Most of you reading this will either process your own and/or use your favourite lab. If you live in a bigger city you maybe lucky and have a choice of local labs. But for folks in smaller towns, there’s a good chance you won’t have a lab on your doorstep. That said even in small towns you can drop off films at 2 high street stalwarts – Boots and Timpson (aka Cewe & Max Spielmann respectively)
But are they any good ? Well lets just say it isn’t exactly perfect.
This matter not to the experienced shooter as you’ll do it your own established way. But there is an issue for making easy for folk to get into film particularly kids. If you’re reading this over your Soy latte in Manchester, you’re probably thinking WTF- I have lots of choice. But for many Towns in the UK there are no labs and Dumfries the county town where I live is no exception.
In fact there are no labs in the entire county meaning you need either to go up to Glasgow or over the border to Carlisle in England to get walk in on site service.
But you can still walk in and hand over your films on the high street
One obvious and one not quite so obvious
Old Skool – Boots
Boots the Chemist is serious British heritage brand. The company began in 1849 in Nottingham but rose to be the biggest Chemist (Aka Pharmacy) companies in the UK. It’s fair to say that the chemist side of the business whilst still core is only one small part of the business and most people go into Boots for health and Beauty products and the like. With just under 2,500 store in the UK in 2019, you can pretty much find a Boots in most towns of a reasonable size and in bigger towns sometimes multiple branches (Dumfries had 3 now just 2).
The Company is now owned by Walgreens the US pharmacy giant. For many years it was a major photolab supplier with most bigger stores offering that service. and indeed Boots is the last place on most High street you can still buy film.
But not the labs. Some of you over a certain age probably dropped film off at boots to get them processed when they still had in store labs. That lasted well into the 2010’s. But now Boots outsource all their photo stuff to CEWE. If you’ve had online prints, photo gifts and Calendars made, you may have come across them.
Old Shoe – Timpson
Timpson is also another old High Street name. Known best these days for shoe repair and key cutting Timpson started out in 1865 as a shoe selling business. The company has diversified so even if you have no Timpson shop there’s a good chance your high street or in supermarkets dry cleaners are run buy them .
The company bought out both Max Spielmann in 2008, a UK wide photo shop company as well Snappy Snaps later on so depending on your High street you may be able to walk into one of those that still has a mini-lab. It’s important to note this group still keep lab services in house and have quite a few walk in labs left.
Although I could have used the Max Spielmann concession in my local Tesco extra (they don’t have a lab now but are still there), I could have also dropped of my films with my Dry Cleaning at Morrisons all under the same group. I chose however the high street Timpson shop. To be fair the dry cleaners folk told me they’d ring the guy at the Shoe repair for pricing.
For the challenge I didn’t want to do anything too hard. I’ve been shooting off a Nikon F55 v a Canon EOS 3000V. I decided to combine that with this. So dropped of 3 rolls of film from these cameras to both stores. For the test I used Kodak Ultramax 400, Ilford XP2 and B&W film (HP5+ and Ars Imago 320). The XP2 is obviously chucked in to see how the lab handle things and yes I could have been consistent with the B&W but I’m not so worried about grain and contrast as to be honest you can run the same B&W film in prolabs and get quite different results.
In store experience
I must say staff in both shops were helpful but it was clear there was some vagueness on both sides.
In fairness to the guy in Timpson has to manage the fixing shoes, cutting keys, dry cleaning et al as well as dealing with digital photo orders (most of which is automated). The girls on the Boots counters just scan bar codes to do sales and lots of photo stuff
The Timpson guy did okay until I asked about B&W processing. He seemed to think I wanted B&W prints initially and if the rolls could be scanned onto one CD. But he did just want to check with central office and asked if I could drop back 5-10mins.
Booting Up ?
Whilst waiting I headed to Boots. No fuss initially said what I wanted and they quickly filled in 3 film envelopes for me correctly. Only issue was when I asked about price given you pay on pick up. No one was sure and after discussing it between themselves, the best I got was it’s around £12-15. When I returned I learnt that staff on the shop floor haven’t been given a price list by CEWE. This is important as we’ll see.
Still I was given distinct come back in 14 days. I think the B&W drove . I decide against asking about 120, APS et al as it was clear they had no pricing info at hand.
Back at Timpson got clarity sadly only on a CD per film (sorry environment). This meant it was going to cost a Whooping £15 a roll for D&P and scan to CD. Payment was made then. Turn around was flexible (usually 7-10 days I was told). I was told I’d get SMS which sounded nice. But whilst potentially speedier than boots I prefer the more definite return time.
Both staff were very helpful. Boots seemed more knowledgeable and gave a clearer estimate. However Timpson’s tried harder and gave definite prices.
And this will tell.
And their online offers ?
