Developing Film by Post in Australia (Best Labs + Tips)
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Australia has some of the best film photo labs of anywhere in the world. If you live in one of the big cities (Melbourne in particular), you’ll have plenty of places to choose from.
These days, it hardly matters where you live, though – developing film by post has become the norm and just about every lab in business offers the service.
Without any geographical restrictions, it’s easier than ever to find your dream photo lab.
This shift towards developing by post also adds some accountability – if labs aren’t doing good work, there’s nothing stopping customers from going somewhere else. And now, they can easily use a lab on the other side of the country.
Whether you’re brand new to film photography, or dissatisfied with your local photo lab, we have all of the info to help you safely develop your films by post.
We’ve gathered a list of the best labs for film developing in Australia, as well as some tips and FAQs to ensure the process go smoothly.
- Best Places to Develop Film by Post
- Tips and FAQ for Developing Film by Post
Best Places to Develop Film by Post in Australia
After logging info for labs all across Australia, these are the spots that stood out the most.
We feel confident that you’ll find a new lab that fit your needs – the hardest part might be deciding which spot to use!
Here are the our 9 favorite places for developing film by post in Australia, listed in alphabetical order.
This Melbourne photo labs name could be taken as somewhat of a mission statement – spots like Film Never Die are definitely helping keep the medium alive and well.
FND can develop 35mm and medium format film in any chemistry. C-41 colour and black and white are processed in-house, E-6 is outsourced.
While they only offer one size of scans, they are consistent with most other labs’ hi-res option. Compared to some of the other labs on the list, they offer relatively cheap online film developing in Australia.
In 2013, a group of dedicated Melbourne film photographers got together to open Hillvale Photo. A decade later, they’re one of the best places for developing film by post.
Hillvale processes any type of 35mm or medium format film – C-41 colour, black and white, or E-6 color reversal. Slide film and push colour processing are both outsourced.
There are two sizes of scans available and you can select which scanner is used for your order.
If you like to shoot slide film, you may be interested in Ikigai Camera – one of the few labs in Australia that offers in-house E-6 processing.
Of course, they also accept the more common chemistries – C-41 colour as well as black and white. Ikigai can develop disposable cameras, 35mm, and 120 film.
If you’re getting scans with developing, you can choose between standard and high resolution files completed on your choice of scanner.
Ikigai prides themselves on a high level of attention to detail for every order – each photo is reviewed and properly rotated before you receive the files.
In the last few years, we’ve seen ECN-2 cinema film gain popularity among analogue photographers. If you’ve been interested in trying this type of film, Lab West is worth checking out.
This Perth photo lab accepts the most common types and sizes of film – 35mm, medium, and 4×5 film are all processed in-house. Lab West can develop ECN-2 film, as well as C-41 colour and black and white.
All scanning options are high-resolution, with the options for JPEGs, TIFFs, or even “mammoth” sized scans, suitable for large-scale printing.
A few other noteworthy options include digital contact sheets, full-frame scans (including the sprockets), and the option to utilize the black and white developer of your choice.
After the closure of the beloved photolab, Shibui Film, a new spot called Lazarus Lab has opened on the Gold Coast.
You’ll be able to post your disposable cameras, 35mm, or medium format film. Lazarus develops both C-41 colour and black and white.
Scans are available in two sizes with the option for TIFF files. If you’re patient enough, you can receive a discount for developing 10+ rolls in one order.
Another new kid on the block, Silver Halide Studios is a great place for developing film by post in Australia (or in person if you’re located in Perth).
Film photography is the name of the game at this lab – services are focused on analogue photography, nothing more, nothing less.
Silver Halide Studios can develop disposable cameras, 35mm, or 120 film. All chemistries are processed in-house; C-41 colour, black and white, and even E-6 slide film.
You can choose between two high resolution scans (JPEG or TIFF files) and rush processing is available if you need your photos back ASAP.
Based on the name alone, you’ve probably got a good idea what you’ll find at Walkens House of Film.
Whether you’re visiting the Melbourne store in person, or posting your film, you can develop 35mm and medium format film if it’s C-41 colour process or black and white.
Two sizes of scans are available, as well as full-frame scans, which have becoming more popular recently.
Walkens also stocks a great selection of fresh film stocks, photo books, zines, and other accessories like camera straps and bags.
Work In Process is another great option if you’re interested in developing your film via post. Of course, you can also drop off in person if you find yourself in Melbourne.
WIP accepts both black and white and C-41 colour film – they can develop disposable cameras or film if it’s 35mm, medium, or large format.
You can order standard or high resolution scans with developing. If you’re ever in need of the best quality you can find, WIP also offers scans on their top of the line Imacon Flextight scanner.
