Choosing a digital camera, point and shoot or DSLR?

My first digital camera (HP, front left) and my second (Canon, front right).


Recently a friend asked me on a recommendation on camera, which lead me to write this post. Now I’ll be clear, this will not tell you what camera to buy, that’s almost impossible, but it will give you an insight in the difference between the cameras out there and what you should be aware of. I’m no pro, let me get that out of the way. I’m I guess what you can call an amateur photographer. I don’t pretend to know what all the buttons and settings on my camera do, but I’m learning, and I’m very interested doing so.

Remember film cameras? Today’s digital cameras use the same principals.


First, for this article to make sense, we have to remember how cameras work. Let’s go back to film cameras. Film cameras work by exposing a very quick burst of light through the shutter of a lens to a section of light-sensitive film. When you press the button to take a photo the shutter opens very quickly, allowing light into the lens, which then exposes the film loaded in the camera. This creates a negative photo the film which must go through a chemical process before you can see the final (positive) photo, usually in the form of prints on paper. Digital cameras work in a similar way, however instead of light shining onto film, it shines onto a digital sensor. This sensor is part of a mini-computer inside your camera which processes and displays this image on the screen. So in the simplest form, the better the lens and the sensor of your camera, the better results you’ll have with your photos.

The Canonet, a film point and shoot camera.


Now, back to my friend. They wanted a quick shutter speed to capture crisp photos, something which their current camera didn’t do so well. This made me think a lot, there are hundreds of options to choose from. Simple “point and shoot” (P&S) cameras all the way to DSLR (Digital single-lens reflex) models. What is the right one? Would a Point and shoot be best, or a DSLR? Well this post will go into some of my thoughts. Granted these are simply my thoughts and you should always do your own research when buying a big purchase, which a camera can be. Talk to friends, relatives, or even post on your Facebook page – gather some information and see what works best for you.

Take things slow and research. The internet makes it easy, but start locally. Does a friend have a newer camera? Take it for a test drive! Like shopping for a car, it’s best to try it before you buy it. See if anyone you know has a digital camera. If nobody has a camera that you let most electronic stores, like Best Buy (or even Target or Walmart), will let you play around with a camera in-store (even if it’s tethered to a display stand). Places like Best Buy may even open up a camera from the box and hand it to you for some thether-free, hands on experience. Something I learned, some in-store models do not have a memory card, so if you have an SD card, bring it yourself to try it out (copy all your photos off and erase it before you do!).

Make a mental list or jot down some notes. What camera did you try? What did you like about it? What didn’t you like. This may seem like something you can skip, however, shopping for cameras can be confusing. With so many similar models and styles, you can easily confuse yourself.

No matter what camera you choose remember this… if you don’t learn how to use it properly, your results will suffer! Things like lighting, the type of lens you are using, the camera’s settings and the speed of your memory card are all factors in getting the perfect shot. Yes you can spend $1,000 on a new DSLR camera and lens, but if you leave it on “Auto” mode you’re kind of only using half the camera.

An obsolete memory card. A 16MB Compact Flash card. Today memory cards are gigabytes in size, often 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, or higher.


A brief history of my experience with Digital Cameras

My first digital camera was a fixed-focus-lens (which is thankfully a thing of the past) HP photosmart camera in the early 2000’s. Comparing that camera to today’s tech I can say (without exaggerating) that most cameras in a cell phone would blow it out of the water. My next camera was a big step up, a Canon PowerShot A620, which I loved! It required four AA batteries and had a memory card limit of 2GB, however, it had a nice 4X Optical Zoom and took some beautiful photos due to it’s oversized image sensor. I would use this camera for many, many years to come.

Eventually I yearned for higher quality photos and high definition video recording capabilities, (and one that didn’t have the limitations of my old camera… like bulky batteries and a memory card size limit) this led me to the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS. While not a DSLR, this camera had a massive 35X lens and was pretty good all around, especially when on sale. However, what I realized was that while the SX40 HS was nice, comparing my photos to photos taken by a friend’s DSLR there was a big difference in quality. Maybe not in all of the shots, but you can tell if you look closely.

