April 23, 2016

Instamatic to Digimatic: The Kool Kamera Kodak Will Never Make [UPDATED]

It's been a nasty decade or so for Kodak. In the last two years alone the company's "highlights" have been "lowlights:"

In December 2010, Standard & Poor's removed Kodak from its S&P 500 index. In January 2009, Kodak posted a $137 million fourth-quarter loss and announced plans to cut up to 4,500 jobs. On June 22, 2009, Eastman Kodak Co announced that it will retire Kodachrome color film by the end of 2009, ending its 74-year run after a dramatic decline in sales. On December 4, 2009, Eastman Kodak Co sold its Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) business unit to LG Electronics which resulted in the laying off of 60 people, which includes research engineers, technicians and interns. - Eastman Kodak
Back in September of 2011 :Bottom Line - Kodak struggles to reinvent itself for digital age
Eastman Kodak appears to be staying clear of bankruptcy proceedings for now, but time is clearly running out for the 130-year old industrial icon to reinvent itself for a digital century.
But that was just blowing smoke because in January of 2012, Eastman Kodak Company and Its U.S. Subsidiaries Commence Voluntary Chapter 11 Business Reorganization And now, a year later, it seems as if it is getting a pulse, or at least a pacemaker: The Daily Docket: Judge Approves $843.7M Kodak Financing Deal - Bankruptcy Beat - WSJ

So it would seem that Kodak is getting a new lease on life, if not a renewed interest in creativity and innovation. For that it would have to go back to the future past.

If the company that calls itself Kodak today had a brain, it would copy the "Instamatic 100" from Kodak's greatest hits, drop a first rate lens in it, add some great chips, a view screen as big as the back of the camera, and rebrand it as the “Kodak Digimatic 100.” Instant win.

An Apple design from before Apple was Apple

They’ll never be cool enough to do it....

Somewhere in the 1990s, Kodak lost the ability to design and innovate. Once the king of the camera world, Kodak's now just the place where bad designs and worse marketing go to die. Today, Kodak needs a brain the same way Scarecrow needed one in the first reel of "Wizard of Oz." Like Scarecrow, there's a long brick road awinding into the land of its dreams.

It wasn't always that way. There was a time when it seemed that everyone in America owned an Instamatic. It was a camera that, in its simplicity, elegance and rock-bottom cost, was an icon of its age:

The lead designer for the Instamatic program was Dean M. Peterson, also later known for most of the innovations in the point-and-shoot camera revolution of the 1980s. The first Instamatic to be released was the Instamatic 50, which appeared in the UK in February 1963, about a month before the 100. The first model released in the US was the basic Instamatic 100. With fixed shutter speed, aperture and focus, it continued in the tradition of Kodak's earlier Brownie cameras, providing a simple snapshot camera anyone could use. It also featured a built-in flashgun for AG-1 "peanut" bulbs.


Today, the Instamatic is a vintage item on ebay and the survivors spend their lives sitting on designers' kitchen tables as Bauhausian Kitch.

I bought this vintage Kodak Instamatic 100 off Etsy a few months back and it’s been sitting on our dining table every since. Purely decorative. -- swissmiss

Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. And yet, somehow it does. Founded in 1892, Kodak conquered the world of photography with innovation followed by invention followed by innovation. But then it got old, big, and obese. And then it got older, smaller, and began wasting away. Now it's almost 120 years old and exhibits all the frailties associated with extreme age.

I suppose Kodak could come back but that would take combining something fresh and new and innovative coupled with something classic and conservative. I don't think Kodak's got the strength to get out of its wheelchair.

In a way, Kodak parallels what we see happening at the core of the Republican party and the Conservative mindset -- a sclerotic situation in which death seems sweeter than life. All it would take for the latter to thrive at this time in the history of the Republic would be "combining something fresh and new and innovative coupled with something classic and conservative." But, like Kodak, it's stuck in its wheelchair.

To paraphrase that very cool Cool Hand Luke: "What we have here is a failure to innovate."

Republished and updated from March, 2011.

Posted by Vanderleun at April 23, 2016 12:21 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

My first digital camera was a Kodak, gold, some kind of anniversary edition. I got it as a Christmas gift from my Mother (1999) and it was frightfully expensive compared to the one I bought as a replacement a couple years later.

Posted by: Sara (Pal2Pal) at March 17, 2011 4:12 PM

It goes to show that businesses follow a life cycle similar to individuals: birth, development, growth, maturity, old age, illness, senescence, and death.

Posted by: rickl at March 17, 2011 4:22 PM

I had that same thought when I saw that Premio had bought the rights (or maybe only rented) the rights to the Kaypro name, then squandered it on a crappy laptop computer instead of renaming themselves Kaypro Computer and using the brand recognition to sell new computers in the old Kaypro colors. I'd love to have a Kaypro laptop again (after the Kaypro 2000).

I'd buy a Digimatic 100, even though I don't need one.

Posted by: Zardoz at March 17, 2011 5:08 PM

Why carry a cellphone AND a camera? Many cellphones today contain a camera that is as good as or better than the Instamatics were, and each year newer phones have better cameras. Regardless of how Kodak lost the "point and shoot" market, cellphones have now made the low-end amateur camera a thing of the past.

Posted by: Clayton in Mississippi at March 17, 2011 5:08 PM

Oh you don't know the half.

Kodak was a rival to Xerox back in the days when I worked for the big X. Kodak was such a hidebound company, they refused to believe that anything digital could approach their chemical technologies in a million years.

When it came to the digital imaging business they were not just skeptical, they were hostile. Nobody with any brains in digital imaging, documents was welcome in their culture. They would always be a chemicals company and that was that.