While they might not be local to you, Your Local Film Lab offers online film developing for anyone in Australia.
You’ll be able to post your films for developing if they are 35mm or 120 medium format. C-41 colour and B&W are both accepted.
YLFL offers just one standard size of scans, but they’re on par with most labs’ hi-res scans.
Tips and FAQs for Developing Film by Post
If you’re used to dropping off in person, it can be intimidating trying to develop film via post for the first time.
But all it takes is a few precautions for your precious cargo to arrive safely – the following tips should ensure a smooth process, start to finish.
How to Choose Which Lab to Use
Same as with dropping off film IRL, the lab you choose for developing is one of the most important choices you’ll make in the photographic process. As you know, you only get one shot to get it right…
With so many labs in Australia developing film by post, you may even have too many choices. Here’s what we’d consider when deciding on a photo lab.
What Type of Film Do You Shoot?
If you only shoot 35mm colour film or need to develop disposable cameras, any lab should be fine.
But if you shoot less common types of film, that may influence which lab you choose. Every lab on the list above accepts 35mm and 120 film in colour or black and white.
E-6 slide film is the least common process, and its even harder to find a spot that develops this chemistry in-house.
The majority of times, the labs that receive outsourced film for processing are perfectly fine. That said, most people prefer it to be done in-house, to reduce the time to get scans back and to maintain a direct line of contact with the person who will be developing their film.
ECN-2 motion picture film has also been gaining a lot of popularity lately, but it can be hard to find a spot to get it developed. We have noted at least one lab that offers the service, above.
And just because a lab accepts your favorite type of film, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice. A B&W shooter might want to find a lab that offers a choice of developer, for example.
It might also have to do with the frequency that a lab develops – some places don’t process black and white as frequently as color, which would lead to longer wait times.
The bottom line is that you should definitely think about what types of film you’ll be posting for developing when choosing a lab.
What Services Do You Need From the Lab?
The next most important consideration when deciding on a photo lab is what you need done with your film.
Some photographers only need developing, as they choose to scan their film at home to save money. They might prefer a lab that offers a lower price for develop only.
Others want the highest resolution scans of every photo they take and price is no concern. They might base their decision on which lab offers the largest scans.
Small things like pushing or pulling your film should also be taken into consideration – quite a few labs no longer offer these options for C-41 colour.
Decide on what you’d like done before choosing a lab. Especially if you’re developing film by post, you have pretty much unlimited options and can definitely find a spot that offers just what you need.
Examples of Work / Online Reviews
Listen: we know that online reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt, but they can still be helpful.
We wouldn’t ever avoid a lab because of a single bad review, but if you see a lot of people mentioning the same problem, we’d give that much more weight.
Just as helpful as the reviews themselves, it’s become common for people to attach examples of their scans with their review (especially on Google).
You should also check out potential labs’ Instagram pages as most of them post examples of client work they’ve developed.
It’s nice to see both the curated selection from the lab, as well as real customer examples, to get a well-rounded idea of the quality of work.
Is Posting Film Safe?
The short answer is: for the most part, it’s perfectly safe to develop disposable cameras or film by post.
The most common (and probably the most valid) concern we hear is film getting lost in transit. There’s no doubt that it’s happened to someone, but it doesn’t seem to be that common.
We talked to a number of photographers, as well as lab-owners, and they agreed that it doesn’t happen as often as people think. While we won’t make any sort of promises, we wouldn’t worry too much about film getting lost when mailing it to the lab.
Another concern we’ve heard is x-ray exposure, which can be harmful to undeveloped film.
Sure, traveling by plane and putting your film through the TSA scanners may not be the best idea, but it seems unlikely that your rolls will receive any sort of significant x-ray exposure in transit to the lab.
Some people take the extra step and write something along the lines of: “Photographic Film, Do Not X-Ray” on the outside of their package.
There’s no guarantee that your requested will be honored if it comes down to it, but it also doesn’t hurt to take the 20 seconds to scribble the message on.
Compared to both of these issues, we’d be much more concerned with how you package your film for transit – as long as you pack it smart and safe, we wouldn’t think twice about posting film for developing.
Tips for Packing Your Film
When it comes to packing your film to send to the lab, there are some easy steps that will help you avoid any problems.
What Should You Put Your Film In?
The number one question that people ask about developing film by post is: what should I put my film in to send it to the lab?
There are a few options that work well – the key is to find the balance between security and price.
Regular envelopes should be avoided at all costs. It may sound obvious, but people definitely try this method to save money.
With something rigid like rolls of film, they could easily get damaged in transit, or even worse, break through the envelope and get lost.
