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Photo transmission from Kodak cameras nearing release  
Saturday, August 5, 2000 | by
If you downloaded firmware v3.2.3 recently, you already have one of the six items needed to transmit photos directly from your Kodak/Canon pro camera. Built into the latest revision of firmware for Kodak/Canon pro cameras is the programming stuff required for image transmission via a landline, GSM or CDMA digital mobile phone.


Transmission in progress from a DCS 520

Kodak is preparing to announce this feature the week of August 7th. In advance of the official unveiling, here's a preview of the items you'll need and how it works.

The seven items you'll need to transmit from the camera

The seven items you'll need to transmit directly from a Kodak/Canon pro camera are:

Firmware v3.2.3. Only certain camera models will be transmission-friendly. They are the DCS 520, DCS 620, DCS 620X and DCS 330. The Canon EOS D2000 camera will not be supported. Says Kodak's Mike DeLuca:

...while we continue in discussions with Canon, transmission is currently not supported with the Canon D2000 camera.

Firmware updates are available from Kodak's website.

A GSM or CDMA digital carrier. If you intend to transmit over a wireless connection, you'll need service from an appropriate carrier. Only GSM and CDMA digital mobile phone networks are certain to be compatible. In addition, the CDMA or GSM carrier you select must have digital data transmission switched on across their network. Practically any GSM network will be digital data capable, while CDMA carriers are in the process of upgrading their networks for digital data now. If you live in Europe and Asia, choosing a carrier is easy, since GSM dominates. In North America there is a proliferation of protocols, but CDMA is the best choice for photo transmission from the camera. That's because CDMA is more prevalent than GSM in the US and Canada, and its transmission speed is slightly faster than that offered by most GSM carriers. Still, neither is fast at this time: most GSM networks will move data at a maximum of 9,600 bps; CDMA, at up to 14,400 bps.

In the US, Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless are the only CDMA carriers to offer decent digital coverage nationwide and data service. How decent is decent? Probably not as decent as you'd like. Transmission from the camera will only work from within a carrier's digital coverage area, not analog. Sprint PCS's US digital coverage area is only about 10% of the geographic area of the US, centred around major cities, Interstates and some secondary throughways. In other words, expect to be able to transmit from the camera through your wireless phone easily in most metropolitan areas, but only on or near busy highways when in rural areas.

Bell Mobility in central Canada and Telus Mobility in western Canada both offer data. There are no national GSM carriers in the US, though almost all of the North American GSM carriers are members of the GSM Alliance, which means that roaming on other carrier's GSM networks, and making voice or data calls, is seamless (but can be expensive). Microcell offers GSM service under the Fido brand name in several major cities across Canada.

If you live in the US, check out Wireless Outpost for information on which carriers use CDMA or GSM. The website is seriously out of date in many respects, but the list of which carrier uses which protocol should still be accurate. From there, head to Point.com for information on the carriers and service plans in your area. Wireless Advisor is another site worth checking out. Be sure to select a service plan that includes data, and that data is activated on your account.

Which carriers are definitely not compatible? Any analog-only carrier, though those are few and far between these days. Any TDMA digital carrier, including AT&T Wireless in the US and Rogers (formerly Cantel) in Canada. Even AT&T's PocketNet service will not be an option, as it uses the CDPD protocol for data transmission, which is not supported in Kodak's photo transmission function.

Are you a Nextel customer? If you have a data capable phone (any of their Motorola phones with the Plus designation are), you might, just might be able to transmit photos from the camera with it, even though Nextel's network uses neither the GSM or CDMA protocol. That's because the built-in modem in Nextel's handsets responds to most of the same commands as the built-in modem in GSM or CDMA data handsets, and Nextel's network is able to send data digitally. If you decide to take a risk and buy the right stuff for transmission from the camera for your Nextel phone, please let me know how you fare.

A compatible phone. Not any old mobile phone will do. To be compatible, the phone must:

  • be a digital handset conversant in the GSM or CDMA protocol
  • include a built-in or virtual modem
  • have a data cable designed to connect to a serial port
  • be able to handle data coming from the camera's 3-wire serial interface

These requirements are pretty stringent. They exclude any phone that does not have a built-in modem, which includes any model in Nokia's 5100 and 6100 series. In fact, they exclude any model that only connects to a PC Card data card, CompactFlash data card or via infrared. If the phone can't connect to the camera's serial port it will not work. In addition, if the phone works in both digital and analog coverage areas, digital data transmission will only be possible when the phone is in digital mode.

