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Ritz's Dakota Digital Single-Use Camera. Courtesy of Ritz, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins. Ritz prepares to sell single-use digicams
(Thursday, July 31, 2003 - 03:35 EDT)

A press release from Ritz Camera Centers Inc. announces that it has partnered with Pure Digital Technologies Inc. to market a single-use digital camera.

Ritz isn't the first to do so - Pentax and Sanyo were first to announce a trial run of a single-use digicam in Japan almost two years ago - but to the best of our knowledge this would be the first such scheme in the USA. Very limited specifications are available from Ritz on the new camera, but here's what we do know: it is based on a CMOS image sensor of unspecified resolution. 25 images are stored on built-in memory in the camera as raw sensor data, and when offloaded after the camera is returned the raw images are interpolated to a resolution of approximately 2 megapixels for printing. Ritz claims that Pure Digital's technology "allows images with quality comparable to 3 mega-pixel cameras in 4x6 prints".

Ritz's Dakota Digital Single-Use Camera. Courtesy of Ritz, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins. Click for a bigger picture!

Ritz says that the optimum print size for the Dakota Digital Single-Use Camera is 4" x 6" prints, but that 8" x 10" photos will be "pleasing". The camera operates off a built-in battery, and this should provide for over 100 shots with the flash in use - enough to delete 3 out of every 4 photos captured and still have sufficient battery life to fill the camera. The battery is apparently replaced every time the camera is returned, as part of the refurbishment - this is a single-use camera, not disposable, and every time it is returned it will be refurbished for sale to another customer.

The Dakota Digital's lens is approximately equivalent to 45mm on a 35mm camera. One disappointment is that, as with the Pentax / Sanyo camera two years ago, this camera doesn't have an image preview / review LCD display. Without this feature, users lose probably the single most important feature of a digital camera - the ability to see whether images were captured correctly or not, and to reshoot them immediately if there's a problem. Of course, you can still delete the most recent image if you think there might be something wrong, but there's no way to know for sure. There is an LCD info display on the camera to tell you how many images are available, and Ritz tells us that a model with a color LCD is planned for later this year.

Exposure and flash are both automatically controlled, as you'd expect on a camera with no preview LCD. The camera also has a 10-second self-timer button to allow the photographer to get into their own photos... There is no user connectivity, as images must be offloaded by Ritz - which allows the camera to be simpler and cheaper (no hardware to process the captured images is required). It also serves the dual purpose of ensuring that the cameras aren't worth stealing - only Ritz can process the images.

The Ritz Dakota Digital Single-Use Camera is available immediately at select Ritz Camera and Wolf Camera locations, for a cost of $10.99. This price does not include the cost of processing the images, nor the cost of the prints and photo CD that users receive when they return the camera. The PhotoCD is compatible with both PC and Mac systems, requires no software to be installed, and allows images to be viewed, printed or emailed - including both slide show and photo greeting card features.

Ritz's Dakota Digital Single-Use Camera. Courtesy of Ritz, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins.

This is an interesting announcement for several reasons. First, Ritz is following in the footsteps of Pentax and Sanyo in wanting to combine the fast-growing digital camera market with the one other bright spot of photography - the equally important single-use camera market. It is also interesting to note that Ritz is already planning at least one more camera model to follow this, with a color LCD - suggesting that this is not just an experiment as in the case of Pentax / Sanyo, but that Ritz believes it is a viable market.

We're perhaps not quite so sure the idea is bound for success. For one thing, without a preview / review LCD, the advantages over a single-use film camera are much more subtle than with most digital cameras. Since the image sensor can act as an electronic shutter and the flash fires automatically, the resulting metered exposure will likely be noticeably better than most single-use cameras which have a fixed shutter speed and aperture. How do you communicate that to a customer who doesn't understand the subtleties of what shutter speeds, apertures and metering are, though?

Most of the other advantages listed on the packaging, though, seem to be grasping for anything to say. Yes, there is no need to manually wind film between exposures, but is that really so difficult? As for the suggestion that since the images are digital, so they're automatically better than those from a film camera - well, many people remain unconvinced that digital is better than film even on cameras that cost hundreds of dollars. People trust film because they've been using it for years; if they don't already own a digital camera, selling them on digital may not be an easy proposition (and if they own a digital camera, they're very unlikely to be paying for a single-use one).

Ritz's Dakota Digital Single-Use Camera. Courtesy of Ritz, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins. Click for a bigger picture!