The digital products they bothered to put out were just token efforts, and the design was hideous. They thought that they could just put Ekta- in front of anything and it would be marketing magic.

They were so far behind it was pathetic. I don't know. I just hated them, is all. Xerox was retarded too.

Posted by: Cobb at March 17, 2011 6:23 PM

Brilliant idea. I was going to say bring back the Brownie, but that Instamatic 100, wow. Perfect.

Posted by: Velociman at March 17, 2011 9:08 PM

“My work here is done. Why wait?”

George Eastman's suicide note.
(He started Eastman Kodak).

Seems rather appropriate concerning his company of today.

Posted by: tim at March 18, 2011 6:11 AM

I worked for The Singer Company for almost 10 years. They saw it coming, they knew the end wasn't far off. So they got into the computer business, started selling TVs and even record albums. Nothing clicked!
The shareholders would've been better off if they had just shut the doors and liquidated the company.

Posted by: Shooter1001 at March 18, 2011 8:37 AM

We can remember Eastman fondly, but then, when we no longer preferred their product, we were not forced to buy it.
The government was not Kodak on its best day, they are never going away, and you will buy their product.

Posted by: james wilson at March 18, 2011 9:26 AM

I miss film. I loved the smell of fresh roll of film---it held such mystery, such promise. Sigh.

Posted by: Deborah H at March 18, 2011 10:02 AM

They don't even make Kodachrome anymore.
But George's daughter, Ruth Eastman, was a wonderfully talented artist/illustrator.

Posted by: Kate Rafferty at March 18, 2011 1:48 PM

The problem with this idea is that KODAK is a film company, not a camera company. The Instamatic was created to sell film, for exactly the same reason that Gillette gives away razors to sell the blades.

Most of KODAK's film lines are actually pretty healthy, but the core of its business, the snapshot market, has been gutted by digital.

IMO, KODAK should develop its core strength as a colloidal chemistry company.

Posted by: Quent at March 19, 2011 10:57 AM

Buy the design rights. You have a ready base of venture capital.. right here. Us, your loyal readers.

Among us are many who have product design experience along with project management experience.

It would be the perfect 4thGen Business.. Get a great web developer to handle marketing and distribution.. Dont pay a single person.. give compensation based on final sales..

Hmm sounds like a plan..

Posted by: Bill Henry at March 19, 2011 12:09 PM


Posted by: Bruce Hanify at March 21, 2011 7:32 PM

I love how the pictures have this sort of patina of being 'old' looking. Already fading and ghostlike. I miss my instamatic. Happiness is a box fulla photographs from my childhood.

Posted by: Jewel at October 4, 2011 2:18 PM

Deborah H: you can still get film. They sell it at Walmart as well as other retail stores. Walmart only sells Fuji now but CVS and some of the grocery stores in my area sell Kodak print film. CVS even sells Kodak professional black and white film, as well as their C-41 process "black and white" CN400 film which you can process at any place that processes standard color films. Pro black and white and slides you have to send to a special lab. But film is still big with artists, photographers, and the hipster Lomo crowd.

I have a couple of Instamatics. I got one off Etsy, one off Ebay. I just love their boxy construction. I managed to acquire a couple of the last cartridges of 126 film (the film for the Instamatics was basically 35mm film with only one perforation per frame inside a cartridge, which you just snapped into the camera instead of playing around with the film tongue of a standard 35mm cartridge; much easier for non-camera-geek people to use) that existed, from an online company that bought the last stash ever from Ferrania. Anyway, I took some photos. And then I took a cartridge of defunct film pried it open, pried open a 35 mm cartridge, stuck it into the 126 cartridge, and took some more photos. Since the Instamatic is constructed to make square images, they show a little more of the top and bottom of the film frame than 35mm cameras, so you get a neat sprocket effect.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at October 4, 2011 10:38 PM

Kodak is still reconized as the father of modern photography so they should use that name in a iconic way. That is I suggest is to call their new camera "The Kodak" based on the Instamatic that sold in the millions a true model of "democratic capitalism" all over the planet! I also would suggest that each new camera has a brief history of Kodak inside it perhaps in cd form.Finally wouldn't it be nice on if it was launched in 2013 the 60th aniversary of the original Instamatic! BP Nash

Posted by: Brian P Nash at March 13, 2012 4:05 PM

The last roll of Kodachrome film: http://goo.gl/iyd1H The video is about 25 minutes long.

For the second to last paragraph, let the GOP go away...perhaps a party that actually gives a damn about limited government will be born. I am sick of hearing how the republican ideas of big government are so much better than the democrat ideas of big big government.

Posted by: Potsie at January 24, 2013 1:20 PM

But then I axed myself - "Would I buy one?"


Posted by: TRKOF at January 25, 2013 9:34 AM

Kodak is still reconized as the father of modern photography so they should use that name in a iconic way. That is I suggest is to call their new camera "The Kodak" based on the Instamatic that sold in the millions a true model of "democratic capitalism" all over the planet! I also would suggest that each new camera has a brief history of Kodak inside it perhaps in cd form.Finally wouldn't it be nice on if it was launched in 2013 the 60th aniversary of the original Instamatic! BP Nash

Posted by: Howard at January 25, 2013 11:35 PM

I don't think using the Kodak name would fly. The younger generation doesn't have reference to what many here are reminiscing about. My two kids (nine and 11) refer to corded telephone usage as "in the old days".

Posted by: Snakepit Kansas at April 24, 2016 6:13 AM

I have both a Nikon Fm and a Nikon D2x.

I want Kodachrome and the digital Instamatic. Properly done, there is a place for both.

Posted by: Mike at April 26, 2016 9:29 PM