Just a few years ago you could get film processed almost anywhere: Walgreens, CVS, Target, Walmart, Costco, Meijer. No more.
Digital photography did them all in. It also led Kodak and Fujifilm to kill several film stocks. But film has survived its long dark night. People born into the digital age are discovering what we longtime film shooters have always known: film is special.
And so I see more people starting film-photography blogs, sharing their film shots on Instagram, and scouring thrift stores and eBay for that next camera to try. And astonishingly, several new films are being introduced this year, including Kosmo Foto Mono, JCH Street Pan 400, Ferrania P30, and even a reborn Kodak Ektachrome. It’s a great time to shoot film!
But where to get it processed? If your town has a camera store, it might process film. I live in Indianapolis, where Roberts Camera still processes 35mm color negative film. I never order prints, just scans, which Roberts burns to CD. The scans are generous, 3130×2075 pixels at 72 dpi. I like generous scans! And the price is right, at about $8. And they turn orders around within two business days.
But what if you aren’t close to a camera store? Or if you shoot film they can’t handle, like black-and-white film or medium-format (120) film, or an uncommon format like 110 or 127? That’s when I turn to one of several by-mail labs around the United States. I’m going to recommend the ones I use. I’d love it if you’d share the ones you use in the comments, especially if you live outside the United States.
Old School Photo Lab
I’ve used Old School Photo Lab of Dover, NH, the most. Their Web site is oldschoolphotolab.com. They proces, print, and scan 35mm, 120/620, 110, 126, 127, 828, APS, and 4×5 sheet films. They handle color and b/w negative and color slide films.
You order through their Web site. Processing a roll of 35mm or 120 color negative film and getting their standard scans costs $16 shipped both ways. (You can print a prepaid shipping label on their site.) Prices for other formats vary. They give discounts if you send several rolls at once.
I love OSPL because their standard JPEG scans are a generous 3072×2048 pixels at 72 dpi. You can order even larger scans, at 6774×4492 pixels at 72 dpi, for an extra $7 for JPEG or $17 for TIFF.
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 and you have to wait longer to get them. OSPL prints digitally. I occasionally order 4×6 prints and they’re fine.
I love OSPL’s service. I’ve gotten scans in as fast as four days after mailing them film! But it normally takes about a week. Quality is consistent and good. The owner personally responds when you contact them. The lab is active on Twitter and the feed is often a hoot.
Dwayne’s in Parsons, KS, is perhaps the granddaddy of all by-mail labs. Their Web site is dwaynesphoto.com. Dwayne’s processes, prints, and scans 35mm, 120/620, 220, 127, 110, 126, Disc, and APS films. They process color and b/w negative and color slide films.
Dwayne’s is great, except that ordering is complicated. You have to print a paper order form from their site, the right one for the kind of film you’re sending, and fill it out. When you send them more than one kind of film, you have to fill out multiple order forms.
Processing and scanning a roll of 35mm color film costs $14 including return shipping. Other services’ prices vary. They don’t offer a prepaid label to mail your film to them. But if you send more than one roll of film, they steeply discount shipping.
Their scans are 2740×1830 pixels at 72 dpi. You can choose to download your scans or have them mailed to you on CD; the price is the same for either service. I’ve not ordered prints from Dwayne’s.
Dwayne’s pretty consistently emails me a link to my scans within a week. Quality is consistent and good. And I’ve had good, if impersonal, experience with Dwayne’s customer service.
Willow Photo Lab
Willow Photo Lab of Willow Springs, MO, is far and away the price leader. Their Web site is willowphotolab.com. They offer processing, printing, and scanning of 35mm, 120/620, and APS negative films, in color and black-and white, through their Web site. They process b/w film by hand!
With your first order they’ll include a list of all of their services, which includes 220 and 4×5 sheet films, the ability to specify D-76 or T-Max developer for b/w film, and discounts for large orders. When I order from this list, I pay directly through PayPal, print the receipt, write on it what I want, and mail it to them with my film. They always figure it out.
Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm costs just $7. Other services are similarly inexpensive but prices vary widely. Shipping costs depend on how far away from Missouri you are; most of my orders have been $3. They don’t offer prepaid mailing labels.
Scans are skinty at 1536×1024 at 72 dpi, sent to you on a CD. The last time I ordered their higher resolution scans, 3089×2048 pixels at 72 dpi, it cost me an extra buck. But that’s available only on their full service list. Willow still does wet-process printing on light-sensitive photo paper.
Willow is a small lab of just a few technicians. Send them film when time is not of the essence — they try hard to turn orders around within a week, but it can take longer. I hate to say it, because I really like Willow, but quality is uneven. I’m giving them extra chances because early this year a lightning storm took out a lot of their equipment, and it’s taken them time to get everything back the way they want it.
When you email them with questions, the owner responds cheerfully, personally, and promptly. A couple times we’ve struck up long email conversations about lab life and film photography, which is fun.
The Darkroom, of San Clemente, CA, is the SEO king of by-mail labs. Google “film processing” and see where they show up! Their Web site is thedarkroom.com. They process, scan, and print 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.
The Darkroom offers online ordering and payment. You can download a prepaid shipping label from their Web site, or they will send you a prepaid mailer if you ask.
Processing, standard scans, the scan CD, and shipping both ways for a roll of 35mm color film costs about $17. Prices for other formats are similar. Scans come with every order, both via download link and CD.
The Darkroom’s standard scans are puny, 1536×1024 pixels at 72 dpi. You can order larger scans, 3072×2048 and a whopping 6774×4492 pixels, for an extra $4 or $9 per roll, respectively. I’ve never ordered prints from The Darkroom.
Scans are usually ready about 7 days after I drop the film into the mail. It takes up to a week longer for my negatives and the CD to arrive, but I expect that they’d arrive faster if I lived closer to California. I’ve never needed to contact The Darkroom for customer service.
Film Rescue International
Any lab can process expired b/w or C-41 color film. But sometimes you’ll find some very old, very expired film in a camera. That film can be fragile. Or perhaps the expired film is newer, but it’s crucial you get the best possible quality images from it. Send it straight to Film Rescue International. They process any film, no matter how old, and use creative darkroom and Photoshop techniques to coax the best possible images from it. Their Web site is filmrescue.com. They’re expensive, and they’re not fast, but they do outstanding work.
I’ve used Film Rescue just once, for a roll of Verichrome Pan I found in a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. That film had been in the camera for more than 40 years in unknown conditions, so I was afraid it might have deteriorated badly. They got good, high-contrast images from that film. They lacked “that Verichrome Pan look” but were crisp and clean.