Labs that I use
By Q.-Tuan Luong.
Updated June 2005, but I prices are not current, and should only be taken as
a relative indication.
I use exclusively color slide (transparency) film in 35mm and 5x7
I cannot recommend
labs for negative film.
- Fujicolor processing, Phoenix. A large consumer mail-order lab.
Mailers are $3.70 for a 35mm roll at B&H (just ask them "with Fuji
processing" when you buy your rolls of film).
If you have several rolls, send
the mailers together in a big enveloppe. You'll save on postage and
get your film back in a neat box. Quality is satisfying, but I had
a least 2 rolls lost and received once a roll which wasn't mine.
I also had scratches, but they could
have been caused
by the camera. Another drawback is that they use paper mounts.
Return is by USPS, total turn-around is one week
and half when sent through USPS.
I used them for routine processing, but in the past few years haven't
sent much film to them. Kodak processing in New Jersey looks like a good alternative
to the previous one, as they mount your slides in plastic mounts.
However, I heard that following 9/11 and the Antrax scare, USPS
packages towards the East Coast were more likely to be irradiated
than packages towards the West Coast.
- Flatiron color lab, NYC.
A discount professional lab.
$4 for a 35mm roll prepaid and processed in 24h (most professional
labs have only a rate for 2h processing, which is higher). $2.00 for
a 5 x 7 transparency. Reasonnable amounts of push/pull are not charged.
The service, which has been improving, is reliable, with not a single mistake
made in many years. The price is the best I have found. 35mm are
mounted in paper mounts with rounded corners.
Return by UPS ground (makes me less nervous when I have lots of film).
Total turn-around less than 2 weeks when sent through
Fedex 3 day. I use them currently for large quantity transparencies and slides
- Fleshtone LA. 7412 Beverly blvd. LA, CA 90036. $2.30 for a 5x7,
CA tax (ask for the 20% discount for personal, self-paid work).
Good quality, service and personal attention, but will charge for push/pull
and won't process slides for as cheap. I use them currently when I just have
transparencies for normal processing. Since I live in CA, turnaround time is
just over a week.
- Holland Photo. A
mostly mail-order professional lab.
$2.50 for a 5x7, ($3.75 push/pull). Good service.
Sent me a letter apologizing for a scratch, and didn't charge me for
unexposed sheets. Total turnaround about two weeks and half. I'd still recommend
them, however for me Fleshtone LA was faster and Flatiron less expensive.
- West Coast
Imaging is a reputable lab to get a mail-order Tango Drum Scan
(considered to be the state of the art), their pricing is good at
$40 for 100mb, $50 for 200mb, $80 for 300mb including the CD, and they
are very careful.
I heard that Nancy Scans is another lab
with an excellent reputation, but I haven't tried them yet.
- I recently started using Calypso imaging due
to faster turnaround, and so far I have not noticed a difference in quality although they use a different drum scanner (both are sharp and
require extensive color correction). Prices are
comparable up to 200mb, more expensive beyond ($125 for a 300mb).
Whereas there is still room for film-based cameras because the cost and
bulk of top digital cameras capable of rivaling simple film cameras in all focals is
prohibitive to many, I'd have to recommend digital printing. The
digital process makes it possible to fine-tune the image very
precisely and to match the paper's characteristics, something which
takes a considerable amount of skill and experience to achieve with
traditional processes, especially from a slide/transparency (which is
why prints from slides often look too contrasty). In large format,
the ability to remove glitches is also critical.
Costs are high if
everything is left to the lab, but if you do the digital
work yourself, the cost (including a scan)
is quite comparable than having a good lab do
the printing with traditional methods. Another excellent option is inkjet printing,
which can be done at home or outsourced to a lab.
Currently the only inkjet printers that produce prints with excellent
color and permanence are the Epsons that use the Ultrachrome inks. They
come in several sizes, starting with the 2200. Ultrachrome prints are beautiful,
however the permanence rating is based on accelerated fading tests rather than
actual experience, and the prints are more delicate than photographic prints such
as the Lightjets.
- Portland Photographics
is renowned for their Ilfochromes (20x30 for $150, plus contrast mask
$16 for 4x5, $38.00 for 5x7 and 8X10), which are indeed nice,
but I don't see any reason not to use digital these days. If you like
the Ilfochrome look, you can try the Fuji supergloss crystal archive
paper on the Lightjet.
- ofoto.com prints using a digital
process on traditional photo paper. I have had hundreds 4x6 and 5x7, as
a few dozens larger prints (up to 16x20) made by them, although I haven't used them
for a while. The price is
excellent up to 8x10 ($4) and
competitive for larger sizes, and the quality
good (but not as good as Pictography, Lightjet, Frontier, and Epson Ultrachrome
prints due to slightly reduced
sharpness, increased contrast, and less predictable color). The interface
photoaccess.com is a comparable
service. I have used it for printing to 11x14, a size not offered by ofoto.
The interface is not as intuitive, but the quality of the prints is at least as
good as ofoto's. There are several other consumer online photofinishers that
I have not tried.
If you scan or have a digital camera,
and do the digital work (worth it only if you have a ICC-compliant
and a calibrated monitor, so that you can predict the color) one of the most affordable Lightjet printers
is Calypso imaging. The costs are only slightly
higher than the consumer online photofinishers for large prints, but the additional quality is
very noticeable. For me, the choice of Calypso is obvious because I live nearby, but even if
you don't, you'll see that they offer low and flexible pricing (by surface area, rather than predetermined sizes).
Calypso is very careful with
the maintainance and profiling of their lightjet, resulting in very consistent color. In the past,
I have noticed some hue shifts, most noticeably in the blues turning magenta. I have been told that
they chose profiling software that would maximize the overall saturation of the prints, at the cost
of some color accuracy. In 2005, they offer a choice of profiles that has mostly eliminated that problem.
West Coast Imaging,
mentioned above for scanning, used to be slighly pricier and take longer
since they outsourced their lightjet printing, however
they are very careful and do an excellent packaging job. I have no experience with their
current Chromira offerings.
those who just want to send in their original film and get the
back, I can recommend
near Santa Cruz.
You'll get personnal service from Bill Nordstrom who does the digital
work and is very experienced. He was doing digital color work while many of the other
digital printmakers were still kids.
Of course this is not cheap, as it includes scanning, digital work,
I used them for fine art prints from 5x7 transparencies since
Bill Nordstrom has been one of the first to offer this service and
didn't have many competitors at one point. Nowadays many other labs, including Calypso and
West Coast Imaging offer this service, but probably only a few can match his expertise.
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