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Digital imaging enters the mainstream. (Photography).

NEW YORK -- When digital cameras first appeared on the market in the mid-1990s the products available were aimed mostly at computer buffs and professional photographers.

The unique cameras were expensive, and getting photos from them was often complicated.

Since those early days digital photography has quickly moved into the mainstream, with the latest generation of cameras being far less expensive and much easier to use than the original models.

As they have overcome the cost and ease-of-use hurdles, suppliers say digital photography has been quickly embraced by a rapidly expanding number of photo enthusiasts who are coming to view the technology the same way they have seen traditional film photography for decades.

Helping to cement that idea in consumers' minds, those in the industry say, has been the establishment of a seamless digital photography process that has made everything from taking the picture to getting prints extremely convenient.

Consumers have found that a big part of that process has been the introduction of digital cameras that are simple to operate and produce quality images.

Making sure users can easily link their cameras to their home computers is also essential, suppliers maintain.

For example, marketers at Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. Inc. note that the company's FinePix F601 Zoom camera comes with a special cradle that allows the camera to be easily linked to a computer for image transfer, Internet videoconferencing and battery recharging.

Fuji, which recently introduced five models of FinePix digital cameras, is among a handful of suppliers that are marketing digital units at price points that fit into drug stores' mix.

Just like Fuji, Eastman Kodak Co. is stressing that affordability and ease of use are the cornerstones of its digital camera business.

The company's EasyShare system, unveiled last year, features a digital camera with a docking station that enables images to be transferred to a computer with the touch of a button.

Recent months have seen a flurry of activity in the digital camera market, with several suppliers introducing the smallest, lightest and most affordable digital cameras ever marketed.

Sony Electronics Inc., for instance, recently unveiled a pair of ultrasmall digital cameras under the Cyber-shot U name. The DSC-U20 and DSC-U10 models are being marketed on the theme that photography can be a part of everyday life.

"Were challenging the notion that photography is exclusive to special occasions--weddings, graduations, birthdays," Steve Haber, senior vice president of the company's digital imaging product division, says about the cameras that reportedly weigh just 4.3 ounces apiece. "Between these special occasions life happens. We've made this camera so small and so cool that it can become an everyday accessory."

Meanwhile, Minolta Corp. unveiled the DiMAGE Xi at the recent Photokina show in Cologne, Germany. Executives say the 3.2-megapixel camera is one of the smallest and lightest digital cameras ever developed.

The camera is said to have the fastest startup time of any digital camera on the market.

And a company called Foxlink Peripherals Inc. has introduced a 3.3-megapixel camera that it says will sell for less than $200. Marketed under the company's SiPix brand, the SC-3300 is expected to be available by he holiday season.

"SiPix is resetting customer expectations by offering higher-resolution, easier-to-use and more solutions-driven digital cameras at prices that rival lower-performing products from other camera manufacturers," Michael Weizer, director of product marketing for the Fremont, Calif.-based company claims. "Consumers want the most bang for their buck."

RELATED ARTICLE: APS format in decline

NEW YORK -- After much ballyhoo when it was introduced in the late 1990s, the Advanced Photo System CAPS) appears to have only played a limited role in bridging the gap between conventional and digital photography.

Only 6.8% of the still cameras purchased in 2001 featured the APS format, according to the Photo Marketing Association's 2002 Consumer Photo Buying Report. That is down from 7.3% in 2000 and 11.6% in 1998.

The news is slightly better on the processing front, with APS accounting for 7.9% of rolls processed in 2001, up from 7.1% in 2000.

Yet as film sales continue to decline in the wake of digital photography's rise, sales of APS film may have reached their peak and might now face an uncertain future.

While Eastman Kodak Co.'s Advantix APS film is the second-most-popular brand of film in the country, Information Resources Inc. (IRI) data for the 52 weeks ended August 11 shows that sales of the brand declined 7%. Sales of Fuji Photo Film USA Inc.'s Nexia film, the other APS brand in IRI's top 10 ranking, fell 5.1%.

Both declines were below the 10.9% drop in the overall film category. Still, manufacturers have not given up on the APS format. Fuji recently debuted the Nexia Q1, a stylish APS camera with a round body that comes in four metallic colors. Fuji marketing executives say they hope the Nexia Q1, targeted to teenagers, will help reinvigorate the APS segment.

Because APS film cartridges are slightly smeller than 35mm rolls, Fuji has been able to make the Q1 small enough to fit easily in the palm of the hand. The camera's strap allows it to be worn like a medallion, it has drop-in loading, and it features the unique ability to let users make midroll film changes.
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Title Annotation:cameras
Publication:Chain Drug Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 14, 2002
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