Getting good prints from a lab – part 1

Having bought a Mamiya 645 medium format film camera a few months ago, I wanted to make a return to the traditional chemical processing techniques which I used for many years until switching to a digital workflow in 2004. I’m interested in the difference in print quality – in terms of sharpness and colour reproduction – between traditional printing and the scanned negative printed via digital means.

If you take your digital photos to a high street lab these days, chances are that the prints you get back will be in one of two formats: printed by the quick-access (and often self-service) machines within minutes onto inexpensive paper, or on higher quality paper intended for digital printing via the professional in the shop. A third digital option is to have “plotter” prints made, which are printed at large sizes onto semi-plasticized poster-type paper. All of these methods are tried and tested and capable of perfectly acceptable results.

I strive to create the best photographs I can and as a pedantic, experienced photographic printer, I demand a lot from third party labs. (Yes, I drive some shop staff up the wall: that’s my right as a customer!) As I spend a lot of time and effort ensuring that each photo is as good as it can be, from composition right through to post-processing, I don’t want the picture to be spoiled by sub-standard printing or inaccurate cropping. To that end, I always make sure that I pay attention to the same, important aspects of the printing process.

As I go through the end-to-end process of getting good prints, I will be posting a series of articles here on my website, with examples and links to services I have used. The aim being to share with you how you can get the best results for printed copies of your photographs.

You can follow the series by subscribing to this specific RSS feed or by viewing all of the articles in this list.

4 replies on “Getting good prints from a lab – part 1”

A couple of points:

Many camera shops or high street shops outsource their developing and printing, so you should ensure you’re not trying to compare prints from the same source.

There are also labs catering to professionals which specialize in fine art papers and alternative print materials.

Thanks for the comment Nick. I’ve already been through the process many times in the past and will be describing my experiences and the learning curve. Not comparing suppliers. As to the outsourcing: that’s part of the process which I intend to describe.

Hi,

I was in the same situation some months ago. Tried digital photography with D3 and D300 but it was not satisfying. So I bought a 645 Pro Tl and a medium format scanner and everything changed, because shooting in mediumformat is very challenging, due to the limitations / chances of film speed and the DOF.
Me I tried some labs, the best being Chromobyte in Basel but now Im doing the development on my own with DIY Kits like the Rollei. Its so easy, you would not believe it until you have tried it yourself.
If you have already made some experience in B&W than C41 is no longer challenging. Give it a try and you save time, money and somtimes the scratches, dips and ….
So, you do not have to use a processor, even a small tank and a waterbath is sufficient for superb results.

Thanks for the comment, Ralf. I do have C41 experience; I did colour processing myself for about 5 years, until I found that the process was improved (for me) by outsourcing my printing. Follow this series to find out more.

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