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It Is Now Official: Digital Replacing Film



I could have used, instead, this headline for this column: "Two Events Confirm That Digital Has Taken Over the Imaging World as Prime Capturing Media: PMA Acknowledges the Shift To Digital; Lansky Hammers Final Nail Into the Coffin." But it was too long.

For some time, Tom Crawford, PMA’s corporate communications executive, has been sending out a monthly report called, "PMA Processing Survey." Page one of the report has always been a chart showing the status of the percentage change of rolls processed for the previous 12 months. I guess for too many consecutive months the black bar below the zero line has been getting longer and blacker and for the month of May (down 10.1%), the most recent, this page has been relegated to the third page of the report. It had been depressing for the industry to see these roll count neg numbers month after month.

Replacing it as the opening page one in the report is a chart entitled: "Change in Number of Prints Made from Digital-Still Camera Images." Each of the six bars were above the zero line as a sign that consumers were definitely finding ways to print their digital images either from home printers (up 33% for the 12-month period) to self-service kiosks (up 777%). Overall, digital printing is up 81% for the period, a positive trend destined to increase each month—even as roll counts go down. This report will no doubt remain page one of the package for a long time to come.

PTN’s own Minilab Maven at a Fujifilm Aladdin kiosk.
(photo by Joan Lansky)

The other signal of the film-to-digital switch came from me. I’ve had my Kodak DX4530 sitting in its EasyShare docking station for almost a year. The battery has been fully charged and ready to go all that time. All it needed was for me to take the plunge. After all, quitting film after all these many years—don’t let the picture of me on this page fool you—was a decision not unlike choosing my wife (Joan) or the color of my first Ford Fairlane (1955, black and green).

The crossover opportunity came when Joan and I took a paddlewheel cruise up the Columbia River Basin on a Lewis & Clark theme trip in June. Instead of buying a 12-pack of film, I "invested" in two SD cards, a 128 and a 256. My Kodak manual tells me that shooting at the "best" resolution I should get 259 images. I felt I owed it to my readers to make this switch from my generation to theirs. I had taken a few digital images before, so I knew the menu, etc., but I never before relied on digital for an entire vacation.

Despite my anxiety, capturing the images was a no-brainer: plan the scene on the display and push the button. No big deal.

At least taking the images was no big deal. The big deal took place when we came home and were ready to print the images. I wanted to use a kiosk that would feed directly to a photo minilab for quality, convenience and economy—not dye-sub. I really had no preference as to where this should be done since there were a number of sites in my neighborhood that had the kiosk-minilab setup.

As for the operation of a kiosk, I had been through enough hands-on demonstrations at manufacturers’ shows and I was confident. Once you’ve experienced one, you could do it all.

Wrong. We learned that pushing icons on a touch screen was only a small part of the experience.

Since we were shopping at a local Wal-Mart one day, we took the SDs with us and allowed what I thought would be enough time to go through the cards, make our choices, do whatever manipulation we wanted to them, hang out for an hour and pick up the prints.

About 3-1/2 hours and 90 prints later we were finished.

I was disappointed at the Wal-Mart experience. While it was fun for Joan and me as we zoomed, cropped, and colored our way through the SDs on the Aladdin, the overall experience was not as friendly as I would have hoped and took much longer than planned. It certainly wasn’t as easy as dropping a few rolls of film off on a counter.

I asked myself, "Was this a one-time occurrence or an everyday event for the kiosk user? Was the kiosk a customer-friendly device destined to draw people in to make their prints from digital media at retail or an annoyance that would eventually drive them to online or home printing?"

I decided I would take my SDs to other stores in the area and compare experiences. Over the next week I dropped in on three different supermarkets (Stop & Shop, ShopRite, Wegmans), three drug stores (Eckerd, CVS, Walgreen), one photo specialty chain (Ritz), two independent one-hour labs, and Kinkos. And the aforementioned Wal-Mart. All 11 locations were in my neighborhood.

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