Imagek chose the evening at the end of the DIMA conference on Wednesday 11 February 1998 to announce their new Electronic Film System -- the EFS-1 -- to a hard-core group of no more than twenty non-partying journalists. Imagek is a concept often dreamed about -- turning any regular 35mm film stills camera into a digital camera simply by inserting a digital 'film' cassette.
Imagek were only announcing the concept, not showing any technology -- they didn't even have a booth at PMA -- though they did distribute pictures of a scale mock-up of the device. They expect to demonstrate a working model in spring 1998 and have the product in the stores by summer for under $1,000.
Well, Seybold Seminars New York are being held in spring, so we've invited Imagek to show the EFS-1 for the first time at SSNY98. If the prototype is ready, it will be shown in my special interest session, "You too can be a Digital Photographer," on Thursday 19 March -- or on Friday 20 March in "Great Tools for Perfect Images: Digital Photography, Scanning and Imaging". The invitation has been extended and acknowledged but don't blame us if it doesn't appear by then.
EFS-1 looks like a regular film cassette, with a rigid tongue of 'film' sticking out, which fits into the camera's film cavity. Mounted on the rigid tongue is a 1.3 megapixel (1280 x 1024) CMOS sensor which sits in the film plane. Inside the cassette is 40MB of storage and a standard camera battery.
The unit is switched on by exposure to light -- take one shot to wake the device and a beep will tell you it's ready. Thirty pictures can be taken, at a rate of one shot every two seconds, before the storage is full. The unit powers-down on its own after shooting.
To continue shooting when the device is full, the images must first be downloaded and deleted -- or you could just insert another EFS-1, like inserting a new film. The far end of the tongue, away from the cassette, has contacts which enable it to be slotted into a Type 1 PCMCIA slot. This makes a PCMCIA card reader essential, but no cables are required.
Imagek is the image capturing systems unit of Irvine Sensors Corporation (NASDAQ: IRSN), the inventors of three dimensional semiconductors, with the noble aim of "improving and expanding the world of digital photography". Imagek are at 3001 Redhill Avenue, Building 3, Costa Mesta, CA 92626-4529 telephone 800 851 1937.
Imagek are not the first to have had the dream of making 'digital film' but the problems are huge. That's why we ain't seen nothin' -- yet.
The joint between the cassette and rigid tongue would have to be a masterpiece of engineering, very prone to damage. The delicate sensor would need shielding from dust and damage in a photographers' bag or in the PCMCIA slot of a laptop. Imagine dropping the EFS-1, even a short distance.
All the image processing would have to be done by software outside the camera. The cassette would need DX coding, to relay the correct ISO equivalence to the camera's exposure system. There will also be camera-specific problems: for example, some bodies will not re-cock the shutter unless a film is winding on.
The advantages would be enormous, the ramifications far reaching. No special camera bodies for digital -- just use your existing favorite kit. What would happen to the plethora of digital cameras now appearing every day?
The announcement of the Imagek EFS-1 has been greeted with incredulity. The buzz is going around the newsgroups with a great deal of scepticism. "Something fishy," "It sure looks like a hoax" and "Is it April 1st already?" have been typical comments.
Let's reserve judgement until Seybold Seminars New York. It's a neat concept, wouldn't it just be great if it worked?