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Photography Question 
Tonya Cozart
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/22/2003

How Do I Find a Good Pro Lab?

I live in a small west Texas town, and I need to find a good lab for my developing and ordering. I have looked online and found Clark color lab that sounds OK, but how do I know they will be any better than Wal-Mart (which is pretty much my local access)? There are some labs in some larger cities, but I am not sure how good they are either. I am getting ready to start out professionally, and need to find out what all you pros do. Thanks in advance.

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9/23/2004 12:09:33 PM

Tonya Cozart
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/22/2003
  I forgot to add that I can, of course, and will have to do mail order, so I suppose any good lab would work for me if you can suggest any.

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9/23/2004 2:41:47 PM

Kerry Drager
BetterPhoto Member
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  Hi Tonya: A good question, and I definitely know how difficult it can be to find a good pro lab (or custom lab) that you can trust!

I live near Sacramento, California, and I have been using Cali-Color - - for many years ... for slide-film developing, for scanning, and for print-making.

A lab in San Francisco that's popular with professionals is The New Lab - During several shoots in S.F., I used this lab for reliable, quality developing. The New Lab does an active mail-order business, as well as walk-in traffic.

I know there are many other pro or custom labs, but these are two that I can personally recommend!

Good luck, Tonya!

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9/24/2004 10:45:54 AM

John P. Sandstedt
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/8/2001
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  If you're into slides, got to The Slideprinter, Denver, CO. They have a Web site where you can find their address. I've used them to make prints from slides and they're really great. They offer slide developing service - I've never used it.
I've found Clark to be very good, at an especially good price. But, now that I have a scanner that does prints, slides and negatives (color or B/W), I'm really only interested in the negatives and, generally speaking, even one-hour labs do a pretty good job with developing the roll of film.
Because Clark, Wal-Mart, and even Kodak are using computerized printers, none will give you really "custom" results. If you try to bracket a shot at less than a one-stop bracket, the computerized machines will normalize results, and you won't see the difference.

I'd look into back issues of Pop Photo, or even their Web site. They've had occasional articles about different labs around the country.

Beyond that, try to visit a local pro, a wedding photographer, or the like. As him/her where s/he gets work done.
Good luck.

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9/24/2004 12:59:35 PM

Jordan    Hello Tonya,
I use A&I (Los Angeles, CA) via mail order from Baltimore, MD. They're very professional, individually expose each frame (prints), and are reasonably priced. The 35mm C-41 mailers are 11.95 from and 12.50 directly from I've used them many times and they always do a great job, whether I tell them to print a certain way or if they just print what they think is best. They also do B/W and slides.
Good luck on finding the lab that suits you.

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9/25/2004 9:07:14 AM

Dave Hockman   Tonya,
I'll toss my two cents in as well. Locally besides the regular Walmart, Walgreens,(I do not use)we have a Costco with a Fuji lab. I take all my c-41 processing there. About 7.50 a roll. They are cheaper than a true "pro-lab," and like John, I scan what is worth scanning so I am primarily interested in the neg. I have developed a relationship with the manager of the department and if I have bracketed or controlled exposures carefully, she will cancel the controls when printing and the computer will not auto correct when printing. This works great for editing prints. They are going to print anyway for the price. Of course you can get a disk, (1.99 I think,) but here they will be jpeg's and I can't(won't)use jpeg's (quality.)
I use a local camera specialty store for C-6 (slides) as they can turn them around in 24 hours. They are about 6.00 for a roll, mounted and boxed. Unfortunately, they are outrageous in price for everything else so I only do business with them on slides. I have tried a couple mail order labs. Have not found one that I was satisfied with so far. I too have noted some labs listed above. I usually cannot wait that long. Bottom line for me was time and quality. It helps to talk directly with the actual lab tech. I mostly work on custom assignments and Fine-art projects. Ultimately, any client output is controlled directly in my own studio before presentation. I am in the Midwest, nearest the "Gateway."
Good luck.

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9/28/2004 1:52:04 AM

Dave Hockman   Tonya,
Sorry, I just wasted your time. I didn't see you had to use mail-order.
Good Luck.

