The Move to Digital

Peter Little - Kodak Canada

Peter Little is Director of Marketing for Consumer Products at Kodak Canada. This year, Kodak announced the end of its film camera production for the North American and European markets and the end of film research and development.

As an enthusiastic amateur digital photographer, Peter is the ideal choice to tell the story of the Digital Revolution. His talk is an abbreviated version of a two hour seminar on digital photography and the digital still camera (DSC) for consumers augmented by industry statistics and Kodak's view of the near future.

Peter Little gave us an entertaining and informative overview of digital technology's impact on the photographic industry and Kodak’s response and strategy to continue as a strong force in the new world of imaging. His talk was based on selections from a two hour introduction to digital photography and digital still cameras (DSC) for the casual snap-shooter balanced by interesting statistics about the growth in consumer digital photography.

The talk was illustrated with digital slides from a lap-top computer driving a neat Kodak (of course) digital projector. The projected image was sharp and bright to the eye, but my Nikon seemed to have trouble with the yellows in particular so I didn't use any of my shots to illustrate this page. A selection of old and new digital cameras and accessories complemented the presentation. Kodak appears to be taking the direction that has guided the historic firm for over a century: Making it easy and fun for the average person to take good photos, and providing quality materials for those photos to be printed and shared with others.

DIGITAL BASICS. To begin, Peter took us on a quick romp through the megapixel revolution and its effect on the resulting image. The earliest camera Peter brought was a sub-megapixel c1995 Kodak DC-40 which recorded 640 x 480 pixel size images. Peter emphasized that the resolution of the light sensor and camera lens combine to make a sharp image.

He compared the quality of optical vs digital zoom with enlarged photos of couch kids - stuffed toys. Peter noted that digital zoom can be accomplished with better results by cropping on the desktop. He emphasized that any digital zoom or cropping reduces the already meagre resolution in the digital image. Fur on one toy that was sharp on a full size image was a blurry blob on a quarter crop (4x digital zoom) enlarged to full size.

Peter’s last generic discussion summarized the status of the relatively inexpensive point and shoot digital (cameras with many more built-in features and tools compared to an innovative film camera of three decades ago like the Canon AE-1). He noted that the small CCD chips a quarter the size of a 35mm negative and their matched lens systems are approaching the end of their capabilities at 5 to 6 megapixels. Greater resolution and sensitivity will come with larger sensors. Those matching the size of a 35mm negative will open the door to a new world of fine images and allow film camera interchangeable lenses to be used for digital.

EASE OF USE. To introduce a discussion on the statistics of digital photography, Peter began with a brief summary of Kodak’s edge in this market. Kodak has the only complete system: cameras, software and printers. Their emphasis is on quality and ease of use as highlighted by the SHARE button concept on the camera.

The consumer can flag images while they are still in the camera to be emailed, printed or saved as favourites. A printer dock is available to down load images to the desktop for storage and print 4 x 6 inch prints. Images flagged for email can be automatically sent when the camera is docked. The dock also provides storage for the camera and auto charging of its batteries.

PRINTING. Studies have shown that time is key in printing pictures. A consumer must have prints within a week or she will never make them. A successful camera system must make picture taking easy with quality results delivered immediately. Kodak has incorporated this in their DSC program for 2004. There are various models in three major lines. They feature in common: the SHARE button to flag images in the camera while reviewing images on the camera's built-in LCD screen. A camera dock that provides one step transfer if images to the desk top, automatic battery charging, and a safe storage place for the camera. The camera and desktop communicate via the EasyShare software which stores images, emails flagged images, orders prints online and packages albums and burns CDs on demand.

Digital camera images have a 4:3 aspect ratio, although current models usually provide at least one 2:3 aspect ratio setting. 2:3 is the traditional image aspect ratio pioneered by 35mm cameras. DSC manufacturers are considering a move to make the 2:3 ratio standard since it allows the familiar 4x6 inch prints to be made with no cropping (consumers ordering prints from a DSC today are sometimes surprised when the results come back with part of the image cropped). EasyShare has a number of features to encourage the consumer to convert his images to paper prints. A one-touch print button gives a colour balance to match the image file to the consumers choice of printer and paper. To do this, EasyShare downloads one of many ‘patches’ or profiles that ensure a properly exposed and colour corrected image on the consumers computer is replicated by the paper print regardless of her choice of printer model or Kodak photo paper. EasyShare can also provide a traditional 4 x 6 inch index print of thumbnails just like the one a consumer receives with his 35mm film processing.

The consumer can email images to addresses in her email address book, and EasyShare will manage the reduction of image size for transmission by email and viewing on a monitor. Paper prints can be ordered online from various sources which offer mail delivery or store pickup. Albums can be created and uploaded to free web sites for viewing by family and friends.

Kodak offers a printer dock that prints thermal dye transfer prints in 1 to 2 minutes. This process takes four passes of the paper through the printer to do cyan, magenta, and yellow layers plus a protective transparent top coat.

Printing with an inkjet or the printer dock costs about $1.00 per print. Various commercial facilities offer printing for as low as 25 cents per print (eg Walmart and Shoppers Drug). Many stores have a kiosk that prints from the camera's memory card using thermal transfer paper. While the prints are limited to 4 x 6, the kiosk provides some editing facilities. Kiosks are fast, producing a print every 5 seconds from tandem printers after the initial startup time. Some stores have a small facility for ordering prints at the front of the store that are then printed in-store using a digital min-lab facility like the 30 minute film labs we are all familiar with.

