[Pho.Snap] FULL GUIDE on Developing Film with a Lab

This article covers the factors that beginner film shooters should consider before deciding where to send their films for processing, and what to look out for in the various service offerings. I will be sharing my take on this, both in the points below and this video.

I have also included the price lists of developing with various chain drug stores in the UK for your reference. All prices are showing in the British Pound (£).

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Where can I develop film?

Large drug stores typically have a retail photo lab department which offers basic but cheap film processing and printing services, such as CVS, Target in the US, and Asda, Boots in the UK. In major cities, independent film labs are a great option, especially for less common film types and bespoke scanning/ printing requirements. Photo labs usually offer online mail-in film processing services for those living further away. There are also labs that only operate online and do not have a physical store, such as Old School Photo Lab and The Darkroom in the US.

With all these choices available, here are further considerations that would help form your decision regarding where to send your film rolls to, whether you are wondering the difference between processing with a pro lab vs drug store, or what to look out for in a film development service in general.

  • Do they give you back your negatives?

Independent and chain film labs dedicated to film-related services will most certainly store your negatives, say, for a period of time, so does some drug store photo departments. For some chain drug stores, this is not possible because they don’t do the development in-house and will have to send your film rolls to a 3rd party. Be sure to ask before dropping your film rolls, and I would strongly recommend going with a store that returns your negatives.

Speaking as a photographer, this is a non-negotiable. Negatives are incredibly important for various photographic purposes.

Firstly, prints are being made by enlarging negatives in the darkroom - you can certainly print out of the scanned image, but ideally, you want as little intermediary steps between the negative and the print as possible. The scanning process, however well-done, leads to some loss of information. Where budget and time allows, there is no reason why you would want to print out of a scanned image when you have the negative.

Secondly, the negative allows one to make different edits and scans in the future. If you happen to change your mind as to how you want your final scan/ print to look, you always start right back from the negative. The flexibility you have in tweaking a scan by working with a negative is far greater than tweaking only the scanned image.

For record purposes, negatives contain critical information as to how an image came to be and how it was made - it tells you the type of film stock that the roll has been shot on, whether the exposure was appropriate, whether the development was appropriate, and it also acts as your contact sheet, showing you the progression of your shots.

Even if you are not a photographer, the fact that the negatives is a form of physical backup to the digital files, should you need to re-do the scanning in the future, is alone a sufficient reason why you would care about collecting your negatives.

  • How good are the negatives?

Many things can go wrong in the process of handling negatives, and here are a few typical flaws that are reflected in the resulting images.

Look for scratches. When unspooling the film roll onto machines before they go into the chemicals, the film is basically taken out of all protection whatsoever, and therefore is susceptible to being scratched. On a general note, this would be less of an issue with dedicated photo labs which hire experienced technicians to load film, whereas chain drug stores are most likely going to get one of their staff to learn how to do it.

Scratches look like this - see the image below. It is visible both on the negative, and the scanned image.

Other defects include finger prints and dust. This can be caused during any stage of the handling of negatives.

If you happen to live in an area where hard water cause limescale, most notably in the UK, be on the lookout for that as well. If the negatives are not dried and made water-proof properly, the water droplets can leave prints on the negatives, which are very hard to remove.

You can look up what others experienced on online forums, though these can only be read as a point of reference because sometimes people might just be fortunate/ unfortunate. Though the general rule is that your film is way less likely going to experience any sort of damage if you send it to a pro lab in your area.

  • What size and format are the scanned images?

The basic option would be standard resolution jpgs, which is typically what retail photo labs at drug stores offer. They are not specialists in photographic processes, and therefore it is understandable that they do not have advanced options in this regard.

Pro photo labs usually offer a few options in how you want the scans to be turned around. These options start from standard resolution jpg, to high-res jpg, to larger file types like TIFF and psd. These upgrades in resolution will cost more than a standard scan depending on the lab’s pricing scheme.

For your reference, here are some ballpark figures. Standard resolution would be somewhere around 500 KB to 5MB, high-res can go all the way to around 15 MB.

