From Multimedia Futures, a sister publication
The uptake of digital cameras has been a long time coming. Previously, enthusiasts predicted that the new technology would take over from traditional methods of film and transparency. But the hype exceeded the digital camera’s capabilities, coupled with the high prices which exceeded the budgets of many multimedia producers, and the takeover faded. Then, just when it seemed safe for traditionalists to breathe a sigh of relief, the increasing costs of film and processing, and the plummeting price of digital cameras started the whole debate rolling once again. According to Nick Mongston, marketing manager at Agfa’s Digital Input Division, the future is frightening.
By Fiona Keating
He reveals that the latest research figures show by the year 2001, the European market for digital cameras will be worth around $763m. The expansion of the Web also accounts for an increasing interest in digital photography. Businesses can send images over the Internet which cuts down on the cost of sending brochures and also saves time by avoiding lengthy meetings. Previously, the digital camera’s strengths were perceived to lie in still-life photography and were seen as particularly useful for catalogues. Even companies such as Christie’s, the auction house, have invested in digital cameras to record items for their brochures. Now digital cameras are used in more dynamic situations. This kicks into touch the digital detractors who see problems with the camera’s lack of portability.
Mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington is using the Agfa ePhoto 307 digital camera to record his attempt to reach the summit of Sepu Kangri in East Tibet. The camera has a simple point and shoot operation of storing up to 72 images. Pictures of the journey will be published on his Web page so people can follow the team’s progress, step by step. The images are transmitted from the summit ridge to base camp using a Mobiq satellite phone. Many photographers are wholeheartedly changing from analog to digital. Commercial photographer Bruce Head doesn’t see his future in film and believes those who do not use electronic technology will be ‘dead in the water’ in the not too distant future. Head’s clients are also gaining from using the new media as they can see instant proofs – either at the studio or via an ISDN line. ‘I just write straight to CD-ROM. I can send images anywhere in the world within ten minutes. The future has arrived,’ says Head. Digital imaging means that a client or art director does not have to attend shoots. The photographer shoots the pictures, downloads them to a computer, reduces them to 5Mb files, compresses them as JPEG files and sends them as e-mail enclosures. The client can then see the images instantly and art direct any changes – effectively re-shooting them from a distant location. Head’s equipment includes a Kodak DCS 465 back for his Hasselblad and a computer installed with Photoshop. The deciding factor was what Head calls reducing the size of digital cameras to ‘sensible portability’. The falling prices of cameras also has a big part to play in the steady growth in this market. Kodak recently reduced the price of the DCS 464 by 22%. It now sells at about $32,500. Another enthusiast of the electronic image is photographer Adam Woolfitt. ‘For multimedia use, digital imaging will take over from traditional methods.’ Woolfitt has a background in traditional travel photography and now uses digital techniques in all his work which appears in new media such as CD- ROM, Web and touchscreen kiosks. Woolfitt believes that the advantages of using digital cameras are their immediacy, high resolution and good picture quality. Even better, in the future he fully expects them to be half the price, with twice the specifications. Market demand for electronic imagery has grown, demonstrated by the fact that Tony Stone Images has a dedicated digital section, a first for any UK photo library. One of their digital artists, Gandee Vaikunthavasan explains that photograph
ers like working with digital cameras because there is no grain in the images. Therefore they are very easy to work with on the computer. ‘We call them copybrush heaven. Cloning the pixels is very easy whereas on a transparency, you have to clean up the image. Digital photography eliminates this problem. There’s no doubt that it is all going to be digital in the future.’
According to Vaikunthavasan, the market for stock imagery has expanded because of digital technology. ‘Clients are able to change the colors or size to suit their needs, and this has had the effect of maximizing the sale of images.’ He also claims that the quality of the imagery which comes out of the system is better than when it goes in. Digital manipulation using computer software such as Photoshop brings flexibility and a greater creative sensibility. ‘The raw photography might not be able to convey the emotional feel which the system can give it,’ he points out. ‘However, when you start manipulating images on computers, it can be contrived, so the digital artist needs to keep it simple.’ Multimedia producers who are not yet using digital cameras seem to be playing a waiting game, seeing how low the price will go before taking the plunge. Richard Wolfstrome of The Art of Invention, a new media company is looking for a high- quality camera which costs around $6,600-$8,300. Creating CD-ROMs and Web sites involves using hundreds of images, and this is where Wolfstrome sees the possibilities for digital cameras produce pictures instantly and without the cost of film and processing. Although fans of the transparency and traditional photography may worry about its demise, there will always be a market for the unmistakable quality of grainy black and white prints. However, digital photography will have an important part to play in the bigger picture. It is a cost-effective and versatile method of image capture in the multimedia industry.