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Ask HN: Insider history of the demise of Kodak?
341 points by lawpoop on July 17, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 229 comments
Most are familiar with the fact that Kodak developed the first digital camera in the 70s, and then never followed up on it, eventually becoming bankrupt as film became obsolete.

I'm interested in an 'insider' account of what was going on at Kodak during the rise of digital. My naive assumption is a bunch of 60+ executives with a 1950's mindset of "We're Kodak", and some junior execs proposed projects that are either ignored or ridiculed.

But I wonder, what really happened? Is there a source or interviews or the like? What were they saying in the meetings while digital products were hitting the market?

This is something I'd posted previously on HN:

I worked at Kodak as a summer intern in '85. Was the era of the disk camera. Was also my first programming job. Lotus 1-2-3.

Most people today can't comprehend the scale of American manufacturing as it still was at that time. The Elmgrove plant where I worked (one of a dozen facilities in the Rochester area) has over 14 thousand employees. Our start and end times were staggered in 7 minute increments to manage traffic flow.

That none of that would exist 20 years later was inconceivable at the time. The word "disruption" wasn't in business vocabulary. Nor was the phrase "made in China". Some senior technical managers saw the "digital" writing on the wall. But what could they do? What could anyone do? There was no way to turn that aircraft carrier on a dime.

At the end of my summer internship, I attended a presentation that our small team gave to more senior managers at the top of Kodak Tower in the conference room adjacent to President Chandler's office. One of the managers took me to the window and pointed out to me different plants and facilities of the vast Kodak empire spread out across the Rochester region. I assumed like many that Kodak had a bright future ahead because they had a world-renowned brand and excellent scientists and engineers. What many at the time didn't yet recognize was that there was no business model in digital cameras that would employ 100 thousand engineers, managers, factory workers, technicians, and staff. There were certainly no senior managers willing or able to sacrifice the golden goose of film to pursue something entirely different.

>What could anyone do?

One of the best discussions of this kind of issue I've read was Warren Buffet on the shutdown of Berkshire Hathaway's textile business. Berkshire was a textile business when he bought it which faced a decline similar to that of Kodak's film business. His answer, to reallocate capital to completely different businesses that were healthy. It was kind of what Fuji did when they switched from film to cosmetics and Buffett's reallocations allowed Berkshire to do very well rather than going bust.

The discussion is in the 85 letter if you scroll down to "Shutdown of Textile Business." http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/1985.html

That is my favorite piece of Buffet's writing, for a different reason:

> Over the years, we had the option of making large capital expenditures in the textile operation that would have allowed us to somewhat reduce variable costs. Each proposal to do so looked like an immediate winner.

> But the promised benefits from these textile investments were illusory. Many of our competitors, both domestic and foreign, were stepping up to the same kind of expenditures and, once enough companies did so, their reduced costs became the baseline for reduced prices industrywide.

This is a great illustration of why capitalism is not inherently innovational. If it is cheaper to exploit workers than to automate, the market will exploit workers instead of automating.

I am not so sure Kodak had any other developed businesses where they could have re-allocated so much capital. Something similar seems to be happening with Yahoo now.

In a sense they did - with Eastman Chemicals, which was also founded by George Eastman and which was spun off in 1994? It is a Fortune 500 company with around 20,000 employees.

One way to survive international competition is to ship heavy bulk stuff. I clicked around Eastman's site and reading between the lines their revenue is about $9B and figure a buck per pound accurate to one sig fig so they're shipping maybe ten billion pounds of product annually.

Now China's entire export economy to the entire world is only thirty-something million TEU annually. Figure 50K pounds cargo per TEU and compare, and if I did the math right in my head, one obscure lube oil and plastic resin company sells about 1% of China's total worldwide export capacity.

(All of the above is accurate to about one sig fig, and if China has finally topped 40 megaTEU thats all very nice but doesn't fundamentally change the conclusion anyway)

I mean, that's not realistic to ship across the planet, just too much of it, too heavy, global shipping isn't "big enough" to eat low value product.

