Lethbridge Photo Lab Tests

Photography can be simplified into three very basic parts. Capturing the photo, processing or manipulating the photo, and printing the photo. We have near total control over the first two, but when it comes to having our images printed we usually rely on outside sources to take our photo and present us with an accurate representation. Sadly, it doesn’t always work in our favour because we don’t have the control over the final outcome. It becomes a case of trial and error to arrive at a result we are happy with. The various sources to have our images printed here in Lethbridge can provide us sometimes vastly different results.

So, to take some of the guess work out, Brani has gone to the various photo printing shops in town to get prints made of the same set of images. What follows is the result of his work. These prints were presented at our December 2015 meeting to allow members to inspect and see the differences first-hand. Read on and you’ll see Brani’s personal findings and how the images were judged by the members at the December meeting.

The Test Images

Test Criteria

  • Price
  • Processing Time
  • Convenience
  • Staff Experience
  • Print Handling
  • …and most importantly, Quality

Tested Photolabs

Paramount Printers was approached, but they do not do photo printing. Likewise, Shoppers Drug Mart was to be included but they print off-site and generally have  7-10 day turnaround which did not fit with the timeframe of this test.

Prices

Photo Lab 12×18 8×12 10×12 6×8 or 5×7 4×6
Costco $5.99 2.49 $2.49 $0.27 $0.10
London Drugs
(20% discount)
$14.99
($11.99)
$7.99
($6.39)
$5.99
($4.79)
$1.69
($1.35)
$0.39
($0.31)
McBain Camera
(10% discount)
$17.95
($16.16)
$5.99
($4.79)
$5.99
($4.79)
$5.99/$1.49
($4.79/$1.34)
$0.39
($0.31)
Walmart $6.97 $3.57 $1.77 $0.10
Paterson $13.50 $6.00 $5.00 $3.00 $0.96
Kopiko $3.75 $3.50 $1.75 $1.75 $1.25

Results

The three sample images were submitted to the photo labs with instructions that the images not be colour-corrected/balanced in any way.


Costco

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Online ordering is available
  • Helpful staff
  • Professional print handling

Cons:

  • Must have a Costco membership card
  • Cannot do matte and glossy prints on the same order. Would have to place two orders.
  • Minor cropping of 0.25cm was applied to both 12×18 prints
  • All prints had a minor greenish tint
  • The B&W print lost shadow detail
  • The colour print lost highlight detail

London Drugs

Pros:

  • Online ordering is available
  • 20% discount for Lethbridge Photography Club members
  • Helpful staff
  • User-friendly software at the in-store kiosks
  • Professional print handling
  • Prints had good tonality

Cons:

  • Visible banding or ‘ribbing’ pattern in 4×6 prints
  • All prints had a strong magenta tone

McBain Camera Store

Pros:

  • Online ordering is available
  • 10% discount for Lethbridge Photography Club members
  • Helpful staff
  • Professional print handling
  • White balance was correct for all prints

Cons

  • The most expensive even after the 10% discount was applied
  • Both glossy images were printed on semi-gloss paper
  • Instructions to print the Colour Test Image and Colour Calibration Image on glossy paper was not followed, they were both printed on matte paper
  • B&W print was printed “true archival matte paper” which  caused very low contrast in the image
  • It is recommended to discuss the best paper selection for a print before placing an order

Walmart

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Correct white balance and good tonality in the Colour and B&W prints

Cons:

  • Online upload is not available
  • Kiosk software is not user-friendly, some machines were broken and some freezing, causing line-ups and customers frustration
  • Staff inexperienced and unhelpful
  • Cannot do matte and glossy in one order
  • Unprofessional photo handling, leaving fingerprints on prints, rolling prints in a plastic bag
  • One glossy image order was printed on a matte paper
  • All prints were over-sharpened
  • 5×7 print had a green tint

Paterson Photography

Pros:

  • Online upload via Dropbox or email available
  • Helpful staff – Image and paper proof before print available
  • Professional Print Handling
  • Custom size printing
  • Variety of photo paper
  • Correct WB of all prints and good tonality on 12×18 prints

Cons:

  • Business hours are Monday to Saturday,  10am-5pm; however, they may be closed during business hours without notice (it is good to call before to make sure someone is there)
  • 8×6 print was overexposed and highlights were completely lost. Upon revisiting the lab and having the image reprinted on a lustre paper, the tonality was good.