Compatible phones will include certain popular CDMA and GSM handsets, including the Qualcomm QCP-2760 (shown below) and Qualcomm QCP-860.


Qualcomm QCP-2760 CDMA (1900mhz) phone
and Qualcomm Connectivity Kit cable

The list of recommended phones may be shorter than you think, because certain models, even though they are equipped for a serial port connection, aren't designed to handle the way the camera flows data through its 3-wire serial port. Specifically, the camera lacks the ability to control the flow of data in a manner similar to modern Macs and PCs, which will pose a problem for some phones. The phones below are ones Kodak has deemed compatible; those marked as having limited success may not be able transmit at full network speed and may also be prone to disconnects.

CDMA phones (US, Canada, handful of other countries):

GSM phones (Europe, Asia)

While GSM is in North America as well, none of the above phones will work on US and Canadian GSM networks (though there are, or will be, certain North American equivalents, including the Nokia 7190, expected to be release before year's end).

Note that if you want to use your CDMA phone everywhere in North America then you'll need to purchase a phone that operates on both the 800mhz digital and 1900mhz digital frequencies. Verizon Wireless, for example, is actual an amalgamation of several CDMA carriers, some of which settled on the lower frequency, and others that chose the higher frequency. To transmit data from anywhere within Verizon's coverage area, then, a 800mhz/1900mhz CDMA phone is required. By comparison, Sprint PCS is 1900mhz across its network. But if you choose to use your Sprint PCS phone to roam into parts of Canada, including large areas of BC and smaller centres in Alberta, it's nothing but 800mhz CDMA digital. That means a 800mhz/1900mhz CDMA phone once again. This type of phone is usually called tri-mode, because it can handle the 800mhz and 1900 mhz digital bands as well as 800mhz analog.

Choosing the right phone, one that's compatible with Kodak's transmission function and ready for the carrier or carriers you may use in your travels with a digital camera, is somewhat tricky business.

A data cable. As long as the data cable for your compatible phone is designed to connect to the 9-pin serial port of a Windows PC, you're set. The Qualcomm Data Connectivity Kit's cable mates up to the Qualcomm 860, 1960 and 2760 phones, and has the necessary 9-pin serial connector. Motorola and Nokia, among others, produce similar cables for their phones.

The DCS Transmission Kit. This contains the hardware necessary to connect up the camera to the phone's data cable. It includes:

  • A cable that connects to the 9-pin connector on the phone's data cable at one end and the camera's serial port at the other, called DCS Serial Connectivity Cable.

  • A replacement battery door, with a hole in it that allows the cable to pass through from the serial port. There are actually two DCS Transmission Kits, one for the Canon-body DCS 520 and another for the Nikon-body DCS 620 and DCS 620X. The DCS330's serial port is on the back of the camera, so no replacement door is required. A doorless version of the transmission kit will not be available, so DCS 330 users must purchase either the Canon or Nikon kit, then hang the spare door from the rear view mirror.

  • The camera can transmit through a landline modem too. To facilitate that, three different adapters are included. They help mate the DCS Serial Connectivity Cable to the DB9 connector of an external modem cable for PC's.

  • Sample Modem Configuration Files. They tell the camera how to log in to the receiving software, what number to dial, etc. They are described in greater detail just ahead.

  • Documentation.

The DCS Transmission Kit also includes a certificate that enables you to generate a firmware keycode. The firmware keycode unlocks the camera transmission feature. It's specific to one camera because it's generated in part from the camera's serial number. Kodak's web site includes a page from which a firmware keycode may be generated.


The cables and adapters included in the
DCS Transmission Kit and DCS Serial Connectivity Kit

Both the Canon version and Nikon version of the DCS Transmission Kit in the US have a list price of US$495, including a license for one camera. US dealers I contacted this week hadn't decided on a final price; here's hoping it's substantially less than the list price or it will be out of reach for some.

The DCS Serial Connectivity Kit, a separate product, will contain a replacement DCS Serial Connectivity Cable and adapters only.

Software. If your newspaper transmits pictures via the Internet exclusively, you're going to have to dust off an old Mac or PC and modem to take in photos transmitted from the camera. That's because there is no support for the Internet's TCP/IP protocol. Only direct, computer to computer connections are possible, using one file transfer protocol: Zmodem.