Boots do have a page of their costs. However it did not list D&P and scan to CD which I ordered (this as we’ll see was not a good omen). Developing C-41 36exp with 6×4 prints costs £12.99 but you’ll need to add £3.99 for a CD. B&W costs £6 more for the same. They don’t offer an online service.
Max Spielmann has an Online website where you can online order. At first glance it seems only marginally cheaper. C-41 D&P+ scan to CD is £12 and you’ll need to pay initially postage. However (and this was what I was looking for) they do a scan to DVD service that is cheaper. At £8 and if you pay another 6 quid you can get a second roll D&P and scanned on too !!! At £7 a roll this is one of the cheaper D&P +scan prices you can get in the UK.
But oddly that was not offered on walk in. Strangely the website offers B&W D&P with prints but no scan option which I was offered in store.
They only do 35mm and really pricey APS service. The latter forces you to get prints. This makes the cost to DVD of £23 with those prints. Again oddly the DVD is cheaper again than the CD – Go figure !
How does that compare to my Usuals
My nearest physical lab is in Carlisle. Digital Photo Express Carlisle would have charged me £9.99 for the C-41 with standard scanning. And 2 quid more for the B&W (£32). It’s a great wee lab that is very helpful and I love their 110 stuff . They charge the same for that as they do 120 film and other defunct types like 126. That’s which is a few quid premium over 35mm. The exception is APS is charged exactly the same as 35mm. They are pretty flexible to deal with and have done things like sprocket scans for me in the past. They offer postal services now as well as walk in. I’d have paid upfront.
My postal lab is AG Photo. It charges the same as Carlisle for C-41 but is a bit cheaper for B&W at £10.49. However unless you live in Birmingham, you’ll need to factor in return postage costs (they do free incoming postage). I’d note I’m a shareholder so am somewhat biased here. It is a more pro lab so offers a range of options including E6, and C-Type prints. They can process most film type and emulsions offering a service for Kodachrome and C22 films for example. And they’ll do any format you can think of. That said whilst their D&P cost on things like 110 is reasonable (£4.99). It shoots up when you add in scanning scan
Speed and Notification
I never got notified by Timpsons. It looks like the the bloke noted the wrong number down as I never got any notification and when I picked up the B&W he said he’d personally called a couple of times and left a messages on my Giff Gaff voicemail (I’m with Tesco).
I did drop in on both at day 10 but neither had any films back. I couldn’t come in on day 14 so it was day 17 when I got any news. In both case the C-41 films were back. Boots had no idea where the B&W was and went “Oh yes that’s been delayed ” but couldn’t tell me how long. Timpson’s told me come back after the weekend (I was in on a Saturday). When I picked up the B&W a week later, Timpson said theirs arrived on what would have been day 19 as promised.
But what happened on both occasions couldn’t have been any different
And the Pick Up ?
Bar missing B&W Timpson was no fuss (I’d paid already). Quick courteous services and and an apology for the delayed B&W. So a easy 4/5 here.
Took a while to find the packs. C-41 Colour pack put down first with a £16.98 tag. Ouch !!! bit higher than described but worst was still to come.
The other was marked B&W. In fact it was the C-41 Ilford XP2. But the cost £27.98 !!! I’m assuming this is the B&W and maybe Cewe Justifies it as hand processing but nope as I was to discover.
I was walking away with the packs when I realised they were a bit bulky. Turns out both had a set of 6X4 prints that I hadn’t asked for. The poor young lady behind the desk who’d already had me being a bit miffed about the cots quickly got her very nice manager. She was very helpful (this where I learnt staff have no price lists and Cewe don’t have weekend support as she tried to ring them a few times). She kindly refunded both. I got to keep the CD and the Negatives. .
The C-41 with colour prints matched the website. But my XP2 should have been the same as well.
And the B&W ?
But here’s the weird thing. a week later I pick up the B&W. Like the others I’ve got the film, CD and prints but I got charged £18.99 which is the cost for D&P and prints but not CD (it should have cost £3 more £21.99). I paid and left quietly this time . Hey ! I’d got the others for free.
If I had paid full price I’d have spent an eye watering £63.95 but would have got prints I guess. But that doesn’t match the online pricing.
And what did I get for My Money ?
We’ll start with the good news
Did I get My negatives backs ?
Given in the US in some chain like Walmart, CVS and even Boots owners Walgreen don’t give you your negs back anymore I was wondering what would happen here.
But in all cases my negs came back.
And How were the Negatives ?
Both should have come home in the typical paper envelope. Max Spielmann ones just look like they did 20-30 years ago. Boots/CEWE more austere.
But within how were the Negs
In fairness I must say the negatives were clean, scratch & dust free in both cases.
Timpson put the C-41 in a standard storage slots as you’d want
CEWE just ramed them into single slot. And weirdly Max Spielmann did the same with the B&W. This meant you had to take the whole lot out to review.
