As some of you may know, I’ve been using AdoramaPix for many years and have been very pleased with their quality and service. I even wrote a blog post about it here. As a small business owner, my goal is to provide my clients with the highest possible quality. In order to do this, I think it’s important to re-evaluate my options occasionally. Recently, I was talking to a fellow photographer who mentioned that she prefers to use Miller's Lab for display prints, and AdoramaPix for proofs. She felt that Miller's quality was slightly better. I was intrigued, and decided to do some research of my own.
I visited Miller's online and saw that they offer potential clients two sets of four free 8x10’s. One set is color corrected by their expert technicians, and the other is printed without color correction. I was pleased to see that they even covered the shipping costs for this test. After creating a free account, they sent me a package with information on their pricing and products. I also received an email with a link to upload my test files. I chose four images with the potential for a variety of color issues. There was a portrait to evaluate skin tones, a blue dolphin jumping out of blue water, a landscape with the warm colors of dusk, and a white snowy owl at sunrise.
With Miller's, the actual upload process was much different from the systems I’ve used in the past. I would have liked to confirm that all of my files were uploaded, but there was no option to view the thumbnails for the images I submitted. As soon as the images were uploaded, the order was placed. Approximately 48 hours later, I received my photos. Unfortunately the portrait I thought I had uploaded was not printed. I’m not sure if it was my error or theirs, but I got duplicates of the landscape photo. Although I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t evaluate the skin tones, I was very impressed with the quality of the other three prints. My wife and I carefully evaluated each one, and we both agreed that the files which were marked “not color corrected” were preferable to those that Millers technicians adjusted. Of course this could vary depending on your color management system. I use the Spyder 2 Pro to help me keep my colors very accurate.
Next, I ordered the exact same prints, at the same size, with the same finish from AdoramaPix. They were running a special, so the 8x10’s were only 99 cents each. I asked for one set of “Not color corrected” prints. As always, Adorama's ordering system was very user friendly with their intuitive interface. 48 hours later, their prints were delivered.
Next, I did a side by side comparison of the "Not Color Corrected" files from Miller's and Adorama.
Here’s the breakdown:
+Millers: Great contrast.
-Millers: 1/2 stop too dark, slight magenta shift
+Adorama: Nailed the exposure
-Adorama: Blues had slight green tint
The Snowy Owl:
+Millers: True color, great contrast
-Adorama: Blues had slight green tint, flat contrast.
+Adorama: Nailed the exposure
-Adorama: Saturation lacking
+Millers: Nice contrast
-Millers: 1/2 stop too dark
Conclusion: On their own, the prints from both labs were acceptable. Yet, with a side by side comparison, I felt that Miller's were slightly better. Of course the issue with color prints is that the outcome is largely dependent on the technician who processed the prints, as well as any chemical fluctuations. So while this batch of Miller's prints was preferable, the next set may not be. Moving forward, I may need to test a third lab for comparison. In the meantime, I plan to make more prints at Miller's for further evaluation.
Also, for those of you who would like to compare prices, I put together this little chart. Please note that Miller's is not included as they do not publish their price list online. It is only available by request on their site.