Fast forward last year when I purchased my current camera, a Canon 60 DSLR. I got it used, but wow, what a camera! You can tell by picking it up that it means business. It was a learning experience and I still haven’t touched all of the settings, but it’s a great camera.

My newest camera, the Canon 60D (left) next to my point and shoot Canon SX40 HS (right). Both may look similar, but are completely different inside and out.


So what’s the big difference between a Point & Shoot camera and a DSLR camera?

To explain the difference we’re going to have to dive into some details. In short Point and Shoot cameras are meant for consumers to easily take photos without touching too many buttons or settings. DSLR cameras are meant for advanced users who want more control in their photos and aren’t afraid of learning about their camera or reading the manual. There is one other type of camera that I won’t cover too much, and that is the “pro-sumer” cameras. These are basically point and shoot cameras on steroids, designed to try and steal away some marketshare from people looking to buy DSLR cameras. They may offer some options that a DSLR does, but they may lack the ability to change lenses and skimp on a lot of features. Unless you’re on a tight budget, I would avoid them, in the long run a DSLR will give you more for your money.

IMG_5057 This is a photo taken with my old Canon A620 point and shoot camera.

Observations on Point and Shoots

Point and shoot cameras can almost be compared to the camera in your smartphone. They have a lot of features and rely on hardware and software tricks to give you a good photo. Where a DSLR may have a lot of manual controls and settings, some point and shoots have very limited settings, restricting you on lighting options and photo settings. Most decent point and shoot cameras will beat a smartphone of course. For example, smarphones often don’t have the ability to use optical zoom and often don’t have a good flash.

But the big difference is the lens and the sensor. The lens of a point and shoot is not removable. You may think “big whoop I don’t need another lens”, well that’s not all of it. Because the lens can’t be removed, the camera can compromise on how the photo is actually taken. The process is very technical, however, in short the image is taken by a digital sensor. This sensor may have a lot of megapixels (which is how many dots make up the image), but that doesn’t make up for a lower quality lens or sensor. Most point and shoot models have a sensor that is 5% or less than a full-frame DSLR sensor. This isn’t to say a point and shoot cant’ take a good photo however. (See the image above, taken with my old Canon A620 point and shoot camera)

Speaking of zoom, if you are going with a point and shoot camera, avoid Digital Zoom-only models. Some digital cameras without an optical zoom will have an outrageous claim on their box like “10 x zoom!” on the box where in fact it’s actually a digital zoom. The difference? A HUGE one! An optical zoom is a true zoom where as digital zoom is a cheap trick. If the camera offers an optical zoom and a digital zoom that’s okay (for example a camera may offer a 4x optical and 10x digital zoom), you can usually disable the digital zoom in the settings.

Think of an optical zoom like looking through binoculars, the image is enlarged optically via glass lenses. Where as digital zoom is like opening an image on your PC and clicking the “zoom in” or “magnify” button. Digital zoom just artificially zooms in and shows you every blocky pixel of your image. One actually gives you an actual zoom which is handy to use, while the other is almost useless. You’ll never find this feature on any self-respecting DSLR.


IMG_0363 A photo taken with my Canon SX40 HS, still considered a point and shoot camera, but with a nicer lens and a bigger price tag.

Observations on DSLRs

A DSLR camera is composed of two parts, the body and the lens. Not a lot has changed from film SLRs, except instead of film the camera uses a memory card thanks to a digital image sensor. The body is the camera itself with the lens removed. Most companies will sell the camera body itself and/or bundled with a lens. This is because a lot of photographers may prefer to use existing compatible lens or purchase their own. This is a cost saver. For example, if you have a Canon 35mm SLR, chances are the lenses are compatible with a DSLR like the Canon 60D. Therefore, you only need to purchase the Canon 60D body, since you will be supplying your own lenses. This also makes it less painless to upgrade cameras in the future. The downside is lenses are usually very expensive, with the cheapest usually being around $100-200. But you get what you pay for, these are seriously nice lenses. The one disadvantage of a DSLR is that you need to stop and change lenses if you want a different type of shot.