  • How long is the turnaround time?

Most pro photo labs that I have developed rolls with return photos in maximum one week’s time. That is mostly the case for labs in the UK, without paying extra for a fast service. I have also worked with labs in Hong Kong which are able to return scans in a matter of hours without charging extra, but I bet that would be way above the curve in relation to labs across the world in general.

In some cases for photographers, especially shooting commercially, the scans can be needed urgently. Most labs have the option for your rolls to be fast-tracked by paying for the fast processing service.

Most retail photo departments of drug stores will take longer, around 2-3 weeks, or 14 working days. These are common turnaround times I have observed to be the case for UK drug stores, which is understandable as they might not have the capacity to do the entire process in-house, and will have to outsource (parts of) the process out to another lab. This back and forth is the reason why it would take longer.

  • What price do they charge?

If we are to compare the prices across film labs, it could be an apple-to-orange situation here because as we have seen from the above considerations, film labs does things differently, and so the prices can cover a slightly different bundle of services that you will need to choose for yourself.

Do also take into account postage, which are usually listed separately from the film processing price chart, for those who are considering sending in film rolls by post.

Can film be developed digitally?

No, film development is a chemical process, and therefore can only take place physically. In the development process, the exposed film go through a series of chemical reactions which turn the film into a negative that holds the image in a physical form. There is no visible image without this chemical process, after which the negative is made ready to be digitalised.

What you can do though, is to order development services online from a photo lab, send in your film rolls, sit tight and wait for the negatives and scans to be delivered back to you. The process is digital as far as you are concerned, though the chemical process that film rolls need to go through is pretty standard.

For a more detailed explanation on the process, read on!

How to get film photos onto a computer?

Upon shooting a roll of film, your images are remain with the film. Carefully take it out of your camera and develop it either at a local lab or yourself. After the designated chemical reactions, the developed film contains a negative image, which is ready to be translated into the resulting image through scanning or printing. Usually, labs provide the scanned images in form of jpg via email, with other options as tiff or psd files where your budget allows.

There is no direct way of immediately transporting film photos from the camera to a computer, or any digital device. In fact, despite being exposed, the film merely holds a ‘latent image’ before going through the necessary chemical reactions during development, and does not contain a usable image.

Once developed, the negative holds the images in a physical form, which is what allows us to digitalise the image through a series of softwares and adjustments to get the final image.

Can I mail my film to get developed? Where to send my film to?

Yes, especially since the outbreak of COVID, many film labs have a system in place for film rolls to be dropped off by mail, payments to be made online, and scans to be sent via email or Wetransfer. For larger chain drug stores, their online prepayment services enables you to drop your rolls off at their photo centres. For smaller local film labs, simply mail it to their store location and follow their instructions for payment and delivery.

How much does it cost to develop film in the UK?

Basic developing and scanning with chain stores such as Snappy Snaps and Jessops on average costs £9; with local independent film labs, costs start at average £15.

Does Boots develop film?

No, Boots no longer develops film, as of July 2021 when I asked a member of their staff at the Oxford Street store in London.

Does Jessops develop film? How much?

Yes, Jessops does develop film in-house, for colour negative films, both 35mm and 120. They do not develop black and white and slide films. Prices start at £6 for colour negative (C-41) processing only, £9 for processing with standard resolution scanning, and £13.5 for processing with 6x4” prints.

Jessops offer film development services both in-store and online, with prices slightly different for the two options, but in both cases, your negatives will be given back to you.

Jessops in-store film processing price list.

Jessops in-store film processing price list.

For in-store options, see the price chart I obtained from a physical Jessops store on Oxford Street London. Prices are the same for 35mm and 120 colour negatives.

