Why are the vast majority of digital cameras 11% inefficient? Is this a photo industry scandal?
Welcome to Manual Focus, a new weekly platform for me, DPNow's founder, to get something off my back. Look out for my ramblings from now on every Friday. This week, it's a classic pet frustration - squeezing modern digital camera images into out-dated print sizes.
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It’s great to see the industry thinking on its feet; traditionally, TV screens have been a third wider than their height, making an aspect ratio of 4:3 as they say in the trade. 95% of all digital cameras create digital images that are 4:3 too. Of course nobody who is anybody buys 4:3 TVs any more. In fact if you are an anybody you’d probably prefer not to be seen watching one 4:3 TV either because widescreen TV is all the rage now and that's a 16:9 aspect ratio.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 was the first consumer digital camera with a wide-screen image sensor.
Panasonic, one of the leading manufacturers of wide screen TVs has, very logically, speculated that photographers who are anybody would rather have wide screen TV-style digital cameras instead of old fashioned 4:3 ones. Panasonic put their money on the table by bringing out the Lumix DMC-LX1 last year, the first consumer digital camera with not only a 16:9 wide screen image mode (Panasonic wasn't the first to provide this) but also a 16:9 aspect ratio image sensor (that was a Panasonic first). This year's LX2 continues the trend and Panasonic is known to be courting other camera manufacturers so it can widen (sic) the market for its in-house designed and made 16:9 image sensor.
Already available in Japan: Epson wide screen photo paper.
Panasonic has even persuaded Epson to support wide screen with a matching photo printer paper. In Japan you can already buy packs of 10x18cm (4x7 inches) wide screen Epson photo paper and outside of Japan Epson's latest printers are ready to support wide screen papers.
Wait a minute? The photo printer industry seems to have completely side-stepped the huge majority of users that have 4:3 cameras. If you pop down to your local camera store to pick up a pack of 4;3 10x13.3cm ( 4x5.3 inches) photo paper, you'll be sorely disappointed. The standard paper size for small prints is 10x15cm (4x6 inches), which matches the old standard of 3:2 aspect ratio 35mm film. Print onto a sheet of this stuff and you either have to crop the top and bottom off your image or include the whole image and have to trim the unprinted sides. Whatever, it's an 11 percent waste. Think of your 8 megapixels being reduced to almost 7, for example, or throwing away 11 sheets out of a pack of 100.
From wide screen 16:9 to 'almost' square 4:3, what shape is your camera image?
To give some people in the industry some credit, there are some printing services, both online and in retail that will match the aspect ratio of 4:3 cameras and so minimise waste, but to my knowledge the photo printer and paper manufacturers have, mysteriously, overlooked the whole issue. A traditional paper size that fits 4:3 perfectly is 8x6 inches, but in the days of A and B paper sizes, 8x6 is a bit of an anachronism in the photo paper business these days. 12x16 inches is another increasingly rare golden oldie match for 4:3.
So full marks to Panasonic and Epson for making sure we can enjoy the whole picture on a wide screen print. Boo to everyone else for not doing the obvious and accommodating the millions of the rest of us who use 4:3 cameras.