I’ve been using SilverPan Film Lab for my film development for a little while now, and have been really very happy with the service I’ve received. Like everything in life, what Silverpan do isn’t flawless, but it does fit perfectly to my current needs. I expect there are a lot of people out there who might feel exactly the same too, so thought it about time I shared some thoughts on my experiences.
I first met Duncan at The Photography Show last year, he came along to the meet-up that the Sunny 16 Podcast organised there, and though we didn’t get much of a chance to chat at the time, putting a face to his company name nudged me in his direction when I made the choice to explore an alternative to AG. He seemed like a nice bloke for a start, but as much as anything else, it was me discovering that he himself was the entire operation that became the primary deciding factor for me.
I should say, I wasn’t ever particularly dissatisfied with the results I was getting from AG, they were largely fine and often returned the negs within a week. The problem I was having was in fact more an issue with me. Working with a larger lab I had started feel like I was just part of their daily churn. This was fine when my goal was to just get reliably good results back quickly. But I was beginning to feel like I wanted something else. I wanted something more bespoke to my needs. I also wanted to be able to experiment a bit, or at very least feel that there were more options open to me in terms of the type of development processes available to me.
Why not home dev
Of course, the obvious answer might seem to be to start developing my own film at home. I have thought about this option quite a few times, but ultimately I always come to the same conclusions. I used to develop at home myself quite regularly and had fairly consistent results too. I found the process quite tedious though. It was fine when it went well, but a jammed spiral, crinkled neg or whatever used to drive me nuts.
I also don’t get through chemistry fast enough. Even just running one development chemical I sometimes wouldn’t finish a bottle before it was past its best. This would make experimenting with other chemicals or even having different chemicals for more regularly shot different films prohibitively expensive or wasteful. I know some people make it work, but for me, for the amount of film I shoot, and the fact that I find the process of doing it myself a little more tedious than many others seem to ultimately turned me off the idea of attempting to walk that path again.
The alternative, I felt, was a lab that provided a little bit of a half-way option between developing at home and a quick turnaround bigger lab. This is exactly where Silverpan Film Lab comes into play. Duncan’s service is a lot more bespoke than that which is available from a lot of the bigger labs. In fact it’s a lot more bespoke than a lot of the smaller labs I know too. So for example, whilst a lot of the bigger labs run everything that’s black and white through Fuji Negastar Chemicals, Silverpan Film Lab offers a whole host of different options even just in the checkout process.
Duncan is also open to having the conversation about what particular chemical he doesn’t list in the checkout might be right for the job too. And that’s just black and white development. He also offers a much broader spectrum of other processes from C41 colour film process to E6 and even ECN-2 for movie film stocks with Remjet. Then there’s all the pulling and pushing options he offers for all the different types of film and process too. In short, if you can shoot it, it’s very likely SilverPan Film Lab can develop it exactly how you want it to be developed.
It’s also worth noting that he processes 110 as well as 35mm and 120, and that he scans with his ridiculously high quality Hasselblad Flextight offering scans in some fairly huge file sizes and types. He even does a bit of inkjet printing. More importantly though, Duncan is – at least for now – the only guy at Silverpan Film Lab, so he’s always the guy you speak to if you get in touch. As such, if you don’t know how you want a roll to be developed, scanned or printed etc you can talk directly to the guy who’s going to do the work for you so he can share advice and ideas he might have to achieve what you’re looking to achieve. The result of this, at least for me is that I’ve achieved exactly what I was looking for in every signal roll I’ve sent him!
So what’s the catch? Well, it’s bespoke, so whilst he’s about the same price as a lot of other labs at the moment, I know he’s intending to put his prices up a little but this year. As he well should in my opinion – bespoke service is not something I associate with being cheap, and I’d argue he is too cheap for what he does now. In fact, a few of us who work with him have been encouraging him to put his prices up recently. It might sound mad to be demanding to pay more, but actually I’d rather he made a success of what he does through charging more than if he had to stop doing it altogether it through not charging enough!
Even outside the higher price though, turnaround time is a good bit slower than somewhere like AG too. So for example where AG would often have begs back to me within a week, working with Silverpan Film Lab I don’t even think anything of having to wait 2 weeks or more. And that’s if he doesn’t decide to go on holiday – he’s the only guy there, so when he needs a break, the whole place shuts down for the time he’s away and then runs at slower pace whilst he deals with a backlog. I must admit, it took a bit of getting used to this after working with the almost unflappably quick service from AG, but once I set my expectations right I was fine. Christmas comes around just that bit slower these days…
Finally, there’s also the fact that he does everything by hand. The result of this is a very slight increase in dust on the negs compared to some of the other labs I’ve used – though in saying that, he’s clearly honed his neg handling processes as I have noticed a marked decrease in dust lately. And besides, I’ve never had anything a bit of pec-12 and a pecpad can’t fix – I’ve certainly never received a scratched negative back from SilverPan Film Lab which is more than I can say for any Lab I’ve worked with before I think… at least the ones who I’ve worked with a lot.
As I said at the beginning of this post, whichever lab you choose there’s going to be pros and cons. If you just want speed of turnaround then it’s quite likely somewhere like AG are going to be a better fit for you. In return for this speed though, you might get the sense that you’re a little bit disconnected from the process. That’s certainly what happened to me in the longer run.
In the end, I really wanted to gain something more of a connection to the process of having my film developed without actually having to do it myself. I wanted to be able to choose the chemicals and make decisions about what I was trying to achieve from my negs without having buy and experiment with loads of different chemicals myself. For me, this is where SilverPan Film Lab really hits the mark. Yes he takes longer, and yes he might be a little more expensive (at least if he takes the advice he should), but that’s what should be expected from a more bespoke service.
As I suspect it’s quite obvious, I am going to be sticking with Duncan at SilverPan Film Lab for the foreseeable future. And I have no reservations in recommending him to anyone else out there who’s looking for the sort of service he offers!
If you want to see/hear more from and about Duncan, I made this video on a visit to him sometime last year:
His website with all the info including prices etc hee: silverpan.co.uk