Anyone going back to wet darkroom? : LUSENET : Leica Photography : One Thread

Getting my daughters room ready for her arrival at the end of May, I was admiring a picture of my father in law taken when he was 3 by his mom (who used leica's, but I don't know what model). This print is over 60 years old and looks great. It got me to thinking what are the chances that our inkjet prints with their claimed life spans of 70-200 years (epson pigmented inks, some others) will still be enjoyed by my grandchildren? I have the sick feeling that the longevity claims of the manufactuers are overstated. Are we going to lose our family history by not having these photos around? Don't get me wrong, I love working on the computer instead of the darkroom (were in my brief experience I proved to be a hack) and for most photos, it dosen't really matter. But the family pictures are special and I wonder if they will be around. Should I be shooting some tri-X and having custom prints made at a BW only shop?


-- Mark (, May 07, 2002


You Left? SHAME!!!!

-- Brian E. Harvey (, May 07, 2002.

I never left. Don't plan to leave.

-- Dave Jenkins (, May 07, 2002.

As a photographer who shoots mainly with gallery exhibitions in mind I wouldn't think of leaving the wet darkroom. Yes I do have a computer - pretty state of the art in fact. High end Afga Duoscan, Epson printer, fairly well versed in Photoshop and there is no way I can reproduce digitally what I print out in my darkroom (Tri-X, fibre papers and a V35 enlarger). I find that my main use for the computer is for promotional materials for exhitions - something that has saved me a couple of thousand dollars over the last few years at the printers.

-- Bob Todrick (, May 07, 2002.

Never left. In fact, I'm on the lookout locally for a good used V35 being dumped by someone who needs the cash for This Month's Hot Printer. (Although, if I shot and printed more color than B&W, I'd probably be shopping for printers, too.)

-- Chuck Albertson (, May 07, 2002.

I'm fortunate to have some family portraits of my dad (born in 1917) when he was a couple of months old, along with his older brother who died many years ago. The oval-framed shots of the two brothers hang on either side of a print of my grandmother when she was a baby in the 1890s. I'm also fortunate to have an old family album of her ancestors dating back well into the 1800s. Thus, I'm familiar with your concern.

I suspect you are correct in feeling that manufacturers may be overstating the longevity of digital prints. I'd also guess you are also right about considerable family history being lost because of only being done on digital.

Most people drop their digital images down to a CD on a regular basis. But, the life of a CD is estimated to be about 5-10 years or so. After that, the little blisters start to relax, making the disc unreadable. Folks involved in the IT industry know about transferring data to new media and updating the recording technology, but home users probably don't think about that too much. Even if the CDs are periodically transfered to hard disk and re-burned or transfered to whatever the then-current recording media might be, will there still be software to read today's file formats? I suspect not. JPEGs, TIFFs and PSDs will eventually be replaced with newer file formats in new software products. And, new products generally only read a generation or two backwards.

So, while most archived news and published work may get updated, most home-based imagery probably won't. Meaning, as you suggest, that much family history will be lost to future generations. Alas. Shoot some film of your daughter, along with the digitals. Tri-X may not be the best choice, however. ;-)

-- Ralph Barker (, May 07, 2002.

Hi Mark. My darkroom is currently torn up from being commndeered by my contractor as a store room for construction supplies for my house remodeling. Thankfully, I packed my trusty Durst M601 and my Coolscan IV away before the storm of drywall dust settled on everything. My son has taken a class in B&W wet photography in high school and is eager to get my darkroom put back together. As soon as I can get my contractor to finish, I will rush to get my darkroom together to enjoy time with my son producing great prints. There is nothing better than a well done wet chemistry B&W print. For color though, Photoshop and inkjets rule. Regards, Doug

-- Doug Landrum (, May 07, 2002.

For color though, Photoshop and inkjets rule

At home, anyway. I'm using a local lab's Fuji Frontier for output. Given the control over the image possible with photoshop, thre's no way I'd go back to analog printing in color. The Frontier (or LightJet, Chromira, Noritsu - take your pick) represents the best of both digital and traditional: the control of digital and the stability of traditional photographic materials. The ultimate B&W print IMHO is a well-prepared digital file printed on silver halide paper by a Lightjet.

-- Douglas Herr (, May 07, 2002.

Ok, No argument. Doug Herr rules. He's the pro. And his images show it. I did not find labs in my area - Orange County, CA - that were able to print my digital files WYSIWYG - before I put my Coolscan in moth balls (eight long and painful months ago - contractors took over my house and they are trying now to send me to the funny farm). I have been shut down for about eight months now due to the remodel - ARRRRGH!! - they ripped my darkroom apart and my computer barely functions. (What tile shall we select for the bathroom, dear?). This is my pergatory for assembling a good Leica R and M system. This too will pass. When I awake from this nightmare called remodeling - either I will be revered as an artist - due to the limited supply of film - or there will be no film to use - or I will be able to simply read a Shutterbug in my chair - chair, I have no chair - Shutterbug has no adds? - this is HELL - don't ever agree to remodel.

