Good photo labs that will develop and scan 35mm film
July 15, 2005 4:50 AM   Subscribe

I've started into my first serious foray into amateur photography. The only fully-manual camera I could get my hands on for free is 35mm, so I'm now confronted with a problem that I haven't really ever dealt with before: where to get it developed. I want digital scans of most of my photos, for easy storage and Flickring, and there are a number of corollary requirements as well.

I would get them developed somewhere local, like CVS or Ritz, but their photo CDs are generally pretty low-quality; somewhere between 150K and 300K seriously-compressed JPG at around 1500x1024. And they waste a whole CD-R for each roll, which means they put less than 10MB on a disc.

I'd ship them to somewhere like Snapfish (or an affiliate), but I don't get my negatives back unless I get prints, and their photos are roughly the same resolution (although uncompressed, I think, since they say they're 6MB apiece).

My requirements are, in order from most important to least important:
1) Cheap
2) High quality digital scans
3) Getting my negatives back
4) "Good" development
5) Fast

I realize that this is a tall order, but does anyone get their film developed somewhere that does a really good job with the digitization stuff, and isn't extremely expensive? Just so you know I've considered it, in the long run, getting my own scanner is definitely going to end up being a good investment, but I'm not there yet.
posted by Plutor to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total)
I don't think you'll get negatives without prints. I live in Philadelphia and have access to a number of independent and chain developing outfits. I've tried them all myself, and it is one of the reasons I'm moving to a digital SLR. I'm tired of these shops not selling what I need.

That said, the photo CD option is generally less expensive than developing film to prints. I've put CD files up on Flickr and I'm pretty happy with the results. Some of my shots are used for publication in a print magazine, so for my needs it has been fine so far.
posted by Rothko at 5:27 AM on July 15, 2005

In my experience photo CD's are a waste of time. Most of the photos on CD's I have ordered have been so badly scanned and processed that they are useless - maybe I just have ridiculously high standards.

I currently use a film scanner to scan in negs which I have processed in the high street, without prints. I don't need prints and usually only need to digitize half the roll at most. I do it at home and have complete control over it, and getting negative only processing is cheap.
posted by fire&wings at 5:39 AM on July 15, 2005

The money you will end up spending on all of the above would be be better spent on a digital SLR such as a used Canon 10D or a new digital rebel, the cameras are full featured and except all Canon EF lenses, the best IMO. This way you can shoot with the same manual controls as the 35mm and get a digital file straight from the camera. Don't get me wrong film is great and I shoot both, but to do the above takes much more time and cost much more money.
posted by askmatrix at 5:42 AM on July 15, 2005

askmatrix: CVS and Snapfish, for example, only cost around 3 dollars to develop and digitize a roll of film. I'd have to take a lot of pictures for the digital SLR to end up being worth it. And I'm definitely not at the skill level yet where I'm comfortable spending several hundred dollars on a camera. I'm happy with a free decent film camera and a few bucks per roll. Maybe in a year..

What I'm looking for, though, is a good cheap place to get the film developed and digitized. I'll be satisfied with the local pharmacy craplab, but it'd be nice to find somewhere that's better.
posted by Plutor at 5:50 AM on July 15, 2005

Do you have camera stores in town? Ask the people that work there. Another option is the local community college, which usually have really good commercial photography labs (including color wet process) and decent scanners. Make friends with a student (pay 'em?) and do it through there.
(As a side note, I went to middle and high school with someone named Logan Ingalls, but it was a chick. Just so you know.)
posted by klangklangston at 6:56 AM on July 15, 2005

PhotoWorks may be what you want. It looks like developing film directly to CD is just $5/roll; I think they'll send you the negatives with that (they definitely have for print developing), but I'm not 100% sure. I do recommend using their film, too - the colors are really great. I think they send you a free roll with every roll you get developed.

For details, look for the "mail in film" link in the lower right; I think it opens a PDF file.

I've been using them for years and years, since they were called Seattle FilmWorks.

Oh, and I think you can print out a free film mailer from the web site, somehow.
posted by amtho at 7:49 AM on July 15, 2005

PhotoWorks sounds like a good deal, do they develop 120 roll film?

I have a flatbed scanner that also scans 35mm, slides, and medium format, I'm very happy with it. I process my own black and white film at home, the initial investment was like $60, and it only takes like 15 minutes for 2 rolls of 35, or 1 medium format roll. Then, I can just scan the negs, it's the cheapest means I can think of.

Color film processing at home is a different story, or so I've heard. I haven't tried it yet, maybe a trip to B&H is in the future for color developer...
posted by splatta at 8:09 AM on July 15, 2005

Use a scanner. They are cheap and useful for lots of stuff. Scan your prints. What I do:

-Take pictures (pentax K1000, prime lenses)
-Get developed at a good camera store, 4x6 prints
-Scan the prints at home on the flatbed scanner (Epson 2400)

My best scanned film shots look much better than photos from my digital camera, a Canon 3Mp prosumer.

