Hands-On With Digital Foci Photo Book. Sweet.

Photo Book - wedding imageDigital photo frames have been around for a while now but they seem locked into the birthday-present-for-grandma category and, so I’m told, tend to get used once and mothballed. Californian company Digital Foci, however, has taken the digital photo frame somewhere new with its digital Photo Book.

This is essentially a photo frame with an 8in (20cm), 800x600 LCD screen, around which is a hinged, leather-like cover to protect the display — necessary because this device is not for mounting on a wall or shelf, it’s to be handed around, either as a digital photo album of family memorabilia or, IMHO, more suitably as a sales tool.

Get your work seen When I’m not holed up inside writing gadget reviews, I can often be found with camera and/or computer in hand, covering a sporting event and looking to sell prints. This weekend brought such an event, a suburban tennis tournament. Being able to pass the photo book around and let potential buyers scroll through pictures at their own pace and share the thrill with friends and family helped seal quite a few print sales. It’s certainly a better option than having prospective clients bunched around my laptop while I edit pictures. It's not hard to imagine this device in the hands of a wedding photographer trying to close a booking or album sale.

Alright, enough gushing. You can probably tell I’m a fan. But the device could do with a few improvements. For a start, the 800x600 screen is a bit coarse and because of this a few viewers thought pictures that were sharp weren’t sharp. This is not unusual for a product in this space. Most digital photo frames, notwithstanding the high resolution frames you pay the big dollars for, suffer the same characteristic. I can live with that. However, proving a real nuisance was that even with the screen brightness and contrast adjusted, it was difficult to see the on-screen image under sunlight. You need shade or an indoor location to show off whatever it is you’re trying to show off.

One small niggle came from another user who commented that the icons on the small, backlit buttons on the unit’s control panel were difficult to see, thus introducing a small bump in getting to grips with using it. But it was ever so slight a bump. Didn’t bother me at all.

Using it is quite simple once you’ve figured the purpose of each button on the control pad, which sets this device apart from its digital photo frame cousins. It’s not a “dumb” terminal, so to speak. It’s designed to be handled and interacted with.

There is a discrete power button on the bottom panel. Down the right side of the front control panel is, from top to bottom, a menu button, back button, selection button, and a pair of buttons for zooming in and out of an image or adjusting speaker volume.

Pressing the menu button will control the media source and display options, with the choice of running a slideshow or manually scrolling through an image gallery, which can come from the unit’s 4GB internal storage or USB, xD, SD, SDHC, CF, MMC, Memory Stick or MS-Pro sources.

Support for RAW A big plus in my books is its ability to read RAW files. The .CR2 files from my Canon 5D MkII screened up without a problem. More surprisingly, very quickly. After plugging a 4GB CF card in, the previews were up almost instantly, and a selected 24MB file filled the screen in a little over a second. Not bad performance at all. JPEGs screen up even faster. Here, too, lies another minor complaint. My CF card sat very proud of the device’s side panel and I was constantly concerned that people handling it would lever the card out or otherwise damage the CF slot. A deeper recess for the CF slot would be welcome.

The device also supports audio and video, so it can double as a personal entertainment device, and a slideshow can run with audio background.

Supported image formats are JPEG, BMP, TIFF, GIF and RAW. The product blurb says it handles RAW files from “a wide range of cameras” so you might want to check that your flavour of RAW works if this functionality appeals. Supported audio formats are MP3, AAC and WMA. Video? MJPEG, MPEG-1 and MPEG-4 SP.

It has a 1.4w speaker and runs on a rechargeable lithium polymer battery with about 2.5 hours battery life. I’m told the manufacturer is committed to providing firmware/software updates for it.

When shown at the Photo Marketing Association trade show in Las Vegas earlier this year, it was voted a “hot pick” by a panel of specialist retailers. After handling one, I can understand why. Here is a device that, while it has room for improvement, clearly had a good design team behind it. Finally, we have a functional digital photo frame that can be put to work to sell photos. Or whatever else it is you might want to show off in a visual format.

The Digital Foci Digital Photo Album is distributed in Australia by Garage Brands. Authorised retailers are Michaels, Myer City Centre stores and all Camera House stores. It’ll cost you $399.

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