Focus and speed are king with a DSLR. They generally focus very quickly and can take multiple shots per second. Some cameras can exceed taking up to 10 photos per second. Think of the sports photos you may see on TV or in the newspaper, that’s taken by a DSLR, the only camera capable of capturing some quick action with minimal blurring.

_MG_5923This photo was taken with a 2006 Canon Rebel XT DSLR camera. Although the rabbits are in motion (they’re quick!), notice how sharp and in-focus the photo is. It would be difficult to capture this shot with a point and shot camera due to the amount of motion.

A JPEG is a digital file that digital cameras use to store the photos you take. JPEGs aren’t bad, but they also aren’t the best. DSLR cameras (and some prosumer P&S cameras) gain the important ability of taking photos in JPEG as well as a superior format called RAW. RAW images are uncompressed high-quailty files which are known for their editing capabilities and color accuracy. They are not compressed like JPEG images, which leads to better quality, but also larger file sizes. You can always convert a RAW image to a JPEG, and most DSLR cameras have a neat feature that shoots in a “dual” format. Giving you two files for each shot, one high-quality RAW file, and one compressed JPEG image ready for Facebook or email.

A DSLR is also different because of the way you view photos. Point and shoot cameras may have a see-through viewfinder or solely rely on a digital screen which may not be a 100% accurate representation of the photo you want to snap. With a DSLR the viewfinder is always looking directly through the lens, so what you see is what you get.

Options, options and more options! While today’s DSLRs try to be more consumer friendly with an “Easy” or “Auto” mode, the real power of the DSRL is options. You will want to review the camera manual for some basics and understand what buttons do what before going on a photo session. You should get serious about learning some photography skills, because you have a great camera at your disposal capable of great things just waiting to be unlocked.

What camera should you choose?
If you’re in the market for a camera, and can afford it, a DSLR is a better choice – by far. Yes the initial cost is more expensive, but it’s a better investment and will last longer. Point and shoot cameras are consumer-focused products and are not meant to last forever. DSLR cameras are more rugged, designed to last, and retain their resale value well.

The next decision is harder. What model camera do I get, what brand? I can’t tell you what camera to buy, but I can help you in your search. There are a few popular brands that have a good reputation in the camera world, Canon and Nikon are probably the most vocal. Then Sony, Olympus, FujiFilm and Panasonic (in no particular order). This is where you have to do your research. Look up reviews on Amazon, Google the camera model with the words “problem” or “defect” or “recall”. See what people are saying. Search for the camera model on DPreview (a great camera review site). It will take you a few days or weeks, but it’ll be worth it. Remember to keep track of what year the camera was released, if it’s an older model you may be able to find it on sale, or used. In addition, new models may be on the verge of coming out, which will usually send older model prices down. My Canon 60D came out in 2010, but I bought in 2014 simply because it was still an awesome camera.

Some Canon DSLR Models Available

I like my Canon 60D DSLR camera, so I would recommend it, but it may not be the best for your needs. There are tons of models out there, so do your research. The chart at the bottom of this Wikipedia page is embeded below as an image. My Camera is the Canon 60D. By looking at the chart  you can see it’s in the Enthusiast class, and was introduced in the 2nd quarter of 2010. Why did I get such an old camera last year? Because it’s a great camera, even if it is 5 years old. Often new camera models will add features, but that doesn’t mean the old ones should be ignored. Not at all!

Some popular Canon models, as shown below are the Rebel T4i, Rebel T5i, and 70D. Of course the T3i and 60D are older models, but still are great choices depending on your needs. Wikipedia in general is a great resource for looking up camera models and their features.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 9.08.06 PM
Wikipedia’s Canon DSLR comparison chart. Click for a larger view!


Important Things to Remember When Buying a Camera:
You’ll need a few accessories with your camera. Today most cameras will not come with a memory card, so you’ll have to buy your own.

