Last week I conducted an experiment into territory hitherto unexplored by myself or my family: I tried out an online photo processing service. Specifically, the walmart.com online photo processing service.
The results were very encouraging. I ordered a combination of 8x10's, 5x7's, and 4x6's. For the 8x10's I ordered duplicates in the smaller sizes to do a print quality comparison. The quality of the printing is very good. Three different cameras were used to take the pictures (Cannon EOS 10D, Canon PowerShot A60, and something else), so there was some minor variation in picture quality due to differing qualities of camera, but they all were quite adequate for the 4x6's. When we compared the 8x10's, we noticed that the pictures looked great until they were examined closely - then 'image artifacts' would appear, for example, a slightly blotchy look in areas of similar colors (i.e., oklahoma granite), and distinct melty-looking lines along the high-contrast edges (i.e., oklahoma granite against a bright grey sky).
Despite the slight shortcomings of the two lower end cameras, the EOS 10D pictures were phenomenal. The difference didn't wouldn't show up unless you looked at the 8x10's, but if you did, WOW! The quality difference was incredible. That's not to knock the other two cameras, they were more than adequate for the 4x6's, and probably okay for the 5x7's, but they were completely blown away in the 8x10 arena by the EOS 10D.
Oh, the print quality: The pictures were printed on glossy Fuji Fujicolor Crystal Archive photo paper, and appeared to be at a quality level comparable with traditional film prints. There was nothing wrong with the colors. The blues were blue, the reds were red, the yellows were yellow, and the blacks were black. The print quality was fine.
The price was pretty good too. The 8x10's were $1.96 each, the 5x7's were $0.58 each, and the 4x6's were just $0.12 each. Since I had them delivered to a store for pickup, there were no shipping charges. It did seem like the turn-around time was a bit long, clocking in at about 8 days, but for 12 cents a print, that's a discomfort I'm willing to live with.
Next up: Walmart.com's One Hour Photo. Results will be posted.