Post of the Day
April 17, 1998

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SanDisk Board


Subject: All those products...
Author: WowJones

My Kodak Instamatic

One summer when I was a kid I went out West to a scout camp in New Mexico. On this occasion I decided to purchase my first camera, a Kodak instamatic. It was the kind that took a big fat cartridge of film that you just dropped in back. It also used those instamatic photo cubes for indoor settings. And when you think about it, that was the way the average person took pictures back then. Of course there were the Polaroid devotees who lived for that 60 seconds of suspense before peeling open a picture. For those with impulse control a Kodak camera was the way to go. Around that time you could just drop off your film at a little photomat kiosk without even getting out of your car.

Things are quite a bit different now. I bought my first 35 mm SLR (Minolta X-700) in 1989 and recently upgraded to a Canon EOS Elan. These cameras take unbelievably nice pictures with relatively little user experience. I spend a great deal of time searching for those precious moments with my family and capturing them on 35 mm film for the family album. I recently filled my first large storage chest with pictures and negatives I have taken over the past 6 years or so. This is quite an expensive undertaking when one realizes that you need to take 4 or 5 pictures just to obtain one semi-focused and semi-centered child portrait. Now the thought of a high resolution digital camera is exhilarating. Instantaneous gratification just like a polaroid, a sleek digital film flash cartridge that requires no developing at all, and unlimited storage capacity on a desktop PC. Who could ask for more?

I estimate that on a 24 exposure roll there may be 5 or 6 really nice pictures and 15 to 20 average or worse pictures. One out of every 4 or 5 rolls may have an exceptionally nice picture (a "keeper" so to speak ) that ends up on the mantle or at Mom or Dad's desk at work.  

I foresee many of the innovations currently enjoyed only by high-end professional users making it to the main stream - kind of like the Hollywood production type digital video editing software that you can use at home. As storage capacity increases and CCD chips with higher resolution come to market (2 or 3 megapixels per image?) it seems unlikely that anyone will line up at the mall to drop off film for one hour processing. Despite all the complaints about the cost of flash memory one has to think about film and film developing costs as well. If you develop 3 rolls of 24 exposure film a month on average you can expect to spend in the range of $30-$45 dollars or between $350 to $600 annually not including incidentals such as Christmas cards, birth announcements, enlargements and copies for the relatives. I estimate that on a 24 exposure roll there may be 5 or 6 really nice pictures and 15 to 20 average or worse pictures. One out of every 4 or 5 rolls may have an exceptionally nice picture (a "keeper" so to speak ) that ends up on the mantle or at Mom or Dad's desk at work. By selectively deleting poorer pictures a digital camera offers great cost savings in the long run.

With further development of higher resolution inkjet or dye sublimation printers that use plain paper one can imagine that a new digital camera with megapixel resolution could be quite economical. If you are using a lower resolution camera strictly for Internet viewing it would make sense to forget about color film altogether.

I tried out a couple of new digital cameras lately and wanted to let people know how far the technology has progressed. An article in the March/April issue of PCPhoto magazine stated that currently available cameras with megapixel resolution can yield image quality (4x6 format) similar to that of ISO 400 speed color film using available inkjet printers. If one accepts this to be true, then the real decision is which camera to buy. I was surprised to see that Best Buy (as of 4/4/98) does not have a single camera for sale with resolution of greater that 640 x 480. I suspect that they still have a backlog of cameras from Christmas time that they are trying to dump before buying the newest technology.

The Competitors

The Sony MAVICA FD7 ($699.99) allows you to take up to 40 images in JPEG format on a single 3.5 inch floppy. The camera has a large LCD display on the back and a nice zoom feature. It also must have an image stabilization processor and it handles almost like a cam corder. The problem is that the resolution is low and it takes about 7 1/2 seconds (1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi,...) in order to write the image to disc. It takes about 4 seconds to recall an image once written. Despite the constant churning of the disc drive the indicator showed 136 minutes of battery life (150 minutes fresh) remaining. That seems unbelievable. The biggest problem is that in order to store higher resolution images this thing is going to need a zip drive with it or some other form of storage. It may be adequate for Internet use where high definition image quality is not desired. I took a few pictures on my own floppy disc and they look quite reasonable on a computer monitor. File sizes are in the range of 50-60 KB (jpeg or Macintosh formatted) with a screen size of 6x8 inches. A salesperson at another store said that a new storage medium with 60 MB of memory shaped like a floppy disc will be on the next generation. Perhaps he was referring to a Smart Media card like the one Olympus has adopted.

The other camera I tried was a Casio. The camera was a Casio QV-700 and it is essentially a point and shoot with a fixed focal length. This offers resolution similar to the MAVICA, but uses a removable 2 MB compact flash card. It took about a second to store the image - about the time it takes to go from the eye piece to the LCD display. That is a major difference in that you don't have to tap your foot waiting to be able to take the next picture. The LCD display had a slow refresh rate and was very rachety. (The Mavica has a high refresh rate or possibly digital image stabilization which is quite pleasing.) All that aside it seems to be a reasonable alternative at only $499.99. I took it out to see and it looks like a very small PCMCIA card. The front of the disc had CASIO emblazoned on it. I was delighted to see Sandisks name and logo on the back. The storage disc is removable and can be adapted to fit in the PCMCIA slot of a notebook or laptop.

  There is a huge number of cameras available and Sandisk will thrive as digital photographic imaging becomes readily accepted by the general public.

The third camera I tried was a Sony DSC-F1 which was similar to the CASIO except that it had a 4MB internal memory. The images are downloaded via a Universal bus or a simple video connector. The resolution was again 640 x 480 and the memory was not upgradable. It was also a very small camera which could be good or bad depending on how nimble your fingers are.

There are currently higher resolution megapixel cameras available. The Kodak DC210 and the SLR styled Olympus D-600L are two which I would like to take home for a trial run. The Kodak uses Compact Flash storage. The Olympus uses Smart Media cards which are quite thin (wafer like) and have a large "hot shoe" connection that is gold in color. These cards fit into a caddy for a floppy disc. Unfortunately, Best Buy does not carry these brand names. The Canon line is another I would like to try, not to mention Panasonic, HP, Epson and Vivitar. Minolta, Nikon, Ricoh, Yashica, Agfa and Fuji round out the list.

Once the higher end, extremely high resolution cameras fall into a more affordable price range I will probably buy. The Vivitar 3100 has a 3.2 million pixel image (1920 x 1600) and the Nikon DCS-460 has an unbelievable 6 million pixel resolution (3060 x 2036). When this technology becomes affordable to the average consumer you are going to need very high CF (compact flash) storage capacity. I prefer the Sandisk storage solution and will seek out the nicest camera which utilizes this storage medium. A PCMICA slot or an inexpensive disc reader (attached to the serial port of a PC) is all one needs. Most manufacturers also allow for direct connectivity to a PC or TV with a simple cable.

There is a huge number of cameras available and Sandisk will thrive as digital photographic imaging becomes readily accepted by the general public.


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