At the Towson Town Center shopping mall, high-tech has met St. Nick -- and it's a parent's delight.
That was the word from Nancy Wood of Cockeysville, who went to the mall's Holly Castle yesterday to get a photograph of her son, Garrett, 2, with the resident Santa Claus.
"I've never seen a system like this," Mrs. Wood said while peering at a television screen showing Garrett on Santa's knee. "It's not like you get one try, and that's it."
The Panasonic imaging system, the only one of its kind in use in the Baltimore area, gives parents some assurance that their charges will have a happy photographic encounter with Santa, even if junior won't smile or happens to blink at the wrong time.
The system, provided by MDS Photos Inc. of Towson, works like this: Once children are seated on Santa's lap, an attendant snaps about half a dozen shots. Images are recorded on a mini-floppy disk. Once shots are taken, the disk is removed from the camera and popped inside a projector that is hooked to a television screen. Parents can flip through the images as often as they like before making a selection.
Faster than you can name Santa's nine reindeer, final, finished color prints are produced -- on a printer -- in about about 70 seconds.
"Usually you don't get retakes," noted Mrs. Wood, holding onto a now-squirming Garrett. "With this [system], you get retakes. That's a nice convenience."
Diane Lewis, marketing director for Towson Town Center, said the mall decided to replace the standard Polaroid camera setup with the new imaging system this year as a convenience for shoppers.
Ms. Lewis, a veteran of the Christmas mall scene for the past six years, said most Polaroid systems have about 20 percent waste --prints that must be thrown away because they were under- or overdeveloped or because parents didn't like the shot and asked for a retake.
A lot of Polaroid shots also suffer because tiny hands are sometimes quick to grab onto photographs before they are completely dry, she said.
Laser pictures are produced in a finished form, meaning they don't have to dry before they can be handled or inserted in the cardboard holiday holders. If parents don't like any of the shots that are taken, they aren't obligated to buy -- and more shots may be taken, again with no obligation to buy.
"This is the easiest Santa photo operation I've ever worked with in my life," Ms. Lewis said.