-- Doug Landrum (, May 07, 2002.

". The ultimate B&W print IMHO is a well-prepared digital file printed on silver halide paper by a Lightjet. "

Is this commonplace now Doug? Do you get to choose the paper? Are there any issues with scanning B&W films? Is the (for e.g.) Tri-X look preserved?

Your remark is intriguing, please elaborate!


-- Mani Sitaraman (, May 07, 2002.

I have a darkroom, and when my wife and I move into another home next month, the first thing I'll do is build another darkroom. The reports of the death of silver are greatly exaggerated.

-- Bob Fleischman (, May 07, 2002.

Just got, via university surplus, a 10x10 Chromega and a 5x7 Chromega E, both in wonderful condition, total for $450. The 10x10 can still be ordered new for about $26,000. These now accompany my trusty 4x5 Chromega D and my Focomat. Enlarger rich, I am afraid. Got to build a BIGGER darkroom, not get rid of the one I have. So in these deals, I am glad the death of silver rumor is out there...

-- Charles (, May 08, 2002.

And, by the way, both came with Schneider lenses--a 250 Componon on the 10x10....Long Live The InkJet!

-- Charles (, May 08, 2002.


I use my filmscanner for preview only. It gives nice pictures when printed on inkjet. Though I'm stunned by the photoshop possibilities and some of the inkjet prints (only in color, B&W is bad) it still does not give the feeling of wet printing. I useally pick a single digital print from a stack of wet prints easy or vice versa. But I have to admit inkjet is good. What I do is first print the pic on inkjet. Then analyze it so see if it was as good as I thought. If so, mark on it what to push/pull etc and bring it to the wetroom. If I think the pic is not exceptionally well, I leave it as it is, printed on inkjet and push/pull in photoshop.

I also have main problems with scanning tmax 3200 with my scanner, the grain of it disturbs the scans. Another reason to stay to wet.


-- ReinierV (, May 08, 2002.

It is 20 years ago I had a B/W darkroom, and I have now decided to establish one again. Not so much because I believe it is superior to digital, but rather because I already spend most of my professional life (and a good part of my private life) in front of computer screens.

During the last month, I have been collecting the nessesary equipment -and I must say that it is amazing how the digital darkroom has affected the market for wet darkroom equipment. So far I have gathered most of the items in near mint condition -Items which only a few years ago would have cost around $3000 from new, and so far I have only spend $150.
The only downside is that handly any Copenhagen shops maintain stock of chemicals and papers anymore, but with the Internet this less of an issue.

-- Niels H. S. Nielsen (, May 08, 2002.

The possibilities of doing color digitally have taken me out of the wet darkroom, but I am not yet ready to surrender completely the possibility of returning. I have dabbled with digital cameras and found them not to my liking. I feel good knowing that there is a piece of film with which I can make a traditional print, if I choose. One thing that I want to try soon for black and white is scanning, adjusting, and printing a large negative for contact printing on silver paper. A wet darkroom without the enlarger, only the trays and a light source. Much of the beauty of black and white comes from fine materials. But for color, I can't imagine going back. I'm just happy to have real film in my files if I change my mind.

-- Masatoshi Yamamoto (, May 08, 2002.

I work in the digital effects business for a living. Digital prints have come a long way, but I have yet to see something that beats a properly printed negative, in the traditional manner. When I started shooting I scanned everything and printed it on various inkjet systems. The results looked ok until I started making real prints in the darkroom.


-- Feli (, May 08, 2002.

I did not find labs in my area - Orange County, CA - that were able to print my digital files WYSIWYG

The keys to accurate color are profiling and color management. The high-end labs with Lightjet printers like Calypso or West Coast Imaging will maintain very high standards but among minilab operators you'll se a lot of variation. You also need ot calibrate your monitor. Fuji Frontiers are not calibrated to the same standard as Lightjets; through trial and error I've developed an adjustment layer that I apply to my images before flattening that adjusts my files to come out right on a Frontier.

-- Douglas Herr (, May 08, 2002.

My feeling is the same as others here. Nothing beats a traditional black and white silver print. Digital can be good and has advantages, but in a comparison I think nothing can touch a good silver print - including piezography, Lyson etc. It is in the comparison that it shows. I would love to get back to a wet darkroom.

-- Robin Smith (, May 08, 2002.

