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Report: Digital photos not bumping film

Despite rapid growth in sales of digital cameras, consumers are using film as much as ever, especially for images they want to preserve on paper, an IDC report says.

Despite rapid growth in sales of digital cameras, consumers are using film as much as ever, according to a report released Tuesday by research company IDC.

The company's "2002 Image Bible" estimates that worldwide this year, 78 billion digital images will be captured and shared via cameras, scanners and mobile devices. About 25 billion of those images will be printed.

That compares with more than 100 billion images captured on film being printed, a number that has remained stable for several years.

IDC analyst Chris Chute said the upshot is that consumers are using digital cameras for immediate gratification and for e-mailing snapshots to grandma. But they turn to film for images they want to preserve on paper. A total of 77 percent of digital camera owners still use film, and more than half use film cameras more often than digital, according to the IDC report.

"They each fulfill a need," Chute said. People use digital "because it's easy to share the images...With film, printing is pretty much a killer app in terms of being (widespread), inexpensive and easy to use."

Chute said he expects the balance to shift slowly toward digital as camera makers, photofinishers and others come up with systems that make it easier to order and retrieve prints of digital images.

"We think that maybe by 2004 or 2005, we're going to see a critical mass of machines that allow the user to get digital prints the same way they do film," he said. "But even then, it's not going to be an overnight thing. Film use is going to be on this very shallow, sloping line over the next 30 or 40 years."

Efforts such as CPXe show promise, Chute said, but rival systems may emerge. CPXe is an industry-developed push to create a standard directory and software for ordering digital prints from local photo shops.

"I think it's a good promotional effort as far as bringing an awareness to the issue," Chute said of CPXe. "But there could be renegades like Sony who get their own critical mass going. It doesn't really matter to the consumer, as long as it's easy to use and inexpensive."