available now, while the linen and the silver are both (pardon the pun) in development. For more information contact the distributors. Maco (via their web site) for Oriental; Cachet or Maco for Maco papers; John Horowy for Bergger; and Luminos for Kentmere.

Kodak announced Endura (pro) and Duralife (consumer) families of color papers which have much longer life. Endura is expected to last 100 years in normal conditions, 200 when dark-stored. Although the bulk of Kodak papers are produced for labs, you can still buy cut sheets for home use.

There was not much new in chemistry. Tetenal had an updated Super-Fix and lots of advances in simplifying lab chemistry. Champion, too, has simplified lab chemistry. If you have a minilab these two companies are worth checking out.

The most encouraging thing for me was that the darkroom is still alive and kicking. I ran into Freestyle (the L.A. sales company) at the show. They told me that they are promoting the sales of traditional darkroom equipment, and sales are strong! They are putting helpful hints into their catalogs, sponsoring workshops, and producing a newsletter with "how-to" articles. So if you are a darkroom aficionado, contact them via their web site.