Zmodem-conversant receive programs like Microphone Pro (Mac/Windows), ZTerm (Mac) and GlobalTransfer (Mac/Windows) should work fine; I've used GlobalTransfer for Mac and Windows extensively to take in photos from the camera during beta testing. It has been rock solid on both platforms. In fact, I highly recommend it for both environments. It's dead simple to configure, requires the simplest of Modem Configuration Files and is free for use as a file receiver.


GlobalTransfer for Mac, set to receive mode

At the beginning of the year, Global Village indicated that the program was all but discontinued, but both the Mac and Windows versions are available for download (though the posted versions are Lite versions, which means after 30 days they will work as file receivers only). The Mac version is linked off Global Village's website; Tommy Westerberg points out that the Windows version is available directly from the company's FTP server. If you have The Digital Photojournalist's Guide 4th Edition's CD-ROM, both the Mac and Windows versions are in the Software folder. Though the Windows version is qualified for Windows 95 only, I've been using it in Windows 98 SE without any problems.

Even though Telefinder speaks Zmodem, it will not be supported initially. Kodak has to sort out a problem in the upload sequence that the Telefinder Server software imposes on the sender, and until it does, newspapers running Telefinder bulletin boards will have to hijack a modem and use other software to take in photos sent from the camera.

Modem Configuration File. The camera needs to know the phone number of the receive modem, and the procedure for logging in to the computer and software attached to that modem. To do that, a Modem Configuration File must first be created on the computer, then loaded into the camera. Creating a file for use with Zmodem receive programs that don't require name/password verification is easy. For example, the Modem Configuration File required to connect through a Qualcomm CDMA phone to a Mac or PC running GlobalTransfer would be:

;The title appears in the transmit screen while transmission is in progress.
[TITLE]
"Rob's GT"

;19,200 bps is the speed and which the camera and a CDMA phone communicate.
[SERIAL PORT]
19200 8 N 1

;Commands the phone's built-in modem to reset to its default state, return verbose result codes as words (necessary so the camera can interpret modem responses), and use software flow control (the only kind of flow control the camera supports through its 3-wire serial port).
[INIT]
ATZ0Q0V1+IFC=1,1

;The phone number of the receiving modem, preceding by the dialing command.
[DIAL]
ATDT5551212

Comments are preceded with a semicolon, and are ignored by the camera. They aren't necessary, but they do help others decipher what the script is about.

The example above uses only some of the lingo that makes up the scripting language the camera understands. BBS programs that step the user through a login procedure are more complicated, and call on more scripting verbs to negotiate a successful login. In the DCS Transmission Kit will be several sample Modem Configuration Files, including the one shown below. It walks the camera through the login and logout procedures of the Windows version of Microphone Pro's Mini BBS:

;This .XMT file shows dialing up a computer using MicrophonePro 2.0's MiniBBS for Windows and logging in as user "camera"

[TITLE]
"MiniBBS Win"

[SERIAL PORT]
@19200 8 N 1

[INIT]
;Initialize the modem to reset to defaults, return verbose result codes as words, and use software flow control (XON/XOFF)
ATZ0Q0V1+IFC=1,1

[DIAL]
;Dial command directing the modem to use "tone" dialing
ATDT17161234567

[LOGIN]
;The following sequence shows logging into MicrophonePro2.0 MiniBBS for Windows

;Wait 9 seconds for banner and login prompt from MiniBBS and before proceeding
WAIT 9

;Send the username "camera" <CR><LF> to login
SEND camera

;Wait 5 seconds for password prompt to be received from MiniBBS
WAIT 5

;Send the password "test" <CR><LF> privately
SENDPRIVATE test

;Wait 5 seconds for MiniBBS prompt
WAIT 5

;The following sends the <CR><LF> character sequence to satisfy MiniBBS request to press the ENTER key
SENDBYTE 13
SENDBYTE 10

;Wait 5 seconds for MiniBBS Menu
WAIT 5

;Send the character "F" <CR><LF> to select the Files option
SEND F

;Wait 5 seconds for MiniBBS Menu
WAIT 5

;Send the character "U" <CR><LF> to select Upload
SEND U

;Wait 5 seconds for MiniBBS Menu
WAIT 5

;Send the character "Z" <CR><LF> to select Zmodem transfer protocol
SEND Z

;Wait 5 seconds to allow MiniBBS to get ready to receive files
WAIT 5

[LOGOUT]
;The following sequence shows logging out of MicrophonePro2.0 MiniBBS for Windows

