GET the PICTURE: digital cameras and CD-R need each other

GET the PICTURE: digital cameras and CD-R need each other – Technology Information

Hugh Bennett

Conventional photographs, properly kept, can survive for a hundred years, but where’s the digital photo storage equivalent? Storing photos on expensive flash memory cards won’t preserve them forever, nor will dumping them onto volatile hard drives, corruptible magnetic tape, or floppy disks. Surely universally readable, durable, reliable, portable, and embarrassingly inexpensive CD-R media makes a natural long-term storage choice.

But if that’s the case, why aren’t the digital camera and the CD-R industries working together to enable and promote each other’s products?

One digital camera company that has jumped the gap by charging into CD-R in a unique way is Sanyo Fisher, whose new $899 DMA-100 Digital Image Album is a set-top device that arranges photos, sounds, and video taken by any digital camera for viewing on television and saving onto CD-R discs.

A self-contained unit with its own operating system running Java, this clever little device integrates a standard IDE/ATAPI slimline 4×20 CD recorder in a compact case, along with two slots which accept CompactFlash and SmartMedia flash memory cards, and IBM’s matchbox-size 170MB and 340MB microdrive hard drives.

After photos are taken with any standard digital camera, the flash or hard drive cards storing the pictures can be placed into the DMA-100 unit for viewing on a TV or monitor. Controlled by a small hand-held remote, the DMA-100 can also be used to display full-motion video (up to VGA resolution) and sound captured by digital cameras supporting the QuickTime Movie or Motion JPEG formats. The pictures, sounds, and videos may also be compiled into viewable albums incorporating even special effects and background music.

But what makes the DMA-100 such an interesting gizmo is its ability to take the digital photos or videos stored on the inserted flash cards and archive them permanently onto CD-R discs. This process happens quickly at 4X writing speed using an industry-standard UDF 1.5 packet writing process. As many as 10,000 VGA-resolution still images, or two hours of video, can be stored on each CD-R. The resulting discs can then be played back through the DMA-100 on a TV or read by almost any computer equipped with a CD-ROM drive.

While digital cameras have made tremendous inroads over the past few years, they won’t supplant consumer print photography anytime soon. Pictures invite physical handling and sharing. The DMA-100 recognizes this by supporting the recently introduced Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) to allow paper prints to be made of captured electronic photos.

The DMA-100 stores images on CD-R discs in DPOF format, enabling pictures to be printed using any standard PC with an inkjet or laser printer, or to be transferred back to the flash memory cards for printing through digital output services offered by photofinishers. For those who want to output the images without using a computer, the DPOF files can be printed directly using the latest generation of consumer printers. Hewlett-Packard’s PhotoSmart is one conventional inkjet printer that accepts flash memory cards containing PDOF files. After inserting a card into the HP unit, an LCD screen prompts the user to select the desired files and appropriate page size. Photos are then printed without aid of computer.

As clever as the DMA-100 is, it’s little more than a cool toy to serve the high-end gadget market and the occasional related professional. Nonetheless, it represents a positive move toward bringing together digital photography and CD-R technology.

Today’s digital cameras lack the storage standardization demanded by a mass consumer market. Just a few of the various formats currently in use include CompactFlash (Casio, Kodak, Epson, HP, Konica, Nikon, Polaroid); SmartMedia (Agfa, Fujifilm, Leica, Olympus, Ricoh, Sanyo, Toshiba); Memory Stick (Sony); Click! (Agfa); Microdrive (Sanyo); and floppy disk (Sony). While any of these may be technically adequate as internal capture mediums, for the photos to be useful in a practical sense they must be easily transferable to other devices and to PCs for archiving. Sony appears to have finally gotten the message, and is working feverishly to make its Memory Stick product interchangeable among Sony computers, compressed music players, hand-held devices, and digital cameras. More serious industry-wide effort, however, is needed to standardize flash memory products for the easy interchange that CD-R provides.

If CD-R discs really are the digital equivalent of film and print paper, they represent a tremendous untapped business opportunity for digital camera companies. It’s no secret that consumables rather than cameras are where serious long-term profit is made. So why aren’t Agfa, Polaroid, and Epson CD-R discs on the market, and why don’t Fujifilm and Kodak offer CD-R media marketed specifically for digital photography use? And where are the sample CD-R discs that should accompany sales of glossy inkjet paper? And what about coupons for free CD-R discs inside retail digital camera boxes? Consumers can buy digital cameras bundled with inkjet printers, so why shouldn’t a Konica camera come with an Iomega CD recorder?

These sorts of cross-marketing efforts can only increase the demand for digital photography. Real prosperity in digital photography will only come when a complete solution is offered to the market, including not only picture-capture and printing abilities, but long-term storage as well.

Hugh Bennett (, an EMedia contributing editor and columnist for THE CD WRITER, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems (, a company based in London, Ontario, Canada offering CD and DVD-ROM recording, replication, and consulting services as well as CD-R/RW and DVD-R/RAM hardware, duplication systems, software, and blank media sales.

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