Film Photography

Recommended film labs

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

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

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.

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Camera Reviews

Nikon EM

I’m sure photographers everywhere thought Nikon was going to heck in a handbasket when they released the EM, a 35mm SLR, in 1979. Plastic body parts? No way to manually set exposure? Whaaaaaaat?

Nikon EM

SLRs were originally considered pro equipment. But through the 1970s, everyday photographers came to appreciate the SLR’s many positive qualities. Camera companies sensed a vast untapped market of amateurs and even casual shooters. Pentax may have been first to figure that out with their small, light, simple, relatively inexpensive ME in 1976. Is it coincidence that Nikon’s similarly sized and featured camera reversed those letters for its name?

Nikon EM

The EM was the smallest, lightest, simplest, and least expensive SLR Nikon had ever made. Yet virtually every F-mount lens made to that point mounted right on. The EM eliminated most of an SLR’s fussy controls, limiting the photographer to aperture-priority shooting (the Auto mode you see atop the camera). If you could learn to focus, you could get Nikon SLR-quality photographs.

Nikon EM

Nikon was deliberate in which corners it cut to build the EM. They built in quality where it counted, starting with a metal chassis. They also built in a metal shutter with electronically controlled shutter speeds from 1 to 1/1,000 sec. — stepless, meaning that if the available light made 1/353 sec. the right shutter speed, that’s what the EM gave you. You could set ISO from 25 to 1600. The EM even had contacts on the bottom plate for an auto winder. All of this required two LR/SR44 button batteries, but if they died you could set the camera to M90 and keep shooting with a 1/90 sec. shutter.

If you like little SLRs like the EM, also check out my reviews of the Olympus OM-1 (here) and the Pentax ME (here). I’ve also reviewed a slew of Nikon SLRs including the F2 (here), the F3 (here) the FA (here), the N2000 (here), the N60 (here), the N65 (here), and the N90s (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

I was headed out for a day on the Michigan Road, thanks to a quarterly board meeting. I headed south on the road towards Napoleon, the little town where we were to meet. Our meeting was in the Central House (photo here), built in about 1820. I had Agfa Vista 200 loaded as I made some photographs inside.

Inside the Central House

During loading I had considerable trouble getting the film to take on the spool. You have to make perfectly sure that a sprocket hole is perfectly placed on the little notch that sticks out on the takeup spool. Also, the meter won’t engage until the film counter is on 1, so you can’t shoot those early frames.

Inside the Central House

To activate the meter on most period Nikon SLRs, you pull the winder lever out. It’s a drag. Not so the EM: just touch the shutter button. The camera beeps when the meter has done its thing. Also, a needle moves to point to the shutter speed the EM has selected. If the EM keeps beeping, it can’t find a good exposure at your chosen aperture.

Inside the Central House

The wind lever is both neat and annoying. It’s a two-part lever. The first part pulls out to provide a good angle for winding, and then both parts work together to wind. Under use, it feels as if too much pressure would break it. Winding itself feels thin and unsure, lacking the usual Nikon high-quality feel.

Bank

My EM’s meter didn’t always want to engage. I found that if I moved the selector from Auto to M90 and back to Auto the meter would play nice again for a few frames. Old camera blues, I suppose.

White Lily

On the way home I stopped in Greensburg to photograph some favorite subjects. When this gas station switched from Shell to Sinclair several years ago I was very happy to see this Sinclair Dino placed out on the corner for all to see. It’s the company’s longtime mascot.

Dino

I walked Greensbur’g square to finish the roll. The EM handled easily, which is the whole point of a camera like this. I never got used to the cheap-feeling winder, and the fussy meter remained annoying. But I never failed to get sharp, evenly exposed photographs from the EM.

On the square in Greensburg

To see more from this camera, check out my Nikon EM gallery.

This Nikon EM came to me from a reader who had it in surplus, and I thank him for letting me experience Nikon’s little SLR. I do like little SLRs, as my love of the Olympus OM-1 and especially the Pentax ME attest.

