PhotosByNet

Using PhotosByNet

Working with Digital Photos

The Future of Film

Photo Websites

Photo Chains

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This article on "The promise — and profits? — in digital photography" was written by Douglas Dixon and published in

U.S. 1 Newspaper on August 18, 1999. All rights reserved to the author.

Manifest Technology: Digital Photography

by Douglas Dixon

One of the companies most threatened by the growth

of digital technology into consumer products is Kodak, with its roots

in film cameras and processing. What could be more old-fashioned than

strips of film rolled into plastic cases, and developed with icky

chemicals? What could be more inconvenient on a summer vacation than

keeping track of rolls of film, taking special care of them to make

sure they don’t melt in the sun, and worrying about them at the airport

x-ray machine? And who hasn’t been ripped off by high film prices

when you needed to buy one more roll at a tourist trap?

And then what do you do with all that film? Drive to the mall to

a one-hour photo shop, and then wait around until it is done? Or drop

it off at a local drugstore and then wait until later in the week

to go back before you can see your photos? And what if you want to

share copies with your family and friends? You have to repeat the

process again, and pay even higher prices for reprints and enlargements.

What a pain!

Digital photography sounds like the solution to all these woes. With

a digital camera there’s no fuss and no muss: no film, no developing,

just images captured in digital memory in the camera. No more wasted

photos: you can be sure to get the right picture by reviewing your

shots on the spot using the camera’s built-in LCD screen. And there’s

no wait either: you can transfer the images directly into your computer.

Now you have complete control of your photos; you can organize them

in an on-line album, edit and manipulate them, print them out, e-mail

them to friends, and even post them on your web site for the whole

world to see.

In practice, digital photography has its own trade-offs. High-resolution

digital photos make big files. You can quickly run out of space in

your camera’s memory, which means you have to stop and transfer them

to your computer, or carry extra memory cards. Once you transfer them

to your computer, you can quickly find yourself filling up your computer’s

hard disk with your photo collection, and how are you going to back

up all those files? Suddenly, film doesn’t look so bad, especially

on trips; at least you can buy more film almost anywhere in the world,

and you can save prints and negatives for generations, even in a shoebox

in the closet.

Film cameras are also less expensive. You can get a single-use disposable

camera almost anywhere these days for around $5, or a point-and-shoot

camera with auto-focus, auto-exposure, and flash, for under $40. Digital

cameras have more components, including a LCD screen to view the images,

memory to store the images, a processor to control the camera, and

connectors to communicate with a PC. Pricing for digital cameras has

dropped below $300, but you’d probably want a $400 or $500 model for

more memory and higher image resolution.

Even so, digital cameras are well worth the money if you want your

images right away, or need them in digital form on your computer to

edit into a presentation or e-mail to a colleague. But there’s one

more problem with digital cameras: people really like glossy photos,

they’re handy to pass around, and look good in a photo album or framed

on the wall. A print-out of a digital print, even on glossy computer

paper, is just not the same.

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PhotosByNet

A brand-new Princeton venture, PhotosByNet, is focused

on serving digital camera users over the Internet. PhotosByNet addresses

these issues by providing Internet printing and archiving services

for digital camera users. PhotosByNet was founded by entrepreneur

Glenn Paul, a graduate of Princeton University, Class of 1979, and

founder of Clancy Paul Computer Centers in the Princeton Shopping

Centers. He later started QwikQuote, a developer of business software,

which later changed to Electronic Business Universe (EBU).

Paul’s new venture, PhotosByNet, provides a web site that lets digital

camera owners "develop" photos online (http://www.photosbynet.com).

At PhotosByNet, anyone

with a digital camera can upload their photos to the web and organize

them in an album of thumbnail images. Customers can choose their favorites

and send them off to be printed by MotoPhoto, a collaborator in the

project. The pictures arrive in the mail a few days later.

