Is there Hope for North American Photofinishing Companies???

Started Aug 10, 2001 | Discussions thread
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DerekSurfs Senior Member • Posts: 2,196
Is there Hope for North American Photofinishing Companies???

Note: For those who want to see my abrviated test results go to Conclusion, Sorry for the length in advance!

After purchasing my new G1 camera I decided it was time to do some serious research and testing of the latest online photofinishing companies.

I starting by read "Many" posts and reviews such as the one by Belgium Digital(BD) - http://www.belgiumdigital.com . This review was one of the best on the net. Yet it appeared to be slightly dated. Some of the newer posts gave me good tips for newer, lesser known, or improving US companies. Here are the companies that I tested with the same or similar photos from my G1. The shots were primarily indoor family photos as well as some outdoor flower macros.

Dotphoto,Ofoto,Printroom,Colormailer,Walmart,Epixel,Photoaccess,Photochannel.

Belgium Digital found the States "Lacking" in overall color, quality and accuracy which they backed up with sample pictures from each company! I was initially skeptical of their pro-European results. Well after receiving my photos it turned out that my results were almost the same as theirs for North American based companies.

Let’s start with the worst and work toward the best. Printroom just looked bad or "Blah!" My wife's first comment was "The pictures look all washed out!" These photos lacked detail. They looked blurry compared to the others. I got more detail, correct color balance, and saturation from my Canon S600, which does a good job for a "non-photo" printer. Overall, Printroom was the worst. Check out BD's negative comments re: printroom -similar results. The -'s far outweigh any +'s to my eyes. I was hoping for more because their site and photo album is one of the best! I have uploaded 100+ pictures for family photo display of our new son
Luke;-}

Ofoto, the States "Media Darling" and favorite of some posters was the worst offender of post upload "photo manipulation/enhancement." They oversaturated virtually every photo!!! The only acceptable pictures were those taken outdoors of "things(flowers,landscapes,..)," not people. The indoor results were too dark!!! The colors were wrong, skin tones were dark and Red!! My mother looked liked she had spent the week "oversunning" here elderly skin in Palm Springs (Dark Red/Purple Skin Tones). The baby and the rest of our family came out about the same. Ofoto is only good for those who shoot outdoor nature and like the oversaturated look! If I want this effect I'll do it myself in photoshop- thank very much!!! After conveying this problem to customer service, they sent reprints with the same results! Ha! For those who think Ofoto does a good job, you need to try some of the superior photofinishing services!!! If I offend you, all I can say is the proof is in the pictures.

Dotphoto has some of the best prices with mixed reviews on the net. Well lets start with the good. Color correctness, saturation and overall look was initially fair-good. Yet for the discriminating eye this is not enough. Upon closer inspection "gradient lines" are evident in the photos, especially on skin tone areas. BD found the same thing! Unacceptable!!! Thumbs Down!

Things were looking bad for the States at this point of the game. I had the "Bloody" results in hand, Yuk! So I scoured the net for better North American based companies, as I did not want to pay the high shipping costs of European photofinishers for everyday shooting. The waiting time is much longer as well. I noticed a common denominator with many top Euro companies. The majority used the "Fuji Frontier" photofinishing system, which produced apparent superior results (See BD's photos). So I looked up Fuji Frontier on the net and came up with some interesting results. "Walmart" of all companies has started to use and install the Fuji Frontier in many of their Stores. After receiving my latest batch of photos from Walmart.com I was extremely impressed;-) Alas, there is hope for North America yet! The prints made the Grade- "A" for quality, color balance, detail, and overall WOW factor! And the best part was the Price- the lowest on the net- $0.26/4x6!

Then I found out about a little company in New York with some pretty favorable reports of High Quality - Epixel. Epixel.com made the grade- "A" as well with low prices similar to Walmart! The picture quality is high and the customer service is friendly. The only downside is the site. Uploading and ordering can sometimes be difficult. But they have an FTP option I haven't tried yet that has promise. The pictures are also printed on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. They may use the Fuji Frontier system, but I am not certain. The overall quality was as good as Walmart, possibly better.

Photochannel is one of the newest to hit the scene, and poised to take the photofinishing industry by storm according to "their press." The results were also in the "A" category with reasonable pricing. An e-roll of 24 pics for $7.99. "But" there is something strange going on over at Photochannel. Their press advertises that they use the Fuji Frontier System. Check the web site guarantee. Yet when I got my pictures back they came in a "Wolf Envelope" and were printed on Kodak paper with some Wolf/Kodak premium process?!? Now they did come out pretty good. Although they have a much different look than the Fuji Look (Paper and Processing). Overall more saturated colors, sometimes bordering oversaturation. Yet a much better Kodak result than Ofoto!!! I have emailed their customer service about this discrepency 5 days ago and still not heard back! Wolf has filed Chapter 11, so who knows what is going on. If anyone has more info or news on Photochannel let me know.

Ah yes Photoaccess, last but not least. Actually I saved the best for last! They also print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. I give them a grade of "A+" for picture quality, color correctness and balance, saturation, and the sharpest visible detail of all(without visible noise, lines, etc..). Interestingly they do not use the Fuji Frontier System. This leads me to the conclusion that there are other high-end photofinishing systems out there that can equal and even surpass the Fuji system when used in the "right hands." The exciting thing is that new superior digital photofinishing equipment is being designed and tested as we speak (or write) that has much promise.

But lets not forget the European competition. Competion is a good thing in this business right?!!! Well, I have been waiting 2 weeks for my colormailer order and still nothing (California). Yet I would expect them soon. I am sure that the quality will be at least "good-A" as is evidenced by their photos on Belgium Digital.

Conclusion

My research and final analysis yield a resounding "YES" to the original question! North American photofinishers do have hope;-) And some companies are working harder to produce better color balanced, beautifull, visually stunning, quality prints!!! Give them a try if you haven't already done so recently. You may even like the results better than... dare I say your favorite "Epson 12XX" with its continuos ink flow system ;-}LOL. But remember that some of the lesser known companies for quality prints are some of the best (ie- epixel, walmart, photoaccess, ect...). They "FAR SURPASS" the overall photo quality of the larger, more highly publisized Ofotos and Dotophotos. Your milage may vary. Let me know what your own findings are! But please, before you chime in with "Hey man, Dotphoto or Ofoto is the best," do yourself a favor and at least try some of the other options. A "Visually Appealing," high quality, well balanced (true color, saturation, contrast), sharp (no visible artifacts), long lasting (archival), photo realistic digital print is the goal!

Print Quality Ratings: Printroom: (D+), Dotphoto: (C-), Ofoto: (C-),
Walmart: (A), Epixel: (A), Photoaccess: (A+), Photochannel: (A).
Colormailer: (Still waiting ?!?)

I am not affiliated with any of the above mentioned companies. I merely want the best digital print I can get! Hopefully this can help you do the same.

Derek Sedillo

P.S. If you would like 10 free pictures and "free shipping to anywhere" from colormailer, you can use my promo code : dereksurfs@hotmail.com. This way you can try out one of Belgium Digital's top rated European companies and compare the results with your own best North American rendition. It's free anyway, so nothing to lose;-) Since shipping is free you may want to add a few extra photos in ($0.40/4x6").

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