If you don't have a good lab near you, check the yellow pages phone directory
on the Internet and locate a lab that caters to commercial, portrait, and
wedding photographers. Call or write them for prices and procedures. Many
of them will pay shipping charges both ways for photographers who send them
large volumes, or they may share shipping costs with you. All such labs
accept sheet film, medium format film, and 35 mm transparency film. Most
will also accept 35 mm C-41 film. The prices will be a bit higher (maybe
much higher for 35 mm C-41), but the quality will be outstanding and you
won't have scratch or dust problems.
I once had a wedding customer on a tight budget who insisted that I process
the film at COSTCO (a discount 'wholesaler' with very cheap film processing)
instead of my regular pro lab. The negatives were all scratched and the
scratches were clearly visible in the prints. I have used COSTCO on occasion
for 35 mm C-41 processing and on many occasions for 35mm slide processing
when I wanted to run a cheap test. In 100 percent of the cases, the film was
severely scratched. In order to keep prices low, the film has to be
processed on a roller transport system. And in order to maintain profits in
a low margin business, the equipment maintenance is reduced and scratches
result. I'm surprised that COSTCO's customers don't complain about the
quality, but I guess if you are willing to use a point-and-shoot as most of
them do, quality isn't much of a concern in the first place.
I have received 35mm E-6 film from my pro lab that, on close inspection with
the right lighting, showed a very faint scratch. It couldn't have been cause
by the lab because they use dip and dunk. I suspect it was caused during
manufacture or else the felt strip on the film cartridge caused it. But that
type of scratch doesn't show up when I scan it with a SprintScan 4000 nor
have I ever seen it in a Cibachrome print.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you are really serious about
your craft, you'll attack the dust and scratch problems at their source
rather than try to compensate later with ICE or the clone tool.
In a message dated 9/2/2001 4:05:34 AM Pacific Daylight Time,
My local experience has been that E6 are generally treated very well. I
haven't had problems with E6 films getting scratched but there have been a
couple of times slides have turned up with thumbprints on them. Colour neg
film is a completely different story. If you've ever watched the way staff
throw the films around it's a wonder the scratches aren't worse. I've
switched to a different lab that handles the films better, but even so the
C41 films are much more likely to be damaged because of handling during
printing. I could get away from that by dev only and then scanning, but
prints are a handy guide to which photos are worth the time and hassle of
scanning. Also - please bear in mind that we don't all live in areas where
there's a wide choice of labs! There's lots of minilabs in my area, but
only one lab which does E6. Most of the minilabs are set up for the tourist
trade and IMO treat films very poorly. I'm just glad I found *one* place
that does treat the films reasonably well!
PS I had one lab claim that the scratches made by their gear were caused by
my camera - I have processed B&W film myself by hand and it had no
scratches. I took my business elsewhere.