Film photography has had its ups and downs over the past 100 years. Its development and growth in the first half of the 20th century only accelerated to become a household commodity in the latter half. And then, in the 90s, digital photography went and pulled the rug out from underneath a booming industry. The flow-on effect was the demise of countless photo labs around the world. While photo labs are still around today, they are few and far between. What's more, it isn't easy to know the difference between a camera retailer with a mini-lab and a proper old-school photo lab.
In this article, we discover some of the best film labs in Australia. For our American readers, we'll even throw in a few labs in your neck of the woods. We look at film labs that offer more than a mail-in C41 film processing as an add-on to greater retail ambitions. More often than not, film labs have a following and a community of film shooters. Word of mouth is probably the best advertisement and review system for any quality photo lab in Australia. But there is also a growing trend of film-related blogs addressing film shooters' needs around the globe.
Vanbar Imaging - Fitzroy
Vanbar is a well-known Melbourne house of photography providing a retail experience both online and instore since 1980. Vanbar also provides a comprehensive list of services in their film lab. They process, develop and scan most common film formats, including C41, E6, black and white, and B&W reversal in varying formats up to 8x10. Plus, Vanbar's film lab handles C22 on request. You can walk into the store to organise your film or use the online lab to order prints in various formats. Plus, if you want to process your film at home, Vanbar has everything you need.
Film Never Die - Melbourne
Located in the heart of Melbourne, Film Never Die is a retail outlet dedicated to film photography. They sell a vast range of film stock as well as quality second-hand film cameras. The Film Never Die photo lab develops 35mm and 120 colour negative films, black & white and slide/reversal film. They also handle Cine Film (ECN2 cross-process in C41) and push/pull process in many film formats. Film Never Die scan 35mm film with a Fujifilm Frontier SP500 and medium format with a Fujifilm Frontier SP3000. All scans are high-resolution, with a standard 35mm image being 5444 by 3649 pixels.
Blue Hour Lab - Bendigo (formerly Bat City)
This is our local lab just over the main road from the Lucky Straps office. They are re-branding this year from Bat City to Blue Hour Lab with new co-owners on board. They will be expanding their range of services so we will update this article in the coming months.
Sydney Super8 - Newtown
Sydney Super 8 are an old school film and camera store with a vast collection of photography equipment, and extensive knowledge about anything related to still and motion film photography.
They have been processing film onsite since 2013 and currently offer same day processing 6 days per week.
Festooned with old signage, the store is a walk back in time to the camera stores of days gone by. They also have extensive knowledge and a large collection of super 8 cameras for sale, including super 8 and regular 8mm film.
Kent Street Studio - Canterbury
Kent Street Studio is attached to Digital Camera Warehouse, making it a one-stop-shop for all your photography needs. Kent Street develop all 35mm and 120, 220 and 620 medium format C41 film and traditional black and white films. Where Kent Street shines is with fine art printing. Using a Canon PRO-4000 to produce true-to-life colour, they create Glicee prints worthy of any exhibition or gallery. Plus, Kent Street Studio offers a range of archival quality photography papers including, Canson, Chromajet, Hahnemuhle, Ilford and Innova.
Rewind Photo Lab - Glebe
Rewind Photo Lab is a quality lab in Sydney offering various services, including film processing, scanning and printing. They also provide image retouching, restoration and a fine art consultancy service. The consultancy service provides one-on-one time with a technician to retouch and test print your work to understand the printing process. Rewind Photo Lab processes C41, E6 and Black and White film in 35mm, APS, 120, 220 and 4x5. Scanning is done on a Noritsu HS-1800 roll scanner with standard resolution (2400px) @300dpi JPEG and high resolution (4800px) @300dpi 8-bit TIFF.
Pro Lab - Kelvin Grove
Just north of the CBD, Pro Lab is a high-tech film processing and scanning lab capable of meeting all your film needs. The folk at Pro Lab provide film processing of C41, E6 and Black and White in 35mm, 120, 220, 5x4, 8x10. They are more than capable of push/pull processing as well as slide mounting 35mm E6. Pro Lab uses a Durst Sigma high-end scanner to scan colour transparency, colour negative, black and white and cross-processed film. They handle single frame, 35mm and 120 rolls and sheet films up to 4 x 5 along with large sheet film up to A3.
Racquet Film - Milton
Racquet Film is a new operation focusing on supporting film pros and future generations of film photographers. They process E6, Black and White and C41 film in 135, 120 and 220 formats. Racquet even offers a cross-process C41 to E6. Scanning outcomes are optimised with a standard scan achieving 3000px and a pro scan 6000px with both in 300DPI. Racquet Film provides a mail-in service as well as selling a range of film cameras and accessories.
Atkins LAB - Kent Town
Atkins Lab has been in the photography game since 1936 - they've seen first hand the rise, fall and renaissance of film. They are the oldest photo lab in Australia yet provide modern solutions and produce a regular podcast. Atkins processes all of their film in a dip and dunk E6 or C41 processor. Also, they hand-process black and white films. Push/pull processing is also offered for those that like to stretch the capabilities of their film. Atkins LAB has a comprehensive print service ranging from greeting cards and handmade papers to large scale fine art prints.
