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We Have a Winner!

This Christmas we gave away a Minolta F100, 4.0 megapixel digital camera to one of our subscribers. The winner was Ron Standley of Renton Washington in the U.S. 

We got to make the holiday a little happier for Ron who told us "this was a real surprise and a great Christmas present."

Ron received the camera a couple of days before Christmas and, as requested, had a friend take a shot of him for the news page. 

We want to thank Minolta for providing the camera for the contest. The F100 has a street price of around $500 and a wealth of both manual and automatic features. For more info on the F100 click here

Retail Sales at 30 Year Low! - Umm, Well Not Really
Sometimes We're Ashamed to be part of the Media

The big indicator of the health of the photo industry and of the nation's economy as a whole is retail sales. Since sales during the Christmas season represent a huge percentage of annual sales they get particular scrutiny; and it's a well-known fact that consumer confidence has a huge impact on sales. 

That's why it's so distressing how sales have been reported this year. Frankly it's getting harder and harder to tell the 'Mainstream Media' from the National Inquirer. Headlines such as "Brutal Christmas for stores; Wal-Mart cuts forecast; retailers hit by worst holiday season in 30 years." (CNN Online) could be found all over the newspapers and television news stations. While "Post-Christmas Day shopping in step with dim holiday season" (Miami Herald) makes for an attention grabbing headline it has little to do with reality because retail sales are actually up this year.

While the headlines would have you believe that this was the worst sales year out of the last 30 the truth is that the percentage of sales growth is a bit lower than it's been in the past. Retail sales this year are actually up 1.5% over last year.

Also ignored in the flaming headlines was the fact that this number only included traditional "brick and mortar" retailers. Online retailers reported 40% sales growth. 

They also ignored the fact that this years Christmas shopping season was a week shorter than normal

So what we really have is a year of growth despite a 20% shorter shopping season and the migration of many shoppers away from malls and onto the Web. All and all while it's not spectacular it's pretty positive. 

But than that doesn't make a sensational headline. 
Data Source: Cap Gemini Ernst & Young

Photographer Herb Ritts Dies at 50

Herb Ritts, one of the premier image makers of the 80's and 90's, died of complications of pneumonia on December 26th in Los Angeles.

Ritts photographed rock stars, super models, and everyday people. 

He created iconic images for advertising clients Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Revlon, Tag Heuer, and Armani. 

His celebrity portfolio included Madonna, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dizzy Gillespie, Cindy Crawford, Annette Bening, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jack Nicholson. 

Ritts also photographed such notables as Ronald Regan, Stephen Hawking and the Dalai Lama as well as ordinary people such as his nude studies of Masai women in Africa.

This image of Richard Gere
launched Ritts career.

His images appeared on the covers of Vogue, Interview, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone magazines.  

He directed music videos for Chris Isaak and Janet Jackson that won MTV video awards and he published six books. 

The curators at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where his photographs are currently on exhibition, described Ritts as "an image maker for our time ... who translated our culture's dreams and desires into strong memorable pictures."

Ritts said that his photography started out as a hobby. 

In the 70's he got to know Richard Gere through someone who was dating the actor at the time. A flat tire while driving through the desert led to an impromptu photo shoot. That produced an image of Gere in a white tank top with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. At the time Gere was an unknown. But a year later he was a star and the photo was being widely distributed - putting Ritts on the map.

His career rose as his subjects became icons, and he helped to make them icons. His collaborations with Madonna early in her career created memorable images. Preferring black and white to color Ritts' style was sparse and direct. He felt that his images would stand the test of time; that the images would still be great images long after anyone remembered who Madonna was. Herb Ritts is survived by his mother Shirley Ritts; brother Rory; sister Christy; and his partner Erik Hyman.

Cool Items that Caught Our Eye this Christmas

Sharper Image introduced a talking photo album this Christmas. It holds 24 pictures and lets you record a 10 second message for each picture (a 36 picture version is also available) and it comes bound in faux leather.

Messages are held in flash memory so they're preserved even if the batteries go dead. The talking photo album is 7 3/4" x 5 1/2" x 1 1/2" and runs on 2 AAA batteries. 

Pre-Christmas pricing was $29.95 for the 24 picture version and $39.95 for the 36 picture version.

Click here for more information on the 24 picture version or here for information on the 36 picture version.

Mustek is known for producing inexpensive flatbed scanners for PCs. But they also have a line of inexpensive digital cameras. These cameras are very limited in functions and their picture quality won't cause any of the big boys to loose sleep. 

But these budget priced little wonders are fine as party cameras for producing 4" prints. Their main drawback is how many pictures each can hold since they don't have replaceable memory cards. 

The gSmart Mini 1 is a sub-megapixel camera that can take hold up to 9 1024x768 images in it's 8MB of RAM. It also supports 640x480 & 320x240 modes. The latter will let you take up to 200 images that Mustek says are acceptable quality for the Web. The high-res image is software enhanced. The actual captured image is 640x480.

The gSmart Mini 2 will take capture a 1208x960 image which it can resize up to 1600x1200 (2.1 megapixels) and the gSmart Mini 3 will capture a 1600x1200 image that can be enhanced up to 2048x1536 (3.1 megapixels). Both cameras have 16MB of Ram. Suggested retail for the gSmart Mini 1 is $49.95, Mini 2 $69.99, and Mini 3 $89.99. Expect street prices to be lower.

Not so Cheery Holiday Returns

More and more of us are buying cameras at stores other than photo retailers, this is especially true for digital cameras, which are showing up everywhere from office superstores to electronics retailers. It will be obvious from the start that you're not going to get the same level of service and information that you'd get from a photo store. What might not be obvious is that many of these retailers are not so friendly on returns. 

CompUSA for example charges a 15% restocking fee on any open box item - a hefty fee on a $400 or $500 digital camera. One local manager indicated that they will "usually" waive the fee if you're trading up to a more expensive item or if the box is unopened. But another store manager admitted that he'll only waive the fee on a trade-up "if the customer really pushes the issue." 

Judging by your emails, this policy, and several others like it caught a few of you unawares this Christmas, and in some cases higher end models weren't available at these retailers. 

Agfa Releases Improved Agfa Vista Films

Agfa has released a new line of Agfa Vista films based on an improved version of Agfa's EYE VISION film Technology. 

The new Vista films have SXM (Surface eXtended Multistructured) crystals in all dye layers, not just in the red layer, as was previously the case. The result is natural, precise colors in all ranges, which according to Afga, come even closer to the color perception of the human eye. 

A new blue-green coupler is another improvement. It ensures greater tonal separation in the entire red range, from yellow-orange to violet. 

The new films will be available in speeds of ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800 in 35mm format. 


Fuji Issues a Recall on Selected S2s

Fuji has issued a recall on S2 cameras that "may be subject to an intermittent electronic malfunction that could render the camera inoperable." after changing batteries. If your camera is one of those affected Fuji will repair your S2 free of charge. To find out if your camera is covered by the recall get your camera's serial number and click here. For complete details on the recall click here.

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