That brings up the last issue - pricing. Ritz advertises a free index print and photo CD with images from the camera, but for $10.99 plus an undisclosed processing fee when the camera is returned, the cost could quickly add up to that of a cheap entry-level digital camera from retailers like WalMart. It won't be easier for Ritz to bring the cost down though, because although the development and materials costs of the camera can be spread across multiple users, the company will have to deal with the cost of refurbishing cameras, replacing batteries, and offloading images. There are also other other cost questions - who covers the value of lost or broken cameras, for example? Does Ritz write this off as part of the operating cost of the business, or does the customer have to pay?

If Ritz is successful, we don't doubt that other companies will rush to bring competing single-use digicams to market. If the price is reasonable though, we think that Ritz are likely to find the upcoming model with LCD screen a more viable proposition. The ability to see your images instantly is a hook that any customer can understand.

Original Source Press Release:


Partnership with Pure Digital Technologies delivers high-quality, 100% digital photography at a single-use price

BELTSVILLE, MD. - July 29, 2003 - Ritz Camera Centers, the largest retail camera and photo chain in the United States, today announced the nationwide launch of the Dakota Digital Single-Use Camera at select Ritz Camera and Wolf Camera locations. The cameras, a first to offer consumers a high-quality, fully digital experience at a single-use price, will sell for $10.99 under the company's Dakota Digital brand.

The Dakota Digital Single-Use Camera, built on the Pure DigitalTM Imaging Platform, gives consumers the exciting benefits of digital photography without the associated cost and complexity. The easy-to-use camera offers functions normally associated with sophisticated digital cameras, including the ability to delete unwanted pictures, a fully automatic flash, metered exposure control, and a self-timer feature. Processing is made simple by returning the camera to any of the Ritz Camera or Wolf Camera locations for film-quality 4 x 6 DigiPrints "in minutes" and a photo CD. Now with a click of the mouse, even the novice computer users can email pictures, create photo greetings, or send multiple photos as a slideshow. Each camera is fully recycled after processing.

"The Dakota Digital Single-Use Camera is the easy and affordable answer to digital photography without giving up prints," noted David Ritz, Chairman of Ritz Camera Centers. "This worry-free digital camera is a perfect choice to capture the moments of summer or for anyone interested in trying digital for the first time."

"This new digital single-use camera addresses the two fastest growing segments of the consumer photography market," said Michelle Slaughter, director of InfoTrends Research Group's digital photography trends service. "In addition, the digital single-use camera provides Ritz's customers with the experience of in-store digital photo printing, which will contribute to establishing a behavior for printing digital photos at retail."

According to the Photo Marketing Association, single-use cameras sales have grown over 15% annually for the last five years, even as film sales have declined. Single-use cameras now represent over 19% of film rolls processed. Digital cameras sales have grown 23% over the past year and are expected to be present in almost 30% of US homes by year's end. Despite the increasing popularity of digital, less than 19% of digital pictures are printed, primarily due to the complexity, cost, and time requirements of home printing.

The Dakota Digital Single-Use Camera is available beginning July 28th at Ritz Camera and Wolf Camera locations in more than 14 cities, including Washington, Baltimore, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Dallas.

About Ritz Camera Centers, Inc.
Ritz Camera Centers, headquartered in Beltsville, MD, is the largest retail camera and photo chain in the United States with approximately 1200 locations in 48 states and the District of Columbia. The Ritz Camera Centers chain of stores includes Ritz Camera, Wolf Camera, Kits Camera, Inkleys, and The Camera Shop. All stores have Big Print Central Departments offering both traditional and digital prints "in minutes." Ritz Camera Centers, Inc. also owns and operates Boater's World Marine Centers, a leading marine specialty retail chain with 110 stores nationwide.

About Pure Digital Technologies, Inc.
Pure Digital Technologies develops imaging technology that powers simple and affordable digital photography solutions for the mass market -- including the world's only 100% digital single-use camera. The Pure Digital™ Imaging Platform is a retail-focused solution that employs proprietary server technology to perform sophisticated image processing functions. This unique architecture allows for dramatic reductions in camera cost without compromises in quality. Cameras built on the Pure Digital™ Imaging Platform combine all the unique benefits of digital photography with the affordability, simplicity and quality of traditional film. The Pure Digital™ Imaging Platform is currently being implemented at many of the world's leading retail and photo-taking destinations.

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