  • Memory Cards – You don’t need to spend a fortune, but you can get a good sized card for under $20. Most DSLR cameras take the “SD” memory card formats. These cards sometimes use a class rating system that can be a bit misleading. You’re better off reading the reviews than relying on packaging. However, here is a PNY 32GB SD memory card which is enhanced for high-speed DSLR cameras. I use this card and I love it, in fact I bought a second, and then bought a 3rd, but this time in a larger size. Either way, this card will let you store thousands of photos and a lot of video. [Amazon Link]
  • Lenses – If you are buying a “body-only” camera you will need to supply your own lens. Do your research, not all Canon lens work on all Canon cameras. Also, different brand lenses won’t work on other manufacture’s cameras (A Sony lens won’t work on a Nikon camera, etc). I’m not an expert, but usually a good zoom lens is a good place to start. This will give you some range and options to play around with. As always do your research and see what people are saying.
  • Carrying Case – If you’re spending a few hundred dollars on a nice camera, you’re going to want to have a good case to protect it as well.  Here is an example of a small DSLR case by CaseLogic [Amazon Link]. Keep in mind, if you’re going to be carrying around accessories, spare batteries, and lenses, you’ll want a bigger bag, or maybe a padded backpack.
  • Battery Charger and Additional Batteries – A DSLR camera will come with a battery charger and a rechargeable battery, but what happens when your battery dies just as you’re lining up the perfect shot? Having a spare battery is essential! Order a second battery as soon as you can, it won’t hurt to get a 2nd charger too. While some people may disagree with me, I use non-OEM/ Third Party batteries and they work great. Canon and other camera companies may warn you and say the batteries may harm your camera, but as long as you don’t get a cheap knock-off brand, you should be fine. Part of me thinks they just want to sell their own overpriced batteries. I’ve had good luck with batteries from third party companies such as Wasabi and Opteka, you can find them being sold on Amazon. Be the judge and read the reviews yourself before purchasing.
  • Cleaning Cloth or Lens Cleaning Kit – Especially with the large lens of a DSLR you’re going to need to take care of it and clean it. Amazon has plenty of cleaning kits available.
  • Please Remember to Backup your photos! – I can’t let you go without saying this. Do this from the start, don’t be lazy! I lost a memory card and lost photos before, it’s not fun! With film cameras there was always the negative if you lost your prints. But with digital cameras, it’s all on a memory card, or then your computer. Everything breaks, even memory cards and hard drives. They can get lost or damaged. Use an external hard drive to backup your photos to. Or better yet, use an online backup service like BackBlaze or CrashPlan to backup your previous memories. Because its likely only you will have the original copies. Another idea is to burn CDs or DVDs and share them with family and friends as a backup. Set a calendar reminder on your email or smartphone and backup at least one a month or so.


Further reading and resources:
I don’t know it all, these are some awesome sites and resource for you to review!

Developing film in a digital age. Go local or online?


Why film?
Today you may think everything is digital these days, and for the most part, you would be correct. Digital phones, digital TV, digital movies and music. However sometimes it’s fun to look back and do things “the old way”. Not for greater convenience or for a cheaper cost, but just for fun.

Recently my friend and I have gotten into using 35mm film cameras. Earlier this year on a trip to Europe I brought along a Sears KS Super II 35mm film camera. It had a manual focus ring so before every shot you had to stop, think, focus, and be steady before taking a photo. This required me to re-wire the photo-taking part of my brain. See, my current digital camera is a nice Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, it boasts a 35x zoom and the ability to record 1080p videos. But one of my favorite features of this camera, and my previous digital cameras, was the burst mode. I love holding down the shutter button and taking a continuous burst of photos. Why? Well sometimes I want to capture a moment and try not to miss something. Or I may be trying to capture something in motion very quickly.

But, on the digital camera I have a massive memory card where I can take an endless stream of photos. On my 35mm camera? I have just 24 exposures (photos) that I can take before I need to use up another roll of film. So I have to be more careful, more selective, it makes me more conscious of what I’m photographing. With an analog film camera I am much less prone to taking a photo just for the sake of taking a photo. So because of this, I have taken some interesting shots and have had a lot of fun so far.