And when you did.,..
First Cut is the deepest
It was when pulling out the XP2 from boots I noticed this.
They’d cut through one frame just slightly. They didn’t do it on the C-41 but Timpson managed to do it once or twice on both films. B&W seemed to have been handled better.
I don’t keep my negs so no great shake but…🤷♂️
And The Scans
From the EXIF data, both companies use the same Fujifilm Scanner (SP-3000) which makes me think they are using the same Fujifilm D&P equipment too. The scanners run the same software (FDi V4.5 / FRONTIER355/375-1.8-0E-016).
They also use almost identical settings with a sRGB colour palette. They output to 1840×1232 (2.27MP @ 72dpi)
That’s quite low settings buy modern standards (AG Photolab standard resolution scans are >6MP and Digital Photo Express even larger). A 2 MP image is grand for computer use and up to a 7×5″ but not much more
Yeah. about that. It’s a game of two halves.
Neither quite to my usual standard but……
On the plus the films had been well enough processed and there were no watermarks
Neither corrected for portrait shots but that’s typical of automated systems. For some reason the Timpson/Max ones were upside down.
Dust could be found on all scans but the C-41 colour and B&W films were both in what I would call acceptable limits. But both sets suffered from dust in scanning on the XP2. The Max Spielmann scans were XP2 scans were the notably the worst. Not disastrous but more than I’m used to seeing. I’d say CEWE kept their scanning interface a bit cleaner overall.
Ice Ice Baby ?
I’d wondering if this is an issue more with XP2. I’ve heard others describe this and you can find issues online (here for example). But Blue Moon has an explanation that makes sense. Most film scanners use infra red tech to pick up scratches and dust and then remove them in the final image (Digital ICE). It’s good stuff and why we see a lot less imperfections today. But the Blue moon post points out it doesn’t work with B&W films as well.
Boots/CEWE at least was more normal in that regard. and on B&W films there was less dust with Boots/CEWE
Then there was the frame issues. Every single Boots/Cewe C-41 scans had thin white frame edge (this isn’t a camera issue as each lab processed rolls taken on both cameras). I got a some black edges on the Max Spielmann scans but not as many.
Oddly on B&W ther were no issues on Boots/CEWE scans for frame marks but there was on Max Spielmann scans.
The colour scans suffered a bit with compression artefacts in area of block colours for both labs.
The low re makes the image more grainy on my 22″ 1900×1200 desktop.
These are only good for web, 6×4″ and at a push 7×5″ prints
Broadly the labs or should I say fujifilm scanners did okay. Lets be honest I had to tweak some shots but I would even using a more pro lab
Final Thoughts –
A Repaired Shoe is better than an Old Boot ?
Look would I start sending my stuff to either of these guys routinely?
I pay less for higher resolution, better quality scans and quicker turn around by folk I trust. When I started shooting Film again a decade ago I would ander into ASDA for cheap and cheerful scans taken on identical machines for a few quid. Resolution were no better but the staff were great and actually knew what they were doing. So shot like this from a roll that was processed for peanut was great.
But in 2022 getting just over 2MP scans in a world were most mobiles shoot in excess of 12MP, seems nuts. Especially when being charged more than most actually good labs,
In fairness both labs processed the films well enough but it’s the scanning issues that let them both down and then one labs costings.,.
If I had to use one company is at least a bit more clearer there.
And that is Timpson/Max Spielmann. My Negatives were treated better with being placed individually in archive sheet not rammed together into a single slot except weirdly the B&W film . I also paid upfront knowing exactly what I was paying for & got what I ordered. Granted I could have got cheaper online and the DVD service wasn’t offered for my 2 C-41 films. They were behind a bit on scan quality (those black lines !!)
But the delivered on what they said.
Although the final results were arguably a bit better, the experience wasn’t great.
No one knew prices, CEWE ignored what was ordered making unwanted prints. And then there was what I got charged. For the colour stuff if I’d wanted prints & CD £16.98 would be fine. But I hadn’t ordered that. But the XP2 roll was criminal. This is standard C-41 film but to be charged a whooping £28 was obscene.
It wasn’t even B&W as Cewe claimed (you can run this stuff through a scanner and printer as C-41). And then how they handled the negatives stuffed into just one strip. And then the B&W came back cheaper ?!?
The folk in shop were good and it’s worth noting the manager just refunded me but cleary outsourcing film stuff has not been good. It’s not great in 2022 to walk in and have no idea what you are paying.
This is sad as I have used Boots when they had mini labs in the past and always got reasonable service. The deal with CEWE just seems to be a disaster. Even if the got their pricing right I would still have to pay quite a bit more than Timpson.
So Timpson win, although it’s a pyrrhic victory as the scanning is just behind CEWE.