Pentax, Sanyo test disposable digital camera service

Three Japanese companies are testing what they claim to be the world's first photo-processing service using disposable digital still cameras. Asahi Optical Co. Ltd., which makes Pentax brand cameras, electronics manufacturer Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. and printer maker Altech Co. Ltd. announced the three-month trial Tuesday.

In order to use the service, which costs 1,980 yen (US$16) for printing out 24 images, users pick up a specially designed 310,000-pixel Pentax digital still camera, take their photos and then return the camera to the store they picked it up from. At the store, they can view all the photo images on a display screen and choose any 24 images to be printed out.

The three companies collect the used cameras from the stores, delete image data and repackage the cameras for recycling. Customers are under no obligation to return the camera to the store or collect their prints, once the service fee is paid.

"Profit making relies on how many cameras we can collect and how many times we can recycle them, which can be recycled for several times," said Katsuhiko Miyata, an Asahi Optical spokesman, noting that the manufacturing cost of the camera, even at this quality level, is still more than the service fee.

The trial service will start at five convenience stores and two bookstores in Tokyo and one bookstore in western Japan's Nagoya on Oct. 19. A total of 2,000 cameras will be distributed to these eight stores, Miyata said.

Asahi Optical, Sanyo and Altech are targeting young users who prefer taking snap shots with a digital still camera. They decided the service should be print-oriented because their market research showed that 50 to 60 percent of digital still camera users prefer to print their recorded images, Miyata said.

They hope to launch the commercial service in the second quarter next year, he said.

The camera is equipped with a flash and 8M bytes of flash memory, which allows users to record 24 images. The camera measures 100 by 65 by 30 millimeters, and weighs 130 grams.

In the future, the companies also want to expand the services on the Internet for data distributing as well as printing, and increase the resolution of the camera up to 1.3 megapixels, Miyata said. Currently, it is still difficult to provide a 2 megapixel-class camera for this low cost service, he said.

The companies have not decided yet whether to launch this service outside Japan.

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