Digital Cameras Track Peace-Keeping Mission

Since Operation Joint Endeavor began in December, the Defense Department's combat photo journalists in Bosnia have dispatched thousands of images from the field in digital format.

Digital photography began to take hold in the military during 1993's Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. But in Bosnia, digital photography has become pervasive. Here the American Forces Information Service's Defense Visual Information group has equipped its combat photographers with digital cameras as well as traditional photographic gear. More than 50 combat photographers and support personnel are working in Bosnia.

Through March, about 3,000 digital photos have been generated in Bosnia, according to Tech. Sgt. Chuck Reger of Defense Visual Information's Joint Combat Camera Center.

Film photography—with its higher quality—is still the medium of record within DOD and the one most likely to be preserved and archived. But digital photography has a mission of its own. "The digital camera is a means of rapidly acquiring images and moving them to the Pentagon or the local commander...quickly while waiting to get film processed," Reger said.

The military's digital snap-shooters aim to document the peace-keeping mission and create images for DOD officials to include in briefings. With digital technology and electronic transmission, photos from the field can reach the Pentagon in a matter of minutes.

The photographic process, of course, starts with the camera. Combat photographers are using a mix of digital cameras from Eastman Kodak Co., Cannon and Fuji Ltd. The photographers are also using the AP Camera, co-developed by Kodak and the Associated Press. The AP Camera is designed for photojournalists and works better than other digital cameras in lower-light situations.

"DOD has been the earliest adopter of digital cameras," said Dennis Guyitt, digital imaging specialist with Kodak. He added that DOD has purchased hundreds of the company's DCS 420s, which retail for $10,995.

Images acquired with the digital cameras are written to a Type III PC Card inside the camera. Photographers typically use a 170M PC Card, which can store up to 103 images.

At this point, the PC Card can be removed from the camera and popped into a notebook or desktop computer for processing. Many combat photographers are using Apple Computer Inc. PowerBooks. The PowerBooks are running Adobe Software Inc.'s PhotoShop, which the photographers use to fine-tune the clarity and contrast of the photos, according to John W. Newman, federal account manager with Adobe. DOD photographers, however, are forbidden to use PhotoShop's editing capabilities to alter the photos in any way, he added.

Photos taken with conventional cameras can also enter the digital information stream. DOD photographers can scan 35-millimeter negatives or slides using film scanners from Kodak, Nikon and Polaroid, Reger said.

Electronic Transmission

Regardless of their origin, the digital images are compressed before transmission to make their electronic voyage faster and less expensive. Images captured with digital cameras are generally 3.75M to 4M, according to Reger, while scanned negatives and slides take up about 18M. The digital images are compressed to about 150K to 300K through JPEG compression.

In another preparatory step, DOD photographers use PhotoShop to add captions in the IPTC header format, Newman said. This format allows photos and captions to travel together electronically.

When the combat photographers are ready to transmit their photos, they have two main options: dial-up communications or the Internet. Early in the Bosnian mission, photographers relied on International Maritime Satellite Organization (Inmarsat) telephones to dial up the satellite, log on and transmit their images. Satellite communication, however, is fairly expensive. So as soon as Defense Switched Network or commercial telephone service becomes available, photographers switch to these less expensive means of communication, Reger said.

Reger estimated that 60 to 70 percent of image transmission takes place via dial-up communications. But camera crews are increasingly using the Internet, he noted. Photographers are able to access the Internet through a router connected to DOD's tactical switch at Heidelberg, Germany. The photographers are using Internet communications software from FTP Software Inc. and Timbuktu.

The images ultimately arrive at the Pentagon's Joint Combat Camera Center, DOD's clearinghouse for photo imagery. The center is responsible for the initial distribution of photos to about 50 customers in the Pentagon. The Office of the Secretary of Defense, the services' chiefs of staff and the services' visual information organizations are among the center's customers.

Customers are apprised of the center's most recent crop of photos through an image catalog that includes thumbnails and captions. Customers can then tap the center's file server to download the images they want. A World Wide Web interface combined with a search engine will replace the paper catalog within the next few months, Reger said.

Earlier this month, the center published its first CD-ROM of Bosnian images. The center plans to periodically publish other CD-ROMs and is aiming to come out with a final CD-ROM about 30 days after the Bosnian mission ends, Reger said.

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