Digital-Camera Technology Develops

`NO, you are too pink.''

Joe Runde clicks away on the Macintosh computer, making me less pink. In short order, he rotates me 90 degrees, crops out almost all of my tie, and creates a reasonable facsimile of my face, except for a white spot on my nose. ``You are still overexposed,'' he sighs.

I wonder if this is what early subjects of daguerreotyping went through. This is the fifth picture they've snapped. They've had to check and recheck the connection to the computer. Point-and-click? Not even close.

But it is electronic. Using a fully digital camera - no film or chemicals - Mr. Runde of Eastman Kodak Company has created a photograph over which he has enormous control. After decades of anticipation, the all-electronic camera is on the horizon.

Since the introduction of this model (the Kodak DCS 200) a few years ago, new models have come to the fore. Two months ago, the Associated Press began selling an improved electronic camera for photojournalists. On the low end, Apple Computer has begun selling the QuickTake 100. BIS Strategic Decisions, a market research firm, expects digital camera sales to more than double this year, to 94,000-plus units - and continue growing 70 percent each year for the next five years.

Well, maybe. Computer enthusiasts and photojournalists will snap these things up. But at $10,000 to $18,000 a crack on the high end, and $800 or more on the low, this isn't exactly the camera for Uncle Fred. Even the high-end models, at best, capture only half the resolution that a $50 camera can get using good quality film.

How can a photographic technology invented and refined 150 years ago outperform today's computers? A major reason is that cameras are true parallel-processing machines, says Wayne Niskala, director of Kodak's applications lab. By introducing light onto film, a traditional camera fixes all the film's data points - millions of them - at the same instant. Computers can't match that, because most of them handle data only one piece at a time.

So instead of one technology succeeding another, what's happening in the photographic world is an uneasy marriage. For the next few years, anyway, most photographers will capture images on film, digitize and manipulate them with computers, then process them back onto traditional photographic paper. Traditional photography will control the input and output of the process, while computers take over the middle.

In a few years, digital printers will take over the output end of the process. Until then, the technology that keeps this shotgun marriage together is Kodak's Photo CD. As a consumer product, Photo CD hasn't succeeded yet. Kodak miscalculated when it assumed consumers wanted to display their photos on their TVs. Nor is it clear that they'll spend the extra $30 or so to put their 100 favorite shots on a CD-ROM. But as a standard, Photo CD is a huge success.

Most CD-ROM players can display Photo CD pictures, which means that, suddenly, what someone shoots with an old camera becomes accessible to the computer. Graphics and photo software can create new images from pictures, even on personal computers. Runde of Kodak recently scanned in the image of a fairy into his computer, added it to a Photo CD image of his daughter picking raspberries, and gave her the composite photo.

A new kind of photography? Artists already are experimenting with the new techniques. Kodak is getting ready to market the Creation Station, a do-it-yourself machine at which shoppers can customize their prints and slides with borders and graphics and text. It's as if we're opening the snapshot to the artist's imagination.

This move has tremendous implications. In an age where anyone can manipulate photographs, a picture will say 1,000 words - some true, some fanciful, and some, disturbingly, false.

* Send your comments on this column to CompuServe (70541,3654) or Prodigy (BXGN44A).

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