Now something high value per pound like photographic film, Kodak would be out of business today in the USA anyway even if film were still in business. Ready to use photo film has a high enough dollar per pound density to be worth shipping across the world.

Taking this to the geographic extreme, some of the most competitively solid businesses are things where you just can't move the product very far. I'm thinking quarries* and trash.

*The exception being highly sought after material not available nearby.

That's an incredibly clearly written letter. It's amazing. If only more businesses communicated that way. But then of course most have reasons to obfuscate the situation...

> Most people today can't comprehend the scale of American manufacturing as it still was at that time.


During my seven years at the Windsor, CO Kodak plant (see my other comment below for more) it was crazy to hear of the heyday (I was there 2002-2009, not the heyday). It was the 2nd largest Kodak manufacturing center (bested only by Rochester) and built in the 60s. It was a sprawling campus of huge concrete buildings with almost no windows (great for film!). The campus had it's own fire department and power plant.

It was a ghost of it's former self when I started but by the time I left entire buildings were vacant. At it's peak the plant had 3,200 employees. A lot of people there had worked in Rochester and from their stories I could hardly fathom the manufacturing operation there being so much larger than ours.

Maybe that's part of the reason Kodak moved so slow - all those buildings and people and essentially small factory cities are not something you can change overnight.

There are still big plants in the US. The Volkswagen plant in South East Tennessee (thought nowhere near the scale of the plant you mentioned).

But they do exist in China. Plants in some cities dump sludge into wastelands the size of lakes. Some factories are small towns unto themselves where people work, sleep and live on company property.

We still need to the scale Kodak had for their market at the time, but economics has moved it overseas and the market is totally different.

It's still consumerism though, and a frightening scale. It's just abstracted away from most of the western world, so we don't see it.

Also notable that manufacturing at scale (including Kodak) has the side effect of leaving behind environmentally problematic Superfund sites. There's no way you're ever going to be able to compete with someone willing and able to externalize more costs than you.

It isn't that some factories have people work, sleep, and live there, that is the standard of how factories operate over there. Most workers are from outside of the area, so they provide all this for them in addition to pay that they send back to the family in other provinces. Even the engineers I've worked with at these companies often live in the dorms during the week, even though they may have apartments elsewhere.

The way I remember 1985 is that "made in China" wasn't a phrase but "made in Japan" absolutely was, see forex https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gung_Ho_%28film%29 and reckon that that didn't get made in a vacuum.

Not only was "made in Japan" established by 1985, but it was already thought to be superior in popular culture:

In Back to the Future Part III, Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown--the 1955 version of himself--discovers that the DeLorean time machine car has broken down because of a faulty chip made in 1985.

Doc Brown: Unbelievable that this little piece of junk could be such a big problem. No wonder this circuit failed. It says, "Made in Japan."

Marty McFly: What do you mean, Doc? All the best stuff is made in Japan."

That might be a cute joke, but a better indication would be VHS camera used in the first Back to the future movie - 1984 made in Japan JVC GR-C1. The cool innovative tech gizmo wasnt US made.

This probably isn't the most valid use of Google's Ngram viewer, but it looks as if "Made in Japan" started taking off about 1980, "Made in Taiwan" slightly earlier, but on a lower trajectory, and "Made in China" really in 1993.


It is interesting though. I wonder why Japan peaked in 1991? Perhaps as simple as the start of the Chinese ascendancy in exports, and from then onwards 'Made in China' just gradually replaced 'Made in Japan' for the pejorative sense of the phrase, which is why it has now returned to pre-1980 levels, which would be a simple factual usage of the phrase?

The Japanese economy went into a big recession in the early 90s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Decade_(Japan)

My own memory of 1985 was that "Made in China" was just starting to get off the ground. Example: at the time, Black & Decker had bought out GE's small home appliance division. I had a Black & Decker-branded hair dryer (that had been a GE product beforehand) and was rather surprised to see "Made in China" on it. I felt it to be a bit ominous even at the time, never mind that products imported from Japan, Taiwan, etc. were already commonplace.

