I used to use a local Walgreens, because they had a very good tech who cared and did a good job. In fact, I wouldn't even leave film on days he wasn't there. When my guy moved to a different part of the store, I started taking my film to a photo store instead. My point is, Walgreens can be fine, just like all these others, but you have to find a good person and get to know him or her.
By the way, I found it fairly easy to find a photo store that had prices as good as Walgreens, with excellent quality. So I really would advise you to check prices at photo stores as well.
Costco. The same people there for years, and they have the highest scanning res of any retail store. Plus I can download the color profiles for my store and their machine. You would be surprised how many "pro's" use Costco (for prints anyway).
Ken Rockwell talks about using Costco to make his prints from digital and all his negative film processing.
I agree. It has nothing to do with the store and everything to do with the people working the machines. Though you do need to have enough throughput to keep the chemistry fresh.
I've found Costco excellent for 35mm and digital. It does seem that they treat their employees well - you can see it in the interaction of the employees amongst themselves. Think the other big retailers will get the message? Doubt it - it could detract from executive bonuses! It's all a question of mind over matter - They don't mind......and we don't matter. :D
Originally Posted by mgb74
I have never used Cosco because I don't have membership and I don't believe in membership store. I have used Walgreens, CVS, Target, Meijer, Walmart and Ritz/Wolf processing. The results are mixed, I can't say anyone is better than another. They all do exceptable jobs at on time and terrible job another time. As for equipment, they all have good equipment and most of them a also fairly new. Some stores like Target, I notice that they just updated their equipment about 2 years ago. Walgreens used to have the Gretag equipment but they since upgraded to either Noritsu or Fuji. The equipment is not to blame except if you want optically printed prints then they don't have it. All of their equipment makes prints from a scan.
If you bring them JPEG files, all of them do a decent job that proves that their printers are in good calibration. When they print from a negative, the color balance and density depend either on the judgment of the operator or the machine automatic white balance and exposure. The results are mixed, some are OK some are bad. In this respect they are actually doing a better job nowaday than in the past since all of their equipment now allows the operator to preview the results on the monitor and make adjustment accordingly. Back in the 80's, most operators had to make judgment looking at the negatives only.
For processing of the negative, namely the C41 process, their quality is way down. Years ago most of the 1hr. photo lab had from 50 to over 100 rolls of 35mm film to process a day. In the morning before the store opens, the guy in charge (I was one of them guy back in the early 80's) would run the control strip, plot the chart and see if any adjustment needed to be made to the process. With large volume and a daily monitoring of the process, most stores back then had their process very stable and in very good control. Nowaday, the volume went way down and with low volume it's very difficult to keep the process stable and with the cost of the relatively expensive test strip to run only to process a few rolls I doubt that most stores nowaday run test strip daily any more. I have found the horible situation where they would shut down the C41 processor and only turn it on when they have film to run. Doing this the temperture of the process is not stable as the temperture controller has to hunt for the right temperture a while to get the temperture stable. With low volume it's very difficult to set a replenishment rate correctly to keep the process stable. They don't seem to clean their machine often enough (may be never?) so that there are a lot of lump and junk sticking to the negative and also scratches the negative. Their scanners also seems to scratch the negative near the edges of the image. The scratches generally won't show up in the prints that they printed because they do crop quite a bit.
As far as training, Wolf/Ritz has the people who do processing only do processing so I would expect them to be better trained but the results don't seem to confirm this. With Target and Walgreens just any employees can be made to do the photo processing stuff so I doubt that they can have much training.
I am now only concern with C41 processing, I don't care about the printing side any more because C41 processing at home is quite expensive and not easy to do it well. As for printing a few of the very high quality prints, I can print them in my darkroom or I can just scan the negative and print them on my own printer. No problem there. For high volume 4x6 printing (giving copies to other people) I would scan my negatives, doing color balance and density adjustment in PS and then save them as JPEG to give them to the stores for printing. This way I would take the operator judgment out of the process. Newly opened Walmart stores don't have the C41 processor any more and they use a new (don't know what brand) inkjet printer to do the printing. They do very good job printing from JPEG files and very economically. As for 120/220 negative, most stores do have the capability to process them but they simply don't want to do it.
Costco doesn't do film at all anymore in my location. Which is funny because the Northwest seems to generally have a strong film user base.
35mm C-41: Costco
35mm Black & White: I process
120 C-41: Samys Camera in Los Angeles
120 Black & White: I process
My local Costco does a good enough job most of the time. They do about 30 rolls a day.
I don't have a costco locally.....I wish I did for those odd jobs I need in a hurry.
In Australia, it is also "hit and miss". You could take your film to a KMart in one part of your city and get a good result, take it to another and it could be c***.
It all depends on who's running the show, if they are working on the day, do other staff take as much care, were they trained well etc, etc.
Best bet - take a few test rolls to the labs, ask some questions (preferably talk with the person in charge - although that can be a painful experience as well!!), run it, check it if you like it - build a rapport with the lab. Better to talk with the guy behind the counter and explain what you want than let him/her ride off into the sunset by themselves.
I had customers specifically request me to print their images as I was able to give them the results they expected; one of my other staff was always requested by another. They were happy to wait a little longer if it was our day off, although holidays were a bit tougher for them. ;)
John is right " So, it depends on who's in charge of the store, who runs the machines, etc."
Best advice - find one you like the results from and work from there.