So after all the fun of shooting photos now comes the slow part… the waiting game. Today less and less stores offer on-site 35mm film development. Most pharmacy stores will process film for you at a relatively cheap price. However, just in the past few months, two CVS Pharmacy locations have removed their photo machines. Their reasoning being, the chemicals used in developing photos usually ends up going to waste due to not a lot of customers using their machine. This of course is wasted money on their end.

It’s kind of a shame really. For months I’ve been going to two local CVS stores, one was a 24 hour location and one was not. However rarely were my film rolls actually developed within the quoted ‘1 hour’ period. I would often wait a day or so for it to be processed. Thankfully the processing fee is standard, and you aren’t paying for a 1 hour rush service. Still, it seemed that whoever was working at the store at the time didn’t feel the need to rush. I turned to Walgreens to see if I could get a better photo experience, unfortunately my first roll of film was forgotten about and when I finally received my film the negative was scratched from improper handling and the photo CD was useless due to a bad job on part of the scanner.

The bright side?  This forced me to look into alternatives. CVS charged me about $6 and change to have one 35mm film roll developed and to have JPEG scans put on a CD. Not bad really. Walgreens was a bit more expensive at about $8 to have the same 1 roll and 1 CD service. There are tons of mail-in and online processing services today. Thankfully you have plenty of options. So far I have tried Mpix, Lomography and

Developing film with Mpix (

Mpix seems to offer a lot of photo products, meaning they will slap any photo on a mug, t-shirt, card, calendar, frame, etc. In fact, when visiting their site, you may be confused as to if they actually offer film developing. They do, but the ‘Film’ link is hidden on the bottom of their website under ‘Products’.

Mpix offers film processing and development by mail. To start, go to the Mpix website and create a free account with your email address. You can request free film mailers directly on your website. These are special pre-paid envelopes that will mailed out to you. You’ll receive a welcome envelope from Mpix in a few days, enclosed are the special film envelopes and some instructions. You can place up to 4 rolls of 35mm film inside each envelope. (They mail you 3 or 4 envelopes so you don’t have plenty to start with). The envelopes are pre-paid so when you drop in your film, simply seal the envelop and drop it off at the post office (or have it collected at your home). In a few days they will arrive at the Mpix offices and you’ll get an email notification once your photo thumbnails are ready to be reviewed and “unlocked”.

Unfortunately their film processing webpage is limited to one single page with not a lot of detailed pricing information on it. I wouldn’t call it misleading, but it’s a bit hard to figure out exactly how much you’re going to pay. Is it worth the price? Let’s see.

For example, under  film pricing it mentions that you are charged $0.19 per exposure (this would be $4.56 for a roll of 35mm film with 24 exposures), not bad, that’s fine. However under ‘Scanning’ it only lists the resolution and size of the scanned files. Afterwards it mentions that full resolution scans are available to purchase via an archive DVD. That’s fine, but it reads as if the lower-resolution (72dpi) scans are available at no charge or at a different rate. Here they also fail to mention that the DVD archive disc has a hefty shipping charge (it was $8 for me at the lowest rate), not including the $10 charge to house 50 photos on the DVD (a 100 photo DVD is $15).

So let’s add this up… If you had one roll of film mailed in that would be $4.56 for development of 24 exposures, $10 for a DVD disc for housing up to 50 photos, and $8 for shipping. That’s a whopping $22.56 to have one roll developed and have the negatives and DVD mailed back to you.

Now this isn’t as bad if you have multiple rolls processed at the same time, or if you saved up your good photos to put on a DVD later on. If you had four film rolls sent in that would be, $23 for a DVD with 96 photos (from the 4 rolls) isn’t too bad, but that’s not counting the processing (another $18.24). For a total just under $42.

Thankfully nobody is forcing you to buy the DVD. However Mpix currently doesn’t offer a digital download of your scanned in film either. To me it seems like they’re missing out on a market. While I wouldn’t gladly pay another $10 to download my scanned in photos, at least I would save on the $8 shipping charge, and if the download fee was reasonable, I’d probably go ahead and buy it. It would save me plenty of time and trouble scanning in the negatives myself at home.

