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Photo CD Information

By Chip Chapin

What's Here

During 1996 and 1997 I collected a variety of practical information about getting one's film processed and scanned into Kodak's Photo CD format, and this year I added a few more notes. Emphasis is on where to get it done and how much it costs. The information here has many shortcomings: it is most relevant to the Silicon Valley area of California and is now a few years out of date. Nevertheless, it may still be of some use.

Recently (1999-2000) I have been getting the much-cheaper Picture CDs instead of Photo CDs. They aren't as good: half the resolution and many more problems with sloppy processing. But they're just a few dollars for an entire roll. They win the cost-effectiveness contest for the moment. For high quality scans I soon hope to buy a film scanner.

There are currently four sections:


Links

Kodak overall web site: http://www.kodak.com/
Kodak Photo CD web site: http://www.kodak.com/daiHome/products/photoCD.shtml
Among other things, you can search here for suppliers of Photo CD services.

December 1996

The following are two messages I wrote in December 1996. I subsequently had my processing done at Wolf and was very satisfied. I later had some processing done at Kodalux via Long's (see December 1997).

Message #1:

For the curious, here's what I learned today about Photo CD processing.

1. There's lots of good info on the Kodak web site:
   http://www.kodak.com/
for Photo CD only...
   http://www.kodak.com/daiHome/products/photoCD.shtml
Each standard "Master" format CD can hold 100 images, which seems to me is a very inconvenient number if you like to shoot 36 exposure rolls, or if you ever squeeze 26 shots out of a 24 exposure roll.

2. Based on the info in the Kodak database, one of the only places in Northern California that can do its own scanning is the large Wolf Camera store at 1900 Camden Ave (formerly Photo Drive-Up headquarters). I called them (559-0400) and spoke to Eric, who is the person who actually runs the Photo CD scanning operation.

Besides Wolf, Longs and Walgreens are the main other places in the San Jose area, plus specialty camera stores like Ritz. All these other places probably send their work out to Kodalux (part of Kodak).

Wolf (and apparently Kodak) can process either negs or slides with equal ease, Eric says that mounted slides afford more opportunities for dust contamination.

3. Prices (Wolf Camera)

For $10/year, you can join their "Wolf Pack Club" which offers an immediate benefit of a 25% discount on all film processing (or a 2nd set of free prints).

For scans performed at time of film developing:

1.32 per image (before discount)
.99 per image (after 25% discount)
.90 per image (special rate from Eric because I had a lot of film, and he wants to encourage doing the scans at the time of developing, not after)

CD is INCLUDED, but cost of film processing is EXTRA (about
$3, plus prints at .31 (after 25% discount) for 4x6).

For scans performed AFTER developing:

1.97 per image up to 24 images
(I neglected to get the price for 25 <= n <= 75)
1.70 per image for > 75 images

(these prices AFTER the 25% discount)

Minimum order of $20. The CD is INCLUDED at this price.

Eric says they are backed up now and turnaround time would be about a week and a half.

I noted that at these prices (.99 vs. 1.70) it might easily make more sense to get the processing done first and then to pick and choose the negs to scan. That's when Eric dropped his price to 0.90, because it's so much easier for him to do the scans of fresh uncut negs! He also said the quality is noticeably better when scanning is done at time of film processing, because there is less dust contamination.

4. Prices (Longs)

I called Longs #85 at 470 Blossom Hill (BH and Snell) and spoke to Stacy. Sounded like she had never handled a Photo CD order before, but at least she had heard of it and knew where to look up the info. They send their Photo CD stuff to the Kodalux service.

For scans performed at time of film developing:

.47 per image
PLUS 8.69 for a new photo CD

Minimum charge $11.00. The cost of developing IS INCLUDED but prints would be extra. From Kodalux, Longs charges $13.99 for 36 4x6 prints.

For scans performed after developing:

1.49 per image (1-49 images)
1.19 per image (50-100 images)
.99 per image (101-... images)
PLUS 8.69 for the new photo CD

Stacy didn't know and couldn't find out the turnaround time, but she guessed that it would be safe to allow 10-14 days.

You should be able to put multiple rolls on a single CD, but I'm not sure that Longs understands that. And you should be able to add images to an existing photo CD until it's full, but they probably don't understand that either. Fortunately, they are more than willing to call Kodak for help with these questions (but not after 5:30). She even gave me the Kodalux customer service number: 800/797-5227.

5. Comparison

So what's the cost for, say, 8 rolls of 36 exposures (288 images), not including prints?

Wolf:

$ 10.00 Wolf Pack Club membership
259.20 288 images @.90
24.00 8 rolls @3.00
------
293.20 plus tax
 

Longs:

$135.36 288 images @.47
34.76 4 CDs @8.69
------
170.12 plus tax
 

Eric claims that his lab (Wolf) does better quality than Kodalux because they give each roll more individual attention. (The Kodak web site has interesting info on exactly what processing equipment they offer -- Kodalux is evidently using the biggest machine which does 50 rolls at a time). There is also a clear advantage in dealing directly with someone who knows what they are doing, and can, in fact, re-do the work if there is a problem, as opposed to dealing with a pleasant but ignorant counter-person.

