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PMA Coverage: LOOKING AFTER THE AFTERMARKET
As you look around the South Hall today, it probably strikes you as incredible that people once feared digital tech would kill the photo business.
BY DON SUTHERLAND


The PMA Show Floor
by Donald Sutherland



More recently, RAID has arrived in additional flavors, including RAID 5, which both the WD unit and the 400-QR support as well. In RAID 5, a third drive provides protection for striped data in case one of the drive fails. Since both server systems have a four-drive capacity, operating in any of these modes is a simple choice to make.

Besides having a number of data-writing modes, both units have a number of interface choices -- USB 2.0, FireWire 400 and 800, or eSATA. The fastest transfer speeds come with eSATA, up to 3-gigabytes per second. USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 probably have the largest installed base at the moment, and RTX states their maximum transfer speeds at up to 480-megabytes per second.

The capacity of home servers, as well as the internal and external drives of computers proper, grew even larger in January when WD presented their first 2-terabyte drives under the brand name Caviar Green.

That puts a lot of your digital eggs in one basket, of course. It probably explains the renewed interest in RAID systems, particularly RAID 5, which offers both high speed and protective redundancy. Back when a 1TB drive cost around a thousand bucks -- five or six years ago, maybe -- it would not have been realistic to consider homeowners buying 4TB or 8TB drive systems for their networks. But WD's 2TB drive had an opening list price of $299.

With so much data in one storage unit, customers are sure to be glad to hear about additional features that help protect their files. WD mentions two that seem particularly comforting, since they apply to the construction of the drive itself. StableTrac™ secures the motor shaft at both ends to reduce system-induced vibration and stabilize platters for accurate tracking during read and write operations. NoTouch ramp load technology is designed to ensure that the recording head never touches the disk media. WD says this results in significantly less wear to the recording head and media, as well as better drive protection while in transit.

Plenty of us geezers remember when PCs came with floppy-disk drives only. The internal HDD, the C: drive, the permanent boot drive, started becoming standard at about the same time the first digicam came on the market. A 20Mb drive was considered supersized. Nobody who was sober was thinking about drives holding terabytes of photos. But based on that example, it now seems the aftermarket can spring from out of nowhere.

DATA TO GO

It wasn't long ago that your photo files stayed home, unless you took them out in the laptop computers that existed in the mid-1990s. But today it's a given that you'll want to take your pix almost everywhere you go, or back-up your camera memory cards in the field, and no shortage of products have appeared to assist those aspirations. JOBO, for example, is presenting its GIGA Vu Sonic and GIGA one Sonic portable image storage devices.

Downloads to the devices from camera memory cards can reach rates of 1-gigabyte in 30 seconds, and 1-gigabyte per minute for the two models, respectively. The faster model comes with a 3.2-inch color display, its cousin provides a 1.8-inch monochrome display. Both models are available with 80, 120, 160, or 200-GB hard disk drives, and use a USB 2.0 interface. Files can be transferred between a variety of memory card formats, including CompactFlash, MicroDrive, SD and SDHC, MMC, Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro, and others. They weigh-in at a bantam 9.9 and 8.5 ounces respectively. Prices, depending upon HDD capacity, range from $189 to $430.

Using somewhat similar principles for somewhat different applications, Digital Foci's Photo Book is designed as a digital portfolio for showing-off your photos wherever you go. Its 8-inch screen should provide an impressive representation of each image, at its 800 x 600-pixel resolution. Internal capacity is 4GB, sufficient for a portfolio of hundreds of JPEGs. It comes with an integral multi-format memory card reader, and uses a USB 2.0 connection for computer interface. The device can display a variety of file formats, including a number of raw formats from DSLRs. Videos can also be presented, in MJPEG, MPEG-1, and MPEG-4 formats; audio is played through a 1.4-watt speaker. Price when it ships in May is scheduled to be $189.

I fondly remember a long documentary shoot I made of the Scottish Highlands, back when SVGA resolution was cutting-edge and one of the best cameras was the non-zooming Olympus D-30. Camera memory was quite limited that year (1996) and I didn't expect to find many PCs up in the Highlands. Neverthless, Olympus at that time made a small magneto-optical drive with something like a 200MB capacity, which could power-up wherever electrical lines were accessible. It seemed like a bold challenge to try shooting in the wilds before there was a digital infrastructure anywhere. But enough hotels and petrol stations had PCs for accounting that it actually became possible to cobble-together temporary workstations north of Inverness. One measure of the digital aftermarket is that now, not that much later, the daring feat is so routine as to barely merit comment.

MAKING BOOK ON THE AFTERMARKET

On-demand printing systems like the Indigo and its rivals were becoming prominent in the mid-1990s, but were initially positioned as alternatives to conventional process printing for short press runs. It didn't take long before everyone realized, hey, that describes photo albums, custom-made wall calendars, maybe even coffee-table books. And another new technology took its place in the photographic aftermarket.

With the new tech come new alliances, such as the one recently announced between Fujifilm and Xerox. One product of that union is the Xerox Digital Color Press. The press can ouput "a full line of specialty photo products," according to Fujifilm, "including photo books, photo calendars, greeting cards, fun packs, trading cards, and a host of other specialty printed photo products."

The press can produce up to 70 pages per minute in color and monochrome, on a maximum sheet size of 13 x 19.2 inches. Contributing to the specialty printing market are firms like Unibind, which provide a variety of systems for manufacturing small runs of publications on-site. New at the show this year is their Uniplano, for making book cases at the rate of 200 per hour. Manufacturing book cases might not have seemed like a hot prospect for the photo lab, back in the mid-1990s. But Unibind would like you to reconsider that position.

THE SPIRIT IS WILLING

If digital hardware constitutes the body of the new aftermarket, software would be its spirit. It's probably not a coincidence that the beginning of the 1990s was also the beginning of the Photoshop age, many of us having sat down to v.1 at that time. What would digital photography be, without digital photography editing?


   







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