2020-02-15

Darkroom enlarger timer

I have recently started making traditional prints of my analog photos and it is a lot of fun in itself, but naturally I am also treating it as an excuse to play with some electronics. I have previously described a simple timer I made for measuring how much time each print spends in the developer and fixer trays. Today I'd like to present my solution for the more important type of darkroom timer: the one that controls the exposure time on the enlarger. Here's what my setup looks like:

The enlarger lamp is connected through a reprogrammed Sonoff S20 wifi smart plug. It runs a simple HTTP server written in MicroPython. It responds to three commands: "on", "off" and "expose". The last one takes a duration in milliseconds and switches the lamp on for that time.

The second component is a smartphone app written in Flutter, so it should in theory run on both Android an iOS, but I have only tested on Android. It lets the user specify the exposure time, either directly or using a simple test strip mode. In test strip mode, exposures are made in such a way that if you cover a larger part of the paper before each exposure, the resulting exposure times of each part will be increasing in configured fractions of a stop.

Finally there's a footswitch, which is just a pedal converted into a USB keyboard using a Digispark (which is an ATtiny85 board in the shape of a USB plug that can be programmed with Arduino). Whenever the pedal is pressed, the Digispark sends an "Enter" keystroke and the smartphone app reacts as if the "START" button was tapped and starts the next exposure.

The code for all three components is available here. To run the Python code on the smart plug, first it needs to be flashed with MicroPython firmware. The smartphone app is pretty basic right now and doesn't have fancy features like dry down compensation, saving dodge/burn programs or any split-grade automation. Another useful feature would be to have the safelight connected through another smart plug and turn it off when the enlarger lamp is turned on for focusing.

Oh, and even though the app's interface is all red, it's still probably not safe for photographic paper, so it's best to cover the phone's screen when the paper is out.

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