If the annual Photo Marketing Association trade show (PMA) that wrapped up in early March was any sort of bellwether for the industry, then traditional film photography has officially shifted from center stage to the sidelines, in favor of digital photography. Yes, the PMA featured its usual assortment of next generation printers, scanners, and other graphics hardware and software, but there was little doubt about where the heat and excitement was.
Scores of vendors announced and displayed numerous 5- and 6-megapixel consumer and prosumer digital cameras, but interestingly, 3-megapixel devices took center stage, for the most part. The reason? Despite the hype and hoopla over state-of-the-art high-density image sensors, 3 megapixels is proving to be the sweet spot for the vast majority of digital camera buyers. Thats enough resolution for a good to very good full-frame 8.5- by 11-inch print or for cropping an image without losing quality. But its not enough data to slow down typical processes or quickly fill up available storage. Canon, Casio, HP, Kodak, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Sony, and most other major digital camera manufacturers—and a large number of comparatively unknown Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese companies—will be shipping new 3-megapixel cameras within the next few months. Typical prices for consumer digital cameras average about $100 per megapixel, with ultrasmall models or those that have extra features or manual controls going for a premium.
Shoot and Store
According to a recent study commissioned by Fujifilm and conducted by research firm InfoTrends, digital camera owners shoot about 43 to 53 pictures each month. Given the many millions of digital cameras in use (over 10 million were sold in 2002 alone), that adds up to a huge number of pictures. Thats why the emphasis on storage and organization of digital images increased at this years PMA. We saw a variety of options and alternatives among a panoply of storage devices and related products. These included easy-to-use image management programs, such as the newest version of Kodaks EasyShare software and the new Adobe Photoshop Album. Most of these programs are priced at around $50, though Kodaks is a free download.
To accommodate all those pictures, the industry is moving to even larger memory cards. There were numerous storage announcements made at the show. By the end of Q2, well see 4GB Compact Flash, 256MB xD, and 512MB SD cards. In the quest to differentiate among brands, number-two memory card manufacturer Lexar Media released its line of very high-speed (40X) CompactFlash cards that are intended for professional digital cameras. The cards have transfer rates of 6 Mbps. Not to be outdone, number-one memory card manufacturer SanDisk announced its Extreme line of premium memory cards, which are rated for greater temperature fluctuations (useful, if you keep your camera in the car) and include image recovery software for those times when your card fails.
Zeroing in on the inconvenience and expense of processing and printing the many millions of digital images taken, companies such as Fuji, Kodak, Pixel Magic, Polaroid, Olympus, Sony, and others continue to create new self-service kiosk systems that they hope to sell to a wide variety of retail outlets. Kiosks are walk-up stations that often look and act like ATM machines. The user can insert a digital camera memory card, place a print on a built-in flatbed scanner, or even, in the case of Applied Science Fictions version, simply pop in an exposed film cartridge.
These vending-machine–type devices are convenient, cost competitive with film minilabs and at-home desktop printing, and generally provide photo-quality output. Unfortunately, the public has been staying away from digital kiosks in droves. Expect a major marketing push in the next year, as manufacturers and kiosk owners try to wean consumers away from one-at-a-time desktop printers and coax them into standing at workstations in malls, supermarkets, electronics boutiques, drug stores, and photo shops.
Kiosks werent the only printing solutions at the show. To better implement Internet printing, the International Imaging Industry Association (I3A) has created an initiative it calls the Common Picture eXchange environment (CPXe). The CPXe architecture is supported by major companies such as Agfa, Fuji, HP, Konica, Phogenix, Olympus, and others, because it purportedly makes comparison shopping and ordering of prints and photo novelty items (like T-shirts, greeting cards, and calendars) from local stores easier. Each retail outlet will pay $500 to be listed in the CPXe directory, which consumers will be able to search by service and by geographical region to select a store. The CPXe architecture is designed to make uploading of images simpler. A customer can then choose to pick up the photos at the story or have them mailed. This program should launch in the second half of 2003.