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Comparison: Shutterfly, Winkflash, Adorama, Mpix, A&I, and local pro lab

Dave Redmann , Sep 09, 2008; 03:12 p.m.

For a variety of reasons, recently I’ve made a semi-scientific comparison of prints from Shutterfly, Winkflash, Adorama, Mpix, A&I, and my local pro lab, Professional Color Service. I’d be curious to hear how your experiences and observations compare to mine.

Shutterfly

For a couple of years, I’ve used Shutterfly as my main source of prints. The print quality has always been good. They make it fairly easy to turn off their ‘corrections’, or at least most of them. They use Fuji Crystal Archive paper, which appears to be the most archival. Their website is easy to use. You can mix and match glossy and matte prints in one order. But I’ve had a number of minor frustrations: they can’t or won’t tell you the exact pixel dimensions that their printers need for each print size (so some resizing and probably sharpening almost certainly occurs), they don’t offer real black and white paper, Fuji Crystal Archive matte is not as nice as Kodak Endura matte for some pictures, they don’t offer glossy prints larger than 8x10, they ship prints larger than 8x10 rolled up instead of flat, and they don’t always ship within one business day of the order. On top of that, they are more expensive than many of their competitors.

Winkflash

I’d heard generally good things about Winkflash. Their web site does list exact pixel dimensions for each print size, and it claims (at least on one page, although in truth their is an option that you have to look out for) that they never make corrections. On top of that, their prices are low. I should have known that you rarely get more than what you pay for. I’d ordered the same 5x7’s on both glossy and matte paper, in separate orders, but they both came on glossy paper; re-checking the e-mails shows that I ordered correctly and they just printed on the wrong paper. The packaging was on the cheap side. Larger prints are inkjet, not photographic, which you may or may not like. The first 8x10’s were not cut square--the print was a parallelogram, and also noticeably soft. The second set of 8x10’s were better, but the overall experience was a notably bad one.

Adorama (Adoramapix)

The 11x14-inch prints for $1.99 sale caught my attention, so I gave them a try. They use Kodak paper, so for glossy you get the (IMO) less-than-desirable Kodak Royal paper. On the other hand, they do have Kodak Endura in matte, lustre, and metallic finishes, which are nice options to have. The prints were very well packaged--almost as well as Mpix packages its prints--and the 11x14’s were shipped flat, and with reasonable shipping fees. The prints were a tad soft, compared to the Shutterfly prints, but I suspect this is because they were probably stretched less to cover the paper and maybe as a consequence got no, or at least little, extra sharpening (the files looked a little soft at 100% on the monitor, but by experience I thought they were sharp enough, and for Shutterfly they were, so I suspect Shutterfly always adds some sharpening). One 11x14 on matte paper looked like it had been pressed down on a small, hard object, resulting in a minor defect. The Adorama web site is not as easy to use as some of the others. You can only get one paper type in each order; the 11x14’s on glossy, matte, and metallic required three separate orders, with three separate shipping charges.

Mpix

Mpix always ships promptly and packages well. They web site is pretty good. They offer Kodak Endura lustre (I think, instead of the close-to-matte surface) and Metallic, plus Ilford real black-and-white paper (which, alas, until recently only came in the “pearl” surface, which I don’t really like, and which is the only surface Mpix offers). They offer many more print sizes than others. If you don’t want regular glossy paper, Mpix may be the best choice. They are the choice for real black-and-white (albeit on RC paper with only one choice of surface). Unfortunately, you can only put one paper type in each order (and therefore, for each shipping charge).

A&I

With A&I, you pay a real premium, and they are not normally fast to ship. But the prints have always looked good. Just be aware that they usually use the pro version of Fuji Crystal Archive paper, which I think has lower contrast than the standard version. Depending on your workflow (I don't calibrate / profile), you may want to increase contrast somewhat, if you are used to the more common papers / printing services.

Professional Color Service, Metairie, Louisiana

This is my local pro lab. They will still run my 4x5 transparencies in a dip-and-dunk machine on a more-or-less daily basis. They also offer you-upload, we-don't-make-corrections prints for very competitive prices, in a large variety of sizes. They use Fuji’s professional-version Crystal Archive paper (see A&I re workflow and contrast). The downsides are that even though I can walk in almost any weekday morning easily enough, jobs often take several days (even just no-corrections prints), and their web uploading and ordering system is much more difficult than any of the other places’ systems. (I'll admit that my uploading system issues may be due in part to the highly 'safe' configurations I have my browser set to, although I did download the Java applet that they use and did get it running.) They are very pleasant and helpful. They do ship (which I've never tried), so if you live in Missouri but want to try them, by all means, go for it.

Conclusion

The only easy answer is that, in my (admittedly limited) experience, Winkflash was not worth dealing with. Two significant problems in four or five print orders is just way too high a problem rate. After that, I think I will continue to use all of the other labs, at least for some purposes. Shutterfly will probably still make most of my prints, although I really hope they post exact pixel dimensions for each print size, and work to see that shipping taking more than one business day is rare; good prints on both glossy and matte easily obtained in the same order at relatively reasonable prices is a good formula. Mpix is the clear choice for B&W. I have not tried A&I’s B&W on fiber- based paper, but at $50 for one 8x10, it’s not a great option for me. Adorama and Mpix offer some nice paper alternatives and good packing; Mpix ships a little faster but Adorama offers more paper options. Between the pro labs, A&I and the local Professional Color Service were generally comparable in quality; where I like or want the “professional” Fuji paper, the choice is between the easy-to-use, upload-and-forget A&I for a relatively high price and the hard-to-upload / order but very reasonably-princed, friendly local Professional Color Service (which does ship, but I've never tried it). I will probably use PCS more, in part on price and in part because I want to support having a local place with very pleasant personnel who will not give me a blank stare when I walk in with 4x5 film and request E- 6 processing. So nowhere was perfect, but most were pretty good, and all have advantages in certain areas.