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9/28/2004 1:57:26 AM

John P. Roberts, Jr.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2004

I live in a small town in NC and I use Wal-Mart all the time. Don't be deceived into thinking that becuase it's Wal-Mart it can't be that good. Their Fuji photo processing equipment is state-of-the-art, and it's hard to beat their prices. My only complaint is that they don't make prints larger than 8x10. But for 8x10's and smaller, I've never been disappointed with the quality at Wal-mart.

John Roberts

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9/28/2004 3:37:44 AM

Scott Pedersen   Can Walmart even develop Pro film? Isn't that got to be done in different chemical than C41? I wasn't happy with Walmart on my consumer film so I went to York. Its an online photo finisher. You would send your stuff to Indianapolis IN, would be the closest to you. But they handle consumer film just as Walmart, Iv been really happy with them but only use consumer print film too. But they do put them online so you don't need a scanner and they seem to do a good and inexpensive job of processing.


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9/28/2004 4:02:09 AM

Scott Pedersen   Im sorry Tonya, I should have givin you the address for York. Go to to get your mailers. or just to check it out. If that don't bring it up do a Google search for York Photo. Its one week turn around on processing film and a couple of days if you upload digital files.

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9/28/2004 4:36:49 AM

Jordan    Both the consumer and pro negative films are process C-41, so anywhere they do C-41 they can do pro. Whether the final prints look good is a different story. The problem with cheap consumer labs is they scratch the negatives and usually just auto-correct each image (Sam's Club). They're also likely not very familiar with professional films. BTW, A&I's turnaround is 24 hrs (if that matters since it will be in the mail for a week anyway).


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9/28/2004 4:45:17 AM

John P. Roberts, Jr.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2004
  Ooops! My bad! Since I converted to digital I forgot all the little variables you film shooters still have to worry about like scratches or fingerprints on negatives, over-used chemicals, etc. It all comes back to me now. I should have said that for prints from digital images I've never been disappointed with Wal-Mart. Sorry! Next time I'll read the question a little more closely.

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9/28/2004 5:18:04 AM

Dave Hockman   Hello Scott,
A tidbit of info. The development of a "film" ie. 35mm either "Pro or consumer" is exactly the same. If you were to do it yourself, you simply spool the film from the container(blank) onto a development spool that fits into a chemical tank, (years ago we would practice this as a skill), in the dark or with light mitts. You pour in the measurement of chemical developer, agitate for a given amount of time,(all set with charts)then pour it out. Stop the process with a stop bath chemical, agitate for given length of time, then wash it out. Pull the strip out, squeege and hang to dry. I think now days the stop can also be a wash. The difference between the "films" has to do with emulsion consistency, structure, grain etc. "Pro films" should have a higher level of emulsion refinement (more production process thus more cost) than a consumer grade film. Todays films are quite good across the board. However, for the really discerning professional, the difference or specialty can be worth it. The pro-lab would shine in printing from the negative. The adjustments would be made for each print for the variables in the printing process to produce the most appealling results (or specific results)of the "other half" of the process (negative to print.) The current consumer type lab is very good at using automation to achieve this on a set of values that would appeal the most across the "average" latitudes of the printing process. Hope this helps shed some light on this process.

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9/28/2004 5:20:15 AM

Jordan    John, give me $800 for a decent SLR digital camera and I'd gladly convert...

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9/28/2004 5:59:07 AM

James    Tonya,

I use a great lab. Buckeye Color Lab.They are very professional and are easy to work with. Look at Contact them and they will help you with everything. they work with people all over the US. I haven't had any problems with them yet and they have a lot to offer. Hope this helps

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9/28/2004 6:10:25 AM

Gregg Vieregge   You should have no problem in Texas. Use a pro lab that is not a one-hour. One-hour labs use hotter chemistry than the pro labs. See if the pro lab is printing on Kodak Endura paper. Ask about there printer. Is it a Noritsu? If you like a little higher contrast find a lab with a Fuji Frontier 370 printer. Use a lab that give you the option of services such as economy (no correction) and deluxe (color corrected) Most pro labs will pay the postage both ways. In Texas you may have to provide a sales tax id number to avoid that tax.

