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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2000-01-24

Digital Madness
By Alan Greth, Contra Costa Newspapers

Last summer when I started working on a proposal to convert the entire Contra Costa Newspaper chain to an all-digital operation, I was trying not to be overly optimistic. After all, the Canon DCS520's were still about $9,000 each.

When I added up the cost of issuing each of our 20 staff photographers with two of these cameras, the numbers turned astronomical. $360,000 for the cameras only! Then we would need memory cards, Laptops, carrying cases, and we would have to address the very complex archiving issues.

Even though we are a Knight Ridder company, and the second largest newspaper publisher in the country, I wondered how I would approach the Editor of the paper, and eventually the publisher and chief financial officer and ask for a mere five hundred thousand dollars with a straight face!

Photo by Dean Coppola/CCN

Photo by Dean Coppola/CCN
In my company, one sure way to make a proposal fly was to cost justify it. That is, take all the money we spent on film, processing and related costs and add it up. The annual number was higher then I expected. Over $100,000 per year!

Still, the $550,000 it would take to outfit the entire staff with two camera bodies, a laptop, a flash and 4 memory cards could not be justified. To make matters even worse, after our first solicitation for a bid hit the street, Kodak began changing the available package. They eventually pulled the memory cards from the deal, causing our initial proposal to be about
$50,000 too low!

ENTER THE NIKON D1

While we were going back and forth with various vendors and Kodak on what the actual price of the DCS cameras would actually be and what it would include, Nikon was preparing to introduce their version of a mysterious digital camera.

"Yeah sure" we thought. What could Nikon have up their sleeve that could possibly be better than the Canon/Kodak cameras? We were about to find out. Nikon bent over backwards for us, and Ron Taniwaki got on a plane and brought a demo version of the D1 to the Bay Area so we could test it at a Raiders Chargers game at the Oakland Coliseum.

I shot with a D1 myself. I can still remember the serial number of that camera. It read, "sample." Mike Phillips of Nikon also showed-up with another D1. We had a total of 3.

I used a silent wave 500 mm f/4 lens that of course on the D1 converts to a 750 mm f4. Sweet is the only word to describe it. This camera felt and shot like a "real" camera. The D1 worked so well, I could not believe it.

My main concern was that the auto-focus would never work as well as our large selection of Canon EOS gear. You know, the EOS with a 400 2.8? Guess again. I was determined to make this camera fail, so I was shooting 21 frame bursts from the end zone of guys running straight at me. The camera did not fail. The auto-focus felt just like the EOS.

One minor detail though. I was shooting digital images, and recording them on a 340 megabyte IBM Microdrive. I was shooting heavy, but my entire first half take fit on the one memory card smaller than a book of matches. 396 images! I was sold.

REAL NUMBERS

Photo by Larry Strong/CCN

Photo by Larry Strong/CCN
With the EOS digital proposal, the cameras were so expensive that we had cut our proposal to 34 cameras. This meant that each staffer would only get one camera, with others being available back at the office on a pool basis.

The shooters were not excited about that. With the D1 being sold for about $ 4,400, we would be able to afford more cameras, and not impair the photographers ability to do their job! This would allow us to buy 40 cameras instead of 34. The staff was very concerned that we were talking about spending $325,000 on a camera that was not yet available and
untested. The decision to go Nikon or Canon was mine, but I was determined to let the staff decide.

When the staff learned that going with the Nikon would allow them to get two camera bodies, they voted for the D1 unanimously in a closed-door meeting. I ordered 40 D1's the next day.

THE NEW MILLENNIUM

Our goal was to have each staffer equipped with two D1's, a MacIntosh G3 laptop, a 17-35 and 80-200 by mid December so we would be ready for our extensive New Year's Eve coverage. We had been planning our "Millennium" coverage all year, and knew that we would need to be all digital. Nikon promised us delivery of all 40 cameras by the end of the year. They kept their promise.

The first D1's arrived in late November. Taniwaki and Phillips made several training trips to the paper and did an outstanding job training our staff. Most staffers were using the D1 exclusively during December and loved it.

Our other vendors complied, and we did have the entire staff mostly outfitted by New Year's Eve. We also purchased 20 Ricochet wireless modems so each staffer would have access to the web on their laptop anywhere inthe Bay Area. This allowed us to use a direct FTP transfer protocol to get the pictures back to our paper. The FTP system is working very well for us.

BIG FINISH

Photo by Doug Duran/CCN

Photo by Doug Duran/CCN
Our entire photo staff worked New Year's Eve. Seven staffers worked the day shift and 13 started at 5 pm. We literally had people all over California. Most were in the Bay Area, but we had two photographers at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and one staffer at the State command center near Sacramento.

The staff and the cameras performed flawlessly.

At one time just after midnight, we had nine people simultaneously connected to our FTP server sending their pictures, ranging from revelers silhouetted by fireworks, to the first baby of the century.

We ran 17 live pictures from that night, all shot with the D1. No film was exposed. We published a special 12 page wrap section that night where we featured all the late digital stuff with the D1.

Photo by
I don't want to sound corny here, but I stood on the press platform that morning with the Editor, John Armstrong and the M.E., Saundra Keyes to watch the press start. Knowing that my half-million dollar experiment worked was a pretty damn good feeling.

And besides, if it didn't work, I'd be flipping burgers at In N' Out Burger!

(Alan Greth is the executive picture editor of the Contra Costa Newspapers.)


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