  1. Next day Colour negative (C-41)

    • Film development only: £6/ per film

    • Film development + Standard resolution CD scans only: £9/ per film

    • Film development + prints

      • 6x4” for 24 exposures: £7.5; for 36 exposures: £8.5

      • 7x5” for 24 exposures: £9; for 36 exposures: £10

      • 8/9 x6” for 24 exposures: £10; for 36 exposures: £11

  2. Same day Colour negative (C-41)

    • Film development only: £6.5/ per film

    • Film development + Standard resolution CD scans only: £10.5/ per film

    • Film development + prints

      • 6x4” for 24 exposures: £9; for 36 exposures: £10

      • 7x5” for 24 exposures: £11; for 36 exposures: £12

      • 8/9 x6” for 24 exposures: £12; for 36 exposures: £14

  3. One-hour processing Colour negative (C-41) is subject to availability at store.

For the online options, you can place ‘send away’ orders via the Jessops official website. The default option is to develop film to prints, with the option to purchase digital files at an extra fee.

They offer discounts where you have 5 or more rolls to be developed, in which case you will need to email their customer service.

The prices already include delivery fees. Here is a summary of their service offerings and fees.

  1. 27 Exposures Colour negative (C-41)

    • Film development + 6x4” prints: £11

    • Film development + 7x5” prints: £12

    • Film development + 8x6” prints: £13

  2. 40 Exposures Colour negative (C-41)

    • Film development + 6x4” prints: £12

    • Film development + 7x5” prints: £13

    • Film development + 8x6” prints: £14

  3. Extra digital copies

    • DVD: £6.00

    • CD: £3.00

    • USB: £6.00

Does Asda develop film? How much?

Yes, Asda does develop film under the department Asda Photo, which is owned and operated by Photo-Me (Retail) Limited. Asda Photo develops disposable cameras, 35mm colour films and APS films. They do not currently offer black and white and specialty film formats like 110/ 120. Prices start at £5.75 for 35mm colour processing only, £6.75 for processing with DVD scans, and £8.50 for processing with 6x4” prints.

Asda no longer develops films in-store, and instead offers all photo-related services online via the Asda Online Store. You order a prepaid shipping kit from Asda, mail your rolls across to the lab address, and wait for the negatives to be returned to you. Here is a more detailed breakdown of the fee structure of developing films online with Asda Photo.

Delivery fee stands at £6.5 for 1-2 films, and £8.50 for 3 films onwards, which is paid together with the purchase of the service at the time of checkout. Asda only does UK shipping at the moment.

To get an estimation of how much you will be paying in total, add the delivery fee to the price of the relevant service as shown in the price list below.

  1. 35mm Colour negative (C-41)

    • Film development only (up to 27 or 40 exposures): £5.75

    • Film development + DVD scans only: £6.75

    • Film development + USB scans only: £12.50

    • Film development + prints

      • 6x4” for 27 exposures: £8.50; for 40 exposures: £10

      • 7x5” for 27 exposures: £10; for 40 exposures: £11.5

      • 8x6” for 27 exposures: £12; for 40 exposures: £14

    • Turnaround time stands at approximately 12-14 working days.

  2. APS

    • Film development only (up to 27 or 40 exposures): £5.75

    • Film development + DVD scans only: £6.75

    • Film development + USB scans only: £12.50

    • Film development + prints

      • Up to 27 exposures: £8.50/ print size

      • Up to 40 exposures: £10/ print size

      • Print size are usually customisable on the camera, with Classic (4x6”), High Definition (4x7”), and Panoramic (4x10”) available.

    • Turnaround time stands at approximately 12-14 working days.

Does Snappy Snaps develop film? For how much?

Snappy Snaps in-store film processing and scan price list.

Snappy Snaps in-store film processing and scan price list.

Yes, Snappy Snaps does develop film, covering colour negative, black and white and E6, for both 35mm and 120 formats. Prices start at

From what I see, the prices seem to vary slightly across Snappy Snaps branches, though just very slightly. Here is a price list I obtained from the Soho, London branch for their film developing and scanning services, which is pretty elaborate.

I’ve highlighted below the information that would be the most relevant for most people.

Snappy Snaps in-store film processing and print price list.

Snappy Snaps in-store film processing and print price list.

