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Photos to go

Web sites compete to offer your photos printed, online and even on cakes.

©New York Times, published March 13, 2000


When Andrea Millrad sent a roll of film to Seattle FilmWorks, an Internet-based film processor, she didn't know what to expect, but she got a bonus that she shared with about 100 friends: an e-mail link that let her view a virtual photo album of her snapshots online.

"It really excited me to see them on the Internet before they were in my mailbox," she said. "Then I forwarded the links to 100 of my closest friends and family."

Now Millrad, who sells custom-made cards and invitations on the Internet from her home in Deerfield Beach, has incorporated services such as the one from Seattle FilmWorks (which is changing its name to PhotoWorks -- both names are on the Web site, www.filmworks.com) into her business. She views clients' photos online with the option of ordering prints herself or simply downloading them into her computer for use later.

There is a land rush of sorts among Web sites that are competing for the attention of people such as Millrad and her clients, friends and family. There are more than 115 sites set up to develop film or let people send photos via e-mail to friends and create virtual albums or to offer some combination of those services. By 2002, when photo finishing will be a $3.3- billion industry, almost 10 percent of photo finishing revenues will come from online services, according to a forecast by Chuck Davenport, an analyst for Lyra Research, a market research company.

That means a staggering array is likely to become even more staggering.

The services available include developing film, making prints and digital images, and allowing customers to store, share and edit photos. Some sites can put your pictures on products such as T-shirts or cookies.

Because the field of Web-based photo services is relatively new, the sites and services are constantly changing. To help you sort through them, here is a sampling of sites based on the services they offer.

If you are using a film camera, you may want to start by looking at sites that process film and post the photos on the Internet.

Fujifilm.net, for example, lets you deliver film to its partners such as Wal-Mart, and for $4.95 above the price of regular processing, your photos will be scanned and placed on a Web site (www.fujifilm.net). Up to 40 exposures can be stored on the site for 30 days. If you want your photos to be posted longer, $19.99 buys a year of storage for 100 pictures; annual storage for each additional set of 25 shots is $4.95.

A customer can share digital photos by sending images by e-mail or sending links that will take the recipient to a folder of photos. Prints ordered over the Web and mailed to the customer cost 99 cents for a 4- by 6-inch print. Shipping charges are $2.95 per item, up to a total of $9.90. Fuji expects to allow customers to upload and store their own digital images on fujifilm's Web site in May, which will allow customers to save storage space on their computers.

America Online has joined with Kodak to offer a service called You've Got Pictures, which will develop AOL members' film and put the images online for $5.95 above the price of regular processing. Kodak says it has 38,000 drop-off locations, or film can be mailed in. Each AOL member can store 50 pictures online free and can buy additional storage at $1.49 for each block of 30 images. Low-resolution digital images can be downloaded free, but downloading a high-resolution version costs $1.

People who are not AOL members can find virtually the same service on the Web (but free storage for only 30 pictures for 30 days) through Kodak's PhotoNet.com (www.photonet.com). It allows a customer to upload and store digital images, but imposes the same $5.95 fee it charges for developing a roll.

In general, photo-sharing sites allow you to create a password that you can send to friends or family so only they can see your online photos. But look into what the site rules are: While some automatically give you privacy, others make your pictures available to the public unless otherwise instructed. And anyone who can see one of your pictures can order a copy.

If you own a digital camera or a scanner and do not need photo developing, try uploading-only sites, such as Shutterfly.com (www.shutterfly.com) and Zing (www.zing.com). These sites, like all photo sites that offer uploading, say it is easy to send them your own digital images. How easy it is may depend on how well their software works with your camera or scanner. The best way to determine how easy a site is to use is to try it out.

The quality of the prints ordered online will depend partly on the resolution and quality of your camera and partly on the photo processor. Some customers say that a good digital print looks like one made from regular film, though others have found inconsistent results at some sites.

A low-resolution image can produce a decent 3- by 4-inch print, a medium-resolution image can be good at 5 by 7, and a high-resolution image will probably work for sizes up to 8 by 10. Most of the Web sites will alert you if you have chosen a print size for a given resolution that will produce a fuzzy or grainy photo. Most of the sites offer a money-back guarantee if the digital prints fail to meet a customer's expectations.

Shutterfly is making a bid for users by offering 200 free prints and free shipping for people who sign up in March and ship within six months. The service offers free storage, with conditions. If you do not make printed copies of the photos, Shutterfly will keep them (up to 50 megabytes' worth) on the site for three years. Within that period, if you exceed 50 megabytes of images, you will receive an e-mail message telling you to throw something out.

If you order a print of an image, that image will remain on the site for six years, and it will not count toward the 50 megabytes each customer is allotted. A 4- by 6-inch print costs 49 cents, a 5 by 7 costs 99 cents, and an 8 by 10 costs $2.99.

Zing offers unlimited free storage with no time limit. The site also lets users do simple editing of images. Pictures can be rotated, cropped and corrected for brightness or color. Zing says it will add a special-effects option that will make a photo look like a painting. (Anyone who wants to do extensive photo editing, however, would do well to purchase a full program, such as those from Adobe or Corel, rather than relying on the bare-bones versions.)

Prints from Zing are available in five sizes and cost 39 cents to $9.99 each, depending on size. Volume discounts are available.

Several sites, in addition to Kodak's PhotoNet, aim to attract photographers by both handling film finishing and letting customers upload images.

PhotoWorks charges $12.25 (plus $1.49 shipping per order) to develop up to 36 exposures for 3- by 5-inch prints, post medium-resolution images online and send you a replacement roll of film. The film is mailed to PhotoWorks in prepaid mailers. The digital images remain in a permanent archive as long as the customer orders at least one print every six months. For an additional $4.95, the company will put high-resolution images on a CD that is mailed to the customer and also post them on the Web for free downloading for 15 days. Digital uploading and storage is free. Prints are 25 cents each for either 3 by 5's or 4 by 6's, and $1.95 for 8 by 10's. Shipping is extra.

PhotoWorks provides uploading software that includes a function to remove red eye. More advanced editing functions are available free on downloadable software.

Club Photo (www.clubphoto.com), which offers film developing through a company it recently purchased, Signature Color, charges prices that vary according to the number of exposures, the size of the prints and the number of print sets ordered. Standard costs range from $6.95 for 24 3 by 5 prints to $13.95 for 36 5 by 7 prints. Uploading digital images is free, and the company says storage space is free, unlimited and permanent at any resolution.

Club Photo lets you view your pictures in an album format or you can set up a slide show. It also offers Photo to Go, which lets you download pictures to a Palm or Handspring personal digital assistant so you can present a tiny slide show wherever you go.

Ofoto will develop pictures, put them on the Web and return the negatives to you at no charge (www.ofoto.com). The first 100 4 by 6 prints are free, but shipping is free for only the first order. The offer expires Dec. 21. Prints will then cost 49 cents for a 4 by 6, 99 cents for a 5 by 7 and $2.99 for an 8 by 10. Uploading digital images is free, and the company says its storage is unlimited, permanent and free. Ofoto also offers free software, called OfotoNow, for editing. It lets users remove red eye and crop and lighten images.

Many of the photo sites offer a cornucopia of goods that can be emblazoned with images from your photos. Or you can go to pix.com, which prints your pictures on mundane items such as T-shirts or coffee mugs or more unusual objects such as neckties, watches, dinnerware and cookies. You can buy 18 cookies with a photo reproduced in edible icing for $33.95. Or you can buy a cake with photo icing for $9.95. They may not taste as good as Mom's baked goods, but they look interesting.

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