Digital camera revolution develops old problems

A camera proclaimed as leading a revolution for amateur photographers suffers from some of the same failings as its forebears, according to a test by the Independent yesterday.

The findings may surprise the hundreds of people who manufacturers say have bought the new Advanced Photo System (APS) cameras from Kodak, Fuji and Nikon, which were launched on Monday. Early reports from the manufacturers suggest that the pounds 130 APS cameras have comprised nearly half of camera sales this week.

The manufacturers have said that APS cameras, which need special films - designed to be easy to insert and remove - will record on the film whether the photo was taken in low or excessive light conditions, or using a flash which might affect light conditions, by encoding digital data on the film. It was seen by industry observers as a revolution which would replace conventional 35mm film and hit-and-miss methods of processing.

Although it took five years and pounds 200m to develop, APS cannot necessarily improve the quality of high street developing - identified by professionals as one of the most common causes of disappointing photos.

Brian Harris, an Independent photographer with 25 years' experience, said: "I don't think most people have trouble loading films. The big problem - and I've tested this - is with the processing labs. Most people blame their bad pictures on themselves or their cameras, when eight out of 10 times it's the lab that's at fault. It's a disgrace."

As these photographs show, Kodak's APS camera cannot compensate for pictures with high levels of contrast, one of the most common problems in amateur photographs.

The photographs, taken by Independent photographer Tony Buckingham, show how the benefits of APS - despite the use of special developing machines - have not spread to the processing of pictures. The top picture was taken by the APS camera and processed according to the new system. It is overexposed compared to the other photo, which was taken with a professional camera and developed at the Independent.

Henry Rees, Kodak UK technical services manager, said "This is purely a function of how the processing lab printed it. What APS can do in terms of getting information to the photo's processor does not extend to manipulating the contrast."

New versus old

The upper photo, taken with Kodak's pounds 130 Advantix 3600ix Advanced Photo System camera, is a panoramic view of a lamppost on the north bank of the Thames, on the Embankment. The wide contrast range between the dark ironwork in the foreground and the lighter sky and buildings has created a classic problem: detail is lost. The photograph has also been overexposed in its processing.

The lower photo, taken using an Olympus OM-1 camera costing more than pounds 600, shows the effects of a sensitive light-metering system and careful processing: details of the ironwork are visible in the foreground, but so are those in the background, in the sky and the opposite riverbank.

Photographs: Tony Buckingham

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