March 5, 2009--Las Vegas/PMA-- As you look around the South Hall today, it probably strikes you as incredible that people once feared digital tech would kill the photo business. Oh sure, you might make decent margins on high-ticket items like cameras ($800 for a one-third-megapixel model with 3x zoom and no other features) but once you sold it, then what? The historic structure of the photographic aftermarket -- predicated largely on the sales of film, and D&P -- was doomed, or so some fears went. What would keep the dealers' doors open once everyone had a digicam? Glass filters? Ball-joint tripods?
As you look around today, the scope of the aftermarket must seem breathtaking indeed. Like the digicams and camcorders discussed in these pages for the past two days, entire new categories of products have arisen in the aftermarket. The majority are doing well, and they're based on technologies that didn't exist when the digicam boom began.
Off the top of the head, in no particular order, here is a handful of businesses and business models that were practically unthinkable in the mid-1990s:
Digital picture frames. Internet photo-sharing sites. Digital minilabs. Internet video-sharing sites. On-demand photobook publishing. Internet uploads for printing. Solid-state computer drives. Solid-state camcorders. Home computer networks. Home film scanners. Flat panel monitors. LED photo lights. Wireless data transfer. PC color-calibration systems. Photo coffee mugs. Camera phones i-pods. Ink refilling systems. Jump drives. Gigabyte drives. Terabyte drives. Digital photo kiosks. DIY photo-album kits. 1920p widescreen video. Home theaters. Webcams. Consumer-market digital projectors.
Some of these processes and technologies existed in 1996, when the consumer-market floodgates opened for digicams, but were specialized items designed for industry, government, the military. There were digital cameras for sale as far back as 1991, but at $25k a pop their buyers were mostly institutional. There have been touchscreens since the 1970s, but they appeared more in bank ATMs than consumer electronics. As for the rest of those aftermarket whizbangs -- well, maybe they were gleams in their inventors' eyes in the mid-1990s, but little more.
Today they're all posed and smiling from the floor of the South Hall, available for consumer purchase or for purchase by firms that serve consumers. We can feel confidant that the aftermarket is alive and well and living in 2009.
DIGITAL STORAGE SYSTEMS AT PMA
Disk drives and other computer peripherals have managed to escape the definition of "photographic accessories," even as computers themselves have. This might seem a little odd, since it's very hard to do digital photography without a computer, and it's almost impossible without disk drives. Even if you don't edit, retouch, or upload your photos to the internet, you still need disk drives as repositories for the picture data themselves.
Over the years we have seen the occasional Panasonic Toughbook or HP desktop computer at the show, though seldom with much fanfare. But drive systems, it's starting to look like, are starting to catch on. And some of them seem to stem from the "wired household" occupied by individuals who lead the "electronic lifestyle." The home network is one of these.
As home networks are generally conceived, they exist on two fronts simultaneously. They permit sharing digital media -- music and videos, as well as photos -- among all the computers in the household. All the computers? People have more than one? Well, most people have more than one TV these days, more than one telephone, more than one bathtub, too.
So you set-up your server, plug it into your router, and send data all over the house. At the same time, the home network is connected to the internet, so that wherever you are you have the same kind of access to your digital stuff. Of course, photos and videos are among the denizens of the web as well as the home. So if you're pitching home networks, you're also pitching home pictures.
Western Digital, for example, was at the Digital Focus show Monday night, showing their ShareSpace server with up to an 8-terabyte capacity. "WD added a DLNA Certified media server to the WD ShareSpace system," according to the company, "making it easy to stream music, photos and videos to popular DLNA-Certified devices including Windows® Vista® PCs, Playstation®3, and Xbox 360®." HP was also at the show, with their latest MediaSmart server which "centralizes digital media and files for backup, remote access, sharing and uploading to social media sites."
A comparable system appeared at the PMA Sneakpeek on Monday afternoon. CRU DataPort introduced their new RTX 400-QR RAID enclosure, citing the photographer as a major beneficiary. The enclosure can house up to four eSATA drives, each with a terabyte capacity.
RAID systems originally came in two styles: RAID 0, which copies data checkerboard-style (or "striped") in sections on two or more drives; and Raid 1, which writes the same data complete, intact, twice to two separate drives. The former works faster, but the latter makes a complete backup of all the data which can be used for protection in case one of the drives crashes. If one of the drives crashes in a RAID 0 configuration, the data on the other drive is rendered useless too because it's only half the story.
With digicam files now coming to something close to 50-megabytes per photo, and the demands of HD video straining the limits of throughput, maximum drive throughput (RAID 0) is certainly an important consideration. But not losing your data tends to be important, too.