This is a nice little Nikon body for an easy day of shooting.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Photography

Still more 35mm color scans from ScanGear on the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II

Lab scans of 35mm color negatives are miracles. Any lab I routinely use reliably sends me crackerjack digital images.

Getting usable scans from my CanoScan 9000F Mark II via its ScanGear software, on the other hand, is a lot of work involving a number of subjective choices in scanning and post-processing.

I used to think that the colors I got back from the lab were the film’s true colors. I see now how much of that is in the scanner settings, and that I don’t actually know how any film I typically use renders color.

The improvements I made this time were to scan to lossless TIFF files, and to turn off ScanGear’s Image Adjustment setting (which I had overlooked when turning off all the other image-enhancement settings). It helped? I think?

Here’s my scan of a photo I made on Kodak Gold 200 with my Olympus OM-1 and a 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro lens. There’s a little of that mottling in the blue sky that I keep trying to prevent. But it’s not as bad as in previous scans.

Roberts Camera scanned this film when I had them process it. It’s a touch brighter than my scan. The sky has a slight turquoise tint and lacks any mottling. Otherwise, either scan is fine.

North and Maple

Here’s my scan of a butterfly pausing over this flower. Notice how purple the flowers in the background are.

Roberts made those same flowers quite pink, but brought out the detail lurking in the butterfly’s wings.

Butterfly

I also tried scanning some Kodak Ektar 100 I shot in my Pentax Spotmatic F with a 35mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar lens.

Here’s Robert’s Camera’s scan. They got richer colors than I did, although I’d say the sky in mine looks more realistic. The green tint on the right edge of my scan is clearly an artifact of the negative that Robert’s somehow edited out.

Around Zionsville

I walked over to the building to make this close shot. My scan:

Roberts Camera’s scan got a richer red, but my scan offers better highlight detail.

Around Zionsville

It was so much easier when I accepted whatever color I got from my lab scans, as if they were the final word on film and lens. Now I’m suspicious of every scan, because of all the choices it represents. Is it possible that the only way to truly know what colors are in a negative is to make a darkroom print?

This, by the way, is the last in this series of experiments. I’ve learned what I need to. I get good enough black-and-white scans now to start processing and scanning black-and-white film, which was my goal. Now that I work Downtown in Indianapolis, eight blocks from Roberts Camera and their C41 lab, I’m likely to have them process and scan my 35mm color negative film. They charge just $10.

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Film Photography

Previously unpublished photos from my Kodak Pony 135

I have been feeling burned out lately. I’m settling into my new job okay, but there’s a lot to it and I still have a lot to learn, and that’s stressful. Also, we’ve been working on a rental house we own, painting and laying new flooring, after our longtime tenant abruptly moved out. I’ve left Margaret and a couple of her sons holding most of the bag there, as I just don’t have it in me to devote my weekends to the place. I urgently need downtime.

Except for a little noodling around with my Canon PowerShot S80 and a recent long-weekend trip to bourbon country in Kentucky with my Nikon FA, I haven’t been making many photographs. My blog doesn’t depend entirely on fresh photographs because of the stories and essays I write. But being burned out, I haven’t had anything to say.

I’ve been updating all of my camera reviews. They drive a great deal of search traffic to my blog, and are therefore my blog’s calling cards to the world. Especially on my older reviews, I wanted to make the text more compelling and reprocess the photographs using the tools and skills I didn’t have then but have now. It’s been a nice little project, one that gives me feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment with little mental strain.

In updating my review of the Kodak Pony 135 I discovered that I only uploaded to Flickr about half of the usable photographs from the two rolls of film I shot. I use “usable” broadly as my Pony 135 suffered from a wicked light leak that affected nearly every photograph. But today I find the effect to have a certain charm, and on many photographs it doesn’t detract all that much from the subjects or the great color and sharpness the Pony’s lens captured on Fujicolor 200.

