Digital camera's prints from shop

January 23, 2003|By Kevin Washington | Kevin Washington,SUN STAFF

Snapping digital images and immediately showing them to their delighted subjects has led many a photo enthusiast to switch from a film camera to a digital.

But printing photographs at home was never an easy proposition with film cameras and it hasn't been a particularly enjoyable task for digital camera owners either - despite the low cost of some photo inkjet printers and the availability of image-editing programs.

According to a study by camera maker Fuji, while digital camera ownership continues to climb, users want easier ways to turn their electronic images into prints. In turn, the percentage of digital camera owners printing images at home dropped last year from 2001, with many turning to getting prints from retailers and the Internet.

In the survey, performed by InfoTrends Research Group Inc. for Fuji, 85 percent of digital camera owners printed pictures at home last year, compared with 96 percent in 2001. About 5 percent in 2001 used an online photo printing service, while 8 percent used such a service in 2002.

Also, about two-thirds of digital camera owners don't know they have the option to print images at retail locations, which Fuji officials believe bodes well for its digital printing business.

While the study - based on surveys of about 1,100 Internet users between July 2001 and September last year - doesn't provide details about why the percentage who print images at home had fallen, those of us who own digital cameras and print at home know just how much fiddling around may be necessary to get a decent print out of even the best photo inkjet printers. And some of that fiddling can cost time, energy and money - in terms of wasted ink and paper - before you get an acceptable print.

Kathy Rauschenberg, a spokeswoman for Kodak, says focus groups and the company's research have determined that people find making digital prints time-consuming.

"You have to set up the printer, you have to do things to get the pictures to come out - it takes time," she said. "If they're shopping and can take their images and get someone to print them, it's a way to simplify the process."

Fuji, Kodak and a few other companies have placed thousands of digital camera development kiosks in retail stores. Kodak's Picture Maker machines began nine years ago as print enlargement kiosks and now accept digital media such as CDs and Compact Flash cards.

The Fuji and Kodak machines also have scanners for people to use to enlarge existing prints. Do-it-yourselfers can digitize, say, a 4-by-6-inch print to create an 8-by-10-inch print.

To help digital camera owners find Fuji's machines, the company offers a locator at www.digitalcameradeveloping.com. Consumers enter ZIP codes for convenient stores.

Using one of Fuji's machines, called an Aladdin Digital Photo Center, is painless. Armed with a CD full of photos I had shot recently, I tried one of Fuji's kiosks at a Wal-Mart and was relatively pleased with the prints.

The kiosk has a touch screen and places to insert memory media. Choices are made by tapping the screen. Fuji's machine leads you through the process - editing images, cropping them, choosing the number and size of the images you want printed. Then it sends the order to the retail store's one-hour printing desk.

I brought images from home on a CD-R I had burned. The Aladdin Digital Photo Center searched for and displayed images from the two folders on the CD without prompting. An option would have allowed me to print all of the photographs. The price of prints is the same as for the regular one-hour photo service.

After I selected images to print, the machine provided options on the screen to crop, rotate, remove red-eye, convert color images to black-and-white (without or without an antique sepia-tone look), and to fiddle with the color, brightness and contrast. The process leads to a screen where you choose a size for the print and how many to make.

Then you type in your name and telephone number, and the images are automatically sent to the one-hour photo desk - in my case, Wal-mart's - where they are printed.

The prints were mixed in quality. One image had been cropped more than I expected, given the imprecise guide on screen. And the one I had turned into black-and-white was a bit light.

Had I edited my images at home with my computer and image-editing programs, I think the results would have been more impressive.

What I lost in control in the editing process, I more than made up for in the printing process, though. The prints looked crisp and professional - much like prints from film processed locally. And whether they used extra ink and photo paper to get the my picture just right wasn't my concern - something I wouldn't necessarily say if I had handled the task at home.

Those behind the counters at my nearest Wal-Mart and a Ritz Camera store northwest of Baltimore said use of the machines had been brisk, although they didn't have numbers of customers available.

Joe Welch, director of marketing for Fuji's retail digital systems and commercial imaging division, said the study projects digital camera ownership among Internet users of about 41 percent by the end of the year, meaning more people will be looking for easier digital photo printing.

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