According to the data I've seen, the first huge growth in Shenzhen was centered on 1983, with the biggest peak coming around 1991.

I think it was "made in Taiwan" around then. Japan was a rich, developed nation and investment into China proper hadn't really started.

There was another one: "made in Hong Kong".

I remember seeing that in various things, ever since my father pointed it out. It was common enough to exist in daily lingo.

Most of the time it was a synonym for cheap knock-offs.

I also remember seeing "Made in Macau" on the bottom of little toy cars I played with when I was a kid, as well as other cheap toys and things. Bit of a contrast to today where Macau is the Vegas of the east

Macau didn't seem to be a big player relatively:


Macau has been the Vegas of the East (or, the Monte Carlo of the East) for a long time - Portugal made gambling legal there in 1850 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambling_in_Macau

downsizing was also introduced around then - during the time of James Goldsmith and the corporate raiders

> But what could they do?

Could they have bought NeXT in the mid '90s? Then maybe we'd all be walking around with a "smartcam" that also makes calls.

I mean, yeah, coulda, woulda, shoulda... but those sorts of alternate histories require some kind of A Priori knowledge that NeXT might become an incredible company, beyond that, augmenting the path of a company like NeXT will contaminate the timeline, provoking unpredictable ripple effects in the subsequent continuum. If Skynet kills John Connor, what will the machine world look like? What happens if Marty listens to Needles, and accepts his dare again??? (:

Without divining, based on now-known realities, that they had no insight into, what could have been done?

Apple's total disintegration isn't entirely imaginable at this precise moment, but planning for some dreaded rainy day, what disaster strategies could they use to anticipate a total failure of their bread and butter?

Microsoft probably IS facing this scenario. What can they do?

Good point on the "timeline contamination". We like to say that "hindsight is 20/20" - which implies that if one could go back in time, one could take advantage of that future knowledge without changing that future outcome. I could say that if I went back in time to the early 90s and bought a bunch of Apple stock for like $5/share that I'd not change the future. But what if I got greedy and bought a significant percentage?

I do agree with your assessment of AAPL vs MSFT. Apple has ingrained itself into the fabric of our personal lives in a way that would be very hard to challenge. Microsoft never achieved that - because it was run by corporate sales folk.

Apple's undoing, if anything, will be from being to greedy.

Regarding the current contrast between apparent states of Apple and Microsoft, I'd say Apple could be reduced to an identical state in a matter of six months by any other company coming out of the woodwork with some new, fully realized product the general public hasn't seen before. It's not innately reasonable to divine what such a product might be.

Meanwhile, consider that Microsoft was very strong in 2003, but through a few minor misteps, just missed the boat on a some key changes in technology. Then, when the things that killed their advantageous position finally made an appearance, they refused to give chase. Why they failed to jump on the new bandwagons, and how their own boat started taking on water, has a complex story of its own.

I'm not sure why you all think Microsoft has big problems. They still have the corporate and public sector, largely even the education market cornered. They are hugely profitable and right now taking crazy-looking but probably not exactly stupid steps towards changing their consumer business model.

Well, from the consumer perspective, their most visible and obvious source of relevance, they've got barely anything worth talking about, and everything they've bought up, people are holding their breath waiting for corporate inertia to contaminate and ruin.

But yeah all that business, corporate, government, enterprise activity is probably plenty more than just life support. It's not like I read shareholder earnings reports or anything, though.

Also: rich uncle Xerox did own PARC, and it didn't end up saving the company.

I was somewhat staggered in the late 1990s reading John Sealy Brown (former PARC director), in The Social Life of Information, which is otherwise and excellent book and one I'd still recommend, that the grand-daddy of technical reproduction businesses completely failed to mention its biggest competitor, the Apache Webserver, anywhere in the book (there was brief mention of the World Wide Web).

