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Print options to lift digital camera sales

The improvements in image quality and printing options are expected to stoke interest in buying digital cameras. Gartner Dataquest expects a 30 percent increase in sales.

U.S. digital camera sales are expected to grow 30 percent this year, boosted by improved options for making prints, according to a report released Monday by research firm Gartner Dataquest.

U.S. sales of point-and-shoot digital cameras--a category that excludes PC cameras and professional models--are on track to reach 8.3 million units this year, compared with 6.4 million in 2001. About 17 percent of U.S. households will have a digital camera by the end of the year, according to the report, with penetration exceeding 50 percent by 2006.

The top five camera makers, in order, are: Sony, Olympus, Hewlett-Packard, Kodak and Fujifilm, said Gartner analyst Andrew Johnson, who declined to give individual market share numbers.

Falling prices have been the main factor in keeping camera sales strong, Johnson said, but ease of use is becoming an important consideration as the industry tries to convince mainstream consumers to make the switch to digital. "The software is a big play--that's why Kodak has EasyShare and HP has InstantShare," he said. "The whole ease-of-use push is so much more important when you're going for that mainstream customer."

Mainstream adoption of digital imaging has also been hampered by limited options for making prints that are comparable in quality to those made from film, Johnson said. Consumers typically have to make their own prints, or order prints from an online photo service and wait for them to arrive in the mail--both more complicated and time consuming than having film developed.

Johnson said Common Picture Exchange Environment (CPXe), an open standard announced Monday for sharing digital images, should provide more and better printing options.

"We've got to make it easier for people to print their photos at 4x6, like they're used to with film," Johnson said. "But the big payoff with digital is different types of photo products, whether they be CDs or photo albums or T-shirts?there (are) all sorts of extra ways to make money."