Analogue WonderLab Film Printing Service Review

8 min read by Dmitri.
Published on . Updated on .

Analogue Wonderland, a prominent UK film retailer, has just launched Professional Photo Prints. Geared specifically for film developed at the WonderLab, this service lets you see your images in print as soon as you get your negatives back.

I’m old enough to remember when photography had no screens. Back then, you’d always get prints from the lab as that was the only way to see the images from the camera. On those days, I carried thick stacks of postcard-sized prints home only to have mom toss most of them as she sorted through missed shots and awkward grimaces. The best few got stashed into an album and rare selections got printed big or framed later.

It would probably be less wasteful to ask the lab to print a contact sheet and then select a few candidates for the album, but that means we’d have to visit the lab four times — which is not something people wanted to do.

But in 2023, I can visit my lab zero times to get my prints. In fact, I had my film developed by WonderLab in the UK and my selections delivered to Canada. I was wearing my pyjamas the entire time. And I didn’t have to chuck any of my printed photos as I’ve already made my selections based on the scans that became available online as soon as WonderLab finished processing my film.

Analogue Wonderland and Analog.Cafe go back to 2018 when Paul had then recently launched his business and this blog was just beginning to find its voice on the internet. Perhaps that’s how I got on his list of test candidates for the new printing service. As it can’t be my continuous patronage since we are located as far apart as a photographer and a lab can be.

Adding to the challenge of this transaction was the ransomware attack that Royal Mail had recently suffered and the shipping delays it spawned.

Nevertheless, it’s always nice to do business with Paul and the new film development and printing services that I got to try first-hand are no exception. But before I begin describing my experience, let me explain:

Why order prints with film negatives?

Prints react to light differently than computer screens and they feel a little different too. They are much more permanent than a screen and could be easier to sift through than digital files — depending on your organization system. Prints can be gifted or arranged into physical photo albums. They can also be used to get a better idea of how a photo book or a framed print would look.

Though you could also print at home, decent results require specific paper, patience, and an understanding of how to calibrate colours between devices. Analogue WonderLab makes this process easy.

How to develop film and order prints from Analogue Wonderland.

You could upload any image file to have Analogue Wonderland print it in either 4x6, 5x7, 8x10, or the square: 5x5 or 6x6. But the process that made the most sense for me was to have WonderLab develop and scan my film and then pick the frames and sizes I want once ready.

There are a few options for film development aside from the type of film being sent (it can be C-41, E-6, monochrome, or monochrome reversal). Mine was a colour negative roll that I used with my Ricoh FF-1 camera that I chose to be scanned in the highest resolution and saved as an array of uncompressed TIFF files. I could also ask the lab to take particular care of editing the scans (they currently offer “Professional,” “Bespoke,” and ”Correct & Rotate”). At the time, “Professional” was called “Standard” — which is what I went for.

After placing the order, I got an email with instructions on where to mail my film, which I did, after packaging it carefully and ordering a shipping service with a tracking number.

A few days later, I was able to log in to my account and see all the images on the film scanned and inverted. They were easy to browse and download — although it took time to get them onto my laptop as those TIFFs were over two gigabytes in size.

Choosing which images to print, sizes, and paper type also felt intuitive and affordable. My entire pack of eight prints cost me less than £4.

To better understand the range and the quality of prints, I’ve ordered one of each size with some extras to see how different colours and paper types affect the results.

From what I could tell, the colours matched the scans very well. I’ve attached the scan below followed by a photo of the prints laid out on my table. I was comparing them against what I saw on my 2019 Macbook Pro monitor. You’ll be seeing both on your screen although the picture of the prints on the table was taken on CineStill 800T with Miranda Sensomat and colour corrected in Photoshop; thus, they can not match how I’ve seen them exactly. But close enough for the purposes of this review.

Film scan: a photo taken on Ricoh FF-1 with CineStill 400D.

The image above shows how the light reflects off the glossy prints. This finish makes the black a little starker, although the matte finish isn’t far off and it cuts back on the glare a little. In the end, it’s a matter of preference; I’ve always been partial toward matte prints; below is an example of how they look with some light glaring by comparison:

The paper is relatively thick, probably around 300lb. It feels identical to the prints I remember from the analogue days.

But unlike those analogue days, these modern prints are made from the scans produced from the negatives and thus the pixel resolution is the bottleneck for larger print sizes.

At their lowest, those scans would be 1500 × 1024 pixels which yield about 170 DPI with the largest print size, 8×6. Given that modern software is pretty good at interpolation, this should suffice — and the reviewers who used these options seem to agree. Although you’d probably get better contrast and some additional detail if you’re ordering scan size one step up from the basic.

Others noted the lack of control over the images before they went into print. That is, of course, solvable by downloading the scans and then uploading them for print after making the necessary edits. You could also order the “Bespoke” scanning service to get extra editing help from the lab. However, I thought of the prints as a way to preview and preserve my work on paper, rather than a finished product.

Not that you couldn’t frame and hang those photos on your walls. If the size fits your plans, Analogue Wonderland’s film prints will do just fine.