I walked through my neighborhood with the Pony in my hand and captured some of my neighbors’ homes.

Neighborhood houses

Almost every house in the neighborhood was faced in brick all around. This was pretty common for 1950s-1960s suburban homes in Indianapolis. Today’s suburban homes tend to be wrapped in vinyl siding. Having now lived in both kinds of houses, I prefer the brick.

Neighborhood houses

The houses on every corner were duplexes, while all the ones in between were built for single families. This is one of the corner houses. The green Mustang parked in this carport only for a few weeks before it disappeared.

Neighborhood houses

I’m pretty sure I had Walgreens process and scan these. The store near my home still had a one-hour lab in 2011.

Neighborhood houses

Sometimes I look at one of my old photographs and wonder why I shot it. This is one of those photographs. I’m not sure what I thought the subject was. Yet somehow it pleases me today.

Blue skies

I’d had my blue Matrix just a couple years in 2011. It still looked pretty good. In the years that followed its paint chipped off, faded, and went chalky on pretty much every panel. When I sold it last year it was the worst-looking car I ever owned. Still, I miss it and would have another Matrix. I could carry so much stuff in its wayback, especially with the back seat folded down.

Blue car

I used to work near the Monon Trail, a former rail line converted into a pedestrian trail. Where the trail runs under Interstate 465 there’s a small parking lot and a restroom. These benches give hikers and bikers a place to rest for a minute.

Red benches

I’m sure these restrooms are welcome sight for people who travel the 20-mile length of this trail.

Red door

I liked using the Kodak Pony 135. I thought I’d try to fix that light leak. Degraded light seals are a usual culprit of leaking light in old cameras, but the Pony 135 seals light using deep channels where the door attaches to the body. There’s nothing to replace. Then a Kodak Pony 135, Model C, fell into my hands. It didn’t leak light, and its wider lens (44mm vs. the original Pony 135’s 51mm) was more useful for the kind of walking-around photography I do. So that’s the Pony I kept.

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Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Minolta AF-Sv (Talker)

St. Paul's

Meet the camera that scolds you. Check distance! Too dark, use flash! Load film! It’s the Minolta Talker, aka the Minolta AF-Sv.

Minolta AF-Sv

This camera came to me from the father of an old friend. He sent me his entire collection, and this was in it. I didn’t expect much from it, but on a sunny summer day Fujicolor 200 delivered slightly underexposed but soulful results.

Golden fence

As a result I’ve been looking forward to this camera’s turn in Operation Thin the Herd. When that turn came it was late November and early December, and the days were dismally gray. The voice in my heart said, “It’ll be fine! Great pics ahead!” while the voice in my head said, “This isn’t going to work out well.” I loaded Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, thinking I’d need the extra exposure margin. Even so, this camera underexposed consistently, to muddy and mottled result. I should listen to my head more.

Artsgarden

Let’s get it out of the way right now: that the camera talks is a useless gimmick. “Too dark, use flash” is all I can get mine to say, and that message would be more effective as a beep or a light. I shut the voice off. Speaking of flash, I’m not sure the one on my Talker works.

Margaret

The camera does work all right inside with enough ambient light, though. This was our Thanksgiving table. The china is Rosenthal from Germany and has been in my mother’s family for three generations. The purple water goblets are from Walmart, because this family knows better than to be too uppity.

Thanksgiving table

The AF-Sv handled all right. It’s a chunky camera so it doesn’t fit satisfyingly into the hand. But it’s easy enough to frame in the big viewfinder and the shutter button is where my finger expected it to be. It slipped right into my winter coat’s big front pocket. I had appointments all over town and up in Lafayette, and it went along on all of them.

Lafayette Theater

I did get about thirty minutes of sunshine in Lafayette, and it made all the difference to this camera. I had bright light when I shot the church door that leads this post, too. The shot below shows the sharpness this lens can deliver.

