This post is dangerous, because I'm jumping the gun a bit and I don't want people to take away the wrong message from this. Remember Johnston's Forum Constraint: "You cannot say anything clearly enough on a camera forum that it cannot be misconstrued." Here's my attempt at clarity:
N.b. (as you probably know, "n.b." means nota bene, Latin for "note well"): I am not recommending this. I might do so in the future, but not yet. So please do not take this post as a recommendation! Yet.
Safelights are a big headache in darkroom work. There really isn't any such thing as a perfect safelight solution, at least not with traditional technology. Many safelights (and texts analyzing and explaining them) were good for older graded papers but don't hold for "newer" VC papers; glass filters are pretty safe in most applications, but they can be dim (most darkrooms that use them have several, located strategically), and they do deteriorate over time; sodium vapor safelights still have their proponents but have tested very poorly for me (and Paul Butzi and, I believe, John Sexton too); and several types of LED-based safelights, which were too expensive to sell in large numbers even when there was a much larger market for darkroom products, have gone out of production.
Anyway, a tastiferous* box arrived via the brown truck today. Inside were two cool Chinese-made LED bulbs from a company called OptiLED: a 2.5-watt Festival Festoon Decolamp, in amber (top), and a .5-watt Festival S11 Decolamp, also in amber (right). They're not actually safelights: they're made for things like Las Vegas signage and to encrust Merry-Go-Rounds. The little one appears to be too dim to be of much use for our nonstandard purposes, but the larger one is promising. The graph of its output, which I saw during my far-flung 'net research but can't seem to find again, is a sharp-cutting spike at 590 nm. (Wish I could find that graph again...).
So is it really sharp-cutting? Here's the thing about safelights: you have to test. Really, the "safe" in safelight is a misnomer: all safelights are unsafe for certain levels of illumination combined with certain durations of exposure. The trick is accurately finding out where those limits are...for your materials in your space given your working methods. In due course (i.e., once I'm set up to test this one), I'll write a post on testing safelights. The takeaway here should be that it's got to be done. A must. Baseline B&W darkroom craftsmanship. Ctein, for example, guesses this Festoon should be safe. Paul guesses it won't be. (If it isn't, I ain't dead in the water: there's also a red one, with output centered at 627 nm.) The point is, I can't take their guesses for gospel, and you can't take mine. We all gotta test our own.
Ponce de Leon
Even though I don't know whether it works yet, the OptiLED has a lot of allure. It's so wetproof it can be used outdoors; it will operate at any temperature from —30 to 70 degrees C (that's –22 to 158 degrees F), which pretty much encompasses all the temperatures I expect to encounter in my basement; it's made of fire-resistant polymers; it draws only 2.5 watts from the wall; and it's rated to last for 35,000 hours of use, which is more time than even I have spent in darkrooms in my entire life so far. And it's so nice in the darkroom space in the basement that I could really get by quite comfortably with only one.
Of course, allure can mislead. Ponce de Leon considered the Fountain of Youth so alluring that he wasted a large stretch of his limited lifespan looking for it, and we all know how that turned out. Just because something is appealing doesn't mean it isn't also too good to be true. So we test. More anon.
* Perfectly cromulent word if you ask me.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Mark Roberts: "I don't care if it works or not—anything called 'Festoon' is a must-have for my darkroom!"
Mike replies: I agree, the name is a big plus. <g>
Featured Comment by Kerstin: "I'm so far out of it that the last safelight I had I made myself. It was a small light bulb (about the size of the LED, I think), and I painted it red with nail polish."
Featured Comment by bongo: "Looks great. Thanks for the recommendation."