(Dutch/Nederlands: Click here)

During the past year, I’ve been contamined with the analog photography virus, and I’ve been seriously ill ever since. I just love the character and quality of analog photographs. For me it’s also more fun and exciting: You can’t immediately see your results and correct them. A luxury of the digital age that we tend to use too often. When shooting analog, you have to be sure about your lighting and composition before pulling the trigger.

After shooting, the rolls of film need to be developed and scanned. Since I haven’t had the courage to develop my own color film, I’m using film labs to do the developing and scanning for me.

In Europe there are 2 major film labs, being Carmencita in Spain and UK Film Lab in the UK. Together with my colleague Peter Kasbergen the plan emerged to do a side-by-side comparison of the 2 labs. Not only would it be a useful experiment, it would also give us a good excuse to shoot some film! Together with models Liselotte and Mariska we went shooting in beautiful Den Bosch (Netherlands).

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Peter and I both used a Mamiya RZ67 with the Sekor 110mm 2.8 lens. The film we were using is Kodak Portra 400. Settings for lightning (aperture and shutter speed) were equal between the cameras. Medium sized scans were ordered at both labs. No preferences in terms of color, brightness, contrast etc. were communicated towards the labs. You can see the photographs side-by-side at the bottom of this post. The ones on the left were made by Peter and developed and scanned by Carmencita. The ones on the right were made by me and developed and scanned by UK Film Lab.

Since the development of color film is mostly a standardized process, these differences are caused by the scanning of the negatives. The Carmencita scans appear to be a bit cooler in color, with more emphasis on blue and pink. The colors from the UKFL scans seem to be warmer, with more greens and yellows.

Some other factors that can be taken into consideration when choosing a film lab:

+ Pricing: There are no significant price differences between these 2 labs. Check out the prices for yourself: Carmencita | UK Film Lab
+ Shipping costs & time: Shipping from the Netherlands to either Spain or the UK is about equally expensive. Maybe there are differences when choosing certain parcel services, but with the Dutch post (PostNL) it’s the same. Shipping speed to the UK is a bit faster. UK can be as fast as 2/3 days, whereas Spain can take 5-7 days.
+ Delivery time: I got lucky with Uk Film Lab. Because of the holidays, the people had UKFL had some extra help, causing my scans to be delivered within a couple of days after receiving the film. The usual turnaround time for UKFL is 10 working days, according to their website. For Carmencita the indicated turnaround time is also 10 days. Both labs offer a rush/express option when you’re in a hurry.
+ Communication: Both labs are fast and very friendly when you’ve got questions and requests. Both labs also offer support via Facebook. UKFL seems to be a tad faster in answering your questions here. The difference is small though. Both labs stimulate you to communicate about your preferences. Additionally, UKFL offers ‘UKFL Pro‘. This is an additional service – free of charge – that helps them tailor your scans to your needs and wishes. Read about it here

My personal verdict:

When comparing these photographs side-by-side, I prefer UK Film Lab. The colors are a bit more lifelike. However, since this is caused by the scanning, I think you can get equal results with both labs. When it comes down to the quality of their work, I can’t really see any real difference between the two labs. They both deliver amazing quality. If you communicate with your lab and let them know what your preferences are, the lab will tailor the scans to your style and taste. Since sending film to UKFL is slightly faster, and because of the added UKFL Pro-service, I’m leaning towards using UK Film Lab in the future. But I’d be very happy to use either lab if I didn’t have the luxury option of choosing.
But off course the main questions are: What photographs do you prefer? What labs do you use and why?
Please leave a note in the comments section, I’d love to hear your opinions :)

[NOTE:]
I realise this is not an in-depth comparison, and it was not meant to be. Only 1 film type is used, 1 film format, 1 type of camera, 1 lens, and other aspects of the process (for example, pushing and pulling) are not taken into consideration. Still, I thought it would be useful to read about our findings.
Also, Peter’s camera seemed to have some focusing issues, causing some of the images to be slightly less sharp. This was not caused by the lab.

LEFT: Carmencita RIGHT: UK Film Lab
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