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Letters Thanks to all those readers who have kept stoking the fire of the digital print booth debate. We kick off this round-up of new input with Scott Holland, who's got some first-hand experience of the Kodak flavour of kiosk:

I have been a photo lab technician in the US for five years. Working with these machines the whole time. I missed your original article on the subject, but after some catch up reading, I believe what you're discussing is what we in the states call a Kodak Picture Maker.

The thing is pretty straight forward. It's a Windows 2000 PC with a multi-card reader, a scanner, and a touch screen. The models we have here use two types of printers, one is roll fed for making traditional 4 x 6 pics, the other is sheet-fed for making larger prints (8 x10's, 5 x 7's, and various packages). All of the printers are thermal dye-sub units. So, when compared to your average inkjet, the quality is pretty good. The prints are also water proof, smudge proof, and are printed on heavy bond photo-quality paper.

The reason the price is relatively high compared to other options is two-fold. First, the supplies for these things aren't cheap. For example, the ribbon and paper come in a pre-packaged kit, 150 sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper and 1 ribbon. These kits cost us $210 each. I work for a large retailer who, no doubt, gets quantity discounts. So, for a smaller shop, the price is likely higher. That comes to $1.40 per print for the 8" sheets. We sell them for just under $5. While some may think this is price gouging, it's not all profit.

The second reason is, as you noted, the things are self-serve and work on the honor system. You make your prints, and we trust you to bring them to us for pricing. While there is some theft, there is also a lot of waste. The primary source of wasted paper is people who don't bother to read the copyright notice (you MUST press an "I have read and understand the notice" button before you can do anything with the machine), and then proceed to print five 8 x 10's of junior's school picture. Of course, since such professional pics are copyrighted, we can't sell the copies to you without written consent from the photographer. This simple fact confuses, and quite often pisses off, many people. They walk off in a huff, and we're stuck eating $7 worth of wasted prints.

As for the things keeping a log of the prints they make, they do. Ours store the last 10 print jobs. The reason for this should be fairly clear. A customer sets up his print, but isn't sure how it'll turn out. So, he makes only one. If it comes out ok, he only has to go to the "Previous Pictures" screen and tell the machine he wants 5 more. He doesn't have to go through all of his editing steps again.

This particular feature is turned off on our units. Though this wasn't always the case. From what I understand, at one point, some genius brought in some unsavory pictures of his lady. These were of course left in the previous jobs queue. Then some innocent little tyke comes by, starts pressing all of the pretty buttons, and manages to print a copy for himself. Which he dutifully takes to mommy, who is none too pleased with his discovery. Shortly after that the order came down to turn the option off. The machine still stores the pictures, but you need a password to get to the option and print anything.

As a caveat to your readers, the "Automatically Enhance Your Photo" option is entirely automated. It is designed to restore color to faded prints, like those that have been bleached by sunlight or exposure to acid in photo album pages. It will NOT bring a blurry picture into focus, or compensate for an underexposed original. It won't turn crap into a Van Gogh. Applying it to an otherwise ok picture will, in many cases, make the picture look worse. Rather than smooth transitions, color may become blotchy. And it will "enhance" such features as rosy cheeks. Making someone with such a complexion look like they stuck their face in a tanning bed for a few hours.

The red-eye reduction does just that. It helps eliminate RED eye. Not white, not green, or any other color that may be reflecting off of someone's retinas. I have seen red eyes that apparently weren't red enough in the software's opinion.

Also, the way your picture looks on the screen is EXACTLY how it will appear when it prints. If your uncle's head is cut out of the picture on the screen, it won't magically reappear when you hit the Print button. The machine maintains the proportions of the print size you want to make. So, trying to make a 8 x 10 (raito of 1.25:1) from a 4 x 6 (ratio of 1.50:1) means that something is going to get cut off, no matter what.

If you attempt to print a low resolution picture at an unreasonable size, say making an 8 x 10 from a 300x200 original, the machine will warn you that the results may not be what you expect. Though this warning is an option that can be turned on or off by the store.

Well, I see this has turned into quite the little rant. I apoloigize for the length, but hope you or your readers may find some of this useful. Cheers.

We're sure they will. Next up, Dave Bell, who addresses the colour cast issue, as previously commented on by one or two readers:

I've not noticed a colour problem myself. I may make up a couple of test images...Colour casts can happen with photographic printing. For an in-store minilab, there's somebody seeing the prints with some experience. If something's wrong with these machines, you may be the first human to notice.

