January 13, 2007

The Film Clearance

Filed under: photography,tacoma — sparkrobot @ 1:40 pm

I had to drop off some film yesterday to be developed so I braved the icy roads and headed to Robi’s Camera Center & Labs in Lakewood to drop off a couple of rolls. Robi’s is one of the only photo labs left in the area where one can drop off black and white film by 10am and pick it up by 6pm same day. There are plenty of places that still do C-41 color processing, or that will send out black and white film to a specialty lab, but you can’t get it the next day. It usually takes up to a week.

On arrival, the first thing I saw was a huge clearance table loaded with film. Expired film. My favorite. Generic ASA 100 slide film for 50 cents a roll. Killer. One could expect perfectly unpredictable results from practically any film camera, but especially from the super-contrasty lomo lc-a variety which I’ve been using for couple years. I also found some brand name Fuji Sensia 400, 8 rolls for $18. Slide film is usually expensive, up to $10 a roll, so this was a great find. Considering I usually dunk the film in the wrong chemicals, essentially ruining the film to make it trip out unpredictably… Score.

Everyone’s gone digital. I understand this. Me too. Quite an assessment of the state of film vs. digital over at Photon Detector yesterday.

I began to wonder how long places like this will continue to exist. As photography completes the transition from a specialty goods/services business to a consumer electronics business, it seems more unlikely that these businesses can continue with the traditional models. That sucks. Sure we’ll still be able to cruise to the mega-warehouse-mart of our choice and find a stellar deal on the latest well-stocked gear, but the real loss becomes the guys and gals working behind the counter who have been shooting for 20, 30, even 40 years.

Don’t take my word for it, go into one of these places on a Saturday morning and strike up a conversation with one of these cats sometime. (Better go soon) In contrast, bump on over to the nearest overstuffed (Costco, Best Buy, Circuit City, et al) and ask the 18 year old kid working the counter there questions about photography. They can sell you whatever you want—and an extended warranty of course—but they don’t know shit about it. In the quest to acquire the most stuff for the lowest price few people win, and everyone else loses.

Custom Black and White

The remnants of Custom Black and White Photographic Lab downtown Tacoma taken in October 2006.

R&K Photo in Auburn was another one of these local shops until recently when they caved after 31 years. I was dropping off some film there a few months back and the sign in the window indicated they were closing “in a couple of days”. Ironically, the owner of the shop was magnanimous while describing to me the reason for the closure of the store. He explained they could not get the inventory because the large retailers who moved more volume of the product had priority. He stated in a modest, almost self-deprecating tone “if Best Buy could sell 100:1, they deserved the business” citing consumer need and a changed marketplace as the fulcrum in the dissolution of what was, presumably, his life’s work. He took it standing up—no small feat—but it was hard not to feel sympathy while overhearing the tale repeated almost verbatim to some of the last regular customers in the store.

Robi’s also has added digital printing kiosks (where the film refrigerators used to be) so digital photos can be printed in the store and they also offer digital photo printing services online and great deals on film, framing and photography services. They’re super-friendly, provide great services and I think most importantly, host a local wealth of knowledge and imaging experience. Tap in.


  1. damn. we all knew that day was coming, that doesn’t doesn’t make it sting any less. taking the B&W developing class there was on my list of things to do. i hope he retired.

    having said all that, most of b&w was shot on C41 stock – TCN400 or XP2.

    i’m glad Robi’s is still kicking – the only other real option is (was?) The Camera Shop downtown.

    Comment by daniel luechtefeld — January 15, 2007 @ 2:09 am

  2. Even for digital shooters it’s a shame to have these places go out of business. I relied on r&k for quick access to gear and once these last few places are gone I’ll be almost required to buy online to get anything more than the popular bodies and lenses. I understand the reasoning behind this, but I will always miss the old camera shops.

    Comment by Joel — January 15, 2007 @ 4:14 am

  3. Yeah The Camera Shop downtown is still open as far as I know. I haven’t been in there in about 6 months or so. I don’t think they do 1 day b+w at The Camera Shop, do they?

    Agreed Joel. Places like Glazer’s in Seattle will probably always be around. However, I’ve never been in there and not felt like whomever was behind the counter wasn’t looking down their nose at me. Maybe it’s just me.

    Comment by sparkrobot — January 15, 2007 @ 2:41 pm

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