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Everything You Need To Know About Developing Your Disposable Film Camera

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Irvine chapter.

Having always been obsessed with vintage style film and photography, you can guess how excited I was when I found out disposable cameras were making a comeback. These cameras help give off those old school, retro vibes that I personally love and are great for times when you want to take a break from your phone, but still want to capture special moments with the people around you. 

Recently, one of my friends asked how I developed my film and I went on and on, sharing lists of all the information I found when I first started using disposable cameras. I am by no means an expert, but I feel like after a couple hours of research I can pass along a few tips that might be helpful to some of you as well.

First Things First: Where to Go

After you finish your roll of film, you’re probably thinking: “Okay, what now?”

Before I knew anything about film cameras, I honestly thought I could walk straight into Costco and get my photos printed like I would with pictures from my phone or laptop. Turns out, film needs to go through its own special developing process and it’s not commonly offered by many drugstores or photo kiosks today. Places like Costco, Target and Sam’s Club did offer these services in the past, but have since removed it from their menu due to declining popularity. 

Based on the information I found online and through personal experience, the first place you should consider when looking to develop your film is Yelp. For the best quality, service and affordability, your nearest photography store could be just what you need without all the extra features that professional photography studios might offer. I highly recommend checking reviews and looking at sample images on the company’s website so you can get an idea of how other customers’ photos have turned out, as well as how customer service is rated (this can make or break your experience).

Some photography and film developing labs specialize in just film processing, thus producing high quality results. But they are typically on the pricier side due to their expertise. If you’re not a complete photo fanatic and think you’ll be content with general resolution pictures, I would just stick with local photo shops to keep things simple. 

However, if you are looking to get some HD photos, places like The Darkroom and Goodman Film Lab can help get those nitty gritty details and deliver top quality results. These places allow you to mail in your disposable camera with an order form, which will take a week or so until they return your photos back to you.

nature trees landscape film photography
Photo by Eric Lee from Unsplash
I mentioned earlier how popular photo labs don’t offer film processing anymore, but I may have *lied* a little bit, only because there is one major drawback if you choose to develop at one of these places. Drugstores such as CVS, Walgreens and select Rite Aids do still have an option for film at their photo centers, but they will NOT give back your negatives when they are done. Negatives are the images on the actual roll of film that can be used to create more prints for future use. If you wanted to print more of one photo at one of these drugstores, you don’t have that option because your negatives will be gone → no original film for duplicates. 

Developing Options

When you finally pick the place you want to process your film at, the next step is to look at the developing options. Depending on the company, you can develop, scan or print your images (or a combination of some) but the services vary and range in pricing. 

As a minimum, you want to get your film developed. This means taking the roll of film in your camera and converting them into actual images that you can enjoy, frame or share. The format of how you want these images is what differs between photo labs and what you should think about when choosing the service you want. Most places now are scanning processed photos and sending them to their customers via email or Dropbox. More traditional places only offer prints, which are physical photos that people are used to seeing. Companies like The Darkroom offer a develop + scan bundle for the basic charge, but you can only get the combo of digital and physical images if you pay extra for the prints. 

Select locations also offer enhanced or higher resolution images for an additional fee, if you are interested in taking that extra step with your photographs.

My Suggestions

Given that there are so many options, I feel the need to share my recommendations in case any of you want to go a similar route. To me, going to a photography store/lab is the way to go. Digital versions are sent to you and more importantly, you can keep your negatives for future use. If you want prints, you can pick and choose from the digital versions and get physical copies of the ones you like the most. Of course our opinions differ but following this method has brought me the most satisfying customer experiences and I hope they bring the same to you.

This all may seem a bit overwhelming when you are just getting started, but I promise it will be exciting once you learn your preferences. If you are considering getting into film, I say go for it! There’s nothing at risk and now you are all prepared once your first roll of film is used up. Plus, it will be fun to look back at these memories and relive them when you are older!

white car film photo
Photo by Annie Spratt from Unsplash

Ashley Tang

UC Irvine '22

Ashley is a 3rd year Business Economics major with a passion for a healthy living. In her free time, she loves hanging out with friends, going to the beach, and making food. You can find her at your local brunch spot or scouting flea markets for unique bargains!