|Trends at PMA 2004
More Evolutionary than Revolutionary
by Jim McGee
Call 2004 "the year of the continuing trends". There was little in Vegas this year that was truly new, revolutionary or bleeding edge.
And you know what? That's a good thing. Bleeding edge technology tends to be quirky and not fully developed. While we're captivated by its promise we're frustrated by its foibles. All of the technologies that now make up digital photography are growing up. For many of these technologies the focus now is on ease of use and reliability for both experienced photographers as well as for the soccer moms. Don't laugh. Soccer moms buy a lot more cameras than serious photographers.
Solving the Mini-Lab Problem - Fast, Easy Prints from
Today mini-lab processors include digital processing. Put in a memory card and the operator can print directly to photo paper as they would from film all from the same operator station. These machines include easy to use tools to automatically adjust exposure and remove redeye.
Self-service photo kiosks have improved as well. Offering ease of use, quick turnaround, sophisticated tools for image correction and even the ability to burn CDs. Particularly impressive was a new film kiosk from Kodak. The technology was originally developed by Applied Science Fiction (now owned by Kodak). Drop your film into a slot and the machine develops the film, color corrects your images, removes red-eye, creates your prints, and scans your negatives. You get a photo CD with your scanned images and your 4" or 5x7" prints. What you don't get is your negatives, which are destroyed in the process. But most consumers don't save their negatives anyway. The machine is about the size of an ATM and is impressive in its simplicity and ease of use.
Dropping prices on wide carriage printers, better color profiles, and the longer print life of papers and inks also mean it's getting easier for labs catering to professionals to do large digital prints in-house. A real convenience for wedding and portrait photographers and potentially a real money maker for the labs.
The Trend Toward Better and Bigger LCDs
The other trend growing out of bigger LCDs is onboard help for digital cameras. The bigger screen areas make it practical to include a help function within the cameras menus. The help was pretty primitive on most cameras, but as screen sizes continue to grow expect the help features to become more sophisticated.
There are Too Many Consumer Cameras
I wondered what effect this was having on the consumer. Every person I asked said consumers loved the variety - but I wonder. There is such a thing as too many choices. My guess is that the herd will thin out. Three years from now I expect many of the players in the consumer digital market to be gone, not because their cameras were any worse than the competition, but because there is only so much room in the marketplace.
If you find yourself looking for a camera in this market look for a couple of important features:
Smaller, Lighter, Cheaper, Better, Faster
Expect Falling Memory Card Prices
Inkjets Keep Getting Better - Incrementally
Big Ink Jets are Now a Real Option
The results are stunning prints with life expectancies from 38 to over 100 years depending on the combination of papers and inks you choose. For those who've become jaded by claims of 200 year prints remember that just a few years ago a life expectancy of 25 years for a print was considered "normal".
Film's Not Dead
Further proof that film isn't dead yet was the fact that both Canon and Minolta introduced new film SLRs!
As journalists we tend to talk a lot of about digital cameras because those are the new models we're seeing. The same holds true for advertising. You see more ads for digital because those are the new models. But if you're in the market for an SLR you should at least consider film. Film based SLRs are significantly cheaper than digital SLRs and film is not likely to become scarce anytime soon. If you keep that new SLR for five years before you're ready for something new you may find that you've saved a lot of money and that even better and cheaper digital SLRs will be available by the time you're ready to trade up. It's food for thought.
Invasion of the Geeks
Microsoft has even made its first appearance at PMA showcasing its new image editing software. "Microsoft?" you say. What were they doing at PMA and why are they focusing on a niche like image editing that is already dominated by Adobe?
The answer may lie in an interview Time Magazine conducted with Bill Gates recently (see Time March 8th, 2004). Gates was asked "What do we need before the experience of using a computer is really what it should be?"
In an answer seemingly unrelated to the question Gates in part muses "…Letting you organize your memories, making that easy to share, easy to go back to - we don't do that today. And yet now that digital photography's mainstream we're going to do that."
Gates hit an important bull's-eye. It's a subject that we've been calling attention to since the controversial column Digital's Dirty Little Secret was published over a year ago. The fact that most people just dump their digital images and their memories onto a hard drive where they're in danger of being lost.
Let's just hope that if we put all of our memories into a Microsoft product it's a little more reliable than Windows has proven to be. In my experience another Microsoft product crashing, namely Windows, just might be the biggest threat to all those images on your hard drive.