Digital-Photo Biz Developing

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Low prices and better pictures have made digital cameras a more attractive alternative to traditional film photography. The problem? The images people send electronically to friends and family lack the tactile intimacy, portability, and accessibility of printed photos.

Several online companies hope to overcome that hurdle. And they're turning to an old standby–photo prints–to help them do it.

Photo Finishers

Shutterfly (650/610-5200, ), Photo-Access (206/264-2488, ), and Ofoto (510/647-0514, ) either offer or have announced services to process images from digital cameras.

It's just like dropping off film at a Fotomat, except customers never leave their computers. They just send these companies digital image files over the Internet. The services then turn the files into photo-quality silver-halide prints and send them back via snail mail. They also let users create online photo albums, from which friends and relatives can order prints.

Quick Pix

Digital-image processors charge around 50 cents for a 4-by-6-inch print and several dollars for larger sizes. Instead of running to the photo lab to drop off and pick up prints, customers can order from their computers. Instead of printing every picture on a roll of film, they can look at their digital files and pick which ones to keep.

Companies offering digital photofinishing services have a large market to conquer. Their challenge? Making consumers aware of the technology that can turn their digital images into photo prints. If they can pull that off, digital cameras could evolve from high-tech toys to everyday tools.

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