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Photo finish for Sony alliance

The electronics giant teams up with PictureVision to develop digital photography software to put photos on the Internet or floppy disks.

Sony and PictureVision, a Herndon, Virginia-based maker of photo development software, are teaming up to sell turnkey digital photo finishing systems for camera shops and other photo developing outlets, which should ease the transition from print film to digital photography.

Under the alliance, Sony will load PictureVision's PhotoNet Digital System on its UYS-77 high-resolution scanner and then sell the package to photo finishers. Photo shops that adopt the systems will then be able to post customer prints to the Web or place them on a floppy disk.

One of the principal advantages of digital photography is the ability to distribute photos quickly to friends or family members. For example, the film can be developed in one location, say Atlanta, and within an hour be can be shared with someone with a computer in San Francisco via the Internet.

The Sony PictureVision process is based on using traditional print film. Under the system, rolls of negatives are placed in the Sony scanner. The scanner and the software then convert the images to the digital format. Once converted, PhotoNet then allows finishers to post the prints to the Web or insert them on a disk.

Eastman Kodak set up a service last month based on similar technology. Under the Kodak Picture Network, however, consumers have to pay a $4.95 monthly subscription fee. Network service is also only available through authorized processing locations. Presumably, fees for the Sony-PictureVision option will be more flexible because photo finishers will be providing the service independently.

"Photo finishers expand the services they offer and increase revenue," said Phil Garfinkel, PictureVision president, in a prepared statement.

Wolf Camera, a 300-outlet photo finishing chain, has adopted the PictureVision system for its franchises.

But this also points to a lingering problem with the transition to digital photography. Until digital cameras are ubiquitous, converting standard photos to the digital format and then distributing them will remain a complex process.

But in the future, as more and more people adopt digital cameras, this conversion process will be unnecessary. A number of companies have begun to market high-end digital cameras that come close to matching the resolution of print cameras. While pricey now--approaching $1,000 in many cases--high-resolution cameras should drop to the $300 range by late 1998, causing the market to explode, according to Van Baker, director of consumer research at Dataquest.