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June 2001

Digital photography spans two worlds, requiring users to meld near equal parts of artistic flare and technological prowess. This dichotomy has impacted the adoption of the process almost as greatly as advances in the technology. As a result, the business picture has been complicated.

When the first digital cameras were introduced, there was a school of thought that said these devices were most akin to scanners and should be approached as such. The logical conclusion was that digital photography should be a prepress process.

However, the experiences of early adopters soon revealed that the photographer's "eye" still was required to get acceptable results from digital cameras. Knowing how to light the scene, in particular, remains a crucial skill. That's not to say the importance of prepress expertise in optimizing the workflow and results is in any way lessened. Photo-graphers also must contend with the issue of cost, since a complete digital system—camera, calibrated monitor, color proofer, etc.—still is a barrier for many.

Question for the Ages
So who should own digital cameras—photographers or prepress operations? Forming some type of partnership is one answer that quickly has become a common industry practice. Typically the prepress/printing firm purchases the equipment and provides the prepress expertise, while the photographer is responsible for making the magic.

A snapshot of the industry's process adoption trends can be found in the results of the Digital Photography Survey undertaken by the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation. Greg Bassinger, manager of the association's Process Controls Group and Preucil Print Analysis Laboratory, directed the digital photography survey.

According to Bassinger, more than 14 percent of the printers surveyed offer some form of digital photography service, which is up from 9 percent the previous year. Catalogs still are the dominant application for digital photography, he reports, with the remaining top-10 uses including brochures, direct mail, Web images, packaging, magazine ads, retail circulars, labels, free-standing inserts (FSIs) and magazine editorial.

Survey respondents cited "shortening the production cycle" as the leading motive for adopting digital photography, Bassinger says, followed closely by achieving cost savings and customer acceptance of the process. Resolution and bit depth were the top two concerns reported by users in going digital, but 84 percent of the survey sample claimed to have found the quality of digital images to be equal or better than the results achieved by shooting film and scanning it.

One industry company that is a big believer in the business potential of digital photography is Quad/Graphics in Pewaukee, WI. Earlier this year, it made a bold move by opening four new studios—Dallas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Saratoga Springs, NY—raising its total to seven digital studios. The site expansion was backed up by a $1.5 million investment in technology alone.


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