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Thursday, 2 March, 2000, 18:06 GMT
Digital cameras take on film
Girl taking photo of her sister with digital camera
Smile! Digital cameras could revolutionise our snaps
By BBC business reporter Mandy Baker

A couple of years ago, few people had heard of digital cameras, but now the photographic industry is in the throes of a revolution and the new technology is beginning to invade our lives.

UK Government ministers have pledged to make speeding as socially unacceptable as drink driving and up their sleeve they have the digital camera.

Police speed camera
No escape from digital speed cameras
Speeding drivers passing conventional cameras often do not get fined because there is no film in the camera to record their misdemeanour. With digital technology, that cannot happen and those two flashes will inevitably spell a fine.

Digital trials

David Prior at the Department of Transport says that digital cameras are already on trial. They can photograph the number plate of the offending vehicle, electronically check who owns it, and send out the penalty notice - all without human interference.

"The cameras will also be able to pick out speeding motorists, even before they have seen the camera. There will be no escape," he says.

While new speed cameras are still to come, newspapers are already benefiting from digital photography.

When Prince Charles put a rasta hat on the wrong way round in Jamaica, the world's press were there to record the moment.

Within seconds of his departure, the pictures would have been plugged into laptops, e-mailed back to newsdesks by mobile phone and available for use by picture editors. Two years ago, this would not have been possible.

David Viggers of Reuters
Viggers: Digital means speed and versatility
Digital revolution

The digital camera has revolutionised the newspaper world because it does not have film that needs to be processed.

The images taken are stored on a memory card, which goes into a computer. The pictures instantly appear on the screen.

They can be blown up or scaled down, touched up and enhanced.

And transmission of the photographs back to base could hardly be simpler.

"Our photographers no longer have to carry a chemistry set with them," says David Viggers, head of the Reuters UK picture desk.

"Within seconds of taking the pictures, the photographers can view the shots to check whether they have what they want. And that's very reassuring."

Speed is the main benefit.

"During a football match, even our most efficient photographers would only get one or two pictures back to the desk by half-time. Now we can do 40 or 50," he says.

Taking over

David Carp of Kodak
Carp sees a bright future for digital
But what can digital cameras do for us? The head of Kodak believes they could revolutionise our holiday snaps.

"You can change how you look, you can make your pictures into puzzles, you can even put your face in a flower," says Daniel Carp, Kodak's Chief Executive.

"You will also be able to e-mail your snaps to relatives on the other side of the world."

Last year, one in seven cameras sold in Europe was digital. As the price of these cameras begins to fall, the speed at which the new technology takes over can only increase.

But however useful e-mailing our photos will be, it is unlikely the family album will ever become obsolete.

And for that, the old technology of printing onto paper will still be necessary.

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26 Feb 00 |  Sci/Tech
In pictures: Compact technology
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