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- Charles M. Blow
- David Brooks
- Frank Bruni
- Roger Cohen
- Gail Collins
- Ross Douthat
- Maureen Dowd
- Thomas L. Friedman
- Nicholas Kristof
- Paul Krugman
- Joe Nocera
Credit Stephanie Rosenbloom
Barry Schwartz, the psychologist and author of âThe Paradox of Choice,â once said: âWith so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all.â Thatâs how I feel when I want to print a few vacation photos. The Internet is rife with companies willing to print your digital snapshots for little more than the cost of a Cronut. But which sites produce the most eye-catching prints?
To find out, I uploaded the same 50 images to the websites of more than half a dozen companies to see how each would handle various conditions â photographs taken at night, during sunset, from a plane. The shots included landscapes, portraits and details, along with a few images that were blurry or low resolution. None of the companies were told I was writing this column, and my order was the same to each one: a set of glossy 4-by-6 prints and two 11-by-14 prints. The prices that follow are what I paid and may vary, depending on where you live and what you order.
The list includes professional-quality labs, drugstores such as CVS and Walgreens (Target, Walmart and Costco also print photos) as well as the usual suspects, Snapfish and Shutterfly. You can edit photos on these sites, but to keep things simple, I didnât (though I allowed for color correction if given the option). Obviously a technician can have an off day, or maybe one drugstore is better than another at making prints,so this is an unscientific experiment. Nonetheless, it revealed a few rules of thumb:
1. The quality you get from sites like Shutterfly and Snapfish varies, depending on whether you have prints mailed to you or pick them up at a store.
2. Quality varies from store to store, even within the same chain.
3. In general, youâll get more consistency â and better depth and more detail â from professional developers. But if you donât obsess over nuances, youâll find that some drugstores do just fine.
Before I delve into the results, one tip: Coupons for many of these sites are available on RetailMeNot.com (or just go to Google.com and type the name of the company and the word âcodeâ). Doing that saved me a lot, including 25 percent on a Snapfish order and 30 percent at CVS.
ADORAMAPIX.COM Adorama is a venerable New York City camera shop, but you need not be a resident to visit its website.
Pros: The site is smart and easy to use and prevents you from enlarging images that are likely to print poorly. Some sites warn that you have selected a low-resolution photo, but allow you to buy the enlargement. AdoramaPix wonât let you. Another standout feature is that you donât have to crop your smartphone images to fit 4-by-6 paper â just select the âfull imageâ option.
Cons: The prints, while sharp, were a bit dark compared with the results from other companies.
Bottom Line: A smooth shopping experience in the store and online, which makes it a good bet for those who want hand-holding and customization. If you simply want a stack of small prints or prefer yours on the brighter side, keep reading.
Cost: 4-by-6 prints, 24 cents each; 11-by-14 prints, $ 3.99 each. Standard delivery for more than 10 prints (two to four business days after about two days of processing), $ 7. If youâre in New York, you can save by picking up your order at the Manhattan or Brooklyn store.
CVSPHOTO.COM The drugstore chain offers free same-day pickup for prints, books, cards, collages and calendars.
Pros: You can get prints in about an hour, and the results are vivid. CVS also does a good job with night shots; mine had just the right amount of light.
Cons: Iâve used CVS several times, and while the website says youâll be notified by email when your prints are ready, Iâve never received such an email â so call to confirm that your order is done. Quality varies from store to store. I sent the same prints to two CVS stores in Manhattan and one set had an undesirable yellow hue.
Bottom line: For small, glossy, need-them-now prints, CVS does the trick. If youâre a stickler for crispness or want enlargements, go with a professional.
Cost: 4-by-6 prints, 29 cents each (19 cents each if you order more than 50); 11-by-14 prints (not available in store), $ 9.99. Free pickup at the store. Ground shipping from $ 1.29.
MPIX.COM Owned by Millerâs Professional Imaging, this photo-printing operation has been around since 1968 and is among the largest professional labs in the nation.
Pros: The prints were sharp and vivid, yet not overly saturated. And the Fujifilm Fujicolor Professional paper looked and felt sumptuous. Like AdoramaPix, the site prevents you from ordering enlargements of low-resolution images.
Cons: Mpix doesnât prompt you to choose how you want your images to be cropped to fit 4-by-6 paper, so be sure to click the âedit cropâ link. Also, the site doesnât accept that travelerâs staple, American Express.
Bottom line: The prints had excellent depth and gradations of daylight, and the E-surface standard paper was lovely. If you like to pore over the details, this is the way to go. But coupons are hard to come by.
Cost: 4-by-6 prints, 29 cents each; 11-by-14 prints, $ 7.49 each. You can pinch pennies on 4-by-6 prints by forgoing color correction, but one look at the âuncorrectedâ toddler with the ghostly pallor on the companyâs website and youâll crack your wallet. Priority mail: $ 7.95 (two to five business days) after production (most print orders are completed in 24 hours).
SHUTTERFLY.COM Iâve used this site for years to create photo books. Others like it for photo gifts, including phone cases, pillows and lunch bags. Shutterfly allows you to pick up 4-by-6 prints at a CVS, Walgreens or Target store, but be advised: It can be cheaper to order directly through one of the stores, such as CVS. Even so, I wanted to see which prints would look better, so I placed two orders through Shutterfly.com: One I had mailed to me and the other I sent to a local CVS store. The prints that arrived in the mail were superior.
Pros: The site often has great discounts. Surprisingly, the night shots developed at CVS were clearer than those made by several competitors.
Cons: The cluttered site makes editing and ordering feel complicated. The prints I picked up at CVS were rich and glossy though sometimes oversaturated and lacking subtlety.
Bottom line: A site best suited to book creators and mug decorators. Fine for small prints and, as it turns out, night shots.
Cost: 4-by-6 prints for home delivery, 15 cents each; 11-by-14 prints, $ 7.99. Shipping charges vary depending on what and how much you order (for instance, $ 3.99 for up to 59 4-by-6 prints) for three to seven business days. Shutterfly prints may be picked up for free at CVS stores, but the price of prints may not be the same as home delivery.
SNAPFISH.COM This site, from the technology company HP, has won over many consumers with its low prices.
Pros: Rock-bottom prices. Nicely colored prints. Users can pick up prints at a Walmart or Walgreens (prices vary by retailer).
Cons: Photos can be slightly oversaturated and not as sharp as you desire.
Bottom line: Good prints at some of the lowest prices. Just donât expect consistently crisp images.
Cost: 9 cents for a 4-by-6 print; $ 6.99 for an 11-by-14. Standard shipping from 99 cents.
WALGREENS.COM I recently developed some film at the Times Square Walgreens. The order was not ready on time, and there was no one at the desk when I went to pick it up. But I believe in second chances.
Pros: The color and clarity of the prints was better than I expected, as was the thick paper for the 11-by-14 enlargements. You can get 4-by-4 and 8-by-8 prints of your Instagram photos, as well as Facebook photos that include your âlikesâ and comments (but why would you want that?).
Cons: Slightly more expensive than CVS for bulk 4-by-6 prints, and the crowded aisles in New York are daunting.
Bottom line: Its nice work on same-day 11-by-14 prints makes it a go-to destination for that very thing.
Cost: 4-by-6 prints to be picked up in-store (prices are lower for mail orders), 29 cents each (20 cents each if you order more than 50); 11-by-14 prints, $ 10.99 each. Free to pick up in store (including Duane Reade). Standard shipping from 99 cents.
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