A Picture is Worth a Thousand Uses

by Libs mulling over latest loss in 407 dispute

Record-keeping isn’t a matter of paper and filing cabinets anymore. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words fuels a lot of uses. Cameras have been a useful tool in truck shops for a long time, applied to anything from verifying insurance claims to confirming product orders. Not only have cameras become smaller and lighter, they’ve also gone digital: instead of using emulsion film to register images, they use computer chips.

“A technician can take a digital photo of a problem component, attach the file to an E-mail document, and send it to our district service manager-and anyone else-instantaneously,” explains Steve Langdon, team leader of Volvo Action Service Canada, the truck manufacturer’s Mississauga, Ont.-based emergency parts and service operation. “If the DSM can’t get to the shop right away, he still can assess the failure quickly.” You can use that image to reinforce a warranty or insurance claim, Langdon says, and because it’s digital, you can store it indefinitely without ever losing picture quality.

It’s this utilitarian approach to digital cameras that has manufacturers such as Kodak Canada pursuing businesses like truck repair shops, according to Dave Prosser, brand manager, Digital and Applied Imaging for Kodak Canada. “We’re looking at marketing our cameras to those who want to improve their workflow, such as auto glass companies, and real estate markets. Business markets are where we’re seeing the greatest growth in digital still cameras.”

Spearheading the Kodak drive in 2000 is the 2.1-megapixel Kodak DC290 ($1590), which offers 3x optical zoom, 16-image burst capture at lower resolution, advanced focus and exposure control, USB support, a 20Mb CompactFlash card, and the ability to program “scripts” to repeat routine tasks.

Even in the “affordable” category of digital still cameras (which can be defined as the $800 to $1600 range), resolutions of 1.5 to two megapixels are commonplace. This contrasts favorably with the 1.3 megapixel (actually, about 1280 by 960 pixels), with 2x optical zoom, which was the norm only a year ago.

Then come features that manufacturers are hoping will differentiate their products from others in the field. These include 3x optical zoom, external flash synchronization, audio-clip recording capabilities, large storage capacity, and the ability of some units to save image files in compressed JPG or uncompressed TIFF formats.

Some manufacturers are pushing the envelope even further.

Hewlett Packard’s PhotoSmart C500 model is a good example of the leading edge of affordable, consumer-oriented digital cameras. It features two-megapixel (1600-by-1200 pixels) resolution, with 3x optical and 2x digital zoom. The C500 also supports HP’s JetSend technology for wireless printing, and comes with the kind of all-in-one package that digital camera buyers have come to expect-camera, rechargeable batteries and charger, 16Mb CompactFlash card, PC (USB, serial) and video cables, and imaging software.

With higher storage capabilities have come a slew of competing storage formats. The CompactFlash format still predominates, with the SmartMedia format coming in at a close second, and one manufacturer offering Iomega Clik! compatibility. The CompactFlash format holds the premier position largely because of the high capacity cards offered by CF manufacturers such as SanDisk and Simple Technologies, which both offer cards with 128Mb of storage. The largest SmartMedia cards, on the other hand, come in at 32Mb.

Agfa, on the other hand, is marrying its new CL30 Clik! camera to Iomega Clik! technology. Using the commonly-available Click storage card, says Agfa’s Stuart Schneiderman, associate marketing manager, DTP, for Agfa Canada, offers users an inexpensive and high-end storage capacity format. “The Clik! media is cheap,” he emphasizes, “with the cost of a 40Mb Clik! disk running at only slightly more than $15. And Iomega has invested a lot of equity in this technology, so users are see it even more widely available in the future.”

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