"Kodak sees silver demand unhurt by digital cameras" which is kinda funny.. still, you just can't tell with Kodak these days... "Proliferation of affordable digital cameras will hardly affect silver demand from the photo industry, and in fact, the new technolgy complements and is helping grow conventional film use, according to Eastman Kodak."

``In terms of our silver usage, we don't see a change very much at all within the forseeable future,'' Paul Allen, spokesman for the Rochester N.Y.-based industry icon, told Reuters on Tuesday.

``Film usage continues to grow. That, in part, is driven by digital and some of the neat things you can do with digital photography,'' Allen continued. ``Taking your existing photos and putting them in digital form gives you more use for your pictures and that in turn drives more picture taking.''

The picture industry bought an estimated 257 million troy ounces of silver in 1998, up 6.2 percent from 1997 and the fastest growing source of demand for the metal, according to industry-funded consultants CPM Group.

At about 31 percent of total estimated demand of 822.2 million ounces, that makes photography a top commercial end user of silver, lagging only jewelry and trinkets, which have an active recycling component.

Kodak would not specify how much silver it buys for the so-called silver-halide technology it uses in the manufacture of photographic films and papers.

Digital cameras -- which save images on disks, enabling downloading to personal computers -- like most new technologies, started out too expensive for most amateur photo buffs, but are getting cheaper fast.

Some are now priced under the $300 retail level, in the same ballpark as some traditional film models. But image quality, though improving, remains a problem.

In addition, analysts said the peripherals required to view, manipulate and print these digital snapshots are costly.

In terms of pixels, the information capacity of a digitial camera tops out at about 1 million, far inferior to the 20 million pixels in a frame of a 35-mm color negative.

Thus, use remains far below that of old-fashioned point-and-shoots. A Silver Institute study counted an estimated 4.1 billion digital exposures taken in 1998, up from 1.9 billion in 1997 but far below the 83.3 billion film camera exposures in 1998.

Kodak is playing both fields, claiming it is the number two marketer of digital cameras in the U.S. and the number three worldwide.

The company's digital business lost $100 million in the first nine months of 1999 on revenues of $2.3 billion. Revenue is expected to grow, however.

``A good portion of what we're doing in the consumer marketplace is in between traditional and digital and that is what we call our 'digitization area,' where we are helping consumers to take pictures from traditional into digital,'' the official said.

``The real question is what is the rate at which digital may begin to erode sales of convention film? We don't see that happening for some time to come,'' said Allen.