Paul sees PhotosByNet as an example of a "simple idea which works

on the Internet." His likens it to Amazon.com, "great price

and good service." He has been working on the concept for "a

couple months," and just opened it up for users in the middle

of July by announcing it on a few photo web sites. The key is to provide

these services "for less than the cost of drug-store processing,"

including the shipping cost. PhotosByNet’s current prices compare

well to mail-order or local drugstore processing. A 4 by 6-inch reprint,

for example, costs just 21 cents through PhotosByNet, compared to

43 cents at a neighborhood drug store (plus postage, of course for

the Internet customers). Customers can also store their photos with

PhotosByNet for a fee of $1 a month, or for free if they do a minimum

business of $5 a month.

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Using PhotosByNet

PhotosByNet solves the two big problems with collections

of digital photos: how to store them, and how to get great prints.

Digital photos are getting too big to organize conveniently, and printing

photos yourself is a pain. It also takes advantage of the immediacy

and flexibility of digital photos by providing a convenient way to

share your photos with others over the Web.

While you can print out copies of your photos at home, it’s expensive

and somewhat of a hassle. You can print photos on regular inkjet or

laser printer paper, but they look like printouts, and not photos,

and they’re not as durable as real prints. You can use a "bright

white" paper for a slightly better look, or step up to a "premium

glossy" paper for the photo look. But the cost of the paper jumps

from a penny per sheet to 50 cents or more, so you’d better be careful

to use it and store it properly, and you’re still stuck trimming the

results with a pair of scissors. "By the second time you try it,"

says Paul, "you don’t feel like printing more photos and cutting

them up. And it’s expensive."

PhotosByNet wants to be the place where you store and organize and

share your photos. You can upload your digital images, and then organize

them in an album with your notes. You can share your albums with others

in "browser" mode; they can view your photos over the Web,

but not edit the album. Only you can access your photos in "author"

mode, and add text annotations to the pictures.

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Working with Digital Photos

However, there’s still the problem of uploading your

images over the Web. Older consumer digital cameras (from way long

ago last year) typically saved photos at 640 x 480 resolution, or

about 1/4 million picture elements per image (mega-pixels). Today’s

consumer digital cameras are increasing resolution quickly, from 1024

x 768 (3/4 megapixels), to 1280 x 960 (over 1 megapixel), to 1600

x 1200 (over 2 megapixels), and beyond. Lower resolutions are fine

for photos on Web pages, but you need the higher resolutions to make

sharp images when you make prints. However, these numbers are getting

seriously big, and storing lots of them in a limited camera memory,

or squeezing them down to transfer over the Internet, requires serious

image compression. But too much compression can cause visible defects

in your pictures.

As a result, digital cameras typically offer a range of resolutions

and compression levels. Typically, you can store around 24 to 40 images

at 640 resolution on a 1.4 MB floppy disk with aggressive compression,

or up to 60 images at low resolution on a 4 MB memory card, or as

few as 20 or even 10 images at high resolution and with less compression

on a 8 MB memory card. As the size of just one high-resolution image

with low compression gets larger than a megabyte, you’re starting

to take a significant chunk of your hard disk to store and edit them.

And it can take over five minutes to transfer a single one-megabyte

image over a good 50K modem connection.

PhotosByNet works around the image size problem by converting the

images to a small thumbnail to view in the album, and a medium-resolution

"internet image" size for viewing in more detail over the

Web. The original full-size image also is saved, to be used when you

order prints. Uploading a 2 to 6 MB file is still painful, but you

only have to upload the photos you want to share and print. "The

speed of upload will change," says Paul. "Every company is

working on it, from cable modems to the regional Bell companies to

AT&T and Microsoft."

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The Future of Film

Paul argues that the future of photography is digital,

and that the Internet will put an end to film. "When our children

grow up, that stand of yellow boxes won’t be there. Some of the photo

companies are still fighting the last battle, but we said chuck all

that and go straight to digital", he says. "We think it’s

a billion-dollar idea."

But Kodak has a "huge franchise to protect," Paul says, and

would like to "preserve the roll of film" as a major part

of the 20 billion photos taken each year in the United States. They

also need to worry about maintaining their relationships with their

retail dealers, including companies like Eckard Drug, Kmart, Target,

and Best Buy.

