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Big film labs: what EXACTLY makes them bad?
Old 03-24-2017   #1
papo
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Big film labs: what EXACTLY makes them bad?

I always hear that these big labs that drug stores or supermarkets work with, develop film not so well but what exactly makes them so bad compared to small labs that people claim are better?

I just want to understand why i should drop double to get a roll develped with no special wishes

Besides, shouldnt i be able to count on the reliability of big labs because of the equipment they have and that the chemicals are most likely fresh(er) because they have more clients and have to keep a certain level of quality?

Either way, i would love to hear from you guys on this. Thanks
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Old 03-24-2017   #2
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The negatives are kind of red and sludgy, with a good lab the colors are clean with good contrast. I'm not sure that big labs are bad, but bad labs are bad.
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Old 03-24-2017   #3
BLKRCAT
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for me I pay extra to use a pro lab that develops using dip and dunk machines. I've had numerous rolls over the years get caught in those drugstore roller transport machines and when that happens the roll is ruined.

Basically for me I pay for reliability. Especially if Im doing client work, or if there are images I have on a roll that I can't lose at any cost I'll go to my regular pro lab.

There are exceptions I'll make when it comes to speed. Usually drugstores, or smaller labs like this develop on weekends or will same day a lot of stuff in an hour. Meanwhile my pro lab will only soup during the week with rolls dropped off before a certain time.

It all comes down to preference and how willing you are to risk your roll. Theres like a 95% chance nothing will happen but it still is possible a roll could get ruined.

Now for lab scans – I don't use lab scans. I never pay for them in my regular shooting. I always find that they are corrected in a way that makes editing after the fact difficult. They are usually TERRIBLY over sharpened. To the point that I've seen effects similar to reticulation.

My Pro Lab in Toronto is Toronto Image Works. I take all my processing there. One exception was my recent roll of Alpha Cinestill 800T supplied by Downtown Camera. The scans were ~2048px @72dpi, 8 bit, oversharpened like crazy. To be fair though they did dev and scan the roll for $5 so there really isn't much to complain about. Just something to be aware about if you are looking for something higher quality.

You can see the results in my Cinestill video here:

https://youtu.be/lctl_BnzRTQ
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Old 03-24-2017   #4
papo
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BLKRCAT View Post
for me I pay extra to use a pro lab that develops using dip and dunk machines. I've had numerous rolls over the years get caught in those drugstore roller transport machines and when that happens the roll is ruined.

Basically for me I pay for reliability. Especially if Im doing client work, or if there are images I have on a roll that I can't lose at any cost I'll go to my regular pro lab.

There are exceptions I'll make when it comes to speed. Usually drugstores, or smaller labs like this develop on weekends or will same day a lot of stuff in an hour. Meanwhile my pro lab will only soup during the week with rolls dropped off before a certain time.

It all comes down to preference and how willing you are to risk your roll. Theres like a 95% chance nothing will happen but it still is possible a roll could get ruined.

Now for lab scans I don't use lab scans. I never pay for them in my regular shooting. I always find that they are corrected in a way that makes editing after the fact difficult. They are usually TERRIBLY over sharpened. To the point that I've seen effects similar to reticulation.

My Pro Lab in Toronto is Toronto Image Works. I take all my processing there. One exception was my recent roll of Alpha Cinestill 800T supplied by Downtown Camera. The scans were ~2048px @72dpi, 8 bit, oversharpened like crazy. To be fair though they did dev and scan the roll for $5 so there really isn't much to complain about. Just something to be aware about if you are looking for something higher quality.

You can see the results in my Cinestill video here:

https://youtu.be/lctl_BnzRTQ
I understand the difference with reliability and scans but what about quality itself? Is there a difference? What about film characteristics when developing? For example, Portra is know for its skin tones, would the quality and character of Portra not be as good if i developed it in a big lab?
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Old 03-24-2017   #5
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I don't know if this is necessarily due to being a "big" lab, but it is more frequent with big labs due to volume and target customer:

1. Scratches
2. Poor overall development due to exhausted/contaminated chemistry
3. Misplacement/loss

1. My typical experience with big labs (i.e., drop off the roll at Walgreens to be "sent out") is scratched negatives. Of the last several rolls developed this way, there were scratches to some extent on every one of them. Often, its one or more scratches that extend allll. the. way. from one end to the other. I think this is from volume, and employees who are not necessarily photographically oriented people, and the distance between the customer and the folks running the film through the machine. You have to clean the machines often to get the scratch-making stuff out. You have to check frequently to see when those occur. You have to treat films appropriately (avoid contamination, etc.).