Padded envelopes are much safer. It’s easy to find a padded mailer for whatever size you need and the added security goes a long way.
The padding also holds your rolls more tightly in place during transit. If you have a lot of extra room, you could add some extra padding, but we usually just opt for a smaller envelope and feel perfectly safe without anything else.
Boxes are the safest, most expensive option. A well packaged box should be able to stand up to just about anything it may face in transit.
If you have a significant amount of film or rolls that are particularly valuable, it may be worth paying the bit extra and using a rigid box.
We’d suggest filling the extra space with some sort of padding (newspaper, bubble wrap, etc) just to make sure that your film isn’t banging around the inside of the box.
Plastic Bags for Protection from Moisture
Not everyone feels the need to take this extra step, but we’d recommend using some sort of plastic bags to protect your film from any kind of moisture.
You never know what your package may encounter on its journey, but one thing is for certain: undeveloped film and liquid do not get along.
All you need is a cheap, snaplock sandwich bag – throw your rolls inside and seal it before you load them into your padded envelope or box.
Order Forms / Instructions for the Lab
With the popularity of developing film by post, most labs have some sort of system in place to make the process easy.
Some places have an order form for you to print out and include in your package. You’ll be able to indicate what type of films you’re posting and what exactly you’d like done with them.
Other labs have introduced online ordering systems where you select all of the details and pay on the website, and you receive an order number to include with your package.
If you end up choosing a lab that does things more old-school, it may be up to you to communicate your order information. We’d make sure to include the following info:
- Name / contact Info
- How many rolls of film and what type/size they are
- What you need done with your film
- What size scans
- Any additional notes (pushing or pulling, cross-processing, etc)
- What you’d like done with your negatives (more on this below)
Regardless of how your photo lab facilitates online orders, one of the best and simplest ways to avoid miscommunications is to label anything/everything you can think of.
When you drop off your film in person, it’s easy enough to tell the lab if you have any notes, special requests, or anything else. But when you’re posting your film, there’s a chance you may not even have contact with whoever is doing the developing.
While these notes might be already written on your order form, it’s still a good idea to label the actual film. Some examples of things we’d label would be:
- Any rolls that need different services than the rest (for example, you need higher-resolution scans of one particular roll)
- Rolls that need to be pushed / pulled
- Expired film that may need special attention when developing
- Any “souped” or altered film (although many labs do not accept these as it can ruin the developing chemicals)
The above suggestions are really just to communicate with the lab, but we also like to keep track of every rolls details, for our own records.
When we’re getting ready to develop film (by post, or in-person), we start by giving each roll an identification number, starting with 01. Letters work fine, too.
Then, in our own notes, we record any information that we may want to remember later. When you’re posting a bunch of rolls at once, it can be hard to remember the details by the time you get your scans back.
Take as many notes as you find useful, but here’s what we like to jot down:
- Date you shot the roll (month(s) and year is sufficient)
- Type and speed of film
- Camera used
- Lens(es) used
- Any pushing/pulling
- Anything else noteworthy (a new technique you tried, new gear you tested, problems while shooting the roll, how you metered, etc)
Then, just make sure to include a note to the lab, so that they know to keep track of each rolls ID number. Something along the lines of:
“Please keep track of each rolls ID number and upload scans into individual folders for each roll.”
Getting Your Negatives Back
We couldn’t talk about developing film by post without mentioning the most significant downside: getting your negatives back.
Luckily, most labs have made this easy by offering to post your developed negatives back to you after they’re scanned. Many even have this as an option you can select ahead of time when placing your order.
The downside is that this adds yet another cost to an already pricey process. It’s more expensive than ever to shoot film and the additional cost of posting your rolls both ways makes it unsustainable for some photographers.
One way to lower this cost is to simply wait to post your films until you’ve shot a significant amount. Sure, it requires a bit of patience, but the cost to send you back 10 rolls of film will be much lower than the cost to send you back a single roll 10 times.
Another option, depending on your proximity to the lab you’re using, is to make a trip in person every few months to collect your negatives.
This won’t be an option for everyone, but if you live within a few hours of the lab, it may be cheaper to take the occasional trip then to constantly pay the shipping costs to get your negs sent back to you.
No matter how you’re going to retrieve your negatives, the most important thing is to make sure you know the labs policy on negative storage.
Many places will clearly list this on their website – its common for labs to hold onto develop film for just a few months before they toss it.
And if you’re not totally sure, make sure to ask – there’s nothing worse than asking to get your negatives back and finding out they went out with the trash a few weeks ago.
Any More Questions?
Do you have any more questions about how to develop your film by post? Have you tried any of the labs listed above? Or maybe you know another great spot that offers online developing? Let us know in the comments below!