Freshly updated 20 August 2016!
The question burns: Where can you still get film developed?
Not long ago, the answer was everywhere. Costco, Walmart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, et al., processed 35mm color film in an hour right in the store. The quality could be dodgy, but it was convenient and cheap: as little as four bucks for processing and scans. But one by one, these stores have gotten out of the one-hour photo business.
If your city has a camera store, perhaps they still process film, too. The one in my city does good work at a good price, but their hours and location are too limiting. I also considered buying equipment to process my own. I’m charmed by the idea, but I can’t imagine where I’d find the time right now.
So I mail my film to professional processors. I was already using them to process the films the local labs couldn’t: black-and-white and slide films, and other film sizes, such as medium format (120) and archaic formats like 127 and 110.
Plenty of pro processors are available. Some cater to photographers with exacting needs. They deliver top-shelf quality and enormous scans, offer expert advice, and remember your processing and scanning preferences. But their white-glove service comes at a premium price.
Fortunately, several processors target hobbyist film shooters, offering reasonable service at a better price. Here are the ones I use, including their total price for processing a roll of 35mm color film, scanning the negatives, and shipping. All of these labs charge a little more for other film sizes and for b/w film and slide film. They will also print your images for a fee, and offer other services I’m not mentioning here.
My favorite labs
Old School Photo Lab, oldschoolphotolab.com: I use this lab the most now. They process 35mm, 120, 110, 126, 127, 828, APS, single-use cameras, and 4×5 sheet films. They handle color and b/w negative and color slide films.
They offer online ordering and payment. Processing a roll of 35mm color negative film and getting their standard scans costs $16 and they pay shipping both ways. Prices for other formats vary.
Their standard scans are a generous 3072×2048 pixels. That’s big enough for any enlargement short of mega-poster size. Uprgraded scans of 6774×4492 pixels cost $7 more. When your scans are ready, they email you a link to where you can download them. If you want a CD of the scans, it’s 3 bucks extra.
These guys are fast, sometimes scary fast. Once I mailed them a roll of 35mm color film on Saturday and got an email on Wednesday that my scans were ready for download. Awesome! And the one time I had a problem with their service, they handled it with aplomb.
Dwayne’s Photo, dwaynesphoto.com: I’ve sent a ton of film to Dwayne’s in Parsons, KS. They process and scan 35mm, 120, 220, 620, 127, 110, 126, Disc, and APS. They handle color and b/w negative and color slide films.
Ordering from Dwayne’s is a little complicated, with different printable order forms for their various services. Prices vary widely, but processing and scanning a roll of 35mm color film costs $14 including shipping back to you. You pay to ship your film to them.
Their scans are 2740×1830 pixels. This is the only scan size they offer. And hallelujah: Dwayne’s now offers downloadable scans! No more waiting for a CD to arrive in the mail. You can have either downloads or a CD (but not both) for the same price.
I’ve had great experience with Dwayne’s customer service. They really goofed once, processing a roll of color film as black and white. I got a handwritten apology and a roll of replacement film with my negatives and scans.
Willow Photo Lab: This is the oddest lab in the bunch, because they operate entirely through eBay. For now, anyway; last time I ordered from them, they said they were working on a traditional Web site. Anyway, go here to see their eBay store.
Willow is far and away the price leader. You get better prices the more rolls you send them. I normally buy their two-roll deal: $14 for processing and scans or prints, including return shipping. You have to pay to ship them your film. Their best deal is 10 rolls processed with scans or prints for $42.75 shipped to you.
The downsides: They process only 35mm and APS color negative film. Scans are skinty at 1524×1024, sent to you on a CD. They offer no option for larger scans or for downloading scans.
And ordering is quirky. The listings are verbose and hard to parse. The deal you used last time might not exist this time. If the listing says prints but doesn’t mention scans, I’ve learned that if you send a note with your film asking for scans instead of prints, they’ll cheerfully do scans. It’s all kind of a hassle, but these are the best prices I’ve found anywhere and their work is good. And if there’s a problem, the owner himself handles it, swiftly and kindly.
Worth a mention
The Darkroom, thedarkroom.com: I used to use this lab in San Clemente, CA, all the time. They process 35mm, 120, 126, 110, APS, single-use cameras — and 4×5, 5×7, and 8×10 sheet film. They handle color and b/w negative and color slide films.
They offer online ordering and payment, and online downloading of your scans. The scans are usually ready about 7 days after I drop the film into the mail. It takes up to a week longer to get your negatives and a CD of your scans back. Processing, standard scans, the scan CD, and shipping both ways for a roll of 35mm color film costs about $17. Prices for other formats vary.
Unfortunately, The Darkroom’s standard scans are puny, 1536×1024 pixels, or 1.6 megapixels. You won’t want to enlarge them beyond about 5×7. You can order larger scans — 3072×2048 and a whopping 6774×4492 pixels — but you’ll pay an extra $4 or $9 per roll, respectively.
Fulltone Photo, fulltonephoto.com: I haven’t used this La Grange, KY, lab in a while, but they always did great work for me. They process 35mm, 110, 126 and 120 films, negative and slide.
They don’t offer online ordering, but they’re so close to my Indianapolis home that mailing time is cut way down for me. I usually get a CD of scans back from them in about seven days.
Processing a roll of 35mm color film with standard scans is a bargain at $11.50, including shipping both ways. Prices vary for other formats.
Their standard scans are on the small side, 1818×1228 pixels, which won’t print well much beyond 5×7. Enhanced scans cost $5 more, and are generous at 4535×3035 pixels. For a buck a roll, they’ll upload your images for you to download. If you spend at least $15 with them, shipping is free, which lops $4.50 off the bill.
Film Rescue International, filmrescue.com: If you ever find long expired film in a camera, these are the best guys to process it. They process any film, no matter how old, period, and use creative techniques to coax images out of even the most fragile old films. For a couple particular old color films, they can only return black-and-white images — but that you get images back at all makes it worth it. They processed a roll of Verichrome Pan I found in my Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, returning eight good scans of a family’s late-1960s vacation to Niagara Falls. See those photos here. Cost depends on a number of factors and is not cheap, starting at $37 (including return shipping) and going up steeply from there. But if they can’t get images off your film, you pay nothing.
It’s never been less expensive to shoot film. Read why.