Kopiko

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Images can be emailed
  • Correct WB of B&W print

Cons:

  • Unprofessional photo handling, leaving fingerprints on prints, handing prints in a plastic bag
  • Using uncalibrated printers
  • Low quality photo paper
  • Minor cropping of about 0.25cm was applied to both 12×18 prints
  • Printer wheels leave visible marks on the prints
  • Very low tonality and contrast in all prints due to low quality paper

Quality

General Problems:

  • Walmart applies automatic sharpening to all prints with no option to select ‘no adjustments’ when placing an order
  • Kopiko uses low quality paper and printing
  • 4×6 prints from London Drugs had a banding or ‘ribbing’ pattern, and all prints had a magenta tint

My Findings and Final Results

Sample_B&W
B&W Test Image (18×12 Matte

Costco:
White balance incorrect (green tint in darker areas), higher contrast (lost shadows)

London Drugs:
White balance incorrect (magenta tint), good tonality

McBain Camera:
White balance correct, extremly low contrast (due to use of “true archival matte paper)

Walmart:
White balance correct, good tonality, oversharpened

Paterson Photography:
White balance correct, good tonality

Kopiko:
White balance correct, very low tonality and contrast (due low quality paper?)

My picks:
Paterson Photography
McBain Camera (assuming they use the proper type of paper)
Walmart (oversharpened)


Sample_Colour
Colour Test Image (18×12 Glossy)

Costco:
White balance incorrect (green tint), overexposed (some highlights lost)

London Drugs:
White balance incorrect (magenta tint), little underexposed (some shadows lost)

McBain Camera:
White balance correct, good tonality

Walmart:
White balance correct, little overexposed (not as much as Costco), over-sharpened

Paterson Photography:
White balance correct, good tonality, contrast was a little low

Kopiko:
White balance incorrect (magenta tint), very low tonality and contrast (due to low quality paper?)

My picks:
Paterson Photography (low contrast),
McBain Camera (printed on semi-gloss instead of glossy)
Walmart (over-sharpened)


Sample_Calibration
Colour Calibration Test Image (6×8 Glossy)

Costco:
White balance relatively accurate (little greenish in darker areas and darker reds), low tonality (shadows a little lost)

London Drugs:
White balance incorrect (magenta tint across whole spectrum), good tonality

McBain Camera:
White balance correct, good tonality

Walmart:
White balance incorrect (green tint across whole spectrum), good tonality, over-sharpened

Paterson Photography:
White balance correct, overexposed (highlights completely lost)

Kopiko:
White balance correct, very low tonality due to low quality paper (highlights completely lost, and shadows partially lost)

My picks:
McBain
Paterson Photography (assuming they use the proper type of paper)

Evaluation by Photo Club Members

These are the results from the December, 2015 meeting. Members were asked to rate the images as: first, second, third and worst.

Photo Lab 12×18
B&W
Matte
12×18
Colour
Glossy
8×6
Colour Callibration
Glossy
Costco Third
London Drugs Second
McBain Camera Second First
Walmart First Third Third
Paterson Second First
Kopiko Worst Worst Worst

Other Info

All prints are available to club members for detailed inspection upon request. If you would like to see the prints in-person, please make contact with Brani at contact@lethbridgephotoclub.org


Update – January 2016

As a follow-up to the prints done at Paterson Photography, club member Chris Oates visited with Mike Paterson and presented the following video interview at our January 2016 meeting.

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4 thoughts on “Lethbridge Photo Lab Tests”

  1. I’m not a member of the LPC (yet), but THANKS for doing this test. As a landscape artist (hobbyist), I rarely print locally as I tend to sell through online outlets. I’ve printed a couple large 12×18 landscape shots at Costco – I didn’t compare directly to my screen, which isn’t properly calibrated, but they did look more than good enough, and exactly what I was expecting.

    Did you load the Color profiles from each printer into Lightroom for color checking before printing? (Costco and a few others provide this).

    Also, Walmart does have online ordering, but apparently it is down right now doing an upgrade – might be worth mentioning. I seem to remember an option to disable processing (though truthfully I’ve never printed anything important there).

    1. These tests were purposely done without any attempt to calibrate or compensate before printing. They are intended to show the baseline output from the vendors. Most people are not using a colour-calibrated monitor at home and will still expect a good print. These tests show just how much variance there is.
      It would be interesting to see what results we could have if we did load profiles, though.
      As for Walmart, I had heard their site is down due to a data leak after it was attacked by hackers. For myself, the few times I’ve tried them have been met with disappointment, too, be it image quality or the physical product itself.

  2. Hi Dwayne,
    I have the Costco profiles downloaded in my Lightroom for softproofing, but as Claus mentioned this test was more about comparing results side by side without adjusting for specific printer profiles. Softproofing is something that many photographers don’t bother with and therefore we wanted to see what you can get if you bring the most common output: a jpg file in sRGB profile.

    I have talked to the Costco manager a few week later after the test and he was very helpful. In short, their customer service is excellent and if you don’t like your print because let’s say a green tint, they will re-print.

    London Drugs printing manager said that he will work on recalibrating his printers to fix the strong magenta tint in BW. I was told to stop by sometimes in Feb/Mar to check it out.

    McBain guys were very helpful as well. I have experienced only problem with their Matte paper which was very low quality. After talking to them they will be recommending a different brand of Matte to their customers.

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