View Full Version : Cost of film processing

Scott Knowles
2-Feb-2007, 06:46
I recently posted a question where I am looking at doing my own film processing. I realize the advantages of this compared to using a lab. My question to the group who do their own processing, in your experience, what is the actual cost of doing your own film processing, with and without including your time?

When I did my own film processing, besides quiting because I found the work tedious, I discovered when I include my time, it was cheaper to use a lab. And somehow I suspect this hasn't changed up to a certain point, but I want to hear from those who have done this for sheet film. Do you track your costs, from purchasing the equipment to the on-going expensive of chemicals and other stuff?

I ask this because Ivey Imaging in Seattle processes 4x5 sheet film for a fixed price, for any of the D-76, C-41 and E-6 processes including any push/pull requests with a normal and one day turnaround, 3 hour optional. I would like to compare their prices to others' experience. What would you estimate your cost per sheet, and does that include your time?

2-Feb-2007, 07:11
How do you value time? When you drop off the film at the store do you value the drive there and back? For me it would take longer to drive one way then to run a batch of film. I can also run quite a bit of 4x5 or smaller film in each batch. That means the time per sheet isn't that high. Plus with daylight tanks it's possible to do other things. So how would I value my time?

After that. I use D-23 home mixed. 1:3 one shot. Home mixed TF-2 fixer. For colour I'm using mostly fuji chemicals bought in bulk. I can't off the top of my head give you a number per sheet but it's cents. Not dollars.

Equipment ranges from a couple of new tanks and reels to almost everything else used. The used stuff was much less. I could manage with less equipment but having more lets me do more in less time. If I need to. Which isn't often. Plus much of my equipment is shared with my RA-4 setup.

You talk about 3 hour rush times. Charges for push/pull. Maybe charges for cross processing. All that is included when I do it myself.

Bruce Watson
2-Feb-2007, 07:12
Ya, I did the calculations once, years ago. I found that I could process film (C-41) for about the same costs as my local pro-lab if I didn't include charges for my floorspace, HVAC, or equipment. That is, my time and chemicals only. And... I couldn't get the consistency they could either.

My conclusion was that working with my local pro-lab gave me considerably better quality along with cost savings. Nothing has changed in the last few years to make me want to revisit my findings.

But that's just me. As I often say, one should find the work flow with which one is most comfortable. If that includes doing your own C-41 and/or E-6 processing, go for it. It's not all just about the money after all.

Walter Calahan
2-Feb-2007, 07:31
My time is more valuable making images than processing. Unless there isn't a pro lab one can trust, then ruined film is far too expense than my time.

Frank Petronio
2-Feb-2007, 08:06
I operated a nicely equipped professional B&W lab in the 80s and early 90s. Been there and done that. While I can appreciate how someone can fine tune a Zone placement with careful development choices, I simply don't think it matters unless your entire workflow is also calibrated and super precise. And the real world conspires against me doing that.

I've also worked in bathtubs and basements with buckets of water...

A good lab may not give you the ultimate optimal development for every situation. But consistency allows you to work around that, and I'll take machine processed professional processing over streaky home-brew processing anyday. I wouldn't go back to home processing unless I had a really super nice temp controlled chilled water jacket, full stainless steel and air cleaner equipped super-duper darkroom. And those aren't cheap.

Ed Richards
2-Feb-2007, 08:17
I think the answer is different for color and black and white, and also depends on what you do next. If you are making wet prints, you already have the darkroom, so the incremental trouble is not as much.

I find black and white very simple. I use a Jobo Expert Drum, a used bessler base from Ebay, and a changing tent to load it. I get the water temp about right for the developer and do not worry about the small amount of drift during processing. But I do this in a temperature controlled bathroom, so the air temp is pretty constant and close to the developer temp. I then scan and work digitally. Very easy and fast and cheap, and no scratch problem. I am not perfect, and have ruined some film with stupid mistakes, but hey, I do that in the camera as well.:-)

I do not have a local color lab, which is just one more reason why I do not shoot color with film. I also do not have a local black and white lab, but do not care about that.

Brian Ellis
2-Feb-2007, 09:27
I've never processed color film. I've processed untold amounts of b&w film. It never occurred to me to use a lab for b&w film. It's very easy to do, you don't need a dedicated darkroom, and it took me about 20 minutes per run (6 sheets per run though I could easily have done double that if time was a major consideration for me) from beginning through dry negative not counting wash and drying time since you can do other things while film is being washed and dried. I never tried to figure the out-of-pocket cost but I used D76 1-1 in BTZS tubes which hold two ounces of working solution per tube so I processed 64 4x5 negatives from a quart of stock solution and a quart of D76 cost about $3. Stop bath lasts forever or you use water if you really want to save money and I don't remember what fix cost but it wasn't much. Add in clearing agent for about $15 per gallon, two ounces per gallon of working solution.

That's out-of-pocket costs. If you throw in time then you'd have to put some arbitrary hourly rate on it. And if you really wanted to do some serious cost accounting you'd have to calculate depreciation expense for your Jobo, tubes, trays, or whatever other equipment you use, plus allocate your household water bill, electric bill, cost of the light bulb in the room you use, etc. etc. to figure your indirect costs, then to compare with a lab you'd have to figure in postage if you mail the film, allocate a part of your automobile costs to your trips to the lab or post office, etc. etc. All of which gets kind of ridiculous so I don't think it's very realistic to do anything except compare out of pocket costs and forget time and the other stuff.

