SAN FRANCISCO (03/18/2004) - Digital photos aren't meant to fit on the 3-by-5-inch or 4-by-6-inch photo papers traditionally used for 35mm film prints. Photo-printing Web site DotPhoto.com's solution: Offer prints based instead upon the dimensions of the digital image itself. DotPhoto Inc. began offering the service this week.
The standard sizes for photo prints reflect the traditional 35mm aspect ratio of 1.50:1. Also known as 3 by 2, it means that the width is 1.50 times the height. However, digital cameras capture images in the narrower aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Also known as 4 by 3, this is the shape of most computer monitors and televisions.
The resulting problem is similar to the dilemma of fitting wide-screen movies onto a television screen--but in reverse. You must fit a picture into a shape that is wider or shorter than the original image. And the solution is similar: You either crop the photo, losing some image at the top and bottom, or add borders to the sides.
DotPhoto's new print size is called 4xD (the D is for digital). An industry standard based on a digital photo's native 1.33 aspect ratio, its resulting prints are 4 by 5.33 inches. Several other sites also offer 4xD prints, including Ulead Systems Inc.'s IMira.com and Smugmug.com. At least one, Club Photo, has been offering the size for years, according to company vice president Darren Schiff. But many of the major players, including SnapFish Inc., Shutterfly Inc., and Eastman Kodak Co.'s Ofoto, don't yet offer 4xD or other 1.33 sizes.
A 4xD image is identical both in content and size to the one in a 4-by-6 photo that is done with borders. Sam Kolodney, DotPhoto's vice president of marketing, admits that the only advantage of the 4xD size over 4 by 6 with borders is that "you don't have to cut it yourself." Both sizes cost 29 cents per print.
Why not go with the clear advantage of a taller size for the narrower aspect ratio? The answer is compatibility with commercial photo albums and frames, most of which are designed to accommodate standard, 1.50-aspect-ratio print sizes such as 4 by 6. "Most photo albums have slots that are 4 inches high," explains Kolodney. "We thought of offering Dx6 (4.5 by 6 inches), but decided against this because of photo albums."
DotPhoto plans to roll out another solution to the aspect-ratio problem next week: user-controlled cropping. When you order a standard-size print without borders, you'll be able to control how much is taken off the top as opposed to how much is taken off the bottom.
Other new features the company is readying for release include a Web-based slide-show application and an online editing tool that will include color and brightness correction and red-eye removal.