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Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
2003 Innovation Awards  
by the Vivid Light Staff

Every year at PMA we see a few great new products that fall into two categories. They either spark the comment "That should have been obvious to everybody!" or "That's a great new technology!"

This year we've decided to honor those products with our first annual innovation awards.

Kodak EasyShare Printer Dock 6000 Docking Station/Printer 
One of the biggest problems facing digital camera users is that it can be a real pain to get good quality digital prints. In the point and shoot digital market this is an even bigger problem. The expectation with point and shoot cameras is that they will be simple. When you start talking about color matching, color casts, PIM, EXIF, and Photoshop you can just watch consumers eyes glaze over.

That's exactly why this new docking station/printer combination from Kodak makes so much sense. Most folks in the point and shoot category want reasonably priced 4x6 prints of their pictures. Period. There may be an occasional blow-up but for the most part they just want prints. Studies have shown that most folks using film based point and shoot cameras don't bother to save negatives, so it's a fair assumption that many of these same folks won't bother to save their "digital negatives" either. This is a market that favors simple and cheap.

This solution offers both. When you're done shooting just place the camera into the docking station. The LCD display changes to a printing menu automatically. You can choose to print images one at a time or you can choose to print all the images on the card. Once you hit go, the prints pop out into the attached tray.

The printer uses a dye sub cartridge that is easy to replace and produces prints on photo paper that look and feel like mini-lab prints complete with a protective coating that resists moisture and fingerprints. The cartridge is a one piece unit that pops in easily and the cost works out to about fifty cents per print or about the same as most labs are currently charging for digital prints. This is the first digital solution we've seen where the adjective "easy" was more than marketing drivel and that certainly is an innovation worthy of notice. The Printer Dock 6000 has a list price of $199.

Kodak LS633 Camera with Oversized LCD 
This was one of those real head slappers. The rep from Kodak said "when people take pictures with their digital camera the first thing they do is show them to their friends." This concept is integral to Kodak's "Easy Share" initiative that is the cornerstone for their marketing efforts this year. 

Later that day I stood in front of the Luxor and New York, New York casinos and watched tourists from all over the world do exactly that with their digital cameras. 

They'd snap a shot and almost immediately turn to their friends to show them the picture - even though they were all standing in front of the building!

The design of Kodak's new LS633 cameras recognizes this fact. The LCD screens are significantly larger than you'll find on other point and shoot digitals and you can see them clearly even if you're not directly behind the camera. The LCD screens of competitors typically go dark if you're off at an angle. For the spec heads among you the new Kodak LCD is 2.2 inches compared to 1.5 inches on most digital cameras and it has a viewing angle of 165 degrees.

The camera itself is a 3.1 megapixel digital with a high quality 3x Schneider Variogon glass lens. The lens is complimented by a 3.3x digital zoom and an innovative menu system that makes menus far easier to navigate than on most digital cameras. Our thanks to the engineer who came up with the interface on this camera! We can only hope that this interface is widely copied. List price is $399 and it's compatible with the Printer Dock 6000. 

These new Kodak cameras are designed for the way people actually use their digital cameras. The greatest concepts are the simple ones.

Velbon Ultra MAXi Tripod 
Let's face facts, serious photographers look at tripods as a serious pain in the behind. Not so serious photographers couldn't be bothered carrying one around. Yet no other single piece of equipment can have a greater impact on improving the quality of your images.

Not only are tripods a pain to carry, they're a pain to set up. A typical tripod with three section legs has nine separate locks that have to be engaged and adjusted. If you're shooting in sandy or dusty conditions you can pick up grit in the legs, the locks themselves always seem to be snagging on something and the darned thing always seems to be a little too long.

The new tripod design from Velbon eliminates all of these problems. It uses an eccentric leg shape that creates a cam to lock the legs. That does a couple of things. Since there are no external leg locks the legs can collapse fully into each other making the tripod smaller when it's not in use. Eliminating the locks also makes it lighter. Since the legs lock with just a twist they can be locked into place anywhere along their length and a seal where the leg sections join prevents dirt and debris from getting into the locking system.

These are lightweight tripods so you won't be using them for that 600mm wildlife lens. But that same lightweight and small size make them ideal to strap onto the bottom of your camera bag when you're traveling light or playing tourist. Anything that makes it easy and unobtrusive to carry a tripod is an innovation in our book!

The Velbon Ultra MAXi will be available in pan and ball head models in 61 & 50 inch versions that collapse down to 13 & 12 inches respectively. They carry a suggested list of $159/$139 so you should see street prices in the $100 range for both models

Rayovac IC-3 15 Minute Battery Charger 
The digital camera battery bug has bitten everyone at one time or another. Today's digitals are better at conserving your batteries than those of years past. But some cameras still consume batteries at the same rate that film cameras consume film. This is a real problem if you're going to be out in the boonies and a real expense given the price of photo batteries. Most off the shelf rechargeable batteries have suffered from short life (compared to standard batteries), from long recharging times or from both.

The new battery system from Rayovac solves the problem by enabling you to recharge your batteries in just 15 minutes! Your source of power can be either a wall outlet or a 12 volt auto outlet. Batteries will be available in AA & AAA sizes.

How does Rayovac pull off this little bit of magic? It's a simple and innovative solution. Long cycle times are necessary when recharging batteries because pressure builds up inside the battery when it's charging and the charger has no way to measure this pressure. If the charger attempts to charge the battery too fast the battery will explode from this internal pressure. Rayovac has added a pressure switch inside the battery itself. When pressure builds the pressure switch cuts off the connection to the positive electrode on the top of the battery stopping the charging. As the pressure eases the switch again makes contact and charging begins again.

With the threat of an exploding battery no longer a concern Rayovac can charge its batteries at an exceptionally high rate of just 15 minutes. A pack of four AA batteries should initially retail around $15 and a charger that charges four batteries from either 110v or 12v power sources should retail for around $49. Pretty reasonable when you consider that there are digital cameras out there that are only getting 35 to 40 frames out of a set of batteries. The only drawback is that, like any rechargeable, the life of these batteries will be shortened considerably in very cold conditions. Look for the IC-3 and batteries starting late in 2003.

This is a technical innovation that fixes a huge problem for digital photographers earning it our technical innovation award.

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