I've worked with some of Xerox's workhorse printers, multi-hundred-thousand-dollar systems that can crank out 120 prints per minute, sustained (hot-swappable paper trays, so you don't even have to stop to reload). But all of those were already being dwarfed in document presentation by a freely-available arrangement of software, with a $1,000 - $10,000 piece of server kit capable of kicking out millions of pages per day. A large print shop with several workhorse printers might make 1 million copies/day.

And at a fraction the cost.

Yeah, Xerox completely dropped the ball.

Rent-seeking behaviour is not sustainable in a functioning capitalist society. But it can be very lucrative while it lasts, and it only has to last until you retire.

How is selling printers rent seeking?

Xerox derives much of its income from contracts rather than selling printers directly. They rent you the printer and charge you per page printed.

Source: worked tech support for better part of the 2000's and had to get Xerox printers on our networks often. Spent a lot of time updating settings when the contracts renewed and new printers were leased.

That sounds like something their customers want, whether you think they should or not.

That's essentially what I found in my time working with them. This was public sector so the idea of budgeting the hardware cost as a lease and paying per print really appealed to the administration.

Possibly exploiting patents.Though Xerox lost out on much of that to IIRC Toshiba.

If I hat to bet on any of the two, I would bet on Microsoft. They have standard Products used in businesses all over the world. Corporations moving much slower than trends I think Apple is in much more danger...

> What many at the time didn't yet recognize was that there was no business model in digital cameras that would employ 100 thousand engineers, managers, factory workers, technicians, and staff

I believe you meant to say "that there was a business model".

No, I really meant "there was no business model". The film and film cameras supported many of those hundred thousand employees. Let's assume that 30K of them were in the film camera areas. Kodak, as a company that markets digital cameras built in China, would support perhaps 1000 employees in that endevour. A big drop. What Kodak ended up doing mostly was just license the brand name. Probably didn't even need 1000 employees for that.

Kodak failed because the entire verticalized printed photo industry was demonetized. It's the same way the newspaper industry has shrunk: yes people still take pictures and read news, no there isn't an obvious way for large companies to extract value as there used to be. Printing chemicals and large printing presses are very expensive and hard to reproduce, meanwhile while digital comes along and easily replaces them. And if Instagram dies 10 others can take their place.

My dad devised the "Bayer filter" used in digital cameras, in the 1970's in the Kodak Park Research Labs. It is hard to convey now exactly how remote and speculative the idea of a digital camera was then. The HP-35 calculator was the cutting edge, very expensive consumer electronics of the day; the idea of an iPhone was science fiction. Simply put, my dad was playing.

This was the decade that the Hunt brothers were cornering the silver market. Kodak's practical interest in digital methods was to use less silver while keeping customers happy. The idea was for Kodak to insert a digital step before printing enlargements, to reduce the inevitable grain that came with using less silver. Black and white digital prints were scattered about our home, often involving the challenging textural details of bathing beauties on rugs.

I wish he would have designed it to be easier to remove ;)

A few of us adventurous armature astrophotography nerds have been trying to remove the bayer matrix off our DSLRs, without destroying the sensor, for a while now. It's unfortunate that there are so few options for true monochrome sensors.



Interestingly, the kodak KAF-8300 is still a very popular option for commercial monochrome sensors.

"armature" Nice pun :-)

>My dad devised the "Bayer filter" used in digital cameras

What? That's amazing! I work in high-speed videography and your father's filter is a part of my daily live. Awesome!

Your dad is Bryce Bayer?

Sometimes things are made by teams of people

My dad Bryce Bayer (Kodak Rochester) worked closely with Phil Powell (Kodak England) throughout this period. I don't know what Phil Powell specifically contributed to the 'Bayer filter'. I do know that my dad would have liked to have shared credit for all related work on digital photography, but that Kodak Rochester did not want to share credit with Kodak England. I'm also a mathematician, and I see how the details may be beside the point: When one grows a tree together, one wants to view all fruit of the tree as shared.