The big problem I've had is with the edge of the image not getting onto the paper. A couple of times I've had a closely-framed shot which lost too much, but at least you can see this on the preview.

It isn't hard to do a version of the picture which will avoid that problem. Do a cut-and-paste into a larger blank image, and then zoom in at the booth.

I have no firm evidence but I suspect it's restricted to old-style 8.3 filenames.

Remember that the two print sizes offered are different aspect ratios. 6"x4" is 1:1.5 (same as the 36mm x 24mm of 35mm film) while the larger 8"x 6" is 1:1.33 (matching a computer monitor or standard TV). There are some other options for multiple prints.

I'd agree that they're a bit expensive, but consider what your inkjet may cost to run. And I've met people with a digital camera, but no computer...

A good point. Regarding the file extension issue here's what can happen when your computer is running a "minority OS", as is Tony Haines':

The first time I tried to print pictures from CD (at Jessops, not Boots) I found that the booth couldn't see any pictures on my CD. It turned out that the machine ignores files which don't have a .jpg (or .tif etc) filename suffix. (I use a minority OS which doesn't have the twisted idea of filetypes as part of the name.)

This certainly makes things more difficult for me. But it makes me wonder, is that braindamaged check the only way they determine file-formats? Would it be possible to insert a malformed file, cause a buffer overrun or somesuch and reprogram the machines? The most malicious use I can come up with is that nothing would change on the display, but the prints would come out as hardcore porn. But geeks being geeks, I think it more likely that the vending booths would be subverted into games machines.

Reprogramme the machines and create a relentless robot army of printing drones? Now there's an idea.

Our penultimate contribution is from Mark Turner, who outlines his experiences of the Boots/Kodak photo print booth - the piece of kit which started this whole debate:

1) I've got a Fuji Finepix F610, which does 12MP images (approximately 4000 * 3000 res). I end up taking all my holiday photos on the maximum res, so that I ensure I get a good quality print. I went in to Boots this morning, CD in hand and had a try with a few images. Curious about the "enhancement" option, I thought I'd give it a go.

The system croaked when I asked for an enhancement. It simply said, "Cannot display this image" and gave up. Nice. Thought it was strange it couldn't display it, as it had already shown the pictures to work with in the image list. I suspect that Kodak weren't ready for people with images of that resolution to give it a go, but as cameras go up in terms of megapixels, it will become more likely. I told the Boots woman about what had happened and I don't think she had a clue as to what I was on about, although she did say she "valued my comments". *cough*

The terminals need a speed boost, as it took ages to do anything with the images. I know, they're 12MP images, but this is supposed to be a dedicated terminal. It took several minutes to get a print or two out. They need beefing up somewhat.

2) Please, please, please, can there be an option to turn off the annoying scottish voice-over man ? I hate talking machines! What makes it worse is that the everyone in the entire store turns around and watches what you're doing, as they can hear this loud John-Leslie-esque voice boom across the store.

3) 49p a shot ? Egads! Maybe they should look at services such as Colormailer.com, which does 4*6 prints for 20p.

4) Images sizes. You only have the option for 4*6, 8*6 and a few strange other ones. What about 5*7 and larger prints. Chances are, if I print out a digital photo, it's because I want to frame it and put it on the wall. 5*7 (or some bigger sizes such as 8*12) would be the way to go here.

5) Print quality wasn't bad, though.

Nonetheless, an interesting distraction for 98p.

The machine speaks with a Scottish accent? Good Lord! Readers who find that prospect particularly unsavoury might like to pop down to the Dagenham branch of Asda, where we are absolutely certain that the machine has a pleasant Essex brogue, awight?

Has anyone else tried the digital booth at ASDA? The Dagenham branch was running a special of £5.00 for 50 6 x 4 prints so I thought it would be worth a go.

Quick and easy to set up and alter any pics for red eye or cropping. When finished you get a printed reciept which you pay for at the photo shop till.

As advertised they were ready an hour later and were very good as regards quality and colour. The camera was a 2 mega pixel Olympus being used at a 1600 x 1200 medium resolution.

I got just over 160 photographs in an hour for £18.00 - not bad at all. I would recommend it to almost anyone.

Even the standard price is only 29p per copy.

And there you have it, courtesy of James Clapperton. We wish our readers happy snapping and many years of pleasant print booth experiences. ®

Related stories

Digital print booths: readers put us in the picture
Digital print booths: Kodak addresses your concerns
Reg reader tackles Kodak digital print booth
Boots deploys digital print kiosks

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