I mildly disagree with Frank's statement about the value of fine-tuning your own development times. You don't need to have anything calibrated, you just need to know your normal, plus, and minus development times. I do think that with scanning and digital printing having the "perfect" negative is less important than it used to be because you can do so much more with the print when printing digitally than you could in a darkroom. Nevertheless, I think it's still valuable to start with the best negative you can get and it's very easy to do that when you process your own film.

Ron Marshall
2-Feb-2007, 10:09
From the time I begin transferring the sheets from filmholders to the Jobo drum until final clean-up is about 40 minutes. It is a 1 hour round-trip to drop off at the lab and another to pick-up the next day. The cost of my time alone clinches it for me.

2-Feb-2007, 10:38
I have other things to do with my time besides watching over an E6 processing run. Additionally, I don't see that I can get the same consistent results as I can with a lab for the price my lab charges - $1.30 for 4x5 E6.

2-Feb-2007, 13:07
My impression is that B&W film and printing needs to be done start to finish by the photographer, in order to get the results you are after. You may as well leave color to the lab, as it's literal and more specialized/difficult. So far doing B&W at home is saving me alot of money to buy equipment to do more processing at home..... vicious circle.:p But hey, if you like to do it, that's part of the hobby.

Alan Davenport
2-Feb-2007, 13:49
I did some E3 and E4 processing back in their days, but at $1.50 per 4x5 sheet in the local pro lab, I'm not going there again.

I haven't had a darkroom since I sold my last house, but I'm thinking about setting something up to process B&W. I'll still use a film/scan/digital_print workflow, but B&W processing is simple enough to do. I don't count my time since it's a hobby.

Scott Knowles
2-Feb-2007, 15:10
Thanks for the responses. It seems to be quite variable based on your interests and needs (obvious statement), and while home processing provides a lot of latitude and convenience, especially if you're experienced, lab processing still provides that except personal experimentation.

And the answer is? Ivey Imaging (http://ivey.com/ivey/index.html) charges $2.50 per sheet, any process and requests. Granted that's expensive compared to home processing, but they obviously have a consistent business to offer the service. Until I can learn the work, it's a fair trade to know I can't blame my own attempts at processing. And they're only an hour drive where I go to Seattle about once a week, so it's not so out of the way.

2-Feb-2007, 15:30
And the answer is? Ivey Imaging (http://ivey.com/ivey/index.html) charges $2.50 per sheet, any process and requests. Granted that's expensive compared to home processing,

Try Calypso Imaging in Santa Cruz, CA. If you are doing nature/landscape work, they only charge $1.30 for 4x5 E6. Orders over a certain amount, get free shipping.

2-Feb-2007, 15:37
Try Calypso Imaging in Santa Cruz, CA. If you are doing nature/landscape work, they only charge $1.30 for 4x5 E6. Orders over a certain amount, get free shipping.

Hi Robert,

Thanks for the additional info about free shipping at a certain dollar figure or number of sheets/rolls of film. I will have to look into that because that additional info makes their services even more inviting. :cool:


2-Feb-2007, 15:40
Agree with another poster that you'll get better color results from a lab. But for B&W, processing at home is WAY better than the lab. I mailed some Efke MF rolls to a "high end" facility in LA from NYC and all the negatives were too contrasty. When doing the processing at home, it's perhaps $0.60 per roll vs. $8.00 and I do a much better job. And I have nothing fancy, either. My B&W film development supplies (including chemicals) ran < $70.


Rob Landry
2-Feb-2007, 18:01
I process 4x5 E6 at home in a Jobo and their expert drums because my local pro lab wants a crazy $5.75 per sheet plus tax. Since I'm in Canada, shipping my film across the border into the US and back is not worth the customs hassles. None of the other pro labs in Canada have E6 processing prices as low as some of you guys are enjoying. If I could have E6 done for $1.30 a sheet, I wouldn't be processing my own that's for sure.

2-Feb-2007, 18:09
Hi Robert,

Thanks for the additional info about free shipping at a certain dollar figure or number of sheets/rolls of film. I will have to look into that because that additional info makes their services even more inviting. :cool:


Hi Rich,

No worries, the shipping is FedEx ground, free for orders over $80.00.

2-Feb-2007, 18:40
Echo what roteague said. $1.30 a sheet and year after year with no variations in quality. With transparency film one wants to be confident that color film is processed with a high level of exacting quality control reflecting one's considerable efforts at making correct exposures. ...David

v gese
2-Feb-2007, 20:03
For me, I want consistent, professional E6 processing of my 4x5 chromes. Spending alot of time, effort, and money to make images, it makes little sense to me to compromise on E6 processing, ie I don't trust myself for consistent processing. (If I shot B/W, I would do my own processing for the control). I use PhotoCraft in Boulder, Colorado (www.pcraft.com). They charge 1.40 per 4x5 sheet with no extra charge for push/pull, slightly more than Calypso. I have been very happy with their consistent E6 processing and excellent turnaround. PhotoCraft is used by alot of pros and many who contribute to this forum. They are committed to providing E6 processing for a long time. Used to use Ivey Imaging but switched to Photocraft on the recommendation of many on this forum.
Vance Gese

16-Mar-2007, 02:46
I was a little frustrated with my 8x10 b&w results as far as uniformity, so I sent some off to a professional lab. The sheets came back with worse uniformity than I ever had, and some glitter-sized marks from chemical flakes. Price per sheet, postage, etc, all just to re-shoot! I kept working on my method at home and have since nailed it, I get great uniformity and no flakes.

Cost for doing your own is low, I think I get 16 sheets out of a gallon of developer, which costs $10.00. Water's free and fix is pretty close.