Your face here

Every last photo needed a hit of Auto Tone in Photoshop to be true to color though — especially shots I made on a drizzly day in Downtown Indianapolis. Here’s where an auto-everything point-and-shoot shines: this ’70s truck came along and I was able to capture it lightning fast.

The heartbeat of America

Lesson learned, though: shoot this camera on a sunny day, and overexpose by a full stop. The only way to do that on this camera is to dial in the appropriate ISO to get that net result, such as ISO 200 for ISO 400 film. The ISO dial is around the lens.

BBQ

This camera also struggled to focus close in anything other than great light. I wanted the fellow in front of this strange sports sculpture to be the subject. He’s farther away than the camera’s close-focus limit. 

Out of focus

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta AF-Sv (Talker) gallery.

I was disappointed in how this camera performed on this outing. Maybe I expected too much of it. It’s got to be hard to make an auto-everything point-and-shoot that gets everything right every time. But I can’t imagine shooting this camera ever again.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Pentax KM

In the upper room

One of my oldest friends sold me this Pentax KM. His father bought it new in 1976, the year Pentax introduced it and the famous K lens mount. In the 1980s the camera passed down to my friend; somewhere around here I have at least one college-days photo of him using it. I’m very happy to be this camera’s steward today.

Pentax KM

I never fail with this camera. Really. It’s almost magic. According to my notes I shot this tulip with the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens on Fujicolor 200. I don’t like that lens at all but just look at how lovely it rendered here.

Tulip

Most of the time I shoot the lens that came with this camera, the 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax. It is almost certainly a K-mount version of the sublime 55/1.8 Takumar from Pentax’s earlier screw-mount cameras. This lens never misses. It’s just wonderful.

Under the Clock

I took this kit and a roll of T-Max 400 to Purdue for an afternoon with my son. He brought his K1000 along; we spent the afternoon taking pictures. Goodness, was that ever wonderful to me. A fast-ish lens with fast-ish film and my generally steady hand let me do reasonable work indoors. Above, the Stewart Center; below, the Purdue Memorial Union.

Purdue Memorial Union

This is a shot from a library inside Stewart Center. I was surprised that they still follow the Dewey Decimal System, which I thought was passé among libraries today.

Study tables

This is Spitzer Court, with Cary Quad in the background. Damion lives in Cary. It’s very stately. We walked around inside a little bit and its common areas have this very 1890s feel. When you look past the modern pressboard furniture in those rooms, you can almost imagine young bejacketed pipe-smoking men sitting about in high-backed chairs at mahogany tables.

Spitzer Court

You’ll also find plenty of modern architecture at Purdue, like Hampton Hall.

Civil engineering

Damion’s buddy runs the ham radio club, so we got a tour. I just love old electronic gear. Just dig that great typography on that meter.

Ham radio club

They could have just printed “µA” on the meter on the right, but they went all the way and spelled it out in a sober typeface. The space between the letters lends such gravity, such certainty. You may rest assured in this meter’s reading.

Ham radio club

Okay, this has been more about my day at Purdue than about the Pentax KM. Let me reel this back in: this camera performed flawlessly. And perhaps I’m blinded by my love for Pentax gear but I found this camera to be perfectly unobtrusive as I used it. I framed, matched the needle for exposure, focused, and shot my way through this roll in no time flat. I wished I’d brought another roll of T-Max.

Beetle bug

After our long photo walk we walked over to a favorite pub for dinner. I sat the KM on the table, strap dangling. As we got up to leave and I picked up the KM, the strap caught on the table corner and the camera tore from my hand. It landed on the stone tile floor with a sickening splat. The corner of the bottom plate was dented and the UV filter on the lens shattered. Something must have bent slightly on the lens mount, as the aperture ring on any mounted lens now turns clockwise with difficulty. Some steward I am.

Clockworks

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax KM gallery.

My Pentax KM has been such a never-miss, sure-fire performer that I simply must get it fixed. I’m just very sad that I damaged this like-new camera.

Verdict: Keep

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