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Are you getting crappy film prints? Should I blame digital?


TPF Noob!
Jun 9, 2006
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I am not a professional, but I do have a degree in motion picture filming and know what I'm doing. I have taken a lot of great pictures with my Pentax SLR, but I have been getting really frustrated over the last few years because I can't seem to get decent looking prints from a roll of film. I usually take my rolls to a 1 hour-type photo place and have had no problem with getting fine prints. Over the last 3-4 years I have not been able to get decent prints. I have lived in NYC for 3 years and this is really where I have had problems. I have taken stuff to a pro lab (L&I, C-Lab) and they turned out great but were outrageously expensive and I can't afford pro lab prices. So my question is multi-pronged:

1) I assume most little labs are using some type of digital to film system and I think this is the problem. How do these work? My biggest gripe is that at the worst, I have actually seen aliasing on 4x6 prints from a negative! At best, I have noticed that particularly skin tones have this weird look, like they have almost been solarized or a 'softening' or 'blend' tool has been used. I bet there is some kind of 'skin tone algorithm-thingy' going on, we have a similar function on higher-end video cameras.

2) Do those of you in NYC, particularly NOHO, have suggestions for a decent small lab for the amateur photographer? Once again, I have gone to L&I and C-Lab and they are great but way too expensive.

3) Am I crazy? :crazy: Is this happening to you too? I can understand this happening with cheap-o digital enlargements, but regular prints should look good. It's discouraging and makes me not want to waste money of film, but I love it and don't really like shooting digital, but it kind of freaks me out because I fear that for the average Joe, digital to film prints are going to look better than film to digital to film prints.

Thanks in advance,
I can probably help you with your second query.

Manhattan Color Labs
4 West 20th St.
New York, NY 10011
Tel: 212.807.7373
[email protected]
Mon-Fri: 7am - 12 Midnight
Sat/Sun: 9am - 6pm

I've been there couple of times to develop/print 4x5 chromes. Excellent service and fast turnaround. :thumbup:
I wasn't happy with their scanning though. But it wasn't a drum scan.

My scanner is not hooked up, or else I would have emailed you their price list. PM me or you can probably call them tomorrow morning.
Are we talking about C-41 or E-6 here?

If it's C-41, I'd also ask you to test Mpix.com - Film Services.
Very economical than the above option.

Welcome to TPF! :)
The current minilabs don't print optically anymore. Some genius thought that a good way to cut costs is to scan the neg and then expose the neg paper with a laser - just like a digital photo. The second genius desided that the consumers don't care about quality and decided not to scan at the full resolution of the scanner.

So there's a horde of people who've never seen a well exposed color neg printed properly and they are claiming that digital is god.

I print my own stuff with a durst laborator, but it takes too long, so it's reserved for the stuff I really care about.
Part of my reason for boycotting various 1-hour places--Wal Mart being the worst offender. Not to name names or anything...

First, I am in New Mexico, so I cannot answer as to where.

But here is what I can tell you as to why some things have been happening. I worked in a photo lab locally for a year, and saw the quality of the chemicals drop. In addition, I have seen many times, (though it may not be across the board here) that the operators of the machines should be working at the golden arches, not a photo lab. Many of the teen-somethings, and twenty somethings don't know jack about photography, and don't care.

As for the scanning issue, like was said above, LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR. If they can do it cheaply, they will.

Personally, I have seen that (THIS IS ONLY MY OWN OPINION!!!) when you run Fuji through Kodak your fine. Fuji through Fuji your fine. Kodak through Kodak your fine. Kodak through Fuji......well, go digital.

In addition, many of the 'High-Res' scans are actually 300 dpi, without allot of consideration file size, and thus the images are compressed. If done on a scanner, the file size will get over 100mb, and that will crash thier systems.

If you want high quality scans, you will have to pay for them. For the amount that you spend on this system, you might as well find your own drum scanner and do them yourself.
I've found that if I'm not in a real hurry to get the film developed, and take the roll to Wolf's Camera or even my nearest BJs (which uses the Kodak lab services), I'll get very decent prints from them. The problem with the one-hour places is that they want to cut down both on costs and also to trade off on quality vs. fast and easy (or easier). Which is another variant of the Lowest Common Denominator that someone mentioned. Or is it the Law of Minimum Effort?
Thanks to all that have replied. In response to some of the questions/comments:

I'm usually processing c41.

Thanks for the Manhattan Color tip, I will defiantely check it out, as well as Mpix.

Also the comment that was made about Kodak on a Fuji kind of makes sense. Two of the places that I tried seemed really promising: they were nice, reasonably priced and seemed to know what they were doing, but they both had Fuji machines. I seem to recall that after I got a Fuji roll done and it looked pretty good, I did another Kodak which didn't look so hot, just like the first one I took there. I think you may be on to something.

Glad I'm not crazy,
There is nothing wrong with the method Fuji Frontier and other such systems use to make prints. In fact, it eliminates many of the issues of colour printing and older optical printing methods in general. The reason you are getting crappy prints from film is because it has to be scanned first to be printed this way, and if they have their system set up poorly or on low quality settings, the print will not be very good.

You can try asking them to increase the quality of the scans, but it's likely they just have it set up for speed and will not want to make any changes (or won't know how to). You could also try scanning your own film (my choice) or taking it to another lab. I am mostly using Costco at the moment, because they are very cheap, and have their printer profiles available online. The results are as good as any expensive lab I've tried, so I am sticking with them. I have a Nikon Coolscan V for doing film scans.
markc said:
If you do a search here you should be able to find some good threads on finding a lab. I don't use them any more, but my rule was to always get to know the people doing your work.
Couldn't agree more there. I run the lab at the only local custom camera shop here in town. We use an Agfa D Lab, purchased 2 months before Agfa went under. :roll: It is a very nice piece of equipment, far better than the Fuji Frontiers I used to use. However, what looks like a nice print to me may not look so hot to you. The customers that get to know me, let me know what they like to see in their prints and I take that into account and do the proper color and density adjusting to make the prints pleasing to them. I can't do this if I don't know what you like. :)

If you're not happy with the prints you're getting; take them back into the store and explain. Any decent lab will redo them for you at no charge, and this is a good time to get to know the lab people doing your work. Odds are, they'll remember you and do your film "right" next time around so that they don't have to do it a second time.

Lab girls are people too, come get to know us! :p

I would switch to slide film. $6 a roll for processing and mounting at L&I and done in 2 hours. Then pay $10 when you have a photo that you want to make a good 8 x 10 out of. Plus there are many other benefits of slide film.

If you are going to be making prints, personally I'd stick to negative film. If you are going to take the time and spend the money to find a lab that can make a good print from slides, the same effort can be applied to making a print from negatives.
I guess the difference being that it's still affordable to get processing at a pro lab with slides, I don't think you'll find a pro lab that will do a roll of prints for less than $15 (almost triple). Sure the cost of an enlargement will be the same.


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