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Tests Help Bring Photo-Finishing Services Into Focus

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Current technology allows even the most amateur photographer to take, touch up and print digital photos at home.

Still, many people prefer to have their digital photos processed at stores to ensure they come out looking good.

"I'm not a digital guru, so I'd rather have a professional take care of this," Glen Fernandez said.

At self-service mini-labs, customers order prints from a terminal connected to a lab behind the counter. Prints typically take an hour or less to process.

Consumer Reports recently ordered more than 2,000 photos from leading retailers and online photo-finishing sites to test differences in the quality and prices offered online and in stores.

For the highest-quality prints, Consumer Reports suggested using online photo-finishers, and the magazine's testers recommended Kodak, Target or Yahoo. A 4-inch-by-6-inch print costs 15 cents at these services.

"The downside to using them, however, is you'll have to wait two to seven days to get your prints, and there are shipping charges," tester Caroline Somera said.

Getting digital prints done at a store is comparably priced, the testers said, but not all stores are alike.

"Most stores use either a Kodak or a Fujifilm mini-lab. In our test, the Fujifilm mini-labs provided the best-quality prints," tester Mike Gikas said.

Wal-Mart has Fujifilm mini-labs and charges 19 cents for a 4-by-6 print, testers said. Costco and Sam's Club offer lower prices, but people have to be members of those stores to qualify.

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