;Wait 5 seconds to wait for MiniBBS prompt
WAIT 5

;Send the "M" <CR><LF> to select the Main Menu
SEND M

;Wait 5 seconds to wait for MiniBBS prompt
WAIT 5

;Send "G" <CR><LF> to select Goodbye
SEND G

A Modem Configuration File can be created or edited in SimpleText for Mac or Notepad for Windows, then loaded into the camera.

How it works

Okay, you've assembled all the hardware, configured software, wrote a Modem Configuration File or two, and now you're ready to send photos. This section provides a brief overview of the steps involved in processing and sending JPEGs from the camera. While it skips over some of the details, it should leave you with a good idea of how photo transmission from the camera works.

Begin by making a decision as to whether you wish to caption your photos in the camera. Since version 3.08 of the firmware for Kodak/Canon pro cameras was released, it has been possible to apply IPTC format, Photoshop-readable caption information to a photo as it's being recorded. Since you won't have an opportunity to enter information specific to the photo before it's transmitted, you may wish to create and load an IPTC entry that includes some basic caption information, your name and other text common to the assignment. That information will be written into each photo you shoot. If you've not done this before, be sure to read the DCS Host Software Manual and DCS Firmware Manual Addendum, available for download from Kodak's web site. Then:

Step 1 - Load Modem Configuration Files. Load the Modem Configuration Files (whose names end in .xmt) and IPTC files (whose names end in .ipt) you've created onto a card, insert the card into the camera, and load the files. The documentation in the DCS Transmission Kit describes how to load .xmt files and make them active. The DCS Firmware Manual Addendum walks through the loading and selecting of .ipt files.

  Step 2 - Connect the hardware
Connect one end of the DCS Serial Connectivity Cable through the battery door to the serial port on the camera (as shown at right), then connect the other end to your phone's data cable. Connect the phone's data cable to the phone.

Step 3 - Tag photos for compression and transmission. CDMA and GSM phones currently move data at about 1 to 1.5K per second, which means that any photos to be sent must first be compressed for quicker transmission. Kodak/Canon pro camera can convert the camera's native RAW .TIF files to compressed JPEGs for this purpose. To select the photos to be converted, Tag them.

  Step 4 - JPEG compress tagged photos
Processing of raw .TIF files into JPEGs gets started in the Processing submenu, under the Main Menu.

It takes 20 seconds or more to convert a photo to a JPEG, so don't try to convert too many at once if you need to get one or two photos transmitted quickly. In the screenshots at right, two tagged photos in FOLDER01 are about to be JPEG compressed and deposited in a folder called JPEG (which will be created automatically if it doesn't already exist).

Tip: To create the smallest possible JPEGs that still have sufficient resolution for printing, choose a quality level of JPEG Good, turn noise reduction on and sharpening off. If quality is paramount and long transmit times aren't a factor, choose JPEG Best, turn noise reduction off and sharpening off.


Remember, when the camera converts an image to JPEG, it can either save or delete the original RAW format .TIF file. I strongly recommend you choose to save it by setting the appropriate option in the Processing submenu.

There are many reasons to do this, including one reason that didn't really exist before transmitting from the camera became possible. I'll explain with an example: At a late night event, you might choose to transmit one or two highly-compressed JPEGs from the camera to make the paper's first edition, knowing that's the only way to get something into print as the presses start to roll. Meanwhile, you continue to shoot. As second edition deadline approaches much later that evening, you prep and send the same photos (plus new photos presumably) from your laptop, this time with lower compression, complete caption information, Quantum Mechanic noise filtering and other adjustments.

Back at the paper, the laptop-processed photos are swapped in place of the camera-processed photos in time to make the bulk of the press run. To do this you must hang onto the original .TIF file.

  Step 5 - Select JPEGs for transmission
To begin transmitting, enter the Transmit submenu under the Main menu.

JPEG Photos that were tagged in FOLDER01 before being converted will retain their tag status. This means that Tagged in JPEG can be chosen, as shown at right, and the two JPEGs will be queued for transmission.