A bit off topic but I would like to relate a recient true experience. As a wedding gift I decided a nice clock would be a good choice. Something that would last a generation or two. I already have the privilege of taking my turn at enjoying one over 200 hundred years old keeping perfect time. With this in mind, searching led to German mechanical wind up models, sporting claims and promises from the sellers that would put a Real Estate salesman to shame.

Feeling some how uneasy, I chose to look at antique clock repair shops. Here the truth hit! I was informed that 10 years was the about the life of theses *masterpieces* before they needed repair. How insulting I thought, to give a present and have the recipient pay about AUD$75 pre annum for the priveledge. Even forgetting to wind it, say 20 years. I was directed to older clocks with the comment that as they had already gone for 100 years there is no reason to assume they wouldn't go for an other.

I felt like I was standing on a volcanic ash covered hill. Was I the only one seemingly with this desire. Reading this thread I see a curious parallel to the photo industry. Profit at all costs! and don't spare the horses. My mind asks me, in years gone by did the manufacturers really not consider the profit? Off course but also with a desire to have their products see the test of time.

Followers of this site will/should get what I'm driving at. Long live the dark room!

-- Greg Pratt (gregpan@ozemail,, May 08, 2002.

Yes Greg, I don't see why so many people buy into todays planned obsolescence so comletely. A couple of years back I treated myself to a Tiffany table clock from the early 1900's that, if I remember to wind it every 8 days, keeps perfect time. It looks a heck of a lot better than any of the platic stuff they put out now and I will quite like hand it down to my kids, along with my Leica's so they can continue using it. Yet I've got a passel of used D1 Nikons that have been traded in after 1-2 years when they were replaced by D1x/h. Call me a luddite, but I just don't get it.

-- Bob Todrick (, May 08, 2002.

I've seen photos by Kurt Wentzel (a National Geographic legend) that he printed out on his Epson/ Photoshop and compared them to both the same (darkroom) B&Ws that he had printed, and the same photos reproduced in a very high quality glossy "coffee table" book. It appeared, to my untrained eye, that the Epson/Photoshop produced images that had a continuous gray scale that surpassed his straight B&W prints. Since I haven't printed in years - - and have never used an ink-jet printer (or Photoshop), I have no technical expertise to compare one against the other. Any comments on the gray scale gradations available in darkroom prints vs. high quality inkjet/Photoshop? I need an education.

-- George C. Berger (, May 08, 2002.

One would need a little more info George. Were the 'wet prints' RC or fibre-base (though I only use RC for contacts, I do admit that my Epson rivals many RC prints I've seen). How much Photoshop was done? Though good fibrebase paper has better tonal scale than inkjet printers, it's very easy to open up the shadows in Photoshop, which is why the best is probably a scanned neg, run through Photoshop and then having a new neg produced. You can get excellent results both ways, but the edge does go to a well exposed neg in fibre paper. But it does all depend on what your used to. I guarantee someone who has spent 20 years in a wet darkroom is going to produce better prints that way then he will after spending a couple months with an inkjet - conversely, someone who works daily doing 'digital' is going to print better than someone with limited wet skills.

-- Bob Todrick (, May 08, 2002.

Thanks for all the keen observations.

I never had a chance to really explore the wet darkroom. I got into photography late, and when the time came for that next step, I've been busy with little ones. And those images I make of them are the ones I now want to last for their kids to see.

Doug, do you know a lab that has profiled the lightjet to print onto fiber based paper? WCI only offers piezo BW.

Charles, were are you shoping? Great Deals!

Greg, what can I say, we've sold are souls to the great mass marketing machine. Who cares if it lasts, we'll only want the next best thing that comes around (when we are told what that is!).

I tend to agree that photoshop gives more control than wet work. I wonder if it isn't time to explore digital negatives made on my inkjet and contact printed to silver paper, or better yet POP or cyanotype. Any one here try this? Burkholder's article in Photo Tech Jan/Feb 2002 was a shamless plug for his book, giving very little real info, kind of unusual for PT. Any good information on the web about this? I'm sure if I pursue this, I'll have to buy his book.

thanks as always,

-- Mark (, May 08, 2002.

I was shooting a music fest in Tulsa last weekend, and met a photographer using two digital cams. He looked at the Leica and Nikons I was using and said wistfully "I really want to get back into darkroom work." My jaw just about dropped open, as I have lately thinking that I need to learn the digital stuff!

-- Douglas Kinnear (, May 08, 2002.

Doug, do you know a lab that has profiled the lightjet to print onto fiber based paper?

Unfortuntely the lab that ran B&W in the lightjet is no more - Palmer's, here in Sacramento. The lab closed when John Palmer got tired of the commute to China to visit his wife. He shut down the business and moved to China.

-- Douglas Herr (, May 08, 2002.

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