So the film developers are trying to provide the best of both worlds

by developing your film, and then also delivering it as digital photos.

When you drop off your film to be developed, you can check off a box

and get your photos on floppy disk for about $5, or on CD-ROM for

$5 to $10, or posted on the Internet for around $5. What more can

you want? You’ve got your prints to share and frame, you’ve got an

archival digital copy on CD to play with on your computer, and you’ve

got copies posted on the Web so you can share them with your distant

friends.

For example, Seattle FilmWorks (http://www.filmworks.com) posts

your photos on the Internet for free if you order digital copies on

CD, and keeps them on-line for 45 days. Kodak consolidated their Picture

Network on-line service with PictureVision’s PhotoNet service in early

1998, and has filled its "Picture Playground" Web site with

creative activities, including a cartoon maker and multimedia postcards.

Kodak has also created the "PhotoQuilt 2000" project, a mosaic

of photos on the Web contributed by people from around the world (http://www.kodak.com).

In June of this year Kodak announced a joint effort with Intel to

enhance its Picture CD product. You not only get your photos on CD,

but the CDs come in quarterly "issues" with a "magazine-style"

interface and additional software applications for editing and E-mailing

your pictures. People who don’t even own a PC can also use the CDs

at the Kodak Picture Maker kiosks.

All of these on-line services also offer a variety of other ways for

you to have fun with your photos (and for them to make more money),

from photo T-shirts to mugs and mousepads, calendars and posters,

and greeting cards. But Paul sees the key use of digital photos as

"the future of personal web sites: pictures of yourself and your

friends." A sculptor friend of Paul is already using PhotosByNet

to post images of his work; not necessarily to sell them, but just

to share them with others. Posting rolls of film is fun; you can share

the vacation snapshots or graduation photos with friends soon after

the event. But for lasting memories, you need to organize and annotate

your photos like in a album.

Paul sees PhotosByNet as an idea whose time has come. It leverages

the immediacy and control of digital photos, with the quality prints

that you are used to having from film. Plus, you choose the prints

and sizes, and get only the pictures you want, when you want them,

"exactly what you want, and without leaving the house." Digital

photography is also better for business: "you have no time to

print and cut photos, you can have them sent to you the next day,"

he says.

The PhotosByNet Web site is up and running, with the infrastructure

in place to archive collections of photos and order prints. "It’s

not easy to do," says Paul. "Other people’s sites are still

marked as under construction." While doing business on the Internet

is not new to him, PhotosByNet has been a different experience. "Clancy-Paul

does a lot of work on the Internet, with orders from all over the

world. But PhotosByNet is totally based on the Internet: You have

to have all the right tools. And your market is all over the country,

even the world."

Now that PhotosByNet has the proof of concept up and running, Paul’s

next step is "to go flat out: begin on-line advertising and other

promotions, and develop strategic agreements." The initial development

of PhotosByNet was self-funded, and Paul will begin to explore options

for going to the next level, to build a brand name. "We would

love to be the image resource on the Web," he says.

PhotosByNet, Box 8363, Trenton 08560. 609-818-1075,

fax: 1-609-818-1076 Glenn Paul, president, president. Home page: http://www.photosbynet.com

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Photo Websites

Konica OnLine, http://www.konicaonline.com.

Kodak Picture Network, http://www.kodak.com.

PhotoNet, http://www.photonet.com

Mystic Color Lab, http://www.mysticcolorlab.com

Seattle FilmWorks, http://www.filmworks.com

PhotoMail online service, http://photomail.filmworks.com/

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Photo Chains

Ritz Camera, http://www.ritzcamera.com/

The Camera Shop, Inc., http://camerashopinc.com

Does your business have technology that is transforming our

personal or business lives? Send suggestions for this column to U.S.

1 Newspaper, 12 Roszel Road, Princeton 08540, fax 609-452-0033, or

E-mail info@princetoninfo.com.


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