Use My New Ultimate Film Processing Price Guide to Decide Which Lab Is Right for You

Use My New Ultimate Film Processing Price Guide to Decide Which Lab Is Right for You

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.

This is the master chart with all of the exact pricing (rounded to the nearest $0.05) for each film type, etc. Scroll down for the final chart that more easily enables judging prices at a quick glance.

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.

Special Notes

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.

This is the main, official chart with easy-to-see price comparisons for virtually every common type of film out there. Help me make it better with your input!

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.

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38 Comments

Tom Lew's picture

My 2 cents just to help anybody else out.

I stopped using TheDarkRoom.. the colors don't come out very good IMO.. very muddy looking and my last batch they oversharpened the scans by such an insane amount that the images were unusable.

I always gravitate to either TheFindLab or IndieFilmLab. Can't say enough good about both. I think Indie does a liiiiitle bit of a nicer job. No great reason I just like it more. But i often use both.

Adam Ottke's picture

Thanks for the input, Tom. There is a HUGE difference between different labs when it comes to scanning. I can't speak for The Darkroom or many others because I also do a lot of my own scanning, but here's a great resource for those who think scans are pretty much the same, even when done with the same machines....because they're not: http://www.lettherebefilm.com/comparing-scans

I have been using Darkroom for a bit now. I have not had any issues with color though. I find them pretty hard to beat as the price to develop and get basic scans is included and pretty low. Processing and scanning 120, C-41 or B/W, for $11 is pretty nice. They also make the scans available to you online so that you can see the results. A couple days later, you get your film and a disc of the scans in the mail. If I like what is there, I take the film to my local lab and get it enlarged and printed out, or I slap them on my scanner and make a higher quality pass.

Nichols looks to be more cheaper but when you include shipping and scanning into the equation, it increases in cost quite a bit. I will have to check out the Find Labs pricing.

Tom Lew's picture

For what you pay for, Darkroom is pretty fantastic. I would probably use them for old family photos and things like that.. but if you tried out the Find Lab or Indi I promise you will see a noticable difference in quality.

Tom Lew's picture

Yup great link. And I was self scanning for awhile but found that I just didn't have the proper skillset / tools / combination of both to get consistently great results with the color and tones. Found it much easier just to plan my shots better and let the professionals do their work on the negatives when it came to the scanning.

Taz Rahman's picture

We need one of these for the UK as well :)

David Stinson's picture

I highly recommend the FIND Lab. Great attention to detail and decent turnaround and pricing.

Larry Silverman's picture

I'm a big fan of Little Film Lab - especially their scan quality (as shown in the lettherebefilm.com article mentioned above). I'm also a fan of FIND Lab (and they are really nice people).

This is very helpful. I'm trying to encourage my friends to try film and developing availability and cost always comes up as an obstacle. Not everyone, in truth not many at all, are comfortable with home developing as I am. Thanks very much indeed for putting it together.

Adam Ottke's picture

You brought up something very interesting, too: home developing. There's a development (pun intended) on the horizon for home developing that might help people who are too scared to try it. Stay tuned (I'll have an article about it next week).

I can't get the PDFs to download so I can't check, but I wanted to point out a place local to me in Jacksonville, FL: Fototechnika
http://fototechnika.com/film-processing.html

Adam Ottke's picture

I apologize, Ryan. I may have put in a secured link on accident. It should work now.

Also, I don't yet have anything in Florida. I will definitely check them out!
(I don't see pricing on their site, unfortunately. But I will try and call sometime to find out)

I've been using CSW Film Systems and highly recommend them. The owner is very friendly and the price on 120 E6 film is unbeatable. They use a dip and dunk method, which has never produced any marks on any of the film I've taken there.

Does anyone know if this is a common method with the other labs?

Adam Ottke's picture

This is a very common method that is offered at a number of other labs. But yes, a lot of film shooters prefer this method since no machine parts or rollers come into contact with the film. It takes a bit longer (and is sometimes more expensive for this reason), but it lessens the chance of any damage or marks on your film.

Thank you for bringing this up, in fact – because I should probably go back through and specify if/when a lab uses dip and dunk since that does effect the price, etc. I have an idea for how to show that already, now...

