Happy snaps with a TV-style 'zapper'

It's perfect for e-mail, says Chris Partridge

Digital cameras are being equipped with infrared links similar to TV remote controls so that pictures can be downloaded to a PC, a printer or an e-mail terminal, without wires.

Using the infra-red link, holidaymakers will be able to go into a photo shop and print off the snaps they want in paper form, simply by pointing the camera at a printer in the shop. Alternatively, they could go to a phone booth and download the pictures as e-postcards to their friends.

The system, called IrTran-P, is a development of the established IRDA infrared link that is becoming standard for notebook PCs. IrTran-P adds a small software element that transfers the raw image to an editing or e-mail package. Until now, every manufacturer had their own proprietary way of doing this, so each camera had to download its own software before it could communicate.

The new system has been developed by Japanese companies including Sharp, Sony, Casio and the huge Japanese phone company NTT. NTT plans to place IrTran-P kiosks all over the city of Nagano when the Winter Olympic games are held there in February next year.

Happy snappers will be able to download their pictures at the terminals, either for instant printing at the nearest photo shop, for sending out as e-mail messages or downloading it directly to your personal web page.

Meanwhile Sharp has launched the first IrTran-P digital camera in Japan.

The camera has 4Mb of memory, allowing 64 normal images to be stored, or 32 high-resolution pictures. It is the restricted storage capacity that will make IrTran-P kiosks popular - instead of having to invest in expensive memory chips, users will be able to download all their snaps to e-mail and pick them up later for editing on their PC at home.

It is a neat little machine with a lens that rotates backwards so you can take your own picture. Particularly successful shots can be shared with other camera users simply by pointing the infrared link at the other's camera.