On-Site — The Minilab Scene
ASF: Dry Processing Is Just About Ready
for Prime Time
By Jerry Lansky
That first time around the convention hall it wasn't even known
that the dry process, being developed by Applied Science Fiction,
Austin, TX, would destroy the negative as a function of the
process. In other words, the customer would never see their negs
again, only a CD-ROM with the digital files for the images. That
really sent them rolling in the aisles.
The winds of doubt expressed by the industry movers could have well been enough to discourage even the most positive of us. It didn't shake the ASF folks. They staffed up with a cadre of top individuals from the photo and high tech arenas, put their heads down and bulled ahead.
Recently, ASF invited a group of trade press and certain others to Austin headquarters for an update of where they are and where they're going. Dan Sullivan, president and CEO, and Michael Conley, VP Marketing, spearheaded the activities. While my interest was especially in the area of the dry process, now being called Digital PIC (for Process & Image Capture), there was some other neat stuff going on.
To give us the opportunity to sit down at a work station and see for ourselves what might be done with the latest ASF software, we were encouraged to bring some old prints with us. One setup was equipped with ASF's latest ICE, ROC and GEM technology, currently being used by a variety of manufacturers of film and flat bed scanners to improve old, scratched, damaged and faded photos.
One of our number took out a very old photo that not only had cracks throughout the emulsion but actually had areas where the emulsion had chipped away. You've seen these. In the course of a few minutes of scanning on an enhanced Epson scanner and delivering instructions to the computer by one of us, a non-techie, a dye-sub print was delivered that had been remarkably cleaned up. Even the chipped areas. It's the kind of work customers ask for all the time but few minilabs can fulfill unless they work with a professional outlab or have high-tech people on staff with Photoshop or such. Customers have to wait days or weeks and spend a lot to restore their old treasures. And they do.
Teaching an Old Dog...
The restoration business is an opportunity area for the minilab but one which only a few can handle on site. Especially important is that customers have mixed feelings about leaving precious old photos to be sent out for restoration work elsewhere.
ASF has no plans to package the equipment for the restoration setup that I saw as their purpose was to only demo the software. Their interest is selling the software to others. There is certainly a need for a simple restoration product of this type in a minilab environment. Priced right, it could be a money-making service for the lab without the need for high-tech operators.
By the way, Dana Seccombe, ASF's exec VP of R&D, separately showed us some new technology that is still in development and being referred to only by a secret code name. We saw samples of heavily backlit beach photos that had the subject almost blacked out and the beach washed out. After scanning with the new software not only were the subjects clearly shown but so were details of the beach scene. Coming soon.
How Dry Are They?
So much for the scanning software. What's happening with dry film processing?
For one thing, it appears as though the competition to be the first on the market with dry process technology may have just disappeared. At the last PMA convention, Digital Now, Herndon, VA., introduced its dry technology, a year after ASF. Notable was the fact that, unlike the ASF process which destroys the negative, the Digital Now system would preserve the negative for eventual delivery back to the customer. A more palatable market approach, it seemed.
However, the fortunes of Digital Now have taken a turn for the worse. Deep personnel cuts, that included even the company's founder, were made. In August it was announced that the firm was up for sale and trading on the Australian stock exchange has been halted. According to Mike Dimeglio, VP Sales, (who has since left the firm), "the board believes that it is best to sell the company in order to protect the shareholders' investment." The official press release stated that "the Board now believes that the projected revenues ($12 million) will not be achieved..."
In early October, Digital Now filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Digital Now has made its mark primarily in its scanning technology. To the minilab industry it is best known for the Digital Photo Factory, a tabletop system for the production of CD-ROMs, Internet uploads and other such functions — a product competitive with Kodak's PictureVision. Gary Mueller, Digital Now president and CEO, said there are about 1,000 DPFs in use.
What about the future of Digital's dry film technology? Mike had indicated that it was "on the back burner." Gary said, "There's still a flame, but it's lower. It has not been abandoned."
He indicated that R&D on all products has been decreased in light of the fiscal problems. The technology for dry processing is for sale, either with the company or separately, according to Gary.
For all practical purposes it would appear that dry film processing is now a one company race with ASF and its Digital PIC system the only entry at the starting gate.