A Tale of Four Photo Labs
Recently, I needed a print very quickly. My normal photo lab, a national company that only serves professional photographers, would have taken two days. So I thought, "Well, I'm sure the local labs won't be as good, but how bad could they possibly be?" After getting the prints back a few hours later, I decided to just wait two days. But I thought it would be instructive to show you the prints as compared to a real lab.
Here's the original image. Computer monitors can vary wildly in how well they show images. If you monitor is configured well, you should be seeing an image with natural skin tones, well-balanced tonal range, and deep, rich colors.
Now, let look at the results of having the exact same image printed at several different photo labs. I requested each image be printed on their standard photo paper with no automatic correction and made a high-resolution scan of each for this article.
First, our local Walgreens photo center. As you can see, this print is not very good. The tonal range is compressed, the highlights are muted, and the overall image is way darker than it should be. The entire image is now rather blue-ish and the skin tones are lifeless and dull. You can move your mouse cursor over the image and back off to compare the original and this one.
Even worse, when you look closely, you can see a very prominent grid pattern over the entire print. This image is a 100% scan.
Next up: Our local CVS. I though Walgreens had done a pretty poor job, but the print from CVS was a whole 'nother level of terrible. The print is actually blurry, not to mention greenish beyond belief. I could go into more detail about what's wrong with it, but I think anyone looking at this print would easily see that it stinks. Again, you can use your mouse cursor to compare it against the original.
Finally, a print from Walmart.
So, let's compare the results from the three consumer labs against the print from the professional lab.