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Field Test: From Bits to Prints

By Larry Barrett  |  Posted 2004-09-01 Print this article Print

Baseline compares home and retail development to Ofoto.com

To succeed long-term, Kodak's Ofoto.com site needs to be easier, less costly and provide higher quality photos than what consumers can generate off a home printer or by taking a memory card to a retail photofinisher.

To gauge quality, speed and price, Baseline tested three main ways of getting prints from a 4-megapixel Canon PowerShot S410 digital camera.

Home Printing

Inserted 32-megabyte CompactFlash memory card with one image on it into HP DeskJet 6122 fax-copier-printer. Punched Print button. The printer fired up and prompted me to select the print size. Less than a minute later, the $299 printer-fax-copier spewed out a 5x7 image on HP Premium photo paper.

Time: About five minutes, not including the original installation of HP Director software.

Quality: Really bad. Should have taken the time to do some editing and color adjustments. Image was grainy and washed out—like it was marinated in lemon Jell-O for about a week.

Cost: 57 cents for paper and ink, plus wear on the printer.

Customer Reaction: Not good. Fast and painless—until you look at the print.

Retail Outlet

First tried a Rite Aid store that sent digital orders out to Kodak. The clerk said the print would come back in two to three days. Passed.

Next, tried a Target store with in-store digital lab. Filled out the order envelope; the clerk then took the memory card and uploaded the image to the processing system. The print was to be ready for pickup in three hours.

Picked up the print three hours later. The clerk said there was no charge. We didn't complain. Until after we got to the parking lot. Inside the envelope was a 4x6 print, not a 5x7.

The clerk explained that this particular Target had software that would only allow her to print 4x6 prints from digital files. But, she cheerfully said she could print 5x7s from film.

Time: About 4 hours, including the failed trip to Rite Aid.

Quality: The quality of the 4x6 was decent, even if the size was wrong. Color and clarity were definitely better than the print made at home but, quite literally, the grass was not as green, or sharp, as a print made by a film processing store.

Cost: 99 cents, if charged for the 5x7 print.

Customer Reaction: Poor. Mainly irked by the clerk's original failure to mention that her lab couldn't make a 5x7 print.


Logged onto Ofoto.com, selected New Album and clicked on the Easy Upload link. Ofoto asked which photos to upload. Once the image was selected, Ofoto grabbed it and a Buy Prints link immediately brought up ordering options. We clicked on the 5x7 option and chose two-day delivery, for $10.99.

Time: About 10 minutes, including establishing the account.

Quality: Outstanding. The grass was green and vibrant.

Cost: $12.06. The 5x7 itself was only 99 cents, but the FedEx fee and tax ran up the expense. Of course, most customers would spread the delivery fee over many prints.

Customer Reaction: Very good. Setting up the account and uploading the image was a breeze. The picture quality was outstanding. And the print arrived a day earlier than promised. The only downside: This still is the slowest of the alternatives.

Summary: Kodak can compete—if it finds a way through CPXe to speed delivery of prints.

Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.
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