Fitzgerald Photo - North Perth
Fitzgerald Photo is another survivor of the film era as they have been experts in film processing for over 50 years. With a big emphasis on photographer experiences, Fitzgerald develops C41 colour negative, black and quite, medium and large format, and Lomo and Holga. Also, they offer push and pull processing on pretty much everything. Fitzgerald Photo uses an Imacon Flextight scanner to deliver flatbed scans of up to 1200dpi as well as drum scans of up to 6400dpi. Further to this, Fitzgerald offers a broad range of services, including fine art printing, exhibition preparation, graphic design and photo restoration.
Lab West - Perth
Located in Northbridge, Perth, Lab West offers high-quality film processing and scanning solutions tailored to photographers needs. They develop film via rotary processors instead of the mini-labs used by most camera retailers. Lab West process colour C41, black and white, and ECN2 cinematic film in 35mm, 120 and 4x5. Scanning is all at a higher resolution than most with 4900 x 3200 JPEG files, 4900 x 3200 16 Bit TIFF files and pro-grade High resolution 4900 x 3200 TIFF + RAW files. Lab West also sell a great range of 35mm, 120 and 4x5 film stock along with film accessories and zines.
The Darkroom - California
The Darkroom is a Californian film lab that has been in operation supporting film shooters since 1976. They process a vast range of film, including 35mm negatives or slides, 120/220, APS, 110 and 120 format film in C41, E6 and true black and white. The Darkroom will also develop panoramic formats, toy camera, sprocket hole, half frame, square, and cross and push/pull processing. If you are looking to shoot with excellent film stock, The Darkroom has an incredible range of formats.
Bleeker Digital Solutions - New York
Located in the heart of New York, Bleeker Digital Solutions has only been in operation for a few years. They offer various services, including processing, scanning, printing, framing and even restoration of old prints. If you are looking for a store to scan large volumes of old negatives, Bleeker is the place to go. They process C41 colour, black and white, E6 slides in 35mm, 120 and 220, and 4x5 and 8x10 sheet film. Bleeker Digital Solutions utilise drum scanning for larger format film and images at 300DPI up to 60'x90' in size.
North Coast Photographic Services - California
North Coast Photographic Services is a store providing professional photo services for film photographers. Started in 1978 by a pro photographer, NCPS develops and processes C41, E6 and black and white 35mm, 120, 220, sheet and slide film. Their scanning service covers everything from 35mm up to an enhanced medium formate scan of 3533 x 4824pxl. North Coast Photographic Services also do flatbed scanning and large format high-resolution film negatives. Online prints can be ordered in a range of standard sizes up to 24'x36'.
How To Find A Good Film Lab
Looking for a film lab is easy with a simple Google search but finding a good lab is entirely different. Most camera retail stores will offer some form of film processing and generally rank high in Google searches. But it's more of an add-on to the retail experience compared to services provided by terrific film labs. There are a few things to look out for to find a good film lab.
Film Processing Options
If you are serious about film photography, you need a lab that handles more than just 35mm C41. Here's a list of processing services that a great film lab should offer:
- B&W: 110, 127, 35mm, 120, 220, 4×5 and 8×10
- C41: 110, 126, 127, 35mm, 120, 220 and APS
- E6: 126, 127 35mm, 120, 220 and 4×5,
- C22: On-demand or on request
- ECN-2: Cinema film 35mm, 120 and 4x5
- Push/Pull Processing on a range of film
Scanning & Printing
All good film labs should offer a scanning service to provide high-resolution images files. The higher the quality, the better, as you may want to edit your photos further via editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. The intended use of your photos will decide the quality of the scan. Film labs use a range of different machines with several resolution and DPI outputs.
For example, all scans conducted at Film Never Die in Melbourne are high-resolution, with a standard 35mm image being 5444 by 3649 pixels. Lab West in Perth produce scans that deliver 4900 x 3200 16 Bit TIFF files. Shopping around for what you need is essential. Just as important if you wish to print your images. Suppose you want to print fine art quality for an exhibition. In that case, Kent Street Studio produces Glicee prints on a range of archival paper, including Canson, Chromajet, Hahnemuhle, Ilford and Innova.
Community & More
Today, film photography is very much about community - those that have always shot film and those new to analog processes. If you are new to film photography be sure to check out our article on how to shoot and develop your first roll of film. Regardless, film labs have a critical role in establishing and supporting film shooter communities. Regardless of an online gallery for anyone to contribute, live exhibitions, events or even a humble weekly blog - it all helps the community.
Another part of supporting the community is film labs that provide darkrooms for hire and one on one time with processing experts. Some film labs will even run community events or include a cafe in their floor space for community members to enjoy. That in itself is well worth considering taking up film and contributing to the local film community.