That is cool. While I think it's sad that Kodak and it's employees were displaced by digital imaging, I also think part of the role of technology is to bring a better life to all, through its use in medicine or by reducing the cost of "things." I think society owes a great amount to your father's work in this regard.

Any thoughts on Fuji's "re-interperetation" of the Bayer-filter in their work on X-Trans?

I worked for Kodak from 2002-2009 in their Windsor, CO plant, in the Thermal Media Manufacturing division and also wrote the occasional post for the corporate blog (thermal media == Dye sublimation printer media used in Kodak Picture Kiosks mainly). AMA.

It was the same thing every year - digital is cannibalizing film faster than we thought, we need to close down X or lay off N people. A year or two of that sure but over and over again and it became clear the executives were just not getting it. Looking back I wonder if they just decided to slowly ride the ship down, extracting nice salaries along the way. I still can't understand how someone - activist shareholders, a board member with half a brain, an executive willing to speak out - didn't make a bigger stink and try to get fresh leadership.

I remember one year at an all division meeting they showed the latest corporate "motivational" video - "Winds of Change" (http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JYW49bsiP4k). We thought finally, they get it and are admitting we've been stagnating and now we're gonna turn it all around. Everyone was super pumped up for weeks.

Then we realized the only thing that had changed was our ad agency who had produced the video.

Haha, I worked for a photography studio during that time period and we used your printers. We had an 8660, which destroyed itself spectacularly and violently during an event, and an ML-500, which destroyed itself somewhat more slowly and had to have virtually every mechanical part replaced numerous times. When they worked they were great, but that never lasted very long.

I spoke with Kodak support people quite a bit during that time and they always gave me the impression that Kodak was not giving them the support they needed to keep up with demand. The ML-500 at least seemed to have been hand-built, and when I called in because it stopped printing yellow or whatever I would often end up speaking to one of the actual engineers. Great for figuring out what was wrong with it, but it seemed really weird that these guys were seemingly fielding calls all day.

The main thing I remember (other than the printers broke constantly) was that after a few years it became next to impossible to get media for it- we'd call our distributor and he'd say "I don't have any this month, try xxx." So we'd call them and they'd give us another lead, and eventually we'd find some and order as much as we could, and then start the process again the next month. We always assumed that most of the stock was reserved for kiosks.

I'd love to hear more about what was going on with that, if you know.

Oh man, you brought back some memories for me - I mainly referred to the printers by their internal codenames so thinking back through and connecting the model numbers to codenames really took me back.

There was a few years there where demand really outstripped supply. We were the only place in the world that made the media for Kodak at the time and I'd say 2002-2006ish the kiosks were really doing well and we just couldn't keep up (good or bad Kodak didn't seem able to predict the market for it's products). They added on and doubled our capacity somewhere around 2005 and then added on another manufacturing center in Rochester towards the end.

It's interesting to hear your experience with printer breakdowns - I always thought of them as real workhorse machines. But then again I was surrounded by dozens and dozens of each model (except the ML 500, we only had 4-5 of those) and there was a full staff of mechanics running around and a handful of them fixed the printers in addition to the other industrial machines / electronics around.

The 6800/6805 was my favorite - we used to take it out to local events and print off 1000s of free 4x6s for people (we'd take some digital cameras too and set up some sort of "scene" for people). Even running non-stop in the 90 degree sun I only had one overheat on me a couple times.

I'm sure traveling wasn't great for the health but we definitely had a lot of trouble with it, as did other studios we talked to. To Kodak's credit they were always really great about fixing them quickly.

Can't complain too much. We did a lot of school athletic tournaments and stuff like that, we could shoot a team and we'd have 8x10s ready to sell to parents before the kids got off the risers. Assuming everything was working smoothly it was a license to print money!

Wow. yeah the printers.. I remember buying a Kodak printer that I had changed/replaced at least 3-4 times then I gave up. I liked my Kodak digital camera though - probably one of the last before they went out of business.

