In defence of a vintage film processing service

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by greg_miller|10, Apr 4, 2009.

  1. I'm going to do a small amount of shameless self promotion here as it seems that there is a good deal of misinformation in various news groups regarding our service. Here are some common conceptions that I do not find accurate. Most have some truth but are not the complete story.
    Professional vintage film processing is very expensive.
    I guess it depends on what an individual calls expensive but I do feel our price is now approach bare bones for the effort that is put into it. Depending what you have our prices range from 12.00 (disc film) to 21.00 dollars (36 exp 35mm). This gets the film processed, scanned, a quick digital fix-up and upload for preview. Once you have the preview you can order what you want at 65 cents per image copied to cd or printed. There are also further restoration options but in most cases these are not necessary. If an order is placed within a week of the customer getting their preview there is a 20% discount to that portion of the order. On the negative but necessary side if an order is placed there is 8 dollars shipping and handling.
    Professional vintage film processing is very slow to get back
    Well there is some truth to this. Our turn around time ranges from 3 weeks to 8 weeks to get the on-line preview of your images from the time we receive it. There is a reason for this. Unlike a normal photo finisher that has one or maybe two processes under its roof we have 10. This creates the demand to work in batches. First cycling through the processes before moving on to scanning and transferring in the case of motion picture. We would love to speed this up but have found that very difficult.
    You will pay regardless of the results
    With vintage still film processing if there is nothing on a customers film then there is no charge. Our success in salvaging something from properly exposed vintage film, all film types and vintages included is nearly 95% so guaranteeing is not a problem. We do currently have a couple of exceptions with Triple print cassette film (excluding ones with magenta/pink text) and GAF cassette films. That said we have a new process for these that has greatly increased our success but it renders an unstable negative that must be scanned within a couple of days of processing. It fades to nothing in a couple of months. I think we will soon also be guaranteeing these too.
    Why send it off when you can do it yourself in B&W
    There is some truth in this too. Some vintage films do still respond well in conventional B&W developer but many do not. I would encourage someone who is mildly curious of what is on their film or someone who has recently shot some not to important pictures on a vintage film to go ahead and try some of the formulas that are offered on these news groups. Keep in mind though that we have the experience of thousands of rolls of film and keep careful track of how a given film is responding in a given process. Not only do we not get paid if we don't salvage something but we actually give a damn about these lost and found treasures. I have not yet seen a formula here that is greatly similar to what we do and there is no catch all process. One film of a certain type and format does not necessarily react the same as another and different processes are necessary and you can only make this decision by having the advantage of a huge amount of past experience.
    I'm sorry if anyone feels that this is not appropriate here but it can be frustrating reading the post in regards to old film development. We love this work and really do want to be doing it right.
    all the best
    Greg Miller
    Film Rescue International
  2. And....
    We pay a little extra to keep rarely used services in business, by offsetting their in-between downtime, so that they are there when we need them. It is a fair trade, and necessary.
    Tom Burke
  3. Truly Tom...thanks so much for your support but I need to correct you. Your assumption is entirely forgivable and it is one most everyone makes.
    Oh what I'd give for some downtime! The reason that the cost is higher than a c-41 lab is that the C-41 lab has a processor filled with chemical ready to go at a moments notice because volume allows for this. In this environment a drip replenishment system can be used to keep the chemical fresh. Depending on your processing unit you need about 15 to 20 rolls a day to keep chemical fresh. We have, including motion picture, 10 processes that we need to cycle through. None have that kind of volume let alone the number of seperate units that would be needed. Because of this we must batch our work, preparing and running one process then the next - that is labor intensive. It also explains the wait.
    People imagine us to be a one or two person operation working out of a home perhaps. We are currently 7 (and could use a couple of more) operating on two floors of a vintage bank building.
    I was reluctant to correct you because the support is truly appreciated but the point of my post was to help people to understand who we are.
    thanks again
    Greg Miller
  4. I worked for many years in a production environment in the printing trade -- typesetting and graphic arts camera work. I do understand "physical" work flow -- as opposed to that done on computer.
    All of the points you make above make complete sense to me. And I appreciate very much what you and your co-workers do!
    Incidentally, last year when my mother passed away, while going through her effects, my sisters found some old undeveloped film. I don't know where they sent it off to or when, but I was vastly relieved to hear that it had been sent either to your company or another one that provides a similar service.
    This is because I also understand the "expertise" factor, which can only be accumulated with actual hands-on experience.
    Thanks for your post. It's well-thought-out and well-written. And please, keep up the great work!
  5. Excellent post Greg and one which makes me wish I lived on your side of the pond and not in the UK - your prices are very reasonable - about half what I would expect to pay in the UK (even given the dire exchange rate at present), assuming that I could even find a reliable vintage film processor over here (there are one or two but they charge the earth and quote turnaround times in months).
    On turnaround times I was quoted 3 weeks for standard C 41 medium format only last week - labs are disappearing at an alarming rate over here - many will now only accept batch jobs from photo- retailers which accounts for the escalating turnaround.
    Your post was reassuring for guys like me who dread the disappearance of specialist labs who care - I still have a large stock of odd and old films lurking in the freezer. Your post gives me confidnce to maybe go ahead and use them. Long may you continue!
    Best wishes
  6. Thank you Michael and Roger
    Michael...I hope you got back some wonderful pictures with whoever you sent it too.
    Roger...Though based in North America approximately 20% of our work is from overseas. The world is smaller all of the time and we encourage our oversees customers to send us an e-mail with a phone number and a good time to call their time. Proper consultations are so much easier over the phone. Should you decide to shoot some of that old stock in your freezer let us know what it is...if it's been frozen since new you probably don't need us.
    Thanks all
  7. Mr. Miller...

    Thank you for your reply. NO offense taken, of course. And, I think we are talking about the same thing. I did not mean your personal downtime. I was referring to the downtime of the processors.

    Our small town still has a local E-6 processor who batches rolls due to low volume. Each time he goes to do a batch, he must bring the machine up to temperature, freshen-up the chemicals, re-balance, run a test strip, then run as many re-balances as necessary to get the ensuing test strips looking right. That is a lot of unpaid time and supply used to then run a batch of E-6. If there was constant demand with no machine downtime, replenishment would be semi-automatic and he'd have many less re-balances to do as well as less re-balances per paid roll processing. He ends up with a lot more time and material invested per paid roll thus making his cost per roll higher than if he had a constant stream of film to process. He has no personal downtime and the "balancing act" is a lot harder work than feeding the rolls through. I presumed you went through some of the same stuff while going "round-robin" with your various development lines.

    We photo type consumers have to realize that if we are not willing to pay for the cost offset of reduced volume, the service/product will go away.

    Tom Burke
  8. Thank you for your understanding Tom.
    I certainly do feel for the fellow keeping an e-6 process going. People often don't realize how difficult process control is when dealing with small amounts of film and with E-6 it couldn't be more important. We deal with it by sticking with one shot developer in a rotary tube processor. While perhaps not entirely necessary and process control is not paramount with what we do (what works well for one film will not be entirely perfect for another in the exact same packaging due to variability in how the film was stored) it does allow us to keep reliable track of trends. That is how a given film is generally responding in a given process. In two of our processes we also need to kill our developer with concentrated stop before draining so one shot is the only option. So yes...this needs to be built into the price.
    Greg Miller

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