Prior to Vancouver, all of my film got developed at one of the seven labs in Chiang Mai. I’ve also had the pleasure of getting scans from Bangkok, Taipei, and Toronto labs, but Vancouver makes for the most recent year-long experience.
Compared to northern Thailand, my new city makes purchasing film, cameras, and services a lot more convenient. Amazon, eBay, B&H, Henry’s and many local photography stores are shipping cheaply or available for walk-ins. Thrift stores in the right places are usually more fruitful than Thai markets. Higher average income makes for purchasing film cameras, chemistry, and accessories a lot more accessible.
There are, however, challenges that may stop one from shooting film regularly or as often as liked. There are fewer shops here than in Chiang Mai, despite Vancouver being a larger city. Luckily, there are a few tricks in this guide that can help you develop your colour, monochrome, or slide film quickly and conveniently.
This guide will focus on four labs that I have had the pleasure of working with since 2018. Each comes with its own set of advantages and shortcomings which I’ll outline and supplement with personal suggestions.
Rocket Repro — the fastest service for C-41 & monochrome.
Rocket Reprographics is located at 403 West Cordova Street, which is about a minute’s walk from Waterfront skytrain station. Repro’s space is a telephone booth-sized room, plastered with headshots of A-list actors, dogs, children, and random people.
The lab has the fastest turnaround time in town. I was able to receive my 35mm film and scans by 4:30 PM, provided that I left the rolls during the weekday opening time, 9 AM.
RR does not process slide film. However, 35mm, 120, and 110 formats are all done at $7 per roll. C-41 or monochrome. Their full price list, including various scanning options are available on their website. I used to pay $35 for 3000x4500 scans until I got my own scanner, which reduced the costs 4x.
You have the option to have your negatives cut and sleeved. The sleeves aren’t the best quality IMO, though I still ask since I value my time and don’t mind a slightly floppy plastic protecting my images.
The lab’s scanning quality is perfectly fine for sharing images online. They even give an option of preserving the unexposed border around images — something that’s difficult or impossible to achieve with most scanners. However, if you are to zoom-in 100%, some images may lack sharpness. My guess is that because of the high volume of customers they aren’t able to calibrate their scanner’s focus distance for each roll. The softness isn’t consistent, since film varies in thickness from type to type, which is why some scanners require calibration. Most colour rolls I’ve done with RR turned out fantastic, though my Fuji Acros film ended up blurrier than I would’ve liked.
If you are in the area and happen to be short on film, you can drop by and see if they have any in stock. This isn’t advertised or guaranteed, you won’t see any on display. Just a little secret between you and I. 🤫
Having been a long-time customer, I would definitely recommend their services. I’ve never had any issues, other than the occasional soft focus described above. The staff is super friendly; the store is a pleasure to visit.
The Rocket is located in a historic Gastown neighbourhood, with plenty of touristy sights. Great place to spend the last few frames before passing a roll for processing.
London Drugs — C-41 and E-6 anywhere in the city.
London Drugs is a peculiar business. It’s neither in London, UK nor London, Ontario. The chain of western Canadian drugstores is very popular in Vancouver; they develop film: C-41, E-6, but not monochrome. LD accepts 35mm, 110, 126 and APS(!) formats. Their top-tier scan quality is the best in the city.
They also mount 35mm slides for your projector. A service believed by many to have gone extinct.
The chain has long confined their laboratory to one or two stores that chug through the fraction of the film’s glory day orders. Still, London Drugs is the king of drugstores when it comes to photo services.
The chain sells limited stock of colour 35mm Fuji and a great selection of Ilford film — 35mm and medium format. They have recently started selling Polaroid Originals 600 and i-Type instant film as well. Fuji Instax is available in Wide, Square, and Mini. This is better than most specialized photography stores peddling drones and giant lenses.
The convenience of stepping into a local mart to get the film developed is appealing. However, the wait could extend from a few days for C-41 to nearly a month for E-6. If you’re not in a rush and would rather not make two trips to the city, this might just work out nicely.
For scans, you will need to either purchase a new memory stick, struggle with a CD, or pay a small fee to have your images hosted for you on the web. Even with the added expense, the prices are still very reasonable. My recent high-quality roll scan was just over $30 and it was worth every loonie.
London Drugs’ image server only allows downloading one file at a time leaving “select all” option open only for those who want to order prints. I really wish they would change that, considering the service isn’t free.
Other than the lengthy wait times and quirky online image hosting, London Drugs is perhaps the most convenient option to develop colour film in Vancouver. The staff is usualy very friendly with knowledge far exceeding expectations.
The Lab — C-41, monochrome, E-6.
The Lab does everything. They can develvelop all common film chemistry and produce uncompressed TIFF image scans. Their E-6 turnaround could be as fast as the next day, making it the swiftest service of the kind.
All of the film I’ve processed there was returned uncut. The scan files are usually uncompressed TIFFs, which some may find preferential. The quality is great for the most part, although I found that the slide films tend to shift towards artificial brown hues in the dark spots.
Should you like to buy film, order prints, or enlargements, The Lab can take care of you.
If you order E-6 development at ABC (see below) it will be done at The Lab and shipped at no additional charge. Which could be great if you are staying near Vancouver City Hall. Faster than London Drugs.
ABC — C-41 and monochrome.
The shop is open 9 AM — 5:30 PM except weekends and holidays. In business since 1966!
ABC also makes all kinds of prints and analogue enlargements. Make sure to order proofs before paying for your next giant printout. Scanned files and analogue prints often differ considerably in colour and sharpness.
Other resources & community.
There are plenty of film development classes offered in the city, postings for which you may find at The Lab’s billboard.
About once or twice-a-year there’s a film camera trade show, organized by Beau Photo Supplies. Beau is a fantastic shop with an avid community around it. They don’t offer any lab services; they do some camera repairs, sell plenty of film — and cameras.
Lens and Shutter used to develop and sell film, as well as cameras. Unfortunately they have unexpectedly shut their doors just a few months ago. I’ve never got to try them.
You can also check out Vancouver Flea Market near Science World Skytrain station. They ask for a $5 entry fee and are filled with all kinds of stuff.
Henry’s sells plenty of film, including large format and Polaroid. They also price match, so there’s no reason to give your money to Amazon.
Leo’s Camera Supply sells film and a few used film cameras. Their staff is great.
That’s about it. Did you find this guide helpful? Please let me know if you’ve noticed any errors or ommissions. Happy shooting!