-Scan only the good photos, toss the others.
-choose the resolution and compression that you like.
-Camera store adjusts your exposure for you when they print, so you don't have to mess around in Photoshop

-lose some quality in the printing and scanning
-Time consuming if you need to scan a lot
-Camera store adjusts your exposure for you when they print, so you don't have to mess around in Photoshop

The scanner has a transparency adapter, which I've tried to scan my negatives, but it never comes out right. The detail is better than the scanned print but the colors suck, the $99 scanner and software just can't remove the orange mask very well. Scanning positive transparency (slides) does work well.

Speaking of slides, you could shoot slides, have them processed, pick the ones you like, and have a high-end store scan them on their slide scanner. My store charges between $2 and $27 per slide depending on the resolution you need (large to overwhelming) on top-quality machines with digital ICE (dust and scratch removal).

I often wish I hadn't bought a digital and put my $350 towards film and processing. Using auto focus, and staring at a little LCD (where nothing is sharp anyway) has ruined my ability to focus when I go back to my manual film camera.
posted by sol at 8:09 AM on July 15, 2005

Color scanning is a pain in the ass until you correctly set up color profiles for each kind of color film you're scanning.
This is a color scan from Fuji 100 film, and as you can see the shadows are lost, and there's grain. I haven't quite gotten the hang of my scanner yet, but I have a feeling I'll get it eventually. Is this the correct place to ask for tips?
posted by splatta at 8:42 AM on July 15, 2005

I also have not been happy scanning my own negatives on a flatbed scanner. Getting the colors right is more of a headache then it's worth. My stuff invariably looks like I rescued it from a box of 70's memorabilia. Maybe I'm unreasonable but I want the initial scan to be at least as good as scanning a print! OTOH, scanning slides avoids this problems and works pretty well, but then you run into a lot of dust/hair issues unless you buy an expensive scanner.

(That's freaky, splatta! I actually ran that race two years ago.)
posted by smackfu at 9:04 AM on July 15, 2005

After doing some research, tons and tons of people were recommending vuescan. It's apparently a third party scanning software that has many many color profiles for types of film. I'm at work so I can't try it out 'till later, but here's the site:

Somone with access to their scanner should try it out, and let me know :)

Sorry for the thread hijack log.
posted by splatta at 9:12 AM on July 15, 2005

Do I need to photograph on special film to get slides? I'm sure I would have to pay more to get the lab to give me slides instead of just negatives. It sounds like there are three solutions to my problem:

1) Deal with CVS or Ritz or somewhere else that'll give me mediocre scans on CD and negatives very cheaply.
2) Buy a scanner and scan the negatives myself (higher resolution, a bit more investment, and not necessarily any better quality).
3) Buy a digital SLR (much higher res, no cost for development, but several hundred bucks investment for a halfway decent camera).

Damn you Splatta and your hijacking! In payment, I expect to be able to use your scanner once you figure out vuescan. (And once again, an AskMe thread ends in me considering a Western CT meetup)
posted by Plutor at 9:30 AM on July 15, 2005

I know you’ve rejected the idea already, and this doesn’t answer your question, but can’t resist adding my voice to the go-digital-SLR chorus (well, at least making it a chorus). So this is addressed more to other readers than to the poster.

I considered myself a “serious amateur photographer” for well over 20 years, spending a LOT on gear, books, magazines, etc., but never got over the cash-register sound going off in my head with every shutter click. I even got a job at a magazine that required that I drag around a huge case full of lights, a flash meter, lead film pouches, and a both a 35mm and a medium-format camera with 4 lenses to do on-scene process shots. I got good at coming home with the needed images, but my personal, natural-light 35mm SLR shots didn’t improve much, even tho I could get free processing for “reasonable quantities” of personal film at work.

But when the magazine switched us to digital SLRs, everything changed, simply because of the instant feedback and the essentially unlimited storage. No more bracketing. No more light meters. No more Polaroids. No more waiting to get home to see what happened. No more taking notes about settings (or wishing I HAD taken notes). No more wishing I had a different type of film, or a different ISO, or had brought my filters.

All well and good; I was a fan. But then one afternoon, I spent 3 intense, increasingly exciting hours taking over 2000 shots of a single vase of flowers in the natural light of my living room, an inconceivable exercise, for me at least, back in my film days. The sensitivity, awareness and control I began developing at around image 1000 was worth so much more to my development as a photographer than all those years of wheel-spinning and plateauing with film that any future film vs. digital debates were forever rendered completely uninteresting to me.

fwiw; and of course ymmv.
posted by dpcoffin at 9:34 AM on July 15, 2005

How about shooting on Slide film and having those scanned? Just posting it as a alternative, I didn't see it mentioned.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:51 AM on July 15, 2005

If you're willing to scan the negs yourself you can take that roll of film damned near anywhere and get it processed, no prints. Expect to spend $3 to $6 for that. You do -not- want to do the processing yourself, color film processing is very persnikity and you need fairly precise temperature control.

Having managed a color lab back in the late 80s I can tell you that the negative processing part is pretty foolproof, provided the equipment is reasonably maintained and temperatures monitored. Film moves through the machine at a gear-fixed pace and a constant distance so if it's light-tight and the chemicals aren't weak/old you're going to get a consistent result.

Where most labs fall down is in the print phase (which doesn't concern you) because the bulb that exposes the paper changes in color temperature as it heats and ages, requiring daily recalibration.

Yes, slides are a whole different ball of wax. The film is different and the processing is different. On the other hand if you're scanning yourself it can be a lot easier to eyeball the film and decide what to scan. Back In The Day I shot exclusively 6x4.5 on FujiChrome and I just popped open my storage box and scanned some the other day (Looooove my canon flatbed which scans medium format - it ain't perfect but it IS $140 :) and it was very easy to pick which were good and worth scanning. Not so with my older 35mm negatives.
posted by phearlez at 10:03 AM on July 15, 2005

Everything has it's place. DSLR is a great choice if you're beginning, because the more you shoot, the more you learn, and the better technical photographer you are. It's much, much more economical.

Film is much better for reproduction. Sure it's more expensive, but it's also much higher quality.
posted by splatta at 11:22 AM on July 15, 2005

May I suggest that you find a good local professional photo lab. These guys are hurting in the digital age and they will do such a good job with your negs and scans, it's worth the price. The thing I used to do to save money, and you can't do this at most mass production photo stores, is have them make you a contact sheet. This is one piece of photo paper with all of your negatives exposed on it in a 1:1 ratio. This way you can take a loop, inspect your photos, and get enlargements and scans of your best ones. This will save you a lot of money in the long run instead of having every missed expression and bad exposure printed and scanned.

Also, using good film makes a massive difference in your photos. Don't buy that Kodak Max crap that is supposed to be good in any lighting situation. That is B.S. My favorite film is Kodak Portra VC. It has awesome color saturation. Try it out and experiment with others to find the look you want.
posted by trbrts at 11:28 AM on July 15, 2005

Some mail in options for developing film: Vermont Color Labs, A&I Photo at B&H, and Dale Laboratories. All are on the web.
posted by squeak at 12:07 PM on July 15, 2005

The "local pharmacy craplab" can be very good with an expert at the helm. The trouble is, it could be a trainee who's still learning or someone who just doesn't care. So perhaps keep an eye out for any photographer enthusiests who work at a lab, or someone who knows their stuff, and have an arrangement with them and/or pharmacy that you request your film be processed by that individual.

I haven't tried this, I just know a photography enthusiest who works in a pharmacy craplab, and have heard a bit about how it gets run, and the, uh, range of talent involved :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:22 PM on July 15, 2005

phearlez, I think we have the same scanner, 8400F? I like it ok, but the software is bad. Have you tried vuescan? I'm curious to figure out if it's that much better than the OEM software.

Slide film is good if you're going to be scanning because it's developed and printed as shot, which means you have all the controll of your pictures at the time of exposure, and you don't have to leave it in the hands of pimply high school kid at CVS.
posted by splatta at 12:29 PM on July 15, 2005

Splatta, yeah, that's it - I had a Canon 80 but not only didn't it do medium format, it wouldn't take mounted slides! I haven't been really unhappy with the software (for as little as I have used it) but VueScan does look interesting and I might go for it. Or I might not - I really only got it to scan my old work, I don't shoot film anymore so I'm not sure it's worth the cash for me.

Honestly, I also don't shoot professionally anymore at all - I had to pick between cameras and computer and computers paid better. But if I were to start doing something more than snapshots again (and the call is out there sometimes) I would pick up another Pentax 645, not a digital SLR. You can't do a long exposure saturation shot like this with digital.

Plutor, I forgot to mention - while the slide idea has some merit you might want to avoid it if you're shooting in at all challenging or 'unusual' situations - slides have less dynamic range and if you over or under expose the result is harder to cope with. Splatta, I was assuming he's just scan the negatives themselves, not prints, so there's no difference between if he gets negatives developed or slides.
posted by phearlez at 3:18 PM on July 15, 2005

Free is hard to beat. But I'd still advise you save to buy an early
generation DSLR. You can get a professional body that will use old
manual lenses (a source of saving) for below $500 (or the cost of 50
rolls of films, including processing -- a year worth of casual
shooting.) Being a professional body, it has all the features you want
for serious photography: spot meter, complete manual mode, ruggedness,
frame rate, etc... and doesn't have the feature you don't want.

I went the route of a cheap manual camera, a scanner ($130) using
Vuescan ($40, which I recommend.) But eventually I got tired of
it. After having spent $500 in film and processing (and countless
hours scanning), I instead bought an old Nikon professional for about
the same amount and I'm now buying 25 years old really good prime

May I ask what manual camera you got?

And sorry about not answering your question at all.
posted by NewBornHippy at 5:40 PM on July 15, 2005

Argh...sorry for the messed up link. And I noticed the special deal is also available on their home page.
posted by edjusted at 6:44 PM on July 15, 2005

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