Digital Imaging: On the Brink of Disaster?

Opinion: The rapid pace of evolution in the digital camera market is creating problems for professional content creators and consumers alike.

Digital imaging is currently topping the list of major preoccupations for IT decision-makers in design and publishing. Why?

Simple: The problems involved with this technology are evolving significantly faster than the available solutions. Cameras continue to evolve very rapidly, and so have the usage patterns of consumers and professionals alike.

For example, the average consumer, just having fun taking pictures with his or her digital camera, will likely have tens or even hundreds of thousands of pictures to manage in a few years time. For a professional, used to taking more images on higher-resolution cameras, that could come to many terabytes of data.

So, how will consumers or IT managers in an enterprise manage this content? Even more important: What are the unforeseen problems linked to this explosion of images? Can we even imagine the ripple effect of these changes?

The most common solution for this issue is to manage the pictures using a digital asset management system. And there is no lack of programs that offer to solve this problem, ranging in price from virtually free to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While there are some excellent tools out there to manage images, they dont solve the real problem: too many pictures.

On every level of the market, we now create at least 10 to 15 times more pictures than before. We are already drowning in pictures today—and this is without the cumulative effect of this digital imaging evolution over time.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about Kodaks decision to concentrate on digital cameras.

It is not unreasonable to expect that a professional photographer, snapping away with a digital SLR camera, will have accumulated half a million pictures or more in a few years. How on earth can he or she deal with this data?

And how will the average consumer deal with the perhaps 50,000 pictures taken during the same period, on an increasing number of more-or-less compatible devices? By adding keywords and metadata manually? I dont think so.

This explosion of pictures is already creating significant ripple effects in the design and publishing industry today: The digital image clutter is starting to seriously challenge network bandwidth, server capacity and local storage needs.

At the same time, workflow problems linked to digital imaging keep surfacing. The move from analog to digital photography has triggered significant shifts in competencies within organizations and is perturbing already-complex publishing workflows.

Finally, there are the changes in data formats: RAW files (which record the totality of data captured by an image sensor) are now so popular that they are even supported by consumer-level image databases. However, these RAW files require more complex handling than standard image file formats.

In short, there can be little surprise that for technology decision-makers in design and publishing, digital imaging ranges very high on the shortlist of major preoccupations.

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Andreas Pfeiffer is founder of The Pfeiffer Report on Emerging Trends and Technologies.