Film Deplorium

I like to test things myself, so when I shot 60 frames of 35mm Fuji Superia Reala in Joshua Tree, as I mentioned in the Waiting For Film post, I tried the only “One Hour” film processor in the city that I hadn’t tried before. Only a few years ago there were a handful of professional labs in my city, places that could be trusted to develop film. But those days are gone.

I’ve tried all of the other quick processors, so I thought I’d test the last one, Walmart. But being somewhat skittish about the test I first called my brother-in-law, who works in the film department of the same chain, though in a different city. He assured me that the company’s Fuji development and processing machines were maintained to higher standards than the Fuji processors who do all of the mail-in processing for other companies that don’t have their own machines.

I wasn’t particularly satisfied with the answers that the twenty-year-old clerk (and I’m using the term “clerk” lightly) gave me when I dropped off the film. I asked a series of questions. It was quickly apparent that her knowledge of photography was limited to “we put it in this end of the machine and it comes out that end”.

I ordered film development and scans of the negatives. In the worst case, I figured if what I’d been told about the maintenance of the Fuji machines was true, at least the negatives would turn out alright.

When I picked up the negatives and disk with the scans, there were two people in line in front of me, but it took nearly twenty minutes to get them in my hand due to the inefficiency of a different clerk. When I got home it became apparent that the test was successful, since I now know I never want to hand my film over to that company again.

The scans were deplorable. Washed out. They looked like unadjusted scans of faded 40-year-old prints. The negatives looked alright, except for the dust and fibers liberally attached to them. I think the negs were hung in the open air out by the loading dock for drying. They were cut into 4-frame sections, though 6-frame sections of 35mm film has been the standard since before I was born (a long time ago). Also unfortunately, the first five frames were missing and no explanation was forthcoming. Being digitally printed from the bad scans, the miniscule thumbnails on the contact sheets were also washed out.

I’ve shot with this camera, a Nikon N90s, and with the same film, the Fuji Superia Reala 100 so many times that I know what the output should look like, and there is nothing washed out about the combination. It is possible that the negatives are alright, though. I’ll have to scan them in the near future to be sure.

To be fair, I should have known better than to take my film there. I haven’t entered a Walmart in over ten years because I don’t like the way that the company treats employees or the way that the company has undercut and destroyed so many good, honest businesses across the country.

Napoleon was right when he said, “Morale is to firepower as three is to one.” If one is in business, the best way to “win” is to treat the employees well and pay them better than reasonable living wages. When your company “goes into battle” your chances of winning will be greatly magnified because your organization will have very high morale.

Walmart provides the opposite example. The company cares nothing for the employees (or the customers, for that matter), pays them very poorly, and as a result their morale is abysmally low, so they don’t care about what they are doing. It shows. If forced by strange circumstance, I may have to walk in that store again in another ten years. If we’re all lucky, the company will continue to destroy itself from within and won’t be around in twenty years.

I’ll be going back to Costco for film development. The clerks there speak photography. No more experimenting. I recent years I’ve had quite a bit of film developed at Costco, and the negatives all look uniformly good. The prints are acceptable, not washed out. The scans leave something to be desired, but they can be adjusted with software for use on the Web. In any event I probably won’t be getting prints or scans there in the future, since a film and negative scanner is due to arrive at my doorstep sometime next week. I only need the uniformly good negatives…