Included in the development cost you can see a thumbnail preview of your processed photos and they will mail back your negatives to you at no additional cost. Since I’m located in New Jersey and Mpix is located in New York, I didn’t have to wait long for my negatives to be returned to me. The negatives were returned double-boxed, inside the 2nd box was a spiral of two rolls of film protected in plastic negative sleeves. The negatives weren’t cut, but they were clean and unwound.

The photos themselves came out great. They did a wonderful job on the processing of the photos. I enjoyed seeing the thumbnails on their website, and the negatives arrived in great shape. I then proceeded to scan in the negatives myself, since I did not purchase a DVD from their website.

However, it’s interesting to note that the Mpix website states that to avoid damage the DVD is mailed separately from the negatives. However I can easily fit in a plastic jewel case, with a DVD, inside the box I received. Now maybe they did tests and found out the DVD would arrive damaged, but to me (at least when only returning one roll and one DVD) it could have fit in just fine.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary: While their photo DVD price is a bit high and they don’t offer digital downloads of your photos, they do process the film nicely and affordably. They offer free mailer envelops to send your film rolls in, and they send the negatives back for free in a protective sleeve. Mpix could be a bit better, I would like to see the developing part of their website have a few more details added to it. But at least least the quality of their developing seems pretty good.

Developing film with Lomography (

If you’re into 35mm film you have probably heard of Lomography. They offer a large selection of not only film, but cameras, accessories and much more. They even offer fun services like a film subscription plan, including a random assortment if you’re feeing lucky. So right off the bat Lomography’s website differs from Mpix’s greatly. It’s clear that here at Lomography it’s all about analog film. ThLomography also has a set of shops around the globe. These Lomography Gallery Stores offer a place to buy cameras, film and accessories, some of the shops even offer film processing or film drop off centers.

The one thing I noticed right away was a bit confusing. Lomography has two websites, it’s main site, and it’s Store site. Each have a very similar navigation menu and setup, however it can be a bit confusing at first. is more of a community site where you can join in discussions or events and share photos. Lomography’s store site is where you can purchase cameras, film, or film processing. So to get things started you have to visit and click on ‘Services’ and then select ‘LomoLAB Development Service – USA’. Once you find your way there you’ll have a selection of services that Lomography offers. If you are using some of their special film or products they have you covered. However for me I simply chose the ‘Standard Photo Development’ and selected the ‘Create Bundle’ button.

On the next screen you are given quite a lot of options and information. This package includes development, prints and a CD of your photos. So right away it seems like you’re getting quite a good package. On this page simply select the Film Format and Development options. You should visit their website to look at their piecing, print sizes and other important features & details, but it’s pretty easy to understand. For example if I select 35mm as my film format I can then choose my development type. If you have special film or requirements (like Slide Film or Black & White processing) you can select the option here. There are additional charges, for example Slide Film is an extra $4 to process.

In my case however things were a bit strange. I found a roll of 110 film at my parents house that must have been used in 1998. So I was working with a 15 year old roll of film. Thankfully via the Standard Photo Development plan they support 35mm, 110 and 120 film formats. The latter two carrying a $1 additional fee. So for one roll of my special 110 film at standard color negative film processing my total was $13. It may seem expensive, however you get quite a lot, development, prints, and a CD of your photos.

When you continue through checkout you are brought to a page of shipping methods. Keep in mind, this is the return shipping cost. FedEx was the cheapest a a mere $3. You are responsible for shipping your film to Lomography separately on your own. In my experience this was another $5 via USPS online (I already had a mailing envelope handy).

So the total cost for sending in one roll of film (including processing, prints, a CD, and shipping both ways) comes to a grand total of: $21 (subtract $1 for plain 35mm film). You can not deselect prints and a CD to make the package cheaper however.