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9/28/2004 6:33:20 AM

Tonya Cozart
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/22/2003
  thanks to all of you. I forgot to add in my original question about the processing of c-41 and pro, I have not used the pro film yet, but am heading that way, so I am glad to know you do not have to have a "specialty" lab for that. While there is a discussion of that, any of you have any input on the best places/prices to get the pro film? I have heard and read good things about the kodack portra, but also that fuji gives better skin tones??? Any thoughts on that as well?

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9/28/2004 7:34:35 AM

Jordan    As far as pricing goes is usually pretty cheap. I've never used, but alot of people say that's good as well. Both places are in NYC.

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9/28/2004 9:32:43 AM

Dave Hockman   Tonya,
I use both of the above mentioned sources B@h and adorama... almost exclusively for film. I shop them back and forth , most of the time they are the same. I have not been burned yet by either source. Least expensive per roll I have found. Good dates and buy in bulk (20's)if you can. I use mostly Fuji, however, I would suggest you will have to experiment. Each manufacturer has certain traits unique to that Brand name. Good luck.

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9/28/2004 10:09:39 AM

Ken Henry   When you learn how to color and density correct print film prossessing, you can go to ANY mini and pro lab and do the final corrections to your standards.

All photo lab negative print machines print to average 18% grey density(light to dark). 1. if a large proportion of your image is white, the machine will print it 18% grey 2. It will print black to grey.
3. The more variety of colors and density tones in the photo from white to black the print will come out pretty well perfect.

Shooting people or any subject (with full flash) or landscape scenes in direct sunlight the machines tend to be the most accurate.

Natural light shooting....hmmmm. This is where you get a variety of color casts, even with slide film. Remember, this is negative film that these machines are trying to balance the colors.

The mini or pro labs have no clue what the actual colors or density is of your subject. Grass is green? What tone of green is it? Thier machines may be balance towards blue or yellow cast.

Example; I shoot interiors with fill in flash(this helps correct towards white balance and fills in the dark areas which would go black on film, etc.).
So I'm recording the natural ambience of the interior and adding a small amount of fill flash.
I put in a 3 foot grey card in my first exposure. My second exposure I do not use a grey card. Now the lab corrects to the crey card and sees the actual colors and density and corrects perfectly the second photo.

Or you give instructions to the lab to change either yellow, magenta, cyan and/or density. I like adding some magenta and subtracting a little yellow on my sunrise shots.

On the back of your prints are the following codes:

32A NNNN 517M
BN11 Here is where I write the correction code for the lab; B= minus 2 yellow, N= no magenta change, 1= plus 1 cyan, 1= plus 1 density.
Changing density adds yellow at this lab , so I subtracted two yellows. It's best to change density first so you can see any additional color shift towards blue or yellow.

Once you figure this out it's easier than spending time on your home computer, Besides a real photo is better than a print.

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9/28/2004 10:31:51 PM

Rhonda L. Tolar   Tonya, there is a professional color lab in Longview, Tx. I know that is East Tx and you are West Tx, but they do wonderful work, are very professional and work in a timely manner. Their web site is
They don't have alot of information on the website, unless you have an account with them, but you can at least email them for more info or give them a call.
Good luck!

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9/29/2004 7:11:47 AM

Tim T   If you are a serious photographer and can do $2500.00 a year in business, check out millers photo lab. (

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9/30/2004 10:01:38 AM

Amy Anderson   I live in Boerne, just outside San Antonio. I've found that San Antonio Photolab is the best in our area. You can now order online instead of mailing a cd into their office. They have fantastic customer service. Their prices are reasonable. Their website is dinky, but you can check it out at

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10/4/2004 1:09:13 PM

Shermie Steuart   What about in East Valley of Arizona (City of Tempe, Chandler or Mesa)...
How do I find a good Pro Lab? Thanks...

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10/5/2004 7:48:56 PM

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