There's a lot of hocus-pocus about setting up a darkroom -- much of it just plain nonsense or an attempt to sell equipment. I set up a minimum darkroom in which I have turned out professional results by a simple conversion of my bathroom. When I want to make prints I can convert from light room to darkroom in about 15 minutes and be ready to make either black and white or color prints. And, even better, I can just as quickly reconvert and leave the bathroom clean and ready for normal use -- and that includes company dropping in.
The procedure is simple. First I place a counter over the edge of the sink and the top of the water closet tank (a box of Kleenex is just the right adjustment-height between the two). I then set my trays out and pour in the developer, short stop and fixer solutions. (To wash the prints I place another tray atop a plastic bucket in the bathtub and just let the water run -- in and out -- no big deal.)
To block the window light I fit a precut piece of cardboard into the window frame and then cover the inside with a piece of black focusing cloth. I have an advantage because the window also has a louvered shutter to help seal off the light. This arrangement enables me to have a dark enough darkroom to develop both films and paper when sun is not shining directly into the window. Of course, at night, I have no light problems at all -- with this setup it's all a nice even black inside.
A thin strip of wood tacked against the door edge makes a light-tight seal against the doorjamb. And to seal the bottom, I simply kick a floor rug up against it to block the light.
My "drying cabinet" consists of a wire stretched from the shower head to a nail in the opposite wall above the bathtub, and I use common wooden clothespins to hang both negatives and prints (the plastic ones get slimy and the prints and negatives slip off). The clothespins hold the prints by the corners for drying -- I use resin coated paper R.C. which dries to a nice high gloss -- just hanging there.
Here is a list of minimum darkroom equipment that you would need it you want to do the same -- unfortunately prices keep going up, but you can still stay within the $200 ballpark figure with some astute shopping.
A 35mm enlarger with a 50mm lens: $90.
Enlarging easel: $10. (You don't even need this because you can make borderless prints with a piece of cardboard and sticky tape.)
Timer for the enlarger: $15 (60-second duration in 1-second intervals).
Plastic trays, four 11" x 14": $16 (better than 8" x 10" as they allow more solution movement -- and you may want an 11" x 14" print).
Dial thermometer: $8 (easier to read and more sensitive than glass).
Two print-handling tongs: $1.50 (one for the developer, the other for the short stop and fix).
Film-developing tank and reel: $20. (I prefer stainless steel because it's easier to clean.)
Safelight: $8 (The simplest will do, but be sure to keep the recommended distance from the enlarging and developing area.)
Chemicals for film, paper and fixer: $3.50 (quart size -- this way they will always be fresh with intermittent use).
Three plastic jugs to store mixed solutions: $5.50. (These are optional but convenient.)
Resin-coated paper (RC), 25 8" x 10" sheets, $13.60. The price on this keeps changing. Even though this paper is more expensive, it's worth it because of its short fixing time, 2 minutes, and wash, 4 minutes, and besides you won't need drying equipment. To dry it simply clip it with a clothespin on a line to drain.
Approximate total cost -- $191.10.
By shopping around you can better these prices but you may also pick up other items which will add to the cost. However, I think you can stay within the budget of $200. I would not recommend that beginners start out with more expensive equipment until they're sure they really want to do darkroom work. Q: Looking through the viewfinder of my brand-new 35mm SLR camera, I see dark spots. I've tried canned air, camel's hair brushes and other ways to clean off these spots, but nothing works. Will these spots harm the picture quality? A: The dark spots you see through your single lens reflex camera have to be specks on the focusing ground-glass. Since this is not between the lens and the film, the spots won't be on your negative. If the spots bother you (and they'd drive me crazy), the remedy is to take off the housing and clean the surface of the focusing screen. This cleaning is quite simple on the models where the reflex housing is removable. However, if the housing is enclosed, you'll need a repair person. Since the camera is nearly new, an adjustment such as this should fall within the warranty. Find out who the local authorized agent is and send the camera in. Q: Can you tell me what the rules and regulations are about photography in places like Carnegie Hall? Is the use of flash permitted? How about tripods? A: It's really impossible to give general rules on permissions for picture-taking in museums, theaters and concert halls. Each place has its own rules and sometimes they differ from event to event.
For example, I've found it possible to shoot almost anything in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but nothing in the Guggenheim Museum just up Fifth Avenue.
The same holds true in foreign countries. In the Louvre in Paris, you can snap about anything with a hand-held camera, but you need special permission for a tripod -- and flash is forbidden.
A good policy for you is to speak softly and not carry a big stick of a tripod around to attract attention. Never, never light up the area with a flash. If rules are posted saying no photography permitted, abide by the restriction. But sometimes exceptions can be made -- if you have an assignment or a special purpose in mind.
Of course with today's fast lenses and high-speed films, there's no more reason to make a fuss about taking pictures than a writer makes about taking notes. And if the scene is really on the dim side, brace the camera against a doorway or support it on top of a bench, table or chair. Q: What camera do you recommend to produce a 2 1/4" x 2 1/2" transparency or a 4" x 5" size? An amateur should be able to use it. A: I have a couple of favorites that would do the job. For the 2 1/4", go for the Rolleiflex or its cheaper brother, the Rolleicord. These are still available used -- they were impossible to wear out -- in camera stores. An alternative in the same format is the Mimiyaflex, which has the added feature of interchangeabl lenses.
For the 4" x 5" size, try a Speed Graphic or its poorer cousin the Crown Graphic.
As for lenses, the Rollies come with their own, and the sharp one to look for on the Graphic is the 127mm Ektar.