Shooting film is fun. Figuring out where to get it processed, scanned, and printed is not. I’ve tried a lot of mail-order labs over the years and I’m going to share with you the ones I like best, and why.
I am a frugal hobbyist photographer in the midwestern United States, so I’m looking for basic services, good quality, and low prices within reasonable shipping distance.
I’m also looking for labs that can handle more than just 35mm color negative film. My town’s camera store processes, scans, and prints that stuff for a good price and I use them for it a lot. But sometimes I want to shoot black-and-white film or color slide film, or medium-format (120/620) film. The by-mail labs I choose can handle all of it. Some of these labs can handle obsolete formats like 127, 828, 110, and Disc.
The labs I use all do at least good quality processing and scanning, and all respond very well when something isn’t as you expect. Things do sometimes go wrong.
Unfortunately, with one exception these labs’ basic scans are too small in resolution for anything more than snapshot prints. My strong preference is for a scan of at least 3,000 pixels on the long side, which lets you print comfortably to 11×17. It also lets you crop the scans if you need to without the resulting image being uselessly small.
I’ve tried lots of labs, but these are the ones I keep going back to because I like their service.
Fulltone Photo, of La Grange, KY, processes, scans, and prints 35mm and 120 (and presumably 620) film. Their Web site says they also handle 110 and 126, but their order form disagrees. They handle color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.
Their Web site is at fulltonephoto.com. You print and fill out their order form and mail it in with your film. They provide a postage-paid label for mailing your film to them. After they’ve processed your film, they email you for payment. They take only credit cards.
Fulltone does good work at the lowest price anywhere. Processing and standard scans for color negative film costs $7. Medium format films cost an extra 50 cents; black-and-white films are a dollar more. Slide film costs $14-16 to develop and scan. Shipping is $4.50 for orders under $15 but free otherwise, so it pays to send them many rolls at once.
Standard scans are especially small at 1545×1024 pixels (despite their order form claiming 1818×1228). Fortunately, for an extra $5 you can get scans at a whopping 6774×4492 pixels (again, despite their order form claiming 4535×3035). Even with this upcharge, Fulltone undercuts everyone on price. To my eye, their larger scans look better than their smaller ones, too. When your scans are ready they send you a download link.
Customer service is good — once their scanner whiffed some of my scans and they cheerfully rescanned the negatives. They’re the closest by-mail lab to my central-Indiana home, which cuts shipping time. Fulltone has a lovely Instagram feed here that I enjoy following.
Old School Photo Lab
Old School Photo Lab, of Dover, NH, processes, prints, and scans 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 and pay through their Web site, oldschoolphotolab.com. Processing a roll of 35mm or 120 color or b/w negative film and getting their standard scans costs $18, including shipping both ways. Color slide film costs just a dollar more. They give discounts if you send several rolls at once. They accept credit cards and PayPal.
What I love most about OSPL is that their standard 35mm JPEG scans are a generous 3072×2048 pixels. I know no other lab that offers standard scans that large. You can order giant scans, at 6774×4492 pixels, for an extra $10 for JPEG or $20 for TIFF. Medium format scan sizes are similar.
The other thing I love about OSPL is that they’ve never let me down — their processing and scans have always met or exceeded my expectations. I can’t say that about any other lab I’ve used. When the film really, really matters, I send it to OSPL.
Unfortunately, over the years OSPL’s prices have crept up so that they’re now the most expensive of this class of labs. You can get good service and quality for less at the other labs I recommend.
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. I occasionally order 4×6 prints from OSPL and they’re lovely.
OSPL is popular and therefore a little slow — after you mail your film, expect scans in no less than two weeks. The staff responds promptly and cheerfully when you contact them. The lab is active on Twitter and the feed is often a hoot. The same goes for their Instagram feed.
Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, KS, is the granddaddy of all by-mail labs. They process, print, and scan 35mm, 120/620, 220, 127, 110, 126, Disc, and APS films. They process color and b/w negative and color slide films.
Their Web site is dwaynesphoto.com. Ordering from Dwayne’s straight outta the 90s: you have to print out and fill out order forms, the right one for the kind of film you’re sending. When you send them more than one kind of film you have to fill out multiple order forms. Here’s hoping Dwayne’s upgrades to electronic ordering. They take PayPal and credit cards, as well as checks and money orders
Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm or 120 color or b/w negative film costs $10. Slide film costs $13.50-$15 depending on format. Other services’ prices vary. Return shipping costs $5 for the first roll and 50 cents for each additional roll. They don’t offer prepaid mailing labels so have your postage stamps ready.
Their 35mm and 120 scans are a not-bad 2740×1830 pixels at 72 dpi. For an extra $5, you can get scans of negative films at a ginormous 6770×4490 pixels. Scan resolutions vary for other film types and formats.
You can choose to download your scans or have them mailed to you on CD. I go for the downloads and Dwayne’s pretty consistently emails me a link to them within a week of receiving my film. (Slide film takes longer.) I’ve not ordered prints from Dwayne’s.
Dwayne’s can handle any curveball I throw them. Once I broke some film while rewinding in one of my old cameras. I stuck the camera into a dark bag, coiled the film into a black film canister, marked the can “Loose Film Open in Darkroom,” and sent it to Dwayne’s. They processed it without skipping a beat.
Customer service is good if impersonal. Once I sent them a roll of expired Kodak Gold 200 in 620 and they accidentally processed it as black and white. They sent me a note of apology, my black-and-white negatives and scans, and a fresh roll of Ektar, albeit in 120.
Film Rescue International
Sometimes you’ll find some very old, very expired film in a camera. Any of the above labs will process it, but they might not get good images because old film deteriorates.
Send it straight to Film Rescue International, filmrescue.com. They process any film, no matter how old, and use creative darkroom and Photoshop techniques to coax the best possible images from it. They’re expensive and they’re slow, but they do outstanding work.
I used Film Rescue 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.