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The Brilliant Darkroom

The back to school darkroom stimulus package

By Keith Johnson

The darkroom - where silver halide rules and pixels run scared where the decisive moment is committed to eternal preservation and the inkjet pales in comparison.

The Beseler Cadet II Enlarger with Lens & Printmaker Darkroom Kit brings value and prudence to the table. It opens the darkroom door with authority while keeping peace with the budget. Whether you're starting your first darkroom or enhancing your existing set-up, in terms of value, performance, and price this package is hard to beat. The whole kit-and-kaboodle is right here; all you'll need to add is film, paper, and chemicals.

First we have an excellent enlarger, the venerable Beseler Cadet II it's a joy to use, and with care it'll be a friend for life. The Cadet II is ready for action right out of the box all of the necessary parts are present. Two negative carriers are included; one for 35mm negatives and the other accepts mounted slides. Yep the bulb is in the box too.

To kick-start the printing process we have a 50mm Beseler enlarging lens. The lens board is integral to the enlarging head; all you have to do is thread it into place, turn on the light, focus, stop it down, and get some paper on that easel!

The Cadet II features a counter-balanced elevation system and a traditional 2.25" optical glass condenser. What this means is actually quite simple - condenser lenses focus the light from the bulb. They're favored for their ability to deliver excellent and consistent print contrast. Because the head can be raised and lowered smoothly on the column, changing print sizes with the counter-balanced elevation system is a breeze. The Cadet's head is fitted with a convenient filter drawer that accepts 3 x 3" variable contrast or color printing filters. The whole setup mounts to a 14.25 x 11.75" white laminated baseboard (included) that handles enlargements up to 8 x 10. For those who want to go big - the column can be reversed and the Cadet II can then be repositioned so you can print on the floor.

What's nice about this package is that once you pick up some chemicals, enlarging paper, and film you're ready to make your first print. All the parts, pieces, and widgets needed to start printing are all right here in the 20 piece Beseler Printmaker Darkroom Kit.

Let's take a look at the developing tank this is a daylight type tank, but you still have to load it in the dark - go figure, right? Well the nice thing here is that the developing reel is the plastic easy-load type. Even with the lights off the film slips easily into the reel's grooves and then you can just twist each side of the reel until the film is completely loaded no worrying about kinks or jams here. Once the tank is loaded and the lid is on then the lights can come back on and the developing process can begin. Got Xtol?

The rest of the kit is comprised of the following items: the instruction book, film clips, a red safelight, a thermometer, 3 8x10 print trays, one 16 oz mixing graduate and a stirrer, three 32 oz chemical bottles, a quartz digital timer, an 8" print squeegee, a filter funnel, an 8x10 printing easel, and three printing tongs.

At this juncture we could use up a lot of space and time by prattling on endlessly and shamelessly about the virtues of the lovely squeegee, the safelight's subtle refinements, or the svelte profile of the easel. But we won't. Instead we'll just assume that you'd rather put that time and energy into getting your darkroom set up. In any case, while these critical yet seemingly mundane darkroom accessories are easy to take for granted just try mixing Dektol without a proper measuring cup and you'll find out how much you love that little plastic tumbler with its clear and distinct graduated markings. A better example might be trying to make a useable batch of D76 without a thermometer. You might think you know what 68 degrees feels like and you may get it right a few times but over time you'll find that the thermometer is indispensable; the first time you experience film grain that resembles golf balls you'll swear off using your thumb as a temperature guide forever. Just imagine what kind of turmoil results from attempting to locate a pencil or a missing widget in total darkness. Sure, you can work successfully in a pitch-black room if you're Superman or a Count Dracula, but the safelight makes things much more manageable for mortals and earthlings.

You see, all of the components of this kit add up to more than the sum of their parts in this case 1+1=11. Here we have a well thought out and comprehensive set of tools that makes the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and every subsequent darkroom experience the near-mystical joy it's supposed to be.


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