Thanks for doing all this hard lifting! I can vouch for The FINDLab, they are my go to all in one stop shot for develop, scan, and film purchase. It's really hard to beat. Also the staff is very passionate about film and very helpful. If you are new to film or just need some tips, get the Basic+ scans from FINDLab, the tech who processes your film and scans, will provide you with feedback to help you improve on your next roll.

Also I didn't see Miller's Pro Photo lab on here. They offer film development (only C-41) no push, but super consistent and super super fast turnaround times. http://www.millerslab.com/filmservices/overview

And one little note about "if you messed up more than that, you really should re-shoot" pushing and pulling is NOT ONLY for mess ups, it's for style as well. If you shoot Ektar, try rating it at 400ISO and push developing it + 2, you sill see some super cool over saturated colors that almost give it a cross processed E-6 look.

Adam Ottke's picture

Ha. You're totally right. But 3 stops is pushing it if you ask me. That's a LOT of "style" you're throwing in there. Just my opinion ;-)

David Vaughn's picture

I don't understand the sizes on the scans from FINDlab. Premium, Basic+ and Basic all seem to be the same size because it doesn't give a resolution.

Adam Ottke's picture

It's a bit confusing, I know. This is in their FAQs for what the difference is between Basic, Basic+, and Premium.

Adam Ottke's picture

And then these are the various resolutions for each format and the name used to refer to the various sizes that correspond to the pricing page (http://thefindlab.com/pricing-2/):

35MM
R 2035×3035
L 3047×4547
FB 3647×5444
U 4492×6774

645
R 2285×3035
L 3047×4046
FB 3647×4847
U 4800×6379

66
R 2435×2435
L 3035x 3035
FB3635x3635
U 4760×4760

67
R 2435×3035
L 3047×3797
FB 3647×4547
U4815x5902

69
R 2035×3035
L 3047×4547
FB 3647×5444
U 4492×6774

Printmakers in Pawtucket, RI does a great job with C41 (35,120, 220) and they use a Kodak HR500+ to scan which I think does a much better job than the minilab style scanners used at a lot of labs.

Also I believe Color Services does still do E6 all the way up through 8x10 (MA).

Ridiculous scan prices. If you're serious about film then buy your own scanner.

Tom Lew's picture

It doesn't quite come out the same. There's a lot of custom work and expertise involved in the scanning process.. it's really a whole art in it's own.

That's what such labs charging such high prices would like people to believe.

Tom Lew's picture

You really need a Noritsu / Frontier scanner + the knowledge in how to use it and handle the colors and tones properly to get the best results.

No you do not need those commercial scanners. I do my own film scanning at home on an older discontinued camera brand dedicated film scanner. There are also new ones from other manufacturers on the market. The prices I have seen for most scanning services are a beyond a joke and are unsustainable for most people wanting to shoot film regularly.

I use Vuescan with my scanner and film profiles are provided. I get perfect looking color everytime.

Tom Lew's picture

Can I see samples? I've never used Vuescan but I used Silverfast with an Epson V800 and then took the TIFFs into photoshop.. but no matter what I did it just didn't look like anything that I've seen from my favorite film photographers using these labs. Also the color just kind of didn't seem true to the film it was always mucky and inconsistent. But again, I'd love to see your scans and compare or know more about your process. thx!

Adam Ottke's picture

I have had similar experiences as Tom (but with a V750, which is still very similar). If I could afford it, I'd have everything scanned all the time by a lab. But for proofing, it just makes more sense to do it myself. Would be great to be better at it, but I just don't have the time to pour into color edits, etc. If I need a roll done right for something else or for a gig from a client, then I'll just go and do it through a lab... But would love to see your samples as well (and maybe a few tips, etc.).

Hans Rosemond's picture

I do all my own scanning and have gotten decent results. I think it's hard to get the same results as film labs because of the myth of the "look." The techs dial in that look you want, but it has more to do with software than the stock. Anyone can make film look a certain way as long as it's exposed correctly and you have the software knowledge. Kind of like digital.

Adam Ottke's picture

I get that part, too, to some extent. But I still feel like the Noritsu/Frontier scanners just do more than you can do with a flatbed. Granted, this is totally just a "belief," I'll admit. I have no real evidence to base that on.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Oh, i have no doubt that they are much better scanners than the flatbeds. But the look itself is largely manipulation. And hey, thats worth paying for if thats what you want. They are very good at what they do!