  1. Develop only

    • Colour negative (C-41): £7

    • Black and white: £10

    • Turnaround time stands at 3 hours

  2. 35mm film development + scans

    • Colour negative (C-41) scanned to CD/airdrop/bluetooth only: £11

    • Black and white scanned to CD/airdrop/bluetooth only: £14

    • Slide (E6) scanned to CD/airdrop/bluetooth only: £18

    • Turnaround time stands at 3 hours

  3. 120 film development + scans

    • Colour negative (C-41) scanned to CD/airdrop/bluetooth only: £13

    • Black and white scanned to CD/airdrop/bluetooth only: £16

    • Slide (E6) scanned to CD/airdrop/bluetooth only: £18

    • Turnaround time stands at 6 hours

  4. Colour film development + prints

    • 6x4” for 12 exposures: £9.40; for 24 exposures: £11.2; 36 exposures: £14.2

    • 7.5 x5” for 12 exposures: £11.2; for 24 exposures: £15.4; 36 exposures: £19

    • 9x6” for 12 exposures: £13; for 24 exposures: £19; 36 exposures: £25

    • Turnaround time stands at 3 hours

  5. Black and white film development + prints

    • 6x4” for 12 exposures: £12.40; for 24 exposures: £14.8; 36 exposures: £17.2

    • 7.5 x5” for 12 exposures: £14.2; for 24 exposures: £18.4; 36 exposures: £22.6

    • 9x6” for 12 exposures: £16; for 24 exposures: £22; 36 exposures: £28

    • Turnaround time stands at 3 hours

Does Tesco develop film? How much?

As it currently stands, Tesco develops film under their partner Max Spielmann, which processes 35mm film, APS film and single-use cameras, by post or in-store. For other types of specialty films, for instance 110/ 120 and E6 slides, Tesco sends them over to their ‘excellence centres’, which may take longer to turn around depending on volume.

Refer to the section below on Max Spielmann.

Does Max Spielmann develop film? How much?

Yes, Max Speilmann does develop film, including disposable cameras, 35mm colour, 35mm black and white, and APS/ Advantix. Prices start at £8 for colour with DVD delivery, £25 for black and white with 6x4” prints, and £20 for APS with 7x4” prints. For other film types, such as 120/ 110 and slide film, you will need to contact a store for more details.

Max Spielmann has in-store labs, which offer fast film processing services with a turnover time of just 1 hour. These photo labs are pretty few and far between, and it will probably work better for most people to order their film development services online.

They also give customers their negatives after processing.

Here is a more detailed breakdown of the fee structure of developing films online with Max Spielmann.

  1. 35mm Colour negative (C-41)

    • Film development + DVD scans only: £8 for the first roll, as one DVD holds 2 rolls. Adding a subsequent roll costs an extra £6.

    • Film development + CD scans only: £12

    • Film development + USB scans only: £16, for the first roll, as one USB holds 10 rolls. Each subsequent roll costs an extra £6.

    • Film development with prints

      • 6x4” for 27 exposures: £12; for 40 exposures: £13

      • 7x5” for 27 exposures: £13; for 40 exposures: £14

      • 8.5x6” for 27 exposures: £14; for 40 exposures: £15

    • Turnaround time stands at approximately 21 days.

  2. 35mm Black and White

    • No digital delivery options available at the moment.

    • Film development + 6x4” for 24 exposures: £25; for 36 exposures: £26

    • Film development + 7x5” for 24 exposures: £28; for 36 exposures: £29

    • Film development + 8.5x6” for 24 exposures: £30; for 36 exposures: £31

    • Turnaround time stands at approximately 21 days.

  3. APS/ Advantix

    • Primary delivery is in form of prints, though with the option to purchase digital files.

    • Film development + 7x4” for 25 exposures: £20; for 40 exposures: £23

    • Top-up digital delivery via DVD: £3

    • Top-up digital delivery via CD: £4

    • Top-up digital delivery via USB: £10

    • Turnaround time stands at approximately 14 days.

Summary

In this article, we talked about:

  1. Where to develop film and what to consider in making a choice;

  2. How to get your film photos digitalised;

  3. Whether you can mail your films to be developed; and

  4. How much it costs approximately to develop film in the UK.

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