On the other hand, that's a HUGE difference in price, and my past experience with Kodak processing (not recent) has always been that they adhered to the very highest quality standards.

Message #2:

Since I got started on this I might as well keep it accurate. There were a couple of problems with the cost comparison example I did between Longs and Wolf in my message of 12/5.

    -- Didn't include cost of prints.  Prints are cheaper at Wolf than
       from Kodak.  If you skip the prints in order to save money,
       then you pay the reprint price later, which is higher.
       
    -- Cost of CDs.  I learned that you CANNOT send multiple rolls to
       Kodak for processing and ask them to be placed on a single CD.
       They will EACH be put on separate CDs.  
       
       Later, you can send in a partially-used CD with some processed
       negs and ask that they be added to that CD.  You can even ask
       them to fill up a CD and start a new one.  But ONLY when you're
       sending in processed negs, not when you're asking them to
       process an entire roll.
Also, here's a useful thing to know: the CDs actually can hold MORE than 100 images, but Kodak won't promise more than 100. So four rolls of nominally-24 exposures should almost-certainly fit, even if you get 26 shots on each.

So here's a reworked cost comparison for 8 rolls of 36 exposures (288 images), including prints:

    Wolf:
 
       $ 10.00      Wolf Pack Club membership
        259.20      288 images @.90
         24.00      processing, 8 rolls @3.00
         89.28      4x6 prints, 288 @.31
        ------
        382.48      plus tax 
 

    Longs (Kodalux):

       $135.36      288 images @.47
         69.52      8 CDs @8.69
        111.92      4x6 prints, 8 rolls@13.99
        ------
        316.80      plus tax

So Longs is still cheaper, but by less than 20%. And it now suffers from the [possible] disadvantage of putting each roll on a separate CD. (I am assuming that Wolf will consolidate them if asked. Given the more individualized nature of their service, and the fact that they eat the cost of the CD, that seems a reasonable expectation.)

December 1997

In December 1997 I needed to get some more Photo CDs made. The notes below describe some of my findings at that time. In the end I had them done by Kodalux via Longs. Those results seemed OK, though not quite as good as Wolf's in terms of color balance and cleanliness. However close inspection later revealed some severe problems (see August 2000).

Wolf Camera

I just called Wolf Camera to check the prices again and spoke to Christine. She took over Eric's job about 7 months ago. The deal has gotten much worse:

Longs

So I called Longs #114 on Stevens Creek Blvd in Cupertino, 255-7622, and spoke to Elaine. She didn't have the info but called Kodalux to get it. Elaine called back in about 15 minutes, and called again 10 minutes later to clarify the information on prints.

Custom Labs

I also checked out some custom labs. Their prices are much higher than Kodalux, though apparently cheaper than Wolf.

Camellia Color Corp in Sacramento, http://www.camellia.com. They do their own transfers and offer both custom and economy versions.

Super Color Lab in Los Angeles, http://www.supercolorlab.com/. They do their own transfers and offer a variety of services. They have a basic Process & Scan package price:

Miller Imaging in Burbank, http://www.millerimaging.com/wwmain/. Nice site with snappy response, but there's some problem running an applet through the proxy server. They offer a large variety of services. The most basic photo CD service:

August 2000

Only weeks after receiving the December 1997 discs, I left Hewlett-Packard for a new job at Cygnus Solutions. At Cygnus I did not have the same level of access to equipment that could handle the Photo CDs, plus I was too busy to do anything with them if I could. Finally, in August 2000 I was able to do begin doing some useful things with my PhotoCDs.

All went very well with the 1996 discs, but with the December 1997 discs, the ones processed by Kodalux, there was a problem. Every image on every disc suffered from some sort of transparent obstruction over one corner, as if a piece of clear cellophane had been stuck in the imaging optics. I had to find a way to get Kodak to rescan them.

I didn't bother going through Long's, I wanted to talk directly to Kodak's processing lab. First I called the Kodak Processing Lab in San Leandro ((510)614-3535). The customer service rep was not encouraging but told me to try calling Kodak Customer Service ((800) 242-2424). The regular customer service folks sent me to the special Digital Imaging customer service folks ((800) 235-6325) where I spoke to a woman named "MacLaine". MacLaine was the first person I spoke to who actually seemed to understand my issue, and seemed confident that it could be resolved.

The Kodak processing labs are now run under the name of "Qualex", apparently a division within the Kodak organization. On 8/18/2000 MacLaine sent me to Qualex corporate customer service at (800) 828-4587 and advised to ask specifically for "Alexis". She handles redoing images. Alexis was the pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow. There was never any question in her mind about redoing these scans and she did everything possible to expedite the matter. I was given a charge number to use with Airborne Express so I could sent my negatives and the old discs directly to Alexis in Fountain Valley. Within about a week, maybe less, I had everything back in good order.