Digital cameras shaking up photo industry

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff writer

Digital technology is evolving and product prices are declining at such stunning clips that hardly any new industry developments evoke surprise.

In another technological development, which may reshape the future of the photo industry, some film and camera companies are putting on the market this month “mega-pixel” digital still cameras, which were priced at more than 1 million yen only a few years ago but are debuting on the consumer market for less than 100,000 yen.

The arrival of the latest wave of new digital cameras, with greatly improved image quality, raises serious questions regarding the extent to which the analog camera and film market will be replaced, and whether the analog photo system can survive.

“In the end, I believe almost all conventional cameras will be replaced by digital cameras,” said Yusuke Kojima, general manager at Digital Imaging Business Development Department of Olympus Optical Co., a major camera maker.

“We are seeing the future of the camera in digital machines,” he said.In fact, this year, more than 1 million digital cameras are expected to shipped in the Japanese market, and next year, some observers say, sales will reach 2 million.

That figure would be twice the number of single-lens reflex cameras and close to the 3 million compact, range-finder cameras.Industry sources believe this sales boom is due to the speed and convenience of digital cameras. The images captured with digital cameras do not need to be developed and can be viewed instantly on camera monitors or personal computer screens. Memory cards that can be rewritten replace the need for new film.

A digital image can be easily processed and transmitted instantly via the Internet to anywhere in the world. One of the major deficiencies of digital cameras has been image quality.

Most digital cameras marketed so far have not created images as sharp, nor color tones as rich, as those seen in conventional analog photos.But the image quality of the latest digital cameras has greatly improved. The Olympus C-1400L, which is being put on the market Oct. 10, boasts a new CCD unit that can handle 1.41 million pixels.

The CCD is a core light sensor device that translates light into digital signals. Most other digital cameras on the general consumer market have a picture quality of only about 350,000 pixels.Mega-pixel CCDs like the one included in the C-1400L so far have been included in cameras for professional use, and cost more than 1 million yen.

The suggested retail price for the C-1400L is 128,000 yen, however, and it is expected to be priced under 100,000 yen at retail shops.Kodak Japan also plans later this month to release a new model DC210 which boasts a 1.09 million pixel CCD unit, with a suggested retail price of 81,000 yen.

“In the popular ‘service-size’ print, the quality of a one-mega pixel digital photo matches that of an analog photo,” said Hidehisa Shido of Kodak Japan’s digital and applied imaging department.Still, the image quality of analog cameras is generally much better than that of mega-pixel digital cameras.

The difference can be clearly seen when a photo is magnified into a large print.

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