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Archive for Saturday, December 13, 1997

DIGITAL CAMERAS DEVELOPINGMARKET

December 13, 1997

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Digital cameras are clicking with people who regularly use computers at home or the office.

Darren Cook held the boxy-looking camera in front of him, snapping away as he looked at the color viewscreen.

As workers used a crane recently to install the new Phog Allen sculpture at Allen Fieldhouse, Cook, director of facilities for Kansas University's athletic department, captured the moment.

But not on film.

Like many amateur and professional photographers, Cook has joined a new digital revolution in photography.

Cook was using a Sony Digital Mavica MVC-FD7 point-and-shoot camera. Instead of film, it recorded the image onto a standard 3.5-inch floppy computer disk -- allowing him to pop it out of the camera and into his computer.

"We bought it for all of these projects we've got going on," Cook said. "It's really a quick way to get pictures and get them into your computer. It takes out the developing process.

"The picture quality really is fairly good too. It's not excellent, like really fine-grade film, but it works pretty well."

He said the speed of obtaining a photo on different phases of a project, like the sculpture, is a big draw.

"I can go inside now, stick it in the computer and e-mail it," he said.

Hot commodity

Cook's experience with his digital camera reflects how it's becoming not only fun for amateur photographers, but an on-the-job tool.

"It's a very hot commodity right now," said Jodi Johnson, vice president of Image Works, 711 W. 23rd.

"I read a report that by the end of next year, there will be more than 500 different models," Johnson said. "Everybody is getting on the bandwagon. The camera manufacturers as well as the computer manufacturers are jumping on."

Photography magazines are carrying stories on the new digital cameras and what's needed to set up your own digital darkroom.

The interest in digital cameras has even spawned a magazine, "PC Photo," devoted specifically to using your home computer to print photos.

Johnson, whose store offers several models, said she sold four cameras during a one-week period earlier this month. Most of them are in the $500 to $700 price range.

"Most people wouldn't spend that on a camera, but they're going to spend that on a camera they can use with their computer," she said.

The cameras appeal most to people who use computers at work or home, she said.

"Mostly, I've seen couples come in where the husband or wife is going to use them for business and home use, both," she said. "For home use, they want them to take a picture of the family and send them by Internet to relatives. The business applications are unlimited."

Smart cards, disks

Johnson said digital cameras have a range of features.

She recommends getting one with removable media, so the images don't have to be kept in the camera until you download them into a computer.

"A lot of cameras carry smart cards," she said. Those cards can hold between 2 megabytes and 8 megabytes of data and give you a place to store your images other than your computer's hard drive, she said.

"The Sony version has a disk, but you give up quality of image for using a disk," she said.

If you want to print digital photos, printer resolution should be as high as the camera, Johnson said. The average digital camera resolution is 520 by 740 pixels, "which gives you a decent 4-by-6 quality photograph."

She also recommended getting an AC adapter -- most of the cameras use batteries quickly.

Resolution not there

But don't trade in your film camera just yet, said Mike Lucero, owner of Camera America, 1610 W. 23rd.

He said digital cameras are useful for people who do a lot of e-mailing, are building World Wide Web pages or are using it for business.

"They're in a price range right now that doesn't warrant buying one if you're not going to use it all the time," he said.

Lucero said he liked playing with them, "but I don't think the resolution is quite where it should be.

"Right now they've pumped them up to where consumers are expecting more out of them than they can give," he said. "The output that I've seen, I wouldn't pay that much."

Because of poorer image quality, digital cameras won't replace traditional film versions, Johnson said.

"But for certain purposes, they're wonderful," she said. "For people who are computer literate, it's wonderful. And if you're not computer literate, it can be confusing -- more confusing than just a camera."

Yearbooks to real estate

David Cope, a certified photographic consultant at Wolfe's Cameras, Camcorders and Computers in Topeka, said colleges were among the first users.

"They were putting pictures in the yearbooks without the cost of developing and processing," Cope said.

"We started seeing a lot of people in the real estate and insurance industry finding they could save a lot of money because you could take the picture, preview it right on the spot, then just use the images they needed for their reports instead of shooting a full roll of film," he said.

Recently the prices and quality of digital cameras have dropped, as well as the quality of color printers, he said.

"You can find digital cameras starting at $200," he said.

Home users have found them useful for not only e-mail, but for putting together their own Christmas cards and brochures, he said.

Cope sells between 20 and 40 digital cameras a month.

"When people see somebody using one, that's when they get interested and want to use it themselves," he said.

-- Dave Toplikar's phone message number is 832-7151. His e-mail address is toplikar@ljworld.com.

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