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Tech Industry

Umax enters the picture

The scanner company makes its debut into the world of digital cameras, while Eiger Labs offers a printer for photos.

Umax Technologies, best known for its scanners, is making its first foray into digital photography with a new camera, while a company called Eiger Labs has introduced an inexpensive device for printing pictures, as the digital photography market takes on more players and more products.

Both are entering the hot market alongside such industry stalwarts as Kodak, Canon, and Olympus, who already have digital cameras and associated peripherals on the market.

Digital cameras can transfer photographs directly to a PC for viewing. The pictures offer all the advantages of digital technology: Photos can be modified and manipulated in a variety of ways and then stored on a computer's hard drive. They can also be printed out.

Digital cameras also complement the use of PCs, so companies in the PC industry such as Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft are getting into the act as well. They have set guidelines for the low-cost digital cameras of the future to help make these devices as commonplace as printers.

The specifications aim to make it easier to connect a portable PC camera to computers for downloading images, and to improve interoperability with other peripherals, such as scanners and printers. Umax says it will begin working with these companies to help define the guidelines.

The industry's interest in digital photography owes to the expectations of such film-based camera companies as Kodak that digital photography will wipe out film-based cameras, according to market research firm Dataquest. Analysts think the market for digital photography equipment should reach critical mass in late 1998 as the price of high-resolution cameras drops to around $300.

Umax says that its new MDX-8000 can store up to 89 pictures at its highest image quality and that it allows users to annotate pictures with five seconds of sound, making images easier to identify.

The MDX-8000 digital camera takes pictures at a 1,000-by-800 pixel resolution with 30-bit color depth. Typical cameras might have resolution of 640 by 480 with 24-bit color, which translates into less detailed pictures with fewer colors (16.2 million vs. 1 billion, according to Umax).

Images are stored on 500K of internal memory and an included 2MB photo memory card. The card can be swapped out to store more pictures, although it can't be plugged in to a notebook to allow downloading of images. Images are transferred to a PC via a serial port connector, and images can be manipulated and retouched using the bundled PhotoDeluxe software from Adobe.

Eiger Labs is offering consumers a way to print out their digital photos with the EigerMedia Photo Lab printer. The printer produces 3.5-by-5-inch photographs using special photographic image paper and the same continuous tone color process employed by professional developers, the company says.

The printer comes bundled with photo-editing software and software that helps the printer work with digital cameras, scanners, photo CDs, and other image-editing programs. The printer will sell for an estimated street price of $299, and the photographic image paper is available in cartridges of 20 sheets for under $10.

The MDX-8000 is available for a $499 suggested retail price. Additional photo memory cards are priced at around $75.