To avoid sending these photos again later, should subsequent photos be JPEG compressed and placed in the JPEG folder, be sure to untag any photos already sent.

JPEGs keep the same file name as the TIFFs from which they were created. The only thing that changes is the extension at the end of the file name. For example, the JPEG derived from 27396107.tif would be 27396107.jpg.


  Step 6 - Connect
The camera will display the status of the connection sequence as things get underway. Here, the camera initializes the phone's built-in modem, connects to the receive modem, and begins to send the first of two photos.

The transmit screen contains key information about the transmission in progress, including the elapsed time, remaining time, throughput rate, the total percentage of data sent, and the last four characters of the file name currently being transmitted.


  Step 7 - Keep shooting!
The speed of transmission will vary, depending on the quality of the signal and whether a CDMA, GSM or landline phone is being used. In testing over the Telus Mobility CDMA network here in Calgary, I've not seen less than 1000 cps (characters per second) throughput, with the rate usually settling in at around 1330 cps by the time 50% of the first file is sent. This is comparable to the transmission rate when this phone is connected to an actual computer.

GSM transmissions will average between 900 - 1100 cps typically.

Tip: the camera can continue to shoot pictures while transmission is underway. You can return to the transmit screen by choosing Transmit under the Main Menu at any time.

If you choose GlobalTransfer as the receiving program, note that it doesn't move any incoming photos into the Received Files folder until all photos are in and the transmission is complete. In other words, if you are sending two photos, the first won't appear in Received Files until the second is in too; then both are moved to Received Files simultaneously. This won't be a limitation unless you have a large number of files queued up in a single transmission, since GlobalTransfer automatically disconnects after each group of files is received.


GlobalTransfer receives the first of two JPEGs from the camera

  Step 8 - Log out
Once all queued photos are sent, the camera will commence the logout procedure defined in the .xmt file, then hang up the call.

A final screen will appear, confirming that the JPEGs were sent successfully.

That's one example of the camera's transmitting workflow. One in which each step requires intervention on the part of the photographer: first tag the images, then convert them to JPEGs, then transmit them. This intervention, at least while learning this function's ins and outs, is a good thing, since it should minimize the accidental queuing of an entire card's worth of photos for transmission and that kind of thing. I recommend that as you learn how to transmit from the camera that you give this workflow a try.

There is, however, another more powerful workflow. It makes use of the TX Persist option. With TX Persist set to On and JPEG processing enabled, the camera will simultaneously JPEG-compress photos as their tagged and transmit photos as they arrive in the card's JPEG folder. With the camera configured this way, it's entirely possible to be shooting an event with the phone connected and stuck in a photo vest pocket, where all that's needed to kickstart compression and transmission of a photo is to tag it on the LCD screen. If you tag one or two new photos every few minutes, then the camera has ample time begin processing and sending them before it has to begin the cycle anew, and the relative slowness of the JPEG compression step isn't a bottleneck. This may be the ultimate way to transmit on a tight, tight deadline, since it makes the best use of the fact that a Kodak/Canon pro camera can continue to shoot new photos while it's processing and transmitting photos in the background.

This workflow is very cool, but will take some getting used to for power users of the camera's Tag function. Up until now, I've use Tag to do a preliminary edit in the camera before transferring a card full of images to my Powerbook for final editing. With JPEG converting enabled and the TX Persist option set to On, tagging photos will instead commence the convert-and-send process. At one point, while writing this report, I glanced over at my phone and saw that it was connected and appeared to be sending data, even though I hadn't used the camera in 45 minutes. The last thing I did was tag 11 photos that I wanted to look at later on the computer, not remembering that I'd already set the camera to automatically compress and transmit. Oops. A separate transmission tag would be helpful, at least for shooters like me who instinctively use Tag to mark photos for editing later.

Availability

Kodak's Mike DeLuca indicates that DCS Transmission Kits will be in Kodak's distribution chain early in the week of August 7th, which means that they will be available from dealers later in the same week or the week of the 14th. Downloadable documentation, Modem Configuration Files and a firmware keycode generator are posted on Kodak's web site.


Firmware keycode generator page

To see one photographer's results from transmitting directly from the camera, check out the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle web site. Staff shooter Jamie Germano sent football scrimmage photos directly from his DCS 620 approximately every 10 minutes over a 2 hour period.

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