Darkroom has been dying since the onslaught of the dSLR. For Fine Art photography though, there are reasons to continue to use film and have a darkroom setup. This is not a “Digital vs. Film” question, keep in mind is that B&W film printed in the darkroom is a different medium than inkjet prints. It’s not necessarily better, but give you a different way of expressing your creativity. Moreover, with prices dropping to the floor, you can pick up a medium format setup, including a camera system, plus a darkroom, for pennies on the dollars. If you go with the medium format route, the bigger negative size of medium format would give you much more details and tonal range than most digital solutions, at a much lower cost. High ISO also excels: Delta 3200 on a 6×7 neg look as smooth as a good ISO 200-400 35mm film.
You can also set up a darkroom with some of the state of the arts tools with little cost. For example, I have the following:
- a 4×5 enlarger with a color head, bought for $250. New they go for $1200 for the enlarger and $500 for the head.
- rodenstock top of the line enlarger lens for ~$100 each. New they go for $400-$800!
- a nova print processor for a couple hundreds. It keeps the chemical fresh for months and are smaller (but taller) than a 13 inch printer.
- a F stop timer
Those plus a few trays, safelight etc. and you have everything you need to print.
Do keep safety in mind of though. Some of these chemicals can be quite toxic, especially certain types of developer (for film). Keep the room ventilated, avoid touching any of the chemical, whether it is in liquid, powder, or vapor forms. Use tongs or gloves. Basically, be sensitive. These are chemicals, and you will likely be Okay.