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Digital Photography

I enjoy taking photographs, but since I’m not independently wealthy, I can’t afford the cost of processing tons of pictures, much less the cost of some of the equipment I’d like. Since my mother is an archivist, I have an idea how long traditional prints last (not that long). And as the motto goes, "When in doubt, throw hardware at the problem" (and if the hardware is big enough the problem will break – otherwise the hardware will break :-)). So I want to have a decent digital camera that will allow me to take tons of pictures and store them on cheap floppy disks, thus saving film and processing costs.

The first step is to acquire a digital camera. Unfortunately, the digital cameras are still in the independently-wealthy range. The main camera that one could get which isn’t too exorbitant is the Canon XapShot, which people have seen for under $400. The XapShot’s big brother, the RC-470 has 400-line quality as opposed to the XapShot’s 300-line quality. The XapShot requires a video digitizer like the ComputerEyes digitizer (included when you buy a whole kit from Canon for $1099 list for color or $899 list for black and white) or the RasterOps 364 board, whereas the RC-470 is part of the Professional Still Video Imaging Kit (pricey at $4899 list) which includes the FV-540, which is a SCSI-based 2" video floppy drive, and SV Scan image editing software. Pop your 2" analog disk from the RC-470 into the drive and the software will display thumbnails of all the available photos. At that point you can look at any one of them, perform limited image editing, and output to various useful formats. There are other digital cameras, most notably the Sony Mavica and the Dycam Model 1, which lists for $995 and can capture only 256 levels of grey in a 376 by 240 resolution. The Dycam works similarly to the XapShot, although it sounds like it includes the digitizing hardware in the camera itself, since you only have to attach the camera to the computer to transfer the images.

We tested this process at a recent trade show at Cornell University with the Canon RC-470 and kit. The representative took a picture (actually a bunch of them, since the camera can do a number of frames per second) of Tonya and I, then imported into the SV Scan software. We then exported the best picture to PICT format, compressed with a STORM JPEG compression program (which dropped the size from 750K to 50K), and finally took it over to the Tektronix Phaser printer to print it out. After a number of failed printouts, we finally got a decent one. Other than the printer, the whole setup worked very nicely, though you will need 24-bit color to get decent on-screen image quality. If you want to see what the quality is like, send us email and if there is enough interest, we’ll post the compressed picture and the free decompression program to the nets. It’s a scary thought – we might end up as someone’s startup screen!

The coolest product to use digital photography that I’ve seen is a portable office system composed of a 286 or 386sx laptop computer, 4.5 pound Canon BubbleJet printer, Motorola cellular phone, a fax modem that works with the cellular phone, and what sounds like the Dycam digital camera. All this comes from Computer Masters Software and costs $8995 or $9895, depending on which processor you get in the laptop. It’s completely battery-powered, but the company didn’t say how long the batteries lasted or how heavy the whole thing is. Nonetheless, I’m impressed.

As much as I’d like to see true digital cameras (rather than ones that store the image in analog format), Kodak is betting that it will take some time for digital cameras of any variety to catch on. In the meantime, Kodak wants users to send traditional 35mm film in for processing and storage on a CD-ROM, calling the product PhotoCD. Users would then need to buy a special audio/video CD drive produced by Kodak and Philips. With the disk of pictures and the drive, you could then view pictures on your TV. Since PhotoCD won’t be able to display resolution better than is possible on a TV, it won’t have a quality advantage over the digital cameras. Where PhotoCD will be popular is in converting existing photos into a digital format that can be used by computers. The only question is whether or not Kodak will continue with PhotoCD even if the digital cameras limit the market to the oh-so-unpredictable home consumers. I somehow doubt that we’re talking another marketing phenomenon like the VCR here. Besides, one of the primary reasons VCRs became popular, as much as people might not like to admit it, is that it was suddenly possible to watch pornographic films in the privacy of the home.

Canon — 516/488-6700 (Eastern US)
714/979-6000 (Western US)
Dycam — 818/998-8008
Computer Masters Software — 213/645-6530

Information from:
Canon rep
Canon propaganda

Related articles:
MacUser — Jan-91, pg. 245
MacUser — Mar-91, pg. 235
PC WEEK — 08-Apr-91, Vol. 8, #14, pg. 19
PC WEEK — 04-Mar-91, Vol. 8, #9, pg. 126
InfoWorld — 18-Mar-91, Vol. 13, #11, pg. 38, 52
InfoWorld — 11-Feb-91, Vol. 13, #6, pg. 24
InfoWorld — 07-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #1, pg. 21
InfoWorld — 01-Oct-90, Vol. 12, #40, pg. 19
MacWEEK — 05-Mar-91, Vol. 5, #9, pg. 36
MacWEEK — 20-Nov-90, Vol. 4, #40, pg. 44

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