Is photography about to join in with the AV revolution? The
new Advanced Photo System could provide a link between chemical photography and
Launched amid a blaze of statistics a few weeks ago the
Kodak Advanced Photo System just might be the biggest thing in photography
since the Box Brownie, possibly... Kodak have been quite clever, they’ve developed a camera system that
marries silver halide imaging with magnetic data storage, audio recording and video
display, they even manage to get in an obtuse reference to the Internet.
The public line behind APS is that everyone wants to take better
photographs, but cameras can be difficult to use and they take lousy pictures...
They’re often fiddly and films are difficult to load. Apparently 5% of films
are damaged just getting them in and out of cameras. Behind the scenes Kodak
and the rest of the film and processing industry are concerned and frustrated.
They’re concerned that digital imaging will one day replace chemical
photography, and frustrated by the relatively small amount of business they do
in reprints and enlargements, because we all take so many bad pictures.
In an unprecedented show of co-operation the leading lights in
the photography industry got together in 1991 to develop a new film format (weak
photographic in-joke...), that would
take them into the next century and beyond. The result is the Advanced Photo
System; all of Kodak’s APS films and cameras will be called Advantix.
The heart of the system is the APS film cartridge,
containing a newly-developed high-performance film that’s 24mm wide with 15, 25
or 40 exposures. The film is leaderless, it just slots into the camera, so
there’s no messing around with loading. The film incorporates a transparent
magnetic strip that can theoretically store as much data as a standard floppy
disc, though it’s capacity is currently only 80 kilobytes and even that’s only being
partially used on the first generation of cameras. It can record a wide range
of information, from time and date, and exposure details to lighting information
and print format. That last item is a key facility in Advantix cameras.
Instead of changing the lens, to alter the shape of a shot,
the camera simply records what sort of picture you want to take. On Kodak
models tiny blinds inside the viewfinder crop the image, to show the shape of
the finished print. The information on the film and read by the processing
equipment, which prints the film accordingly. The current options on Kodak
cameras are a normal 35mm shaped print (Classic), semi wide-angle (HDTV??) or Panoramic. Other possibilities include special
effects and zoom, which would also be carried out at the processing stage,
rather than in the camera.
The magnetic data storage facility has a number of other
uses. On some cameras it will be possible to do a mid-roll film change, without
loosing a single frame. That’s handy for changing film-speeds to suit different
lighting conditions, or you could dedicate one film to birthdays and family
events, and another for holidays.
When the prints come back, instead of getting a load of
easily lost and damaged negative strips you get the original cassette, with the
developed film still safely inside. You also get an index print, cross-referenced
to the cassette with each exposure numbered, simplifying re-prints and
enlargements orders. Time and date information is printed on the back of each
Kodak are now working on ways to use the data storage in the
cassette for other purposes including audio recording, enabling a short voice
caption to be added to each exposure. Other possibilities include film readers
or video scanners, that convert the negative images in the film cartridges to a
video output, for display on a TV, or downloading into a computer. Once inside a
PC images can be manipulated and incorporated into documents using existing
software; this future facility provides Kodak with their tenuous Internet angle.
Presumably APS film readers can also be used for preparing Photo CDs, but they
don’t talk about that much about anymore...
Advantix cameras, plus a whole bunch of APS equipment and
films from at least half a dozen other manufacturers will go on sale in early May.
The small cartridge means they’re all compact and lightweight, most of them are
around two-thirds the size of current 35mm auto cameras. Kodak have four
models, costing from £60 to £170. They all have motor drives, auto rewind, print
size selectors, self-timers, built-in flash with red-eye reduction. The
entry-level Advantix 2000 is a cheap and cheerful happy-snapper with focus-free
lens, and built-in lens cover. The Advantix 3100 has 2-range auto-focus and LCD
status panel. The 3600 (pictured here) costs £130 and has IX (Information eXchange)
facilities. This allows the camera to record lighting and exposure conditions
on the film, that the processing equipment uses to ‘custom print’ each frame.
It also has a more advance AF system. The top of the range Advantix 4100 has a
2X zoom lens.
Advantix films start at £3.79 for a 15-exposure 100 ASA cassette,
rising to £5.49 for a 40-shot 400ASA film. Needless to say processing costs
will be higher than normal 35mm film, in the beginning at least. Kodak reckon a
typical mix of 25 Panoramic, HDTV and Classic
prints will cost around £7.50.
ADVANCED PHOTO SYSTEM
Will it fly? The signs are good, for once the entire
industry is behind the format. The 3600 we’ve been trying takes a good picture,
the panorama option is excellent, and in spite of our best efforts we had fewer
duff shots. The price of cameras needs to come down a bit to get it off the
ground, but if all goes well we reckon this could fill in the gap for the next
few years, before the inevitable digital take-over.
Features: Advantix 3600 IX, £129.99; IX features, format
selector, 200-zone AF, built-in range sensor, LCD display panel, self timer,
rewind button (at any point during exposure), flash warning light, auto power
off, tripod mount
Dimensions: 38 x 63 x 119mm
Weight: 195 g
HAVE WE BEEN HERE BEFORE ??
Picture quality ****
Build quality ****
Ease of use ****
VALUE FOR MONEY 80%
Kodak UK Ltd, telephone (01442) 61122
The shape of the picture is shown automatically through the
viewfinder, there’s three options Classic, HDTV and Panoramic
The built-in flash has an anti red-eye facility; just before
the flash fires a bright red light blinks on and off, to momentarily close the
The 24mm f/3.6 lens uses a 200-zone autofocussing system
(0.6 metres to infinity) for pin-sharp
pix. Shutter speed is set automatically, from 1/2 second to 1/250th second
The camera is powered by a 3-volt lithium battery, this
lives behind a small door on the left side of the camera. Controls are simple,
on the top there’s the shutter release and on/off button, on the back there’s
three tiny buttons next to the LCD panel, for setting time, date and self-timer
R. Maybury 1996 0902