- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2000

Back in 1888, a budding entrepreneur named George Eastman popularized photography with a funny name for a camera Kodak and a simple promise: "You press the button and we do the rest," the firm advertised. Within a dozen years, the cost of a camera drops from $25 to $1, and soon the entire nation becomes snapshot-happy.

Today, we may well be on the verge of a second photographic revolution, based on a product I have seen recently.

The Casio QV-2000UX digital camera, a $599 device, is a handy little digital camera that features a pop-up flash, 3x zoom lens and creates super-large, detailed images of 2.1 megapixels each at 1600 x 1200 dots-per-inch resolution. Those are sharp pictures.

But how do you get photos from a digital camera to the Internet? That may not seem like a major concern right now, but it is certainly going to be growing in interest as this year progresses. Among the most popular sites on the Internet these days are those devoted to sharing photographs with family and friends, as well as creating interesting gift items from those pictures.

Perhaps the leading site in this category is Zing.com, a San Francisco-based "community" where you can create digital "albums" of photos to share with others. Right now, for most digital camera users, the uploading process consists of several steps: hooking up the camera to the PC, taking the photos from the camera to a computer hard drive, and then uploading the images via a Web connection to the Internet site.

What Zing and camera maker Casio are doing is bypassing several steps in the process. The Casio QV-2000UX camera has a universal serial bus, or USB, connection. Add in software developed by Zing and FotoNation, Inc., which is a leader in digital camera connectivity, and you end up with a one-step process to get your photos on line.

That process consists of setting up an account with Zing (free of charge, as is the storage space you get) and then hooking up to the Internet and attaching your camera via the USB cable. Faster than you can imagine in about 10 seconds during my test the FotoConnected uploading software transfers "thumbnail" images of the photos to the Web site. From there, you can select the images you want to upload as well as delete those images from the camera that you no longer want or need. (Because of the high resolution of each photograph, an 8 megabyte memory card can only hold approximately eight photographs. The Casio camera, however, can work with "micro drives" from IBM, which dramatically increase capacity.)

All this takes place without having to use the computer as anything more than a conduit. Indeed, the three companies are working towards first making and marketing a modem that bridges the camera and the Internet, then building the communications technology into the camera itself. At that point, photo transfers would be automatic; just hook a phone connection (land line or wireless) to the camera and the photos can be uploaded.

A lot of this comes from the inventive minds of Mark Platshon, Zing Network's president and chief executive officer, and Eran Steinberg, FotoNation's founder and chief technologist. During a conversation at Zing's San Francisco offices, Mr. Steinberg said Zing was taking a lead in seeing where digital photography was headed, and that it needs to be even more user-friendly than it is today.

For Mr. Platshon, ease in uploading is an extension of Zing's role, to be a "shoe box in the sky" where people can store and share photos, and from which they can print those photos.

"We're providing the infrastructure for families and friends to share their pictures," he said.

Based on my brief experience with the Casio camera and the FotoConnected software, that infrastructure could be very busy, very quickly. I'm told that experts in the industry are expecting prices on digital cameras to drop by the end of the year. A one-megapixel camera, whose images are more than sufficient for the Web or printing on photo paper, could be an under-$300 item soon.

This is technology worth watching, especially if you want to take those pictures of your rafting trip in Idaho and show off to your buddies with far less hassle than the rapids gave you.

More information on Zing is available at www.zing.com. Data on Casio's line of digital cameras is on line at www.casio.com/ mobileinformation/; while www.fotonation.com is the address at which you can learn more about the FotoConnected software that helps power the transfer.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002, send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page (www.markkellner.com).

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