PRINT LIFE. One concern for consumers is the expected life of a digital print. Printer manufacturers tout the use of their ink and paper combinations for best image life. Since Kodak doesn't market printer inks, they had come up with another solution: a high end paper that works with all current inkjet dye inks. Accelerated aging tests have predicted an image life span in excess of a century under normal consumer conditions for prints not protected by glass. The ink penetrates the paper surface which has a protective transparent coating. Within the paper, the inks are safe from damage by light, moisture, and air-borne pollutants. The inks are stabilized within the paper to minimize fading and colour shift.

SUMMARY. Peter was pleased to report that Kodak’s digital operations turned a profit in the last quarter of 2003. As traditional film products continue a 15% per year decline, one key to future success for Kodak is convincing consumers to make prints from their digital images -- with Kodak papers, of course.

Peter ‘walked the talk’ by showing a selection of his personal prints and how he added text, adjusted them and provided them to interested parties in a prompt and creative manner to celebrate everything from a sports championship, to a wine tasting, informal dining group, weddings, birthdays and special occasions.

PRINTING STATISTICS. Over 85% of digital images are not printed, remaining on the user's hard drive in the digital equivalent of an old shoe-box under the bed. For every 150 pictures taken, about 100 are saved and of these 14 or 15 are printed. Printing is done mostly at home on cheap bond paper with little quality and a short life span. Inkjet printers until recently were notorious for faded colours. Most consumers are unaware that digital images can be printed commercially faster and at lower cost than at home on an inkjet printer.

INDUSTRY STATISTICS DECEMBER 2003. 20% of North American households own a digital camera, a figure expected to grow to almost 50% by the end of 2006. In electronics, a DSC is second in popularity only to the DVD. As sales grow, digital camera prices are dropping. Heavy advertising and competition are resulting in the rapid increase in choices, features and image quality even as the price falls.

The lion’s share of DSC sales are through electronic specialty stores. Mass marketers (eg Walmart) are a small segment slowly growing at the expense of camera stores and the big box office supply outlets. The 3 mpx+ cameras have over 62% of market share, half of the cameras sold today cost less than $300. The price difference between 5 mpx and 6 mpx cameras has disappeared. Canon is now the market leader with 24% market share. Sony and Kodak are tied for second place at 14% (in the last quarter Kodak was slightly higher than Sony).

Most DSC owners have had their current camera 2 years or less. 88% own only one digital still camera. Men dominated early sales with their interest in the gadgetry. Over half the new DSC buyers are now women with their keen interest in using the cameras to record family, friends, and events. This trend encourages the creation of more prints (emotion and sharing vs gadgets = need for prints). Consumers want to be able to get the prints fast and easy.

SOFTWARE. Peter recommended some software for the DSC user.
Irfanview is an excellent free viewer for a wide range of image types. While providing only a few rudimentary editing tools, it excels at fast display of single images or directory thumbnails of a very wide range of file formats. Windows only.

Kodak's EasyShare handles image management from camera downloading to filing, printing, viewing, emailing, and creating online albums. EasyShare is a free download that works with any camera that saves images in JPEG format. Windows or Macintosh.

ArcSoft offers a suite of inexpensive commercial programs. Peter used the ArcSoft Printer program to add text to his images. Windows or Macintosh.

Two other popular Windows only programs Peter didn't mention are ACDSee, from Victoria, BC which is a viewer, image corrector, printing and cataloging program. Earlier versions of ACDSee were quite fast. Recent releases are feature rich but take a bit longer to load. The program will create an image database across your hard drives and CDs that improves the response time.

And PIEstudio from PicMeta in Germany, a fast basic viewer and excellent printing program from Germany. One feature I like, is that as it downloads images from the camera, it converts the image name from the sequential number assigned by the camera to the date the image was taken down the second (from the EXIF data imbedded in the image file).

Of course, if you use a Macintosh, iPhoto does most if not all that these viewers and basic image editor programs do :-)

FURTHER INFORMATION. If you would like to read more about digital imaging and the things discussed in this talk, visit these sites:

Kodak Liberates EasyShare Software. An illustrated review of EasyShare software.

Survey of Environmental Conditions Relative to Display of Photographs in Consumer Homes (Kodak). A summary of the causes of printed image degradation in the home.

KODAK COLORLAST™ Technology. Basic information about Kodak's inkjet photo paper.

KODAK EASYSHARE Printer Dock 6000. A nifty digital darkroom for colour prints.

BackWeb Client Support. Information on a technology used by Kodak's EasyShare software.

Technology Behind the New Kodak Ultima Picture Paper – Beautiful Inkjet Prints that Last for Over 100 Years.

Print Life Printer Summary. A list of printers using the modern ink formulae that make prints with a long life when used with Kodak Ultima photo paper.

Wilhelm Imaging Research. Numerous articles on imaging permanence issues. Includes links to a massive book on the subject by Henry Wilhelm and Carol Brower Wilhelm, The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs: Traditional and Digital Color Prints, Color Negatives, Slides, and Motion Pictures, published in 1993. The PDF files are by chapter including good resolution images. You can buy the 744 page book for a modest $39.95 US list price. This is the second book I've seen made available for free downloading as an option to buying a copy (first is Philip Greenspun's delighful and entertaining Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing an equally massive book). The size and print quality these books make a purchase attractive while the download gives you a choice of reading to see if the book suits your needs. A refreshing alternative to the RIAA's approach to music downloads (my personal opinion and not necessarily that of the PHSC or any of its members).

This presentation gives a feeling of history in the making as once again the art of photography takes a major change in technological direction, one that for the first time moves the industry away from its roots in the effect of light on silver halides. Questions? Please contact me at

Robert Carter

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