2. Sometimes, not always, the negatives come back really dark, or with obvious poor development. This is usually because of volume. Need to replace (not just replenish) chemistry more often with volume. Gunk builds up quickly with volume. Chems get exhausted quickly with volume. Need to check frequently to see when cleaning and replacement is needed. Employees who are not invested in the happiness of professional customers and not going to do as thorough a cleaning of the machines. Think of those teenagers at the fast food restaurant -- not likely they're going to deep clean the grill until it shines like a diamond, eh (one reason I don't eat at such places)

3. Lost film. Again, due to volume. I've had film lost forever by "big" labs. I can only imagine the hundreds (thousands) of packets those labs process every day. Incoming, outgoing, record keeping, fast-paced environment (I imagine). I can see how the occasional roll/negatives/prints gets lost. With smaller labs, the less volume should decrease this possibility. But, can still happen...

I develop at home. B+W only now. I do have a fair amount of C-41 in the fridge/freezer though. I might burn through some on low-priority jobs/subjects and .....you guessed it.....send them to the big lab.
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Old 03-24-2017   #6
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I miss one hour photo places. Unfortunately quality took a nosedive in the digital era when shops ditched optical enlargements in favor of printing from scans. Worse is that a lot of "pro" camera shops now do the same thing, printing from scans.

I don't know what the issues besides that would be today. But I agree, that years ago, when everybody was still using film, you'd occasionally have a roll ruined by exhausted chemicals. But even then that was rare.
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Old 03-24-2017   #7
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Scratched film, poor development. That's about it for my experiences.. i never even got prints. When Target did developing (years ago) they were awesome, but i've not found another 'cheap' place that does a good job. I just do it at home myself now.
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Old 03-24-2017   #8
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I just stopped shooting color. Always liked B&W better anyway and I can do that at home. For color random family snaps I'll use my iPhone or a dinosaur Olympus E-410.
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Old 03-24-2017   #9
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It mostly comes down to "you get what you pay for", in my experiences, anyway. I use to take all of my colour rolls to a local spot that does 1 HR photo and consistently got mediocre results. It was cheap so I continued to do so until I smartened up.

Sadly, my local camera store only develops B&W so I started sending my colour negs to a well known and respected camera store in Halifax (About 5 hours away from me). It's quite pricey, but they do fantastic work. Well worth the extra money in my opinion.

I develop all of my Black and White at home and will definitely be giving C-41 and E-6 a go in the near future, but for now I'm content with my current system.
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Old 03-24-2017   #10
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scratched is usually due to the machines with transport used in 1hr or big cheap labs. Film gets transported by rollers. They are rarely cleaned. Not much to do with people who work there, except the lack of service skill or motivation. Like the dude said, Dip n Dunk is the ****, no transport marks.
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Old 03-24-2017   #11
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Yeah, I think I wasn't clear on that. The scratched films are from the roller transport through the machines. If they aren't cleaned well and often, stuff gets in the path, and scratches every strip/roll of film that goes through the system.

A lab in the big city north of me (Portland OR) offers dip and dunk, but it might only be for B+W. I already to that at home.... C-41 could be more convenient if the developing was reliable. I did cross-develop a few rolls of C-41 in Caffenol for fun.... I don't think that counts here in this thread though....
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Old 03-24-2017   #12
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If you bring your film to Walgreens, they will destroy the negatives without informing you in advance. I don't know about the other big chain drugstores.
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Old 03-24-2017   #13
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My experience with staff working in supermarket photo-labs is that they have no background in photography - they were staff who applied to work as store assistants and they were told which buttons to push on the minilab and that's as far as it goes. Found impossible to communicate to staff that the 400iso film i gave them for developing was pushed 1 stop.
Plus chopping my negatives that did not fit in the negative sleeves. But that has been covered in another thread here on RFF...
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