A few months ago, I started a passion project of mine: FilmObjektiv.org. Film Objektiv was started with one goal in mind: to get more people shooting film. We do this by renting film cameras at low prices for longer periods of time, by providing prints at a low cost, and also by serving as an online and educational resource to help film shooters find everything they'd ever need. It's this last part that still needs some work, but it's well on its way with this new pricing guide for film labs across the country. Still, I could use your help.
Through this chart, you can quickly see which labs from coast to coast are the most affordable for various types of film. The chart considers the price of processing 35mm (36 frames), 120, 4x5, 5x7, and 8x10 film each in C-41, E-6, and black-and-white. In the future, perhaps other formats such as 110, APS, or 11x14 and 16x20 will be added.
While I verified all of the prices in a sister chart that looks more complex (shared directly below), there may still be issues with the chart. Most of all, I might be missing your favorite lab! Therefore, I am kindly asking for any input my fellow film shooters may have. Do you know of a lab that is expensive, but offers incredible service? Do you know of a dirt-cheap, no-frills, dependable-as-ever lab in your city? I can't add every lab to the list, but I may bump some old ones off and add new ones as quality becomes more clear through your input.
How It Works
The above chart shows all of the actual pricing with the price ratings that judge the value for the service offered against what other labs charge. A charge of $8 per roll might be cheap for 35mm E-6, but expensive for 35mm 120 C-41. This means that a single "$" doesn't refer to a specific dollar value, but instead refers to the value offered based on the lowest base price at which other labs will process that film type.
Of course, this also means that the chart does not factor in quality or other value-added benefits. An expensive lab does not mean it's not worth it, just as an incredibly affordable lab does not mean it is always the right way to go. However, at some point (and for many people), film needs chemicals to process it in relatively specific conditions to be consistent -- and if you can manage that at a low price, what's the difference? Still, there are differences; but these differences mostly only come into effect when including scanning services.
This brings us to the only quality metric somewhat covered on the chart. Some popular labs on the list only offer processing with scans and won't do process-only. In some of these cases, the pricing was quite decent when considering scanning prices. However, a true process-and-scan chart with small, medium, large, and extra-large file sizes is the next goal. For this, I could certainly use everyone's help (but I will solider on alone regardless – it may just take a little longer).
The chart is also organized geographically. From left to right, we have the west coast to the east coast as well as a slight north-to-south arrangement. It's rough, but with the cities listed below the lab names, the idea is to help people figure out where $0.50 might not matter as much for a couple rolls if shipping costs would increase for a non-local lab compared to a lab just one state or even just a few miles away.
Keep in mind that volume discounts and other combined service discounts are not considered. However, naturally, if something is priced low to begin with, odds are it will stay at a decent price by the end of the process as well.
A few labs get shout-outs either for just being neater with a special feature, for being a bit of an anomaly with a certain policy, or just for being less of a tool and way more cool:
- Latitude Chicago gets a special mention for being a very special place, even though it's not even on our list because – you probably didn't guess – it doesn't even offer film processing. This is a professional photo-finishing lab with one big difference: it’s a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that will provide services for you or, more interestingly, teach you and let you do it yourself at incredible prices. While they don’t offer film developing labs or services, they offer a full digital studio with multiple workstations for flatbed scanning, drum scanning, large-format printing, color correction, etc. Day-use rates as well as year-long memberships for you or even your assistants/staff are available at great prices (half-off day use for students and recent graduates). Here’s how awesome they are (just think on this for a moment): $200 gets you a drum-scanning class plus three drum scans. After that, you can scan a drum (within which you can fit multiple 35mm negatives, 120 negatives, or even an 8 x 10 negative) for as little as $25. That figures out to single-frame drum scanning at as little as $1.80. Printing starts at $0.03 per square foot. Not too shabby.
- The FIND Lab also gets a special mention for its overall setup and its "1 for 1" program. First, they don’t offer process-only for 35mm and medium format film, but if you need/want the scans anyway, the pricing is quite reasonable. Add to this the fact that using their services entitles you to discounted film pricing for that month, and you now have an excellent option that could easily save you a decent amount of money in the long run.
- A quick note for Indie Film Lab: if you want both a process and scan, their prices are reasonable. Their standard/small scans are already a very fair size (similar to other labs’ medium size scans), and push/pull is just $1 for as many as three stops (if you messed up more than that, you really should re-shoot). But process-only is a bit pricey there, and turnaround time isn’t the fastest.
- The Darkroom also doesn’t offer process-only on 35mm and medium format film, but has reasonable pricing when considering scanning is included and has a very affordable $1 push/pull flat charge for any number of stops. Other labs also have low push/pull processing. Calling this out where applicable is something I may do in a future version of the chart since pricing on special processing varies greatly and can have rather large implications for an entire batch of film processing. Still, this is more of a special-use scenario, so we'll hold off on that for the moment.
- DR5 is interesting. First, it is relocating its E-6 processing equipment to a new space, so that’s going to take a little time before they’re actually running E-6 again. Also, they do this interesting thing where they process your rolls in runs. A “run” is essentially a batch of anything “up to” a certain number of rolls. You pay per run, which is fine if you maximize your allowed rolls per run, but terrible if you have half as many rolls to run since you’d be paying the full price of a single run either way. For some formats, they do have individual pricing available, so I simply averaged the two to give a more realistic idea of what you’d actually get out of the service long-term from a pricing perspective. Finally, they’re the only ones I’ve ever heard of that can and do take black-and-white negative film and process it into a positive, processed negative. That’s a pretty neat trick if you ask me.
Help, I Need Somebody
I could always use more help, and I have no problem calling on our awesome film community to call me out, correct me, add things for me, etc. I have already had requests for an EU version (that will be in the works, but down the road). The next process-plus-scan chart is going to be a larger project because of the nature of what formats can and cannot be scanned at various labs. And you may all have suggestions or other types of input that I can incorporate. So if you like this idea, help me out so I can help everyone else.
For your convenience, feel free to download the simplified chart without pricing in PDF form so you can see everything a bit more clearly. Likewise, you can also download the chart with all of the prices of each service listed in every square in the same PDF format. Those are for your viewing pleasure, but feel free to submit suggestions to the comments of this article, below. I'm all-ears!
Of course, if you really like this idea, check out everything else we offer at Film Objektiv. We will be building out many more resources for film shooters over the next few months, including links to other great resources, a catalog of film stock profiles, lists of where and how to buy film, and educational resources for how to shoot more effectively and what results to expect in various situations. See what we have going on between our resources, rentals, and print offerings; and always feel free to reach out.