So I packaged up and mailed in my special 110 film. Then I waited… and waited… and waited. Due to USPS screwing up, my confirmation number said “Out for Delivery” and then “Unknown”. Basically USPS had no idea where my package was. Thankfully I called the Lomography Store in NY, and they confirmed that my film had arrived safe and sound, this was May 1st. Now the serious waiting began. The original estimate was that my film would be processed within 2-3 days. Maybe this was a mistake, because my film would not be ready until 2-3 weeks! I started to question if my film even arrived. I tried reaching out to Lomography via the phone, but unlike my previous attempts I would only end up leaving a message on voicemail. Nobody returned my call and I tried to reach out via Twitter as well, once again hearing no response.

Thankfully on May 20th I gave them another call and FINALLY got through! I was transferred to the lab to say they just received the film on May 16th. (My guess is that the NY Lomography store shipped them to the Lab? Or maybe there was just a huge amount of photos to process) I was then disconnected and I had to call back. They noted my film should be done in 2-3 days. Thankfully on the evening of the 21st I received an email from Lomography (note this was the FIRST email I ever received about my film processing). It said my photos were ready to view online.

So I logged in and there I saw my photos! What was left of them. For whatever reason there were only 13 photos online. I’m pretty sure the roll I sent in was for 24 exposures. However due to the age of the film there are numerous things that could have gone wrong. Or the remaining photos could have simply been too poor quality to process. Whatever the reason I may find out when my negatives are returned to me soon.

Anyway despite the hiccup of the long wait, Lomography’s online photo website is quite nice. Via email you are given a link to review your photos. You can click on each thumbnail for a large version. Since you already paid for everything, this is all free and you don’t have to “unlock” any thumbnails to view them. You even get a nice option to create one .Zip archive of your photos (they email you a link to download this).

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Overall Lomography seemed pretty good. I was worried for a bit, and things took much longer than I expected. But the quality of the photos were nice. The only downside is if you don’t want prints and a CD you should look elsewhere, as you’re paying for them no matter what.

So I received Lomography’s package not long ago. The package I received was a white bubble mailer envelope sent via USPS first class. Inside there was a standard photography envelope you may have seen if you went to pickup your photos in the mid-1990’s. I was pleased with the quality of prints, printed on Fujifilm photo paper, along with a handy index (thumbnail) sheet. I can only describe prints as semi-glossy (at best), but still good quality, especially for the price. The photos taken weren’t the best but that was the fault of the photographer (me at the age of 12 or so). Inside the negatives were cut well and were protected in a nice clear plastic sleeve. Since the negatives were cut, the sleeve was folded nicely, allowing you to take a quick look at the photos without unrolling a massive roll of film (unlike Mpix). I was satisfied with the overall quality of the product.

Note: I don’t see a CD in the package of photos I received, however I most likely removed it and misplaced it.

Developing film with The Dark Room (

I found the Dark Room through an internet search when I was looking up other film processing places. On their website I requested film mailers to be sent to me, like Mpix they will mail you some special pre-paid envelopes. Alternatively, The Dark Room gives you an option to use your home printer to print out a pre-paid postage label, and then you just supply your own envelope.

Either way the process is pretty simple. You can either go through the checkout process online and select your film type and your options, then print out a confirmation page to include with your mail in order. Or you can fill out the paper form, select your film type, your other options, and write down your credit card number. It depends on how legible you think your handwriting is. Either way you can include multiple film rolls per envelope, which is handy.

For me I chose their ‘Enhanced Scan’ development service. This includes a nice higher-res scan of your photos, a CD of your photos, a web upload of them (to allow you to download them), and your original negatives back. I opted for the better (enhanced) scan for $5 more than the standard scan. I figure the $5 per roll is worth it, I’ve scanned in my own negatives before and it’s very time consuming. They have samples and comparisons online of their standard, enhanced and super scan (professional grade) scans. For me, I liked the quality of the enhanced.

The Dark Room is located in California and they boast that they are very close to the local post office and that they make multiple trips a day. I’m a bit impatient when it comes to my film, so this made me happy. I mailed my photos out on June 24th 2013 via First Class Mail though the U.S.P.S. To my surprise, at about 3:30 pm on the 26th I got an email saying they have received my order. They mention it could take another 1-3 days for them to start processing my order.