Wow, that is an amazing video! 2006. Facial recognition. Sharing to your PDA ... oops! Then, a few months later, the iPhone happened.

And beat Kodak with the grace of an anaconda eating a chicken...What a way to shut them up.

Do you know what happened to the facilities? I'd imagine Kodak's 2nd largest manufacturing facility had quite a footprint.

According to http://bizwest.com/deconstruction-on-kodak-campus/, demolition began on 2011-06-01, but that didn't get rid of the entire campus, since a few buildings were still being used. In 2012 Kodak sold 320 acres of it to become a part of the 1,800-acre Great Western Industrial Park [0][1]. In 2013 they sold of the last 200-person facility (which makes Kodak kiosk media) to the "U.K. Kodak Pension Plan", which has kept it running [2].

So there probably aren't any cool abandoned buildings there... The only one I've been able to find is [Kodak building nine](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodak_building_nine) in Ontario.

[0]: http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/kodak-s-windsor-locatio...

[1]: http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/news/2012/01/19/halliburto...

[2]: http://www.denverpost.com/2014/01/20/200-kodak-alaris-jobs-r...

Thanks for these links, I hadn't been back in a long while and this fills in the gaps of what's happened since I left. Glad to see C29 still stands and is in use even if it's days are certainly numbered.

The pension plan owns and operates the old facility?

That's just weird.

There is a great bike path from Windsor to Greeley and as of about two summers ago, there was a big chunk of Kodak land and a handful of largish buildings near it. Think square miles of land maybe.

It looks like they had a rec center, deals with a local farmer to grow a crop on some their land, all the perks of a big old 20th century company, it's also a pretty great location.

About half was health related film (X-rays and such) and was sold off as another company who's name escapes me. I'd heard that one building was demolished but I believe most of it is still there

Carestream Health Inc

When I lived in Rochester they were constantly knocking down empty buildings for tax savings. I'm pretty sure they ended up tearing down most of the buildings and sold a lot of the land.

Yeah, basically all along Ridge Road from Lake Ave to Mt. Read.

Remember the coal pile they used to maintain?

From the warren buffet autobiography ...

“What about Kodak? asked Bill Ruane. He looked back at Gates to see what he would say. “Kodak is toast,” said Gates.8 Nobody else in the Buffett Group knew that digital technology would make film cameras toast. In 1991, even Kodak didn’t know that it was toast.9 “Bill probably thinks all the television networks are going to get killed,” said Larry Tisch, whose company, Loews Corp., owned a stake in the CBS network. “No, it’s not that simple,” said Gates. “The way networks create and expose shows is different than camera film, and nothing is going to come in and fundamentally change that.”

“You’ll see some falloff as people move toward variety, but the networks own the content and they “can repurpose it. The networks face an interesting challenge as we move the transport of TV onto the Internet. But it’s not like photography, where you get rid of film so knowing how to make film becomes absolutely irrelevant."

Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itun.es/us/hj_bz.l

Excerpt From: Schroeder, Alice. “The Snowball.” Bantam Books, 2009. iBooks.

Even amongst more technically minded folk, there were some having difficulty accepting that the technical challenges facing digital photography would, in fact, be overcome. Here's quite an interesting thread from rec.photo, Dec 1990 onwards, discussing just that.


There's a lot of good gems in there:

"Right now, 1 Megabyte of memory costs about $45 retail. This will not drop by an order of magnitude in the next decade without a breakthrough, or an economical Gallium-Arsenide process to replace Silicon."

"It's much easier to pass a stack of prints among a group of people than to set up a viewing session on the TV."

It makes you wonder what new technologies we dismiss today will actually start a revolution. Of course, not everyone was wrong about the future of digital film; this guy was spot on:

"In my opinion, the popularity of electronic camera is dependant upon the popularity of computers. If this so call multimedia become a reality, then more people may want electronic cameras."

