The long-anticipated Applied
Science Fiction Digital PIC kiosk has been placed in various retail sites
around the country. We recently attended a test site demo in New York
City. The kiosk uses the company's patented system for converting
exposed 35mm rolls into prints and supplying the same with a CD and index
print. During the process the film's negatives are destroyed (actually
developed to completion) and stored in the kiosk for disposal and hopefully
recycling. Essentially, the system scans negatives three times during
"processing" (which uses only developing agent) and is said
to get the full dynamic range of the exposure onto each scan. A dye sublimation
printer creates the prints and a CD writer handles the archiving.
The stand-alone station uses touchscreen technology that guides the user
through the entire process. Once you enter the appropriate credit card,
etc. information you place a cartridge of 35mm color negative film into
a slot. The door on the slot closes and the process begins. An on-screen
monitor lets you see the progress and view the images as they are scanned.
As scanning progresses you can change vertical compositions from landscape
to portrait mode and even order extra prints and print packages. Once
the full scans are complete printing begins, with two slots catching prints
as they are created on side by side printers, said to be used to decrease
throughput time. Included with the prints is an index print of the full
roll. After printing a CD is written. The CD also contains tiny renditions
of the images on the roll.
The kiosk also contains slots for various types of memory cards. In the
future, other types of films will be supported, such as E-6 and chromogenic
black and white. The cost is in line with what higher-end minilabs might
charge for the process, but of course the final pricing is up to each
retailer where the kiosks are installed.
The prints we received were on sturdy paper and were quite sharp with
good color balance. The dynamic range (range of visible values from light
to dark) was in line with what you'd receive from a minilab that
takes care in printing. Yet, even though the scans are said to encompass
the full range available from the exposure, any print will compress those
values down again, thus the same constraints a lab doing conventional
printing has are shared with this setup.
When you place the CD you receive with processing into your CD reader
the images open automatically on the screen. This allows you to change
orientation, etc. right away. The scans are where you really see the advantage
of this system, as they are truly full range and do away with any contrast
problems you might otherwise have with film. They are, in my opinion,
as good as any scan you'd get with a decent desktop film scanner.
There are three levels of resolution available from each scanned photo
that yields 1.21, 7.37, and 11.8MB respectively as you go through low
to medium to high resolution. This means that at 240dpi you can expect
very good 8x10" and, with some reasonable resampling, up to 11x14"
prints from the highest resolution. The accompanying software also allows
some editing capability, a slide show, and a Save As feature for eventual
export to an image-editing application like Photoshop (in JPEG format).
The system is fascinating, but does raise some questions. The first might
be--is this a film or a digital image? It is unquestionably of digital
character, thus a bit flatter in both contrast and color vibrancy. That's
good for digital output folks, as you can always add attributes later,
such as increased contrast and color vividness. But those expecting the
same type of prints they'd get from, say, Kodak 100 via conventional
processing, might miss the hotter colors and deeper contrast that photographic
prints deliver. The prints are unquestionably flatter than you'd
get from a straight develop and print route.
But in my experience flatter in digital is often better and in this case
you get much better contrast spread from the scans, seeing into shadows
and controlling highlights. So I'd say that the prints are quite
good but serve as proofs for what you might want to do later with your
digital image work. The prints are made on dye sublimation paper, possibly
the best digital option for continuous tone color but clearly not photographic
paper. And, the system does offer a develop and scan option, priced at
the location I saw the setup, Camera Land in New York, at $5.95. So this
seems a great way to go from film to digital scans in a few minutes. And
the higher resolution (about 12MB) is better than you get with a Picture
But the most controversial part of the system, one that has been questioned
since day one, is the destruction of negatives in the process. Bob Shell
has described the system in these pages fully, so I won't go into
detail here. But when some folks shoot film they want negatives for archiving
and backup. Others don't seem to mind. Indeed, there is a large
notice on the touchscreen before you start the whole process that negatives
are not part of the deal. I hope people see that and understand what it
means, or there will be some interesting discussions with store personnel
A minor point is that the setup seems to clip the last image on the roll,
or should I say the last "squeezed" image on the roll. So
if you shoot 25 on a 24 or 38 on a 36 (which is not difficult with some
cameras and films, especially for manual loaders) than don't expect
to see that image come out full frame in the print or scan.
And it seems that with Kodak, Fuji, and others now offering prints, negatives,
and a CD scan of the images as a regular part of their processing service,
some folks might think that getting negatives of their precious images
as another form of backup is not a bad way to go. But those who just shoot
for digital work, and want the convenience of working with a film camera,
the ASF Digital PIC kiosk might be just the ticket. It does present an
interesting hybrid approach to shooting film. And we can see lots of times
when that would be just fine.