Last but not least, evidently nobody makes what I regard as a true matte color paper any more, nor a B&W one for minlab printing. Neither Fuji "matte" nor Kodak "Lustre" is really matte, and even the Endura matte is more shiny that I might want for some purposes. The last color paper I saw that was (IMO) a true matte was some Agfa stuff on which I got prints years ago. For B&W paper, Ilford's "satin" surfuce in RC regular wet darkroom paper is a true matte, but, Ilford offers their digital minilab paper in "pearl" (most similar to Kodak "lustre" and Fuji "matte") and, as of recently, glossy, but not satin.

Responses


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A. J. Jacobs , Sep 09, 2008; 03:21 p.m.

I noticed when I got B&W prints from Shutterfly the contrast seems to be off. They look ok, but the blacks could be darker.

Roger Smith , Sep 09, 2008; 03:35 p.m.

As of last year, I've found Winkflash has consistent color and neutral B&W on thin-feeling Crystal Archive paper. I have not had them mix up matte and glossy (I use matte for my BW 4x6s). 8x12 print a bit cooler than the 4x6s (subtle color difference).

I found Ezprints didn't do neutral B&W and there were color inconsistencies from batch to batch.

My local lab here does Frontier prints with huge color shifts from day to day (greenish B&W, etc). Winkflash beats them handily.

These days I don't print much at all and print what I have at 8.5x11 or 11x14 on an R1800 with MIS inks.

Mark Sirota , Sep 09, 2008; 04:00 p.m.

As of a week or two ago, MPix now allows multiple paper types in the same order.

Helen Oster , Sep 10, 2008; 04:56 p.m.

Dave

your comparison study made for very interesting reading, and I'm sure will be helpful to many people - I've sent it to our Director at AdoramaPix.

BTW if you ever have a query or concern with any order from Adorama Camera, or AdoramaPix, you can aways contact me directly: helen.oster@adoramacamera.com

Sincerely

Helen Oster Adorama Camera Customer Service Ambassador

Tim Lookingbill , Sep 10, 2008; 05:29 p.m.

The reason matte finishes from Kodak and Fuji aren't like traditional silky textured low shine satin finish is to prevent fingerprints from showing up.

The majority of folks tend to pass their pix around between friends and family which can lead to quite a bit of fingerprints.

I do see a need for this better looking low shine satin finish for enlargements and posters destined for framing.

James Downs , Sep 11, 2008; 05:43 a.m.

I've tried Adorama, Mpix and A&I. A&I does all my E-6 and B&W film processing. A&I is not the fastest but they do a nice job with my films. For prints, in addition to those mentioned, aside from A&I, I have had very good service from SmugMug and excellent service from myPhotopipe.

A special mention must be made about the absolutely terrific service received from West Coast Imaging. They are my first choice for important work. Yes, expensive but worth it when the best is needed. The Schneider glass used to capture the image cost too. It would be a shame not to maintain one's standards throughout the imaging process. :)

Cheers, Jim

Dave Redmann , Sep 12, 2008; 12:07 a.m.

Mark: Excellent to know about Mpix and the multiple papers in one order--thanks.

Helen: Glad to know someone is listening. Kudos to Adorama for I think being the only one of the places I tried that offers Kodak Endura in the surface that is more matte than "lustre" (which I think they call matte). This is probably the best portrait color paper out there today. If the web site were a tad easier, that would be great. Also, I seem to recall that Adorama used to offer the Ilford real B&W digital paper, but stopped. I guess it didn't sell enough. I would be curious to see how someone other than Mpix does with it.

Tim: You're probably right. Still, it's a shame. With B&W paper, the Ilford "satin" (true matte) always appealed to me more than Ilford "pearl", but satin was always the red-headed stepchild at Ilford (e.g., not available in the heavier "portfolio" weight when glossy and pearl were, and now not available in a digital paper when pearl and now glossy are). But to me, Ilford satin is the best B&W RC paper for many subjects.

James: I've heard a lot of good things about West Coast Imaging. Actually I have some 6x6 film I've been meaning to get re-scanned, and I'm 95% certain it will go there for drum scans.

Ken Papai , Aug 06, 2009; 05:42 p.m.

I just created a 12 month photo calendar at Shutterfly and ordered one. Hope it works out!

http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=0Qas2LRoycMnEw

My past Adorama print orders have been wonderful.

Helen Oster , Aug 07, 2009; 12:45 a.m.

My past Adorama print orders have been wonderful.

Thanks, Ken. We really do appreciate the feedback; I'll make sure it is passed on to the team at AdoramaPix
Sincerely
Helen Oster
Adorama Camera Customer Service Ambassador

helen.oster@adoramacamera.com
www.adorama.com


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