October 10, 2003

Photography Businesses Shift into Digital Mode

Memory cards and Digital imaging processing in the small shops of the photo industry


Charleston, W.Va., Photography Businesses Shift into Digital Mode
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By Jennifer Ginsberg, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.

Oct. 10--In 1994, Patrick Dodd had one computer, a film recorder and a small scanner as part of his photo-developing business.

Now, less than a decade later, he has a full digital mini-laboratory and a 30-inch printer that can print digital photos up to 100 feet long.

About 99 percent of what Dodd and his staff at Photographic Production Services, on Central Avenue in Charleston, do is digital. He says that they process film the old-fashioned way, in a darkroom, about once every two or three weeks.

Photography businesses like Dodd's are diversifying their services and adapting to, or face getting knocked down by, the digital wave rolling across the photography industry.

According to Eastman-Kodak's latest annual report, sales of the company's consumer film products in the United States, including 35 mm film, Advantix film and one-time-use cameras, declined 12 percent from 2001 to 2002.

The company attributed the decrease to a "declining industry demand driven by a weak economy and the impact of digital substitution."

The report also said the photographic film industry across the United States shrank about 3 percent from 2001 to 2002.

Glen Callihan, manager of the photo lab at Fountain Photo Shop, says his customers still take more film pictures than digital, but he has lost some customers in the real estate industry who have switched from film to digital cameras.

"It's easier for them to put their images online," he said. "[For] anybody that has to put their images online, it's good to have a digital camera."

Callihan also has found that many people who take digital photos don't bother to print them out, but save them on their computers or post them on the Internet instead.

At a small kiosk at the back of Merrill Photo Supply, on Hale Street in downtown Charleston, customers can insert memory cards from their digital cameras and follow the touch-screen instructions to make prints.

The kiosk has been open for about a week, said Jim Ore, the store's assistant manager. "[We] feel like a lot of people want to do that, come in and make their own prints," he said.

The store's business is still highly film-based, Ore said, but the business brought in by digital photography has increased in the last two years.

He estimates about 65 percent to 70 percent of the new items the store sells are digitally based. Basically, any type of equipment a customer can get for a film camera can also be purchased for a digital camera, Ore said.

"We still sell darkroom supplies, but it's slower than it was," he said.

Now that digital cameras are available everywhere from discount department stores to high-end camera stores, so are the processes to transform a strip of film into digital files, or a digital file into a tangible print.

At Photographic Production Services, Dodd and his staff can take film and run it through a processing machine, scan the negatives into a computer server, color-correct and retouch the images, and then send the files to a printer with photo paper.

If a customer brings in a digital camera's memory card or pictures already saved on a CD, the production process is the same, minus the film processing and negative scanning.

The photos that are printed from the computer are "sharper digitally than optically. All around, it's a better print," said Megan Dailey, a Photographic Production Services employee.

Like Merrill Photo, local Target and Wal-Mart stores also have a kiosk for customers to insert their memory cards to make prints.

Heather Hudson, manager of Target's One Hour Photo in South Charleston, and her staff can help customers load their memory cards into the computer and print out a contact sheet, which also serves as an order form.

The store has offered this service for about a year, in addition to traditional film developing. Hudson said she's noticed an increase in digital business in the past three months.

Plus, at Target, it's cheaper to have a digital photo printed than a film photo. It costs $6.96 to develop 24 prints created from a digital camera and $7.49 to develop 24 film prints, Hudson said.

"People are trying the new digital and seeing how the process works, but I'm not sure people are totally switching yet," she said. "People are curious."

Posted by Craig at October 10, 2003 06:56 PM