I’ll always miss the days of taking my film to the drug store to get it developed and then printed or scanned. It was so convenient, fast, and inexpensive!
By-mail labs now fill the gap — except they’re neither as fast nor as convenient, and some of them aren’t exactly inexpensive. Still, I’ve found a handful that do good work. I’m going to share with you the ones I’ve tried and like best.
I’m a frugal, hobbyist photographer in Indiana, USA. I’m looking for basic services, good quality, and reasonable prices. That’s why this list doesn’t include any boutique or pro labs. They offer white-glove service and outstanding quality for the demanding customer, and charge accordingly.
I also shoot more than 35mm color film in my vintage cameras. I need labs that can handle medium-format (120) film, and obsolete formats like 620, 127 and 110. I also sometimes shoot expired film and prefer labs that give it the extra care needed to produce good images.
I do have a couple gripes with most consumer labs. First, some of these labs have become much more expensive over the years, charging 20 bucks (including shipping) to process and scan a roll of 35mm color film, and more than that for other formats. I don’t understand the economics of running a lab, but that price is mighty high.
Second, most of these labs offer basic scans that I consider to be far too small, at less than 2,000 pixels on the long side. These labs all scan at 72 DPI, which allows these small scans to be printed at up to 11×17 inches. But I share my photographs online, where pixel dimensions largely trump DPI. I often want to crop my work, but scans this small makes it difficult to do that and have the image still be large enough for online display.
Here are the labs I use, in order of my preference.
Fulltone Photo, of La Grange, KY, processes, scans, and prints 35mm and 120/620 films. Their Web site says they also handle 110 and 126, but their order form disagrees. They process color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.
Their Web site is fulltonephoto.com. You print and fill out their order form and mail it in with your film. After they’ve processed your film, they email you for payment. They accept only credit cards. When your scans are ready they send you a download link.
Fulltone does good work at the lowest price anywhere. Processing and standard scans for 35mm 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. They provide a postage-paid label for mailing your film to them. Return shipping is $4.50 for orders under $15 but free otherwise, so it pays to send them many rolls at once.
Fulltone’s 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 (despite their order form claiming 4535×3035). Even with this upcharge, Fulltone undercuts everyone’s price for their standard service. The quality of Fulltone’s scans is very good.
Customer service is good — once they screwed up scanning one roll, and they cheerfully rescanned the negatives. They’re also the closest by-mail lab to my central-Indiana home, which cuts shipping time.
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 black-and-white negative and color slide films. They also process movie films.
Their Web site is dwaynesphoto.com. At last, they offer online ordering! They take PayPal and credit cards. If you use their older printed order forms, they also take checks and money orders. When your images are ready, they send you a download link. You can also opt to have them mail you a CD of your scans.
Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm or 120 color or black-and-white negative film costs $9. Slide film costs $12.50-$13.50 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 of negative film are a not-bad 2740×1830 pixels, though slide film is only 1830×1220 for some reason. For an extra $5, you can get scans of these films at a ginormous 6770×4490 pixels. Scan resolutions are similar for other film types and formats. The quality of Dwayne’s scans is average.
Dwayne’s can handle any curveball I throw them. Once a roll broke while I rewound it 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.
The Darkroom in San Clemente, CA, processes, scans, and prints 35mm, 120/220/620, 110, 126, Advantix, and sheet film. They process color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.
Their Web site is thedarkroom.com. They offer online ordering with credit card and PayPal payment. They also offer printable order forms if you want to send a check or money order.
Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm or 120 color or black-and-white negative film costs $17.95 shipped both ways. Add $2 for a single-use camera, $3 for slide film, and $3 for other film sizes. Shipping costs the same no matter how many rolls you send, so it pays to send several at once.
Their standard scans are a puny 1536×1024 pixels. It’s worth it to spend the extra $3 to get the 3072×2048 enhanced scans. They also offer 4492×6774 super scans for $8 more. These sizes are all for 35mm and 120; other formats scan at similar dimensions. The quality of The Darkroom’s scans is average.
After you mail your film, expect scans in about ten days to two weeks. They are the lab farthest away from my Indiana home, so some of that time is how long it takes the film to reach California.
The Darkroom has never messed up any order, so I can’t comment on their customer service. They have been off this list the last couple years because they’re more expensive than the labs listed above. But I put them back on because they’re now less expensive than the next lab, which I keep on this list for a few key reasons.
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 process color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.
You order and pay through their Web site, oldschoolphotolab.com. Processing a roll of 35mm color negative film and getting their standard scans costs $19.75, including shipping both ways. 120/620 color negative film costs $20 shipped both ways. In both cases, black-and-white film costs $1.25 more and slide film costs $2.75 more. Other film formats start at $26 per roll, shipped both ways. They give discounts if you send several rolls at once. They accept credit cards and PayPal.
Over the years Old School’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. Despite their ongoing price hikes, they stay on this list year after year for three reasons:
- 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.
- 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 Old School.
- They take special care of expired films.
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. The quality of Old School’s scans is very good.
Old School 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. They’ve never screwed up one of my orders, but a few times I’ve written to ask if my film ever arrived. They now send an email when it does so you don’t have to wonder.
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.