Ziba Photographics-- A Pioneer in Digital Imaging
Ziba Photographics Reinvigorates with Digital Lab System
by Mike Antoniak*
It's cliché to say that digital technology has transformed businesses in the photo industry. But few can say it with greater conviction than Sasha Shamszad.
Shamszad first opened Ziba Photographics of San Francisco and Berkeley, CA, back in 1973. It flourished as a custom pro lab that also came to serve photo hobbyists. It has offered E-6, C-41, and black-and-white film processing, in film sizes from 35mm to 8 x 10 inch sheet film; mural printing; copying; film duplicating; and, of course, printing onto photographic paper, display film, and various photographic reproductions. But Shamszad says Ziba lost more than half of its business in the past decade due to changing technology.
First came the Iris printing process, which took a bite out of the fine-art reproduction business. Then Microsoft PowerPoint with projection software killed the slide industry for business presentations. Large-format inkjet printing, along with the LightJet and Durst Lambda digital printers, stole away traditional large-format optical printing. Not to be overlooked are desktop inkjet printers and digital cameras, which are continuing to eat into the business of technology-minded photo hobbyists. It's only poetic justice that now Shamszad is employing digital technology to reinvent his business. Early in 2001, he installed a Noritsu QSS-2711 DLS digital lab system in his Berkeley location. "This is a tool for photofinishing like nothing I've seen in 30 years," he says. "It's truly revolutionary."
New Efficiencies...Since adding the digital lab, he's seen a 30 percent jump in business. And because the system can do so many things that once required multiple departments, Ziba is a far more efficient lab than ever before. A job that might have gone through five or six pairs of hands in a 48-hour period is now completed the same afternoon, often by one person working alone.
On the DLS, a single operator can produce a range of products, from straight develop-and-print orders to enlargements, black-and-white prints, prints from slides, reprints, prints from digital cameras and digital image files, and more. Previously, many of those services would require more than one operation, often involving more than one part of the lab. The digital lab produces them in a single workflow, and generally much faster.
"In a custom lab, you always make a test print. And if the job calls for 5 x 7s, 8 x 10s, and 11 x 14s from the same original, you make test prints for every size," Shamszad says. "With this system, we can turn out custom-quality work with a minimum of testing. And every size prints with the same density and color balance, so matching prints from one size to the next is automatic."The Kodak DLS Software not only runs the system—it also provides the operator with a powerful set of imaging tools to optimize results and correct flaws. The automated dust, dirt, and scratch removal feature, for example, eliminates the need for spotters to treat individual prints. Before printing, each image is displayed on the system's highly accurate color monitor, and density or color corrections can be made in a second or two per image. As a result, Shamszad estimates he has cut his photographic waste by 90 percent or more since installing the digital lab.
Invading New Markets...Moreover, Shamszad is stealing a page from the playbook of non-photo industry invaders who used earlier digital technologies to take away bits of his business. Now he's going to steal someone else's business—specifically, the prepress industry's. He used to rely exclusively on photographers who brought him film to process, print, or dupe. Now he's going to scan and digitally composite images with text and graphics to produce layouts. Then he will output full-color prints on the QSS-2711 DLS digital minilab. "I expect that to become a major part of our business," he explains.
He has already begun carving out a niche in business graphic design and output. He regularly creates two-page spreads for agencies and other clients. Using QuarkXPress software on a Macintosh or PC, he creates layouts of six or seven images with text, then uses the RasterPlus software RIP and outputs the layouts onto photographic paper in sizes up to 12 x 18 inches using the digital lab system's printer. This extension of the system's capabilities is a result of the Kodak DLS operating system's open systems approach, which allows users to employ third-party software solutions and print from networked workstations.
"People who have been working in the desktop environment have been held back because they've never had an output option that compares with this," he says. "The only way to get true photographic quality from a desktop design is through a system like this."As an accomplished medium- and large-format tabletop photographer himself, Shamszad has typically originated images and then handed off transparencies to the ad agency that hired him. Now he can take jobs through more of the creative process, from digital photography on a Hasselblad or Sinar large-format camera to design, page layout and composite proof.
This promises to dramatically increase his piece of the creative services pie (and the associated billing). Equally important to him as a photographer, it extends his control over what will happen to the images he creates. Shamszad decided to acquire the digital lab for a host of reasons. The biggest may be flexibility. He is convinced that the DLS system is the utility infielder of photo labs. "You can do many things on the digital lab that used to require several pieces of lab equipment. It's an amazing piece of equipment: One person can use this system and offer a wide range of lab services. Before, to start a lab, you had to depend on so many people, so many machines and operators/technicians. It required a lot of photographic expertise."
He explains that printing a slide used to require an internegative, or a special R-reversal process. Copying a print required a negative; printing black and white required black-and-white chemicals and paper. Now all are straightforward operations with the DLS: Scan the original (as with any kind of film original) and send the resulting file to the digital print queue. The new lab has also allowed him to reduce his staff, thus cutting down even more costs."You don't have to be an experienced photographer or photo lab technician to get high-quality results," he says. "You can train an art-oriented person with computer experience. "He says the lab is also completely networkable, unlike some other digital labs, adding to its flexibility. Not only can Shamszad send images to print from the DLS system's own workstation, he can also send files from any of the networked PC or Macintosh computers in the shop. So images brought in by customers, or scanned and manipulated in Adobe Photoshop or Quark XPress software by Ziba employees, don't have to be processed by the DLS workstation operator.
Digital Camera Orders Increasing...Ziba has long handled basic photofinishing for advanced amateur users, many of whom are Shamszad's commercial clients as well, "just so they don't start going somewhere else." But he's reticent to distinguish between amateur and professional work. "There's only one kind of print made here," he says, "and that's one that any professional would be proud of. "Increasingly, Ziba's "amateur" work is coming in on digital camera cards, now that the lab can produce photographic prints directly from those files. Shamszad estimates the shop gets 15 to 20 cards every week. He says printing from digital media is a highly profitable business because an operator merely inserts the card into the machine and begins processing files. "It would take me less than 10 minutes to make 20 8 x 10s for you, and in that time, I would give you essentially custom prints. You would be bowled over," he says enthusiastically.
To promote the service, he's offering a package price: 24 prints, plus index print with density corrections and color balancing, and a Photo-CD, all for $14.95. "We want people to see how good it is," he explains. "I figure the money I would put into advertising outside, I'll give to my customers and let them do it for me through word of mouth. "Of course, professional photographers who have made the transition to digital cameras come to him for exactly the same treatment. "Someone came in with a rush order not long ago. I was upstairs, so I took the camera card down to the lab and started making prints right away. She was just planning to drop off the order and come back for it later; but I finished printing it before she had gone. So I took it upstairs and handed it right over to her. It all took less than 10 minutes. She couldn't believe it!" he gushes. "A few years ago this would have been impossible. "That's the kind of difference our digital lab is making," he concludes. "We're creating a whole new level of customer expectations."
*This article first appeared in the February 2002 issue of PHOTOGRAPHIC PROCESSING magazine.