By DAVE GUSSOW
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 19, 2001
Those who buy digital cameras often end up returning them because of all the fuss that's involved. First, you have to connect your film-free camera to a computer, then figure out the often bewildering software to crop and adjust the images. Finally, you have to learn to print them at acceptable quality or e-mail them.
"It's too complicated for consumers," said Jim Esp, who works for the Genovese drugstore chain in New York.
Up to 80 percent of the tech support calls for digital photo products at Panasonic come from people who don't understand how to transfer photos to a computer or printer, says Mary Miceli, its consumer video division's product manager.
Going digital also is a challenge for photo retailers, who are trying to figure out what kind of equipment and services to offer consumers who no longer need traditional film handling.
And then there are the companies that make the cameras, which have heard the complaints and are worried about high return rates.
So instead of just bragging about more pixel power, camera companies at the Photo Marketing Association International's trade show in Orlando last week also emphasized a back-to-basics movement in digital photography: new lower-price cameras that require one click for the photo and one or two to send the picture to a computer, printer or e-mail.
The reason for the attention: Digital camera sales soared to 4.1-million last year, according to the marketing association, more than doubling 1999 sales, and the association is predicting sales of almost 6.9-million this year. On the trade show floor at the Orange County Convention Center, more than 300 of the 800-plus exhibitors had digital imaging products, with more than 100 of those showing digital cameras.
The Jackson, Mich., association (www.pmai.org) represents about 18,000 companies involved in processing, service or retailing of photo products and related goods.
But they did tout cameras that they say are easier to use, and less expensive to buy, for people who want to try digital photography but avoid the headaches.
Panasonic's $899 Ipalm camera is designed to be a point-and-click device, product manager Miceli said. After taking a picture, the user simply connects the camera to a Windows PC or a Mac and pushes a button to transfer it to the computer or automatically have it set up as an attachment to an e-mail message.
But not all the new models are as pricey as the Ipalm. Some good quality 2-megapixel cameras will cost less than $300 instead of the more common $800 to $1,000 range. The Fuji FinePix 2300 will have a $279 price tag when it hits the market in April.
"Camera manufacturers are starting to learn more about their market," said Grant Clauser, editor in chief of E-Gear magazine (www.e-gear.com). "For the past few years, the products were still focused on tech types and early adopters with a lot of emphasis on pro-type manual controls. This year marks the end of the pixel war."
While digital's growth is substantial, it still made up only about 18.5 percent of camera sales last year, according to the marketing association. And though it said film sales seem to have plateaued, more than 1-billion rolls were sold last year and a similar number is expected this year.
"People are very happy with traditional photography," said Gary Pageau, the trade group's associate publisher. "It works very well for them."
Traditionalists could point to the popularity of one-use and instant cameras as proof that film isn't dead. About 3.9-million instant cameras were sold last year, slightly less than digital but almost double the previous year.
Others noted the growing popularity of scrapbook parties, where people gather to take old photos out of shoeboxes and create albums. They asked how people will keep and share their memories in the digital era.
Pageau said he doesn't think Web sites offering photo services have won much of the market yet, but more research is needed on trends: How much printing of digital photos are people doing? What influence will e-mail sharing have? Retailers wondered how to deal with customers who bring in digital camera disks instead of film to have prints made.
While there were few concrete answers for their concerns, the show had an upbeat message.
"More people are interested in photography because of digital," said Johnson of the Gartner Group.
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- Contact Dave Gussow at email@example.com or (727) 445-4228.
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