So that I can be really happy to say this, from time to time I produce test prints from my own supplier and compare those against major "consumer" brands. I thought it would be useful to show you the results of my latest comparison.
I began by submitting exactly the same file, an image taken from a recent wedding to both my usual "professional" lab and to perhaps the leading online "consumer" labatory out there. The Image was taken on my usual Canon 5D Mk II with a 24-70 lens.
The first comparison comes in terms of delivery time. The pro lab had the files back to me 2 days after I sent it, whereas for the consumer lab I needed to wait one additional day. Now both services used the standard mail service so whether this delay was down to the lab or the post office I can't say for certain.
In terms of packaging, both items came very securely packed and consequentally the prints reached me in A1 condition.
I've scanned in both of the prints (again not adjusting anything apart from the resolution) and thought I'd upload the images and talk you through some of the differences.
Looking first at the "consumer" print in isolation and it seemed well, OK. Apart from the reds of the Grooms coat looking a little blocky it at first glance at least, looked very acceptable.
Reduced size scan of full "consumer lab" print.
The first thing I noticed when comparing it with the Professional print was the comparative lack of contrast. True the colour tone was pretty good, but the contrast missing from the consumer print meant it lacked the same level of "pop".
Reduced size scan of full "professional lab" print.
I then looked more closely at the two prints and it was here that the differences really jumped out at me.
Firstly the professional lab print looked much sharper and contained an incredible amount more detail than the consumer print (the remaining images in this blog entry are full resolution crops from the untouched scans of the original prints).
The added detail captured by the high quality sensor in the 5D was getting lost in the muddy blur of the consumer print - have a look at the groom's belt buckle for perhaps the best example.
The next area where the professional print scored well was how it held the detail in the highlights. There's little point in a bride investing large sums of money on a beautiful dress only to skimp on the printing and having all of her memories showing only a feint blur where the jewels sat.
Finally I looked at both the brides bouquet and the folds of the foot of her dress. Again for me the detail is "night & day" - the professional print recording more detail more sharply and retaining highlight (shades of white) detail far better than the consumer one.
As a professional photographer, the quality of image that I present to my clients is of absolutely paramount importance. Not only do I want them to be "wowed", I want any of their friends, relatives or colleagues who see my work to be similarly impressed by my high standard of work. If I allow my customers to print their own images then I'm losing out on one of the major ways I can do this. Photographers who don't sell "images on CD" are not necessarily looking to make major extra profit from their own print sales, they just care passionately about showing their work at the highest possible quality always. Respect their craft and you'll get the best in return.