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Is photography about to join in with the AV revolution? The new Advanced Photo System could provide a link between chemical photography and electronic imaging



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 photograph.    


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.




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



Instamatic I

Instamatic II

Disc Cameras


Picture quality            ****

Build quality               ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****




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 subject’s pupils


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



Ó R. Maybury 1996 0902


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