Even further to my surprise, on the 27th at around 12:30 pm I get another email from them with a login ID and password to access their website. Maybe it was a slow processing week, but I didn’t mind! It didn’t mention anything about my photos being ready… but since they setup my account I decided to login and look anyway. Sure enough as soon as I log in I see two photos. A few minutes later I refresh the page… 5 photos! It seems that slowly but surely they were being updated on the website. How exciting! It was very fun to be able to preview the photos as they were being upload live (again I’m impatient, so this was great).

While waiting I decided to poke around the website, the website is, the Dark Room uses their services to host photos. While the website has some nice features, it is a bit confusing to navigate. I ended up using the Live Chat feature for some help, as I couldn’t find out how to download the hi-res versions of my photos. It turns out the website is only fully functional on Internet Explorer (for Windows). As I’m on a Mac, this doesn’t help me. I vented my frustration to the poor Live Chat lady and she said she agreed, and that they are aware of the problem and hope to have a new version of their site later this year. Thankfully I could still get my photos, but only 1 photo at a time. While I was talking to her I asked if she knew if these photo downloads (simply labeled ‘small’ and ‘large’) were the Enhanced scan quality images I paid for. She didn’t know and pointed me to the Dark Room’s email address to ask them. Fair enough, but just another example of how outsourcing part of your service to another site can prove problematic or confusing for your customers. (As of July 2014 this has gotten a bit better for Mac users, but there is still no way to mass-download all the photos)

Anyway I fired up a virtual machine of Windows XP, opened Internet Explorer and quickly downloaded all of  my photos. One annoying issue is that all of my photos (from my two film rolls) were dumped into one folder. As new photos were uploaded the photos also shifted around. I thought I was missing photos and having them disappear until I noticed the Page # and ‘Show All’ options on the bottom of the page.

Overall I am happy with the picture quality of my photos. I’m not 100% sure if these are the enhance scanned files I paid for. But they look pretty good. If they had sorted the photos into folders (by roll) and if there was a non-IE / Mac friendly option to download all the photos, I would be happier. But still, no huge problems, just inconveniences.

I expect to receive my photo negatives and CD in a few days. But I’m very happy to be able to login and view my photos instantly. That is a great feature that I wish the Mpix website would have.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Darkroom was exactly what I was looking for. If it wasn’t for their website which tends to be a bit incompatible with non-Windows systems at times, they would have earned a perfect score. Their results were fantastic, their prices were affordable, and their service was top-notch. They are truly film fanatics and I feel very safe sending my film off to them for developing.


The Darkroom wins!

In some areas it could be closer to a draw, each service offers some great features, but some aren’t as convenient as others. Mpix, Lomography and The Dark Room do great processing. I had minor issues with each service. Mpix didn’t offer online downloads of your prints and only offered a pricey DVD option. While Lomography didn’t allow you to not choose prints and a CD and took much longer to process the film than I thought (however this may have been due to the special type of the film or due to their popularity). The Dark Room seems pretty great, but their online photo website could use an upgrade (which apparently is coming in late 2013). All are fine choices and depending on your needs, you should be happy with your results. But for me, I think The Darkroom comes out as a winner.

So in the end, while CVS and Walgreens may continue to offer budget photo processing options, you get what you pay for. Sometimes you’ll get great results, and sometimes you’ll get back a disappointing product. Both pharmacies seem to touch-up their photos (when they put them on a CD), often auto-sharpening the photos instead of leaving them how they appear on the original negative. I’d say they’re good in a pinch, but unless you have a friend working at one of these stores, I’d wait the extra few days and get it professionally done. Also, both stores seem to be phasing out their photo processing services.

So online development may be your best bet. Yes it will cost more, but if your photos are important to you – it’s well worth it.  So unless you have to have it by the next day (and can handle the risk of a non-photo-savvy person developing your film) I’d strongly consider online film development. Short of doing it yourself in your own darkroom, they offer the best value and services.

Note: I will try and upload photo samples soon. Post was last updated on July 10th, 2014.