"Right now, 1 Megabyte of memory costs about $45 retail. This will not drop by an order of magnitude in the next decade without a breakthrough, or an economical Gallium-Arsenide process to replace Silicon."

I love this line. Even in 1990 people didn't believe Moore's Law.

1990 was weird for memory prices because they were just recovering from memory shortages and price hikes. See this chart http://www.jcmit.com/mem2015.htm and this newspaper article from the time http://www.nytimes.com/1988/11/25/business/shortage-of-chips...

And yet we still have people who don't think Moore's law will cause us to reach the end of MOSFET at some point.

"No doubt, my recent $8000 35mm camera investment was a safe one."


They're right, it was 1990. The first DSLR didn't come out for 5 years, and it was less than 2 megapixels.

The Nikon D1 didn't come out until 1999, so nine years later, for $6000, for a 2.75mp camera.

Did that even compete with film? Can you put that on the cover of a magazine at under 3 megapixels?

So yeah, it was a safe investment in 1990.


I lived in Rochester, NY and got a 20 hr/week job interning at Kodak in the slide film research department during HS in 1999-2000.

I remember on one occasion my boss, a mid-level executive (head of new slide film research? something like that) asked me what I thought about digital cameras, I think both because I was young and seen as "the computer guy". I didn't own one but I'd read about them a decent amount. I told him I understood they were expensive/low-quality at the moment but the advantage of ditching film and using ever-improving digital tech still seemed huge. I don't remember his exact words, but he couldn't really see the appeal or promise.

The 7-story building I worked in is just a mound of grass last I looked. I have thought from time to time just about the institutional inertia that fights against seeing what's going on and adapting. There were just tens of thousands of people with very highly specialized skills around film and chemicals and processing and dark rooms and paper and so many things most of which simply aren't relevant to a digital photography world.

Now, granted, other film/pre-digital camera companies did a far better job making the jump. I'd argue maybe in part again that Kodak seeing itself as emotionally wed to film while other companies saw themselves moreso as camera/photo companies. That Fuji has been able to survive is more surprising to me than Canon/Nikon/Olympus/etc.

I had never really put much thought into it, but you're totally right- the expectation was that a chemical company (essentially) would transform itself into a Hardware & software manufacturer. That's a might, mighty leap. That Fuji was actually able to do it is even more impressive.

I worked for a company that did some work for Kodak - both directly and indirectly - around some of their software initiatives & partnerships with mobile manufacturers. They were not pretty or well-run projects, to be sure.

Certainly Kodak did a lot of things wrong but there's a common meme straight out of Marketing Myopia [1] that, had they only thought of themselves as a photography company rather than a film company, all would have been well. This is basically nonsense.

Even had Kodak been more aggressive about cannibalizing its film sales with digital, it's unclear how much of its expertise and competitive advantage would have carried over. In any case, it wouldn't have nearly replaced the film consumables business in terms of revenue and profit.

Fujifilm did do better--mostly, current camera line notwithstanding--by branching out into other areas of chemistry. Good read from The Economist here [2] but Fujifilm had tough times too and I believe that they were also significantly smaller.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marketing_myopia

[2] http://www.economist.com/node/21542796?fsrc=scn/tw/te/ar/the...

[Second link fixed.]

I always wondered, if you're an executive with perfect foresight and your analysis shows that you could either cling to your legacy technology and make a billion dollars for 10 years and then zero dollars after that as the inevitable disruption happened or go all in on self-disruption and make 100 million dollars until the end of time, which would really be the better choice?

Given that disrupting yourself would have a 100 year payoff period, it seems far better to try and squash any attempts at change, both internally and externally until progress becomes inevitable. Look at the music industry for example, even a few extra years of CD dominance would exceed the profits of all digital music sales ever.

Of course, if you go this route, your incentive is to play clueless and out of touch since even giving credence to the disruptive idea hastens it's arrival. I'm sure there were a lot of executives who were genuinely clueless but this at least shows how otherwise intelligent executives would have a strong incentive to act clueless.

Well, some forward looking companies trying to avoid being disrupted now really invest in or set up completely separate subsidiaries to explore this new areas of growth. They even go so far as to have completely different management and buildings.

The upside to this is there's no existing bias in management decisions for the new company. Instead, it offers them a potential insider look, and understanding of this new technology..and when the time comes for a pivot, they have something solid to build on.

Intel is next.

They're making billions on big, complex, expansive CPUs. Someone like ARM /will/ replace them, at a much smaller dollar volume.

I am not so sure, mainly because a lot of Intel's advantage comes from its process technology. The ARM instruction set might well take over, but you still need someone to make them.

Even at the current 14/16nm nodes, Intel's process is significantly smaller than TSMC or Samsung's [1]. I suspect we will see consolidation (a la GloFo/Samsung) and Intel branching out into being a foundry, but with building 10nm++ fabs running into the billions of dollars, I don't see Intel going anywhere any time soon.

[1]: http://newstechnow.com/plans-launch-14nm-finfet-technology-c...

> The ARM instruction set might well take over

looks around himself

It hasn't already?

The Windows world (and therefore most corporate offices) are very much dependent on the x86-64 architecture. The ecosystem will need to switch to web or (ARM) apps for Intel to die.

My eye doctor's office is switching to Android tablets, so maybe it's possible.

I'm not sure if you've looked into Fuji's digital camera offerings as of late, but their doing much better there IMO than Canon/Nikon. Fuji has been innovating in sensor tech with their X-Trans sensor and their X series mirror-less cameras are very very well liked. Not only are the bodies innovative control-wise, they've hearkened back to older manual dial style cameras that are really simple to use, but the lenses are of top-notch quality.

I have. I have an X-E1 in front of me as we speak and I use it more than my Canon full-frame system. It's just a lot more practical for most travel. And reminds me a lot of the rangefinders I used for years.

That said they're relatively niche.

I love my X-Pro, and I loved Fuji film before it, but remember Fuji has never been under the anti-trust concerns Kodak has, and that forced them to divest the film processing and professional camera arms.

I wish I had saved the article but I remember reading somewhere (and just paraphrasing here) that the team that works on the iPhone make it good enough so you'll use your iPad (tablet) less, then the iPad team makes it so good you'll use your MacBook less, and so on. I think it's great forward thinking to be always trying to put one of your largest product lines out of business as a way to constantly innovate. In so doing, you hopefully have less chances of having to lay off tens of thousands of people because you tried hard to stay ahead of the curve.

Unlike Apple, Kodak was caught in a very hard place. With film they would collect revenue for every picture taken, through the film itself, developing, and printing. With digital you could make money on the cameras themselves, but your per-picture revenue opportunities were limited - this was the great attraction of digital. It's not the same as Apple replacing devices one-for-one.

Apple seems to have copied that model somewhat, make 30% on everything that's sold for iOS.

I guess they knew that eventually everyone would have a good enough iOS device and they'd have to reduce the cost of the device to compete.

> With digital you could make money on the cameras themselves

You could, but you rarely do. The profit margin on the consumer-level DSLRs is really low. They make money from the stuff around it.

Tell that to the people who make the inks for my Epson inkjet printer.

Inkjets can do great prints of photos, but only if you pay for the paper and ink.

Remember, Kodak was collecting for every picture. So few pictures get printed today, the cost of ink is literally a drop in the bucket.

Maybe they should have obliterated their brand and gone into other chemical research and manufacturing.

Kodak actually sold off their chemical subsidiary way back when before they started declining. Using expertise in emulsions etc. is essentially what Fujifilm did but as I said elsewhere they still had hard times and I think we're quite a bit smaller.

You failed to paste your second link correctly.

More than half a decade before OPs internship began, Kodak had already spun off a chemical company thats fairly successful to this day.

I think a good analogy would be HP. Legendary lab test equipment up till 1980 or something. Spin off the legendary lab test equipment division into a new company thats successