Which film lab?

Odeon Bike Guy - Colourstream.jpg

So you've just shot your first roll of film, or you're looking for a new lab? Where should you choose, do they all do the same job and what are you paying for?

After shooting film for a bit and trying out all of the labs in Brighton and using some labs further afield in places like Hong Kong - I've found some great places, as well as some not so great places.

Over the last couple of years I've had over 100 rolls of Colour Negative and Black & White film developed - there is obviously going to be a difference, but how much of a difference is there actually?

I'd been using a High Street chain on and off for a while as they were pretty reasonable. On my last experience with them, I'd waited almost 3 weeks for the scanning, then about half of them were missing from my CD. Instead of turning around and going back in, I went to my normal lab who do all of my colour work, after an hour I picked up my CD then took them home to compare.

High Street Lab Chain Scan - £5.00 [2000x1333px native]


Independent Lab Scan - £8.50 [3000x2000px native]

Above is an example of some film scanning I had done at a High Street photo-lab chain (left) and the other done at a local independent lab (right). Both photos have had no alterations or adjustments done, so are straight out of the scanner.

For some background I'd developed this at a darkroom in London, then after the wet-work and drying, taken it back to Brighton for scanning.

From looking at both photos, we can see they're vastly different, even viewed as a small thumbnail. The biggest difference is that the one of the left is highly saturated and lacks any real sharpness. The other notable difference is that it's warped from not being fixed into the scanner correctly.

In comparison, the right hand photo is sharp, has great latitude and has been flattened before scanning. This means that no post-processing was needed after it was uploaded to LightRoom. As a way of doing a controlled test, I studied some older scans that the High Street chain had done - upon closer inspection, the same had occurred but gone completely under my radar as I wasn't so sensitive to it before.

As well as wanting to give my money to small business, it also served as a poignant reminder to why it's worth spending an extra £3.50 for high quality flawless scanning, over the former, lower quality scans.

For Black & White, I now do all of my own film developing and after a load of researching, recently invested in an Epson V550 flatbed negative scanner.

As well as a way of saving money of developing and scanning, it allows me to now tweak the whole process for each roll, as well as having the choice of re-scanning at sizes of 6000x4000px for print.