Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Silver theft on Aisle 3

If you shoot film and have it processed at a drugstore, watch out. Walgreens and CVS are trying to steal your silver.
By Eastwind41 (Own work) [Copyrighted free use],
via Wikimedia Commons

That's the only possible explanation as to why they no longer return your negatives when you develop color negative film. Instead of giving you prints with negatives in your photofinishing envelope, they give you prints and image files on a CD. You don't get your negatives back.

By SkywalkerPL (Own work) [CC BY 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Why? The film contains tiny particles of silver, which can be extracted and recycled, usually benefitting the photo lab. Companies used to offer kits that allowed labs to recover the silver, and you'd get your negatives back.

But that technology likely isn't widely offered, since film processing declined. This page of Kodak's website talks about the process.

The labs want to keep the silver. So you don't get your negatives back. And they're yours.

Trouble is: image files scanned from your negs onto a CD contain only a small amount of image data. Your negatives store more details than a compressed JPEG file allows. Some estimates suggest that a frame of 35mm film contains the rough equivalent of a 20-megapixel photo from a higher-end digital camera. Brad Templeton has devoted much more thought to this topic.

The image file on a CD from Walgreens? It's closer to what you'd get from a five-megapixel camera. It has less detail -- less photo data than the latest iPhone camera captures.

Without getting deeper into techno-babble: I no longer use film developing services that won't return my negatives. Period. I'll pay more for film developing that includes prints, a CD, and my negatives. Currently, Rite Aid returns my negatives with my prints and a CD. So do independent labs, which I still visit.

Because they're my negatives. And it's my silver, should I one day choose to have the precious metal extracted from those negatives.

You should demand your negatives back. Or go elsewhere.


John Margetts said...

There is no silver in colour negatives! Black and white negatives have a very small amount of silver (the bit that is black is silver)but colour film has all the silver removed in the fixing process. All that is left is the colour dyes.

The processes Kodak talk about is recovering silver from the chemical solutions, not from the film.

John Hurley said...

This proposition is absurd and typical of the misinformation that infests the internet - there is no silver left in color film after developing and if the lab actually wants the little bit that was there they have it because it's dissolved in the processing chemicals. If it has taken 343 cameras to learn about photography then you must be a slow learner.

David K. said...

Gentlemen: thanks for sharing your opinions. I thought as you did, but the post was viewed by a former Kodak photofinishing manager who didn't dispute my observations. In addition, an employee of a lab that does return negs told me this was why competitors weren't returning the processed negatives.

I'm hard-pressed to understand why the drugstore labs aren't returning negatives if there isn't some residual value (silver) remaining in the film base. There's no added expense in returning those negatives to the consumer.

Nonetheless, I appreciate your sharing your opinions. Thanks.