I try not to complain, I really do. Only the things that bug me the most get voiced on this blog. Today I want to talk about reviews.

I’ve seen many reviews of various photo labs and have come to the conclusion that nobody has a clue how to do it right.  There. I’ve said it.

Every review that I’ve ever seen consists of the reviewer sending identical files to different labs and then critiqing the results.  “lab a is too yellow, lab b prints a little dark, lab c has issues with borders….”   You get the idea.

Here are the problems and solutions (at least from my viewpoint – since I do work at a lab):

  1.  multiple people correct the color- you never know which color technician checked the color. There are varying degrees of skill within that group of people as well as various factors that can affect their performance: such as personal problems, or technical problems such as a monitor drifting out of calibration or even the time of day – a person is more likely to loosen tolerances right before breaks, lunch or at the end of the day.
  2. Sending one identical set of files is not enough to randomly sample average output from a lab. To find out what a lab consistantly produces, it would be much more accurate to send multiple samples over a span of time.  A particular lab might have a printer or profile issue or a bad batch of paper (it happens). testing over time compensates for specific issues and also addresses the issue of multiple color technicians.
  3. If you really want to see how well a photolab can perform, consider sending in problem files such as over or under exposed files, really bad color or bad skin tones, blown out whites, blocked up shadows, odd file types, extremely large or tiny files, or even weird items to color match (if possible).    Even a mediocre photolab could make great prints from good files. Put the lab through the paces and see which ones shine.

Some review items are great: prices, hosting time, packaging quality. But for your own piece of mind, take the print quality with a grain of salt. If the reviewer doesn’t take the time to get a real quality sample – then their misinformed opinion of print quality could steer you towards an inferior photo lab.