Orange “OC” Safelights Are As Rare as Unicorns

The Availability of High Quality Affordable OC Safelights is Dwindling

If you’ve done any safelight shopping these days, you’ve probably noticed that new OC colored darkroom safelights aren’t as plentiful as they once were. Lights with red filters seem to be much more common, but the orange ones are easier on the eyes and make darkrooms seem brighter.

Being Adventurous (Buying Cheap)

When I recently decided to add a couple small safelights to my darkroom, I settled on the Yankee bullet-shaped Circular Safelight available at B&H Photo for $32.95. After reading the reviews, it was clear that whoever took over Yankee photo products manufacturing had probably never stepped foot inside a darkroom. This safelight is made from white plastic that is not opaque and by no means “safe”, so I knew it would require some modification.

When I received them, I tested them out and, sure enough, the enclosure glowed with unfiltered light. Furthermore, the “amber” filter was more rad than amber. I lightly sanded the housing, taped over the threads on the housing and lock ring, masked the screw-in metal base, and spray painted the entire exterior with several coats of flat black paint. I covered the label with black electrical tape. No white light was going to escape it after that.

Yankee Safelight Before and After Painting

My experimentation showed that, with a 15 watt bulb, the supplied filter would easily and noticeably fog Ilford Cooltone RC paper at a distance of 4 feet. But, testing a safelight involves more than just exposing a piece of paper to the safelight and then developing it to see if it has turned gray. Photo paper characteristics can be altered by exposure to light that is not strong enough, by itself, to cause a visible gray tone upon development.

What Constitutes a Truly Safe Safe Light

Pre-flashing, a common technique used to pre-sensitize paper so that, when exposed in the enlarger, very dense areas of a negative will show texture where it might otherwise have been completely washed out. But, pre-flashing is something you want to control and do only as needed. You certainly don’t want your safelights doing it for you.

If you want to be confident that your darkroom safelights are safe, there are methods for doing so. Recommendations for testing are available from Ilford and Kodak. The secret is to make sure that your safelight will not noticeably darken very light image tones on the paper you use when exposed to that safelight for the worst case time and distance for your working habits and environment.

I’m a bit obsessive with regard to safelights because I use the pre-flashing technique routinely and I don’t want to worry about rushing my work in order to minimize exposure of printing paper to the safelights. The “amber” filter supplied with the Yankee safelight wasn’t going to cut it, so I began experimenting using Rosco theatrical lighting filters.

How I Made a Terrible Safe Light Into a Very Good Safe Light

When my testing was complete, I settled on a stack of Rosco filters and used a 7 watt bulb instead of the recommended 15 watt bulb. Using the original plastic filter as a template, I cut the Rosco filters to fit inside the locking ring, taped the filter stack with small pieces of Scotch tape, and then secured them to the front of the Yankee safelight housing with the locking ring. After much experimentation I decided on the following stackup of filters:

Modified Yankee Safelight Ready to Assemble
When Taped, the Filters Fit Like a Drum

I tested the this stack up by placing a pre-flashed test strip under the safelight at a distance of 42″ with all my other safelights turned on as well for ten minutes. The bulb I used was a General Electric 7 watt S11 medium base “night light” bulb. Based on my experimentation, I assume it would be safe for longer, but 10 minutes was already beyond what I expected the paper to ever be subjected to based on my workflow.

A few additional Observations

The brightness can be adjusted by changing the strength of the neutral density filter. I found through experimentation that stacking Rosco ND filters is not the same as using a single stronger ND filter. Their filtration is not uniform over the entire spectrum and stacking them will exaggerate that variance. While you may not see a difference in color with the naked eye, a digital camera will reveal a stark difference (at least it did for me). In lieu of an ND filter, you can reduce the light output by partially covering the front of the safelight with a piece of opaque material to reduce the total light output. Covering half the area, reduces the light output by half.

I don’t think the diffusion material is necessary, but removing it will probably increase the light output.

A Cheap Lamp Holder and Cannibalized Extension Cord Completed the Installation

For one of the safelights, I used a handy socket extender that rotates and bends to direct the light where you want it.

Articulated Lamp Socket Extender is a Handy Addition

Finally, yes, this was more work than I anticipated, but I already had the filter material on hand and the the safelights now suit my needs perfectly. My 10′ x 12′ darkroom uses three of the old box style Premier Safelights, but I wanted a couple of small safelights to brighten the dark corners. I couldn’t find any of the 5″ x 7″ or 10″ x 12″ OC lights that used to be so common, so these were the lowest cost option. I didn’t want to have different colored safelights in my darkroom. I wanted them all to be orange. By the way, I considered the Brightlab OC safelight, but some of the reviews indicate that it too is far more red than amber.