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Clearwater site takes aim at digital cameras

By DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 21, 2001


The scene with the kayaks stands out in the digital photo world of Steve's Digicams.

It's a picture taken from the Dunedin Causeway, and fans of the photo hobbyist's Web site (http://www.steves-digicams.com) have come to expect it as part of the review of a new digital camera.

Regulars even e-mail their displeasure if the kayaks aren't there, said Dannee Davis, vice president of the 4-year-old Clearwater Web site.

Steve's Digicams specializes in reviews, news, discussion forums and almost anything else related to digital cameras. Use of the site has boomed along with the popularity of digital cameras. It grew from a single review on an Internet bulletin board to a site that claims more than 16-million visitors (many of them repeat customers) since 1998.

It's also getting attention far beyond its Pinellas County roots. Yahoo Internet Life magazine (http://www.yil.com) named Steve's Digicams the Best Digital Camera News site in its May issue, saying it "has blossomed into one of the busiest photo sites on the Web, and justifiably so."

Photo companies have noticed, too. When representatives from Fuji visited the Tampa Bay area in April to show off their new FinePix 6800 camera, they spent time with Steve's.

"For consumers, Steve's Digicams is to digital imaging what Road and Track, Motor Trend and Car and Driver are to the automotive industry," said Andrew LaGuardia, a Fuji spokesman and part of the group that visited. "If you're looking to make a purchase and seek expert information and advice, without being hit over the head with technical jargon, it's a great place to turn."

The site isn't fancy, which is intentional, Davis says. The goal is to emphasize the content and make it easy for consumers to navigate, not wait forever for flashy graphics to download. In particular, the site aims to educate.

"We try to see if the camera is as easy to use as the manufacturer says," Davis said. "We write from the point of view of the novice."

Digital photography got off on the wrong foot with a lot of people, Davis says. Consumers accustomed to taking a picture with a point-and-shoot camera and dropping off film to be developed had to learn photo editing and printing.

The site's reviews are extensive, giving an overview of each camera, technical specifications, photos of various features and sample photos (including those familiar kayaks).

photo
“We write from the point of view of the novice,” Dannee Davis says of the reviews and news on Steve’s Digicams Web site.
One of the company's five full-time staffers, Steve, takes about 20 hours to go over one camera, a task made more time-consuming as manufacturers turn out more models. Already, Davis says, the site has reviewed 30 cameras this year, out of more than 200 posted online, and there are more on the way.

Steve is Steve Sanders, a longtime friend of Davis' family and president of the company, who prefers to stay in the background. The few reviews he does not handle himself get his approval before they are posted, Davis says.

The site offers a glossary of digital photo terms. Discussion forums allow people to post questions and comments in sections such as "Newbie help" or individual areas for manufacturers such as Nikon, Canon, Olympus and Fuji. People also can share their photos.

The site has links to other digital camera sites, including manufacturers, and its news section has product announcements. It receives hundreds of e-mail messages each week, Davis says, but there's one question Steve's won't answer: What camera should I buy?

"It's a personal choice," said Davis, with factors such as price, use and size (will it fit in a briefcase or purse?) making the choice of a camera a different decision for everyone. Other items to consider are the amount of memory a camera has, how easy is it to get the photos from the camera to the computer and whether a camera requires an expensive proprietary battery.

Steve's doesn't accept ads from manufacturers, Davis says, but signed a deal with Ritz Camera as a retail partner. "A lot of people still are uncomfortable buying online," she said, where they have to be careful about deals that sound too good to be true and auction sites where they can get caught up in bidding wars.

The company also keeps a low profile, with an unlisted phone number. It is profitable, Davis said, although she wouldn't release any numbers. Revenue comes from the Ritz deal and advertising on the site from companies such as SanDisk, Lexar and Kingston, which sell storage media for cameras; photo paper companies; and Happenstance Products, which sells digital camera accessories, she said.

photo Visitors to the Steve’s Digicams Web site expect to see sample pictures taken with the cameras being reviewed, especially photos of the kayaks on the Dunedin Causeway. This sample was taken with a Sony DSC-S75.

[Photo: Steve’s Digicams]

Davis, whose resume includes jobs as diverse as a model for the Home Shopping Network and a stint in the Navy, joined the company when it began to grow faster than Sanders anticipated. Sanders has been interested in photography since he was a boy, Davis says. (She got the nickname Dannee, short for Debra Ann, when she worked at a company with multiple Deborahs.)

The site has begun to review film cameras because some serious photographers want both digital and film, Davis says, and Steve's wants to continue to grow with digital photography.

"We want people to be excited about photography again," she said.

- Dave Gussow can be reached at gussow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4228.

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