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Other digital options

By DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 1999


You've got a perfectly good camera, rolls and rolls of film and a reliable computer. Do you need a digital camera to get family photos into the computer? Despite the growth of digital cameras, plenty of photographers are finding other ways to take that leap from Kodachrome to megabytes.

In fact, photographers in the Tampa Bay area soon will be among the first in the country to get a shot at a new service that will store digital copies of their photos on America Online.

Scanners

One of the most popular methods is to have your picture printed the old-fashioned way, then place it on the glass of a flatbed scanner that will transfer a digital image into your computer. A lot of good scanners are available, some for less than $100.

"What you give up is the immediacy and fun" of a digital camera, said Jon Pepper, executive editor of the Digital Focus newsletter. Instead of seeing your photo immediately on the digital camera's LCD (liquid crystal display), you have to wait for a print and then scan it in.

Deciding whether to start with a scanner depends on how the photos will be used.

Jack Berlin, president of Pegasus Imaging Corp. (www.jpg.com) in Tampa, says businesses such as real estate, auto dealers and insurance agencies may need to keep a photo for only a short time, so using storage space in a digital camera makes sense.

On the other hand, photo hobbyists may find that a scanner and digital imaging software are a better way to go, said Berlin, whose company makes such software.

Newcomers can learn to manipulate their scanned photos -- cropping the images, adjusting the brightness and more -- with the software that comes bundled with most scanners. Those who graduate to more advanced tools may invest in a program such as Pegasus' JPEG Wizard ($79).

"The best way to become expert is just to do it," Berlin said. "And play and play. Get images, change the settings."

Printers

In the old days (a year or two ago), printing a digital photo meant ending up with an image not much bigger than a postage stamp, with so-so quality.

Along with improvements in cameras, though, have come advances in printers.

"About every color inkjet on the market has the capability of giving prints people will be happy with," Pepper said.

Quality has improved to the point that experts say 5x7 prints are excellent so long as they are printed on special glossy paper. (Some even say 8x10 prints are more than acceptable).

Some specialty printers allow the user to transfer the photos directly from the camera or memory disk into the printer, avoiding the PC completely.

At least a half-dozen companies -- including Fuji, JVC, Olympus, Panasonic, Polaroid and Ricoh -- offer "photo printers" using a process called dye sublimation that produces near-photo-quality output on special paper.

These "dye sub" printers, mostly priced at $400 to $500, connect directly to digital cameras through a cable or a slot for memory cards. And most of them can be hooked to a television set to display images, so users can see what they're printing. A few even offer limited tools for cropping and editing images.

While the direct print approach is an option, Pepper says it takes away some of the fun of using the photo in a card or calendar or playing with it.

Picture CD

Kodak's Picture CD is just becoming available across the country. It is a simple, affordable way to turn 35mm and Advanced Photo System film into digital images.

Starting the process is easy: When you drop off a roll of film, you check the "Picture CD" box that will be on the processing envelope. Your prints and negatives come back a few days later accompanied by a CD-ROM containing sharp, high-resolution digital versions of your pictures. The cost, depending on the retailer, runs an extra $9 to $11.

Designed with engineering support from Intel Corp. and software from Adobe Systems Inc., Picture CD is user-friendly. (Kodak also uses Pegasus software in its digital efforts.)

You stick the CD into a personal computer running Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT. A program automatically starts that displays your digitized images, then takes you through clear point-and-click steps for editing the pictures, printing them or sending them to others as electronic-mail attachments.

Kodak is promising to provide a Macintosh version of Picture CD in April. However, Mac users can still make use of Picture CD today by opening the JPEG images with other photo-editing software.

For more information, check Kodak's Web site (www.kodak.com/go/picturecd).

'You've Got Pictures'

In a partnership with Kodak, America Online is launching a service this summer called "You've Got Pictures."

Tampa Bay area residents will get to try it before that. The area, along with Orlando and Cleveland, will be a test site for the service, according to AOL and Kodak. John Labella, a Kodak spokesman, says the service may start in April at retailers where Kodak processing is available. He did not know which retailers would be participating. Here is how the service works:

AOL's 16-million members will be urged to check an AOL box on the processing envelope when dropping off film. Customers will get back prints and negatives as usual. And for an extra as-yet-undetermined fee, the images also will be scanned into digital format and stored on AOL's computers.

A few days after dropping off the film, the same cheery male voice that announces "You've got mail!" will declare "You've got pictures!" AOL members will be able to view thumbnail-size images of every picture from their roll of film. By clicking with a mouse, they can display the thumbnails at full size. With a few more mouse clicks, the images can be embedded in e-mail messages.

It also will be easy to assemble photo albums, complete with captions, for sharing with others.

For an extra fee, members will be able to download a high-resolution copy of an image suitable for printing. And Kodak will provide photograph-quality reprints by mail.

AOL hasn't announced pricing or the start date for "You've Got Pictures." A similar service started in December through a partnership between the mail-order photo processor Seattle Film Works and the Excite service (www.excite.com) on the World Wide Web.

'Smart' kiosks

One of the big stumbling blocks for digital cameras is that buyers also must have a PC for downloading and sharing pictures. But a new generation of "smart" kiosks in photo shops, pharmacies and similar locations will make it possible to use a digital camera without a computer.

Fuji, Kodak's rival in the film business, is introducing one such kiosk called Fujifilm Aladdin Digital Picture Center. At first glance, the Aladdin looks something like today's kiosks that merely offer high-quality copies of photographs. But the Aladdin has slots for memory cards from most types of digital cameras. Images from the memory cards are then displayed on a screen, where customers can edit them and order on-the-spot prints. The kiosk also is connected to the Internet, so pictures can be dispatched to friends and family by e-mail.

Several other companies -- including Kodak, Konica and Live Picture Inc. -- are working on similar "smart" kiosks. Expect to see them popping up in the second half of this year.

On the Web

People who want to share photos also have some Web-based options.

Kodak's PhotoNet (www.photonet.com) works through the film processing: Check a box when you drop off your film at some Eckerd drugstores in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. When you pick it up, you get an access code for a Web site, where photos are stored for 30 days. Choices for the photos' use includes downloading, sending as e-mail attachments or having gifts made with the images.

PhotoLoft (www.photoloft.com) and Club Photo (www.clubphoto.com) let people create personal photo albums on the Web for free, with additional features available for fees.
-- Compiled from reports by Times Technology Editor Dave Gussow and the San Jose Mercury News.

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