Cover Story: ANNUAL GUIDE TO COMPUTERS
DIGITAL PHOTOS: SMILE--YOU'RE ON CANDID COMPUTER
Software, scanners, and color printers are making digital photography a snap
Remember all those photos you snapped of your kid's wedding and the family vacations by the lake? You'd have the film developed in a couple of hours or days, then force your friends to admire every darn picture. Which shoe box did you put them in anyway?
These days, you're just as snap-happy, but you treat the photos in an entirely different manner. You still make your pals look at every last one, but now the pix are displayed on a greeting card, T-shirt, or your home page on the World Wide Web.
Digital photography may well emerge as the next "killer app" for consumers. The proliferation of inexpensive color inkjet printers and ever more powerful multimedia computers is helping spark the PC picture market. So is the ability to swap photos over the Internet.
NEW STANDARD. What's more, the prices of digital cameras and scanners are dropping dramatically. In fact, some HP Pavilion computers from Hewlett-Packard come with PhotoDrive scanners from Storm Technology built into the drive bays. Scanners aimed solely at color photos begin at $199. For $100 more, you can graduate to a full-page-size color scanner such as Storm's EasyPhoto SmartPage. Meanwhile, Kodak's pocket-size DC20 digital camera starts at about $300.
Indeed, there are a number of ways to help your PC get the picture. Perhaps you'll have conventional prints made. But this time, you may use a scanner to transfer the photos onto your computer. Or you'll have the film processed onto a floppy disk or Photo CD. Seattle FilmWorks, a mail-order film processor, charges $3.95 on top of its regular fee to place digitized film onto a floppy or let you download photos from their Web site (http://www. filmworks.com). A similar service is available at PictureVision's PhotoNet site (http:// www.photonet.com), which is backed by photofinishers such as Konica and Wolf Camera & Video.
People who demand higher-resolution pictures can take advantage of a new industry photo standard, known as FlashPix, developed by Eastman Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and startup Live Picture, whose CEO is former Apple Computer boss John Sculley. And with new software such as Microsoft Picture It! and LivePix from Live Picture that exploit the new standard, consumers can edit pictures in, well, a flash. And a FlashPix CD from Kodak will cost about $20 for a 24-shot roll of conventional color film (BW--Oct. 14).
CARDS AND MUGS. Then again, you may want to skip film altogether. In lieu of silver halide, digital cameras store images on memory chips inside the models until they're dumped onto a PC. Yet another filmless approach is to grab video images for your PC directly from a camcorder, VCR, or television, by plugging a nifty pocket-size $200 device called Snappy from Play Inc. into those components.
After pictures arrive on your hard drive, it's a snap to turn your PC into a digital darkroom. Even tyros can use clever software programs such as Adobe PhotoDeluxe from Adobe Systems, MGI PhotoSuite from MGI Software, as well as Picture It! and LivePix, to remove red eye, alter backgrounds, adjust hues and contrasts, apply special effects, and otherwise doctor images.
Once an image passes inspection, you can drop the picture into school reports, newsletters, or zap it off to the Web. You might store digitized photos in genealogy programs or use them in cards made with Microsoft's Greetings Workshop or Micrografx' American Greetings CreataCardPlus. Many programs also let you place pictures on calendars, mugs, magnets, or screen savers, or use the images in a business presentation. And you can print out the works with inexpensive, near photo quality inkjet printers (page 138).
Scanners make a lot of sense for consumers or owners of small businesses who have existing photos as well as documents they want to transmit onto a PC. First, determine if you can live with a photo-only version including the EasyPhoto Reader from Storm Technology, PhotoPlus from Epson, the Snapshot Photo Scanner 1 from Kodak, PhotoPad from Polaroid, and ViviScan UltraPhoto from Vivitar. Depending on the model, these can limit you to print sizes of no larger than 5 by 7 inches. If that's unacceptable, you need a sheetfed or flatbed scanner that can accommodate full-page documents. You'll pay more for the increased flexibility, of course.
One smart choice for typical home users is Logitech's $349 PageScan Color Pro model. The unit is ideal for consumers who want to scan color photos, loose 8 1/2-by-11 pages, and bound materials. Unlike other sheetfed scanners, Logitech's enables users to detach the motorized scanner head and roll it across a book or magazine. PageScan also comes with Adobe PhotoDeluxe, as well as handy programs for filing scanned documents on your PC.
WIRELESS WONDER. Still, people who want only to take tolerable pictures and get them into their computers in a jiffy may prefer a digital camera. Notwithstanding their mediocre image quality--even a $2,000 digital camera can't match the sharpness taken with a cheap disposable camera--these filmless models are useful for realtors, claims adjusters, and people who want to flaunt photos on the Web. Digital cameras vary widely in features and price, with vast disparities in sharpness, skin tones, and color quality. Numerous versions are available from Apple, Canon, Casio, Chinon, Dycam, Sony, Epson, Fuji, Kodak, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Ricoh, and Polaroid, so check out as many models as is practical. Some cameras house an LCD screen, which is convenient for previewing and reshooting pictures before downloading them onto a PC.
At the entry level, Kodak's $300 DC20 is limited to only 8 to 16 images, depending on the resolution. You cannot add memory to boost capacity--which is a problem, since pictures have to be zipped off to the PC when the camera fills up. Nor does it contain a built-in flash. It does, however, come with Kai's Power Goo from MetaTools, a fun program for smearing, smudging, and blending pictures.
At $499, Epson's new PhotoCD 500 can hold up to 60 standard-resolution photographs or 30 higher-quality images, and it's a strong low-end contender. To gain up to 200 images, you must snap on a $249 memory module. The camera contains a red-eye reduction flash, but an LCD display is a $199 option.
With most digital cameras, you download the images onto the PC by hooking up the camera via the serial port. But Sony's $849 DSC-F1 camera, due out in November, lets you send pictures without wires to a computer that has infrared capabilities. The camera has a 1.8-inch LCD screen and can hold up to 108 pictures in its flash memory.
At around $530, the new COOLPIX 100 from Nikon features many of the bells and whistles of a conventional Nikon point-and-shoot camera costing about half as much. The camera stores up to 42 pictures on a PC card using the standard JPEG file format. The card can be read by computers that have an appropriate slot or reader. Indeed, with digital imaging beginning to make its mark with consumers, you may finally be able to rid yourself of those overflowing shoe boxes.By Edward C. Baig