Photographic methods based on space-age technology are about to be tested here in the hope of revolutionizing the ways in which millions of tourists take pictures of themselves and of Niagara Falls.
If the tests work as expected, today's cameras may be replaced by a system of computers, video screens, digital printing and high-speed transmission on the information highway of the 21st Century.
Thomas E. Wagner of Youngstown, president of Vidcom of Niagara Falls, said Wednesday that the revolutionary photographic and video communications system would be tested on a limited basis during this year's Festival of Lights, opening Nov. 23.
Just incidentally, Wagner said, the system could turn out to be a big money-maker for the financially strapped state parks along the Niagara River.
Workers are expected to arrive here today, he said, with the equipment for trial runs to be performed during the Festival of Lights.
During the tests, roving photographers will approach visitors in the Niagara Reservation State Park and will offer to take pictures of them. But their high-technology cameras will have no film; instead, they will have tiny computers that will send digital images to a receiver in the state Visitors Center in Prospect Park.
The photographer will give his subjects a numbered claim ticket which can be turned in later at the Visitors Center. There, the visitors will be able to decide which of the pictures they want to keep, if any.
The press of a button will print the desired pictures on Kodak photographic paper, and the visitors will pay only for the pictures they want.
If all goes well, Wagner said, the system will be enhanced so the visitors will be able to see their pictures on a big video screen to help them to decide which ones they want to keep.
"We want to test the technology on a limited basis during the wintry cold, wet and windy weather to assure ourselves that it will work under all conditions," Wagner said. "Then we can expand it to all of the parks around Niagara Falls for next summer's tourist season."
Then, he said, the waterproof cameras could be lent to the tourists themselves, to be used throughout their visit to the parks.
Because of their rugged durability, the cameras "could be used in the Cave of the Winds or on the Maid of the Mist," Wagner said.
Vidcom has a contract with the state parks to try out the new system, and the company's profits from the sale of the pictures will be shared with the parks. Vidcom is a partner with British Telcom Worldwide in the installation and maintenance of the system.
The new photographic system is an outgrowth of a somewhat less ambitious digital imaging project that Vidcom already has installed on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the Niagara River here.
In that system, called Fallscam, television cameras have been installed atop the Observation Tower at Prospect Point near the American Falls and on the Sheraton Fallsview Hotel in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Both of those cameras transmit live pictures of the falls to a Vidcom computer which allows anybody in the world to look at the falls in "real time" via the Internet or through video conferencing telephone equipment.
Viewers pay for the Fallscam views through their telephone bills.
During the last year, "people from all over the globe have been calling in to the Sheraton Fallsview camera on the Internet on a daily basis," Wagner said. "More than half of all calls are from outside North America.
"A large number of organizations with video conferencing equipment also call each day to use the view as a test of their equipment or as a backdrop for their business meetings."