Consumers who pay the highest prices for color photofinishing don't always get the highest quality, according to a survey by Washington Consumers' Checkbook.

The survey said that Kodak color processing ranked highest in two separate studies made by the magazine while Kodak recommended retail prices are only second highest. In addition, some major stores offer discounts on Kodak processing, the survey said. heckbook, a nonprofit consumer magazine, surveyed 1,000 Washington area residents who rated retailers offering photofinishing services. Checkbook then sent out film to each of the eight local major laboratories for development. A panel of 15 amateur photographers then judged the results, ranking the prints on color balance and accuracy.

Kodak was rated highest among the surveyed customers and by the panel of judges looking at finished prints.

Officials of photofinishing labs ranked lower than Kodak generally questioned the magazine test results. "I feel the test was invalid, because there are so many variables involved," said Steve Zoref, plant manager of Berkey Film Processing, which is the photofinishing service used by such retailers as Giant Food, Drug Fair and Sears. Zoref said that if the film hadn't been shot at the same time or with the same exposure that the test wasn't scientific.

Here is the rating assigned prints from the eight major labs, with "1" being the best and "8" the worst:

Kodak, which scored 3.71; Fox (used by Memco), 4.07; Ritz, 4.20; Colorfax, 4.26; Fotomat, 4.36; Berkey Film Processing, 4.56; Colorcraft (used by K mart), 5.24, and District Photo (used by Dart Drug, People's Drug, Snap Shops, and other retailers), 5.75.

District Photo officials had no comment on the survey. But Don France, senior vice president of Colorcraft Corp., expressed concern that his company had been seventh out of eight. He said he needed more information about the way the test was conducted to explain the outcome. "We photofinishing labs essentially all use the same equipment and the same type of materials," he said.

Morris Frankel, president of Colorfax, said the consumer magazine had used an inadequate base for its film test. "Sending in a roll of film isn't scientific . . . one roll sample is too small," he said.

In comparing prices for film development, the magazine found the most expensive prices at Colorfax Laboratories, where the price for a package of services was $106. That compared with a suggested retail price of $100 for Kodak services, the magazine said.

Actual prices for Kodak services ranged from $100 at Drug Fair to $76 at K mart, the survey said. The survey said that the Colorfax charge for Kodak was the same as for Colorfax photofinishing--that is, $106.

Milan Matus, sales manager for Colorfax, said that the company charges more for its services because it has more sophisticated equipment and staff workers. e have double the staff for any one customer, and we pay our staff more," he said. He said Colorfax services shouldn't be compared with the average photofinishing lab because it is above average.

However, the survey also concluded that consumers can reap substantial savings with little or no sacrifice in quality on some types of snapshots. Fox Photo, which processes film for Memco, for example, rated only slightly lower than Kodak on quality, while Memco's prices for processing by Fox were 61 percent below Kodak's recommended retail prices for Kodak processing, the magazine said.

"Other low-priced places to take film for non-Kodak processing are Giant Food, Dart Drug and Rodman's--all offering services that beat Kodak's recommended retail prices by more than 55 percent," the magazine said.