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A Shot in the Arm

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A new, and purportedly foolproof, way to preserve your filmic memories comes on the market this week. It’s called the Advanced Photo System, or APS, and it uses digital technology to capture pictures that are apparently easier to take and offer a wider range of viewing possibilities than traditional 35-millimeter cameras.

The secret? It’s all in the film.

“This isn’t like unveiling Windows 95, which was basically just another program for your computer. This is an entirely new product,” says Kodak spokesman Terry McArdle. “Essentially, the film strip acts like a floppy disk.”

APS film contains a magnetic strip that stores information such as distance, brightness and flash status and passes this information exactly onto the camera, which in turn gives it to the processing equipment. This means that what you see when you take the picture is what you’ll see once the picture is developed.

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Congratulations. You now have no one but yourself to blame for bad shots.

APS came about through an unprecedented alliance between five competing film companies (Kodak, Canon, Fuji, Nikon and Minolta) hopeful that a technological breakthrough would resuscitate a sluggish 35-millimeter market. Five years and $1 billion later, APS was born, and with it new system brand names: Advantix (Kodak), Elph (Canon), Endeavor (Fuji), Nuvis (Nikon) and Vectis (Minolta). In all, the five companies will release 60 new APS cameras by year’s end, ranging in price from Kodak’s Advantix 2000 (under $100) to Minolta’s Vectis S-1 (about $590), with the bulk of cameras falling between $100 and $300.

“I think they’re definitely going to do something for point-and-shoot sales,” says Louis Feldman of Samy’s Camera in Los Angeles, which will stock many of the new models. “They give a sharp image, and they’re easy enough for Charlie Vanilla to use.”

Consumers’ top complaints when it comes to 35-millimeter photography are that loading film is tricky and that cameras can be bulky. The new APS film is 24 millimeter, 25% smaller than 35 millimeter, which translates to smaller, lighter cameras. APS eliminates the loading hassle by using a drop-in cartridge with no film leader, therefore no winding. You can’t accidentally reload an exposed roll, because the cartridge indicates whether it’s new, partially exposed, completely exposed or processed.

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APS cameras are similar to 35-millimeter cameras, though more compact (often pocket-size) and simpler to operate. Because the film takes the readings, variables such as light and distance are gauged automatically, thus eliminating setting exposure time and, in some cases, focusing the lens. Options for APS cameras include fixed and auto focusing, auxiliary lenses, a “splash proof” feature, mid-roll change (which allows you to unload a partially shot roll without danger of exposure) and the day and date (and, in some cases, customized captions) printed on the back of each shot.

APS is processed differently than traditional 35-millimeter film. The information is read digitally, hence no negatives. After the film is developed, it is returned to you in its cartridge, along with your finished pictures and an index print, which is like a small contact sheet showing all your shots in the positive.

You have a choice of three picture sizes: C for classic (4 by 6 inches), P for panoramic (4 by 11.5 inches) or H, which simulates the dimensions of a high-definition television (4 by 7 inches). With the flip of a switch, you choose which dimension you want your picture to appear in, changing options for different pictures, even on the same roll. And, because the full-frame always is captured when the picture is taken, you can select different print formats even after photofinishing.

Upping the electronic ante, some companies soon will be offering a number of high-tech ways to view your APS pictures. You can purchase a photo-player for your television, such as Minolta’s Photo-Player VP1 (retailing for $899). Technology is also being developed that allows you to interface APS onto your computer.

Aside from never having to sit through another slide show, what advantages do the new APS cameras offer the average consumer?

“The pictures are very good, very sharp,” Feldman says. “But I think it’s the ease of use that’s the big selling point. For the amateur, it should do well.”

And for the professional?

“Well, you can’t do slides, you can’t shoot in black and white, so you aren’t going to get Avedon in here buying a digital camera. Another problem is, no negatives, so photographers can’t process them. And a photo lab has to make something like a $50,000 commitment to make the digital conversion, so I don’t think a lot of small labs are going to be able to do this, at least not until the cameras are selling well.”

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Which means for the time being, you won’t be developing your APS film in one hour.

“It’s unlikely for the foreseeable future,” says a photofinisher in the Larchmont area who’s adopting a wait-and-see attitude before even considering investing in conversion equipment.

For its part, Kodak is providing processors with overnight mailer envelopes to its Qualex processing labs. “For $3.88, photofinishers can cram as many rolls as they can into the envelope and get the pictures back the next day,” says spokesman McArdle.

McArdle, who is very confident in APS’ future, predicts, “It’s going to be a very big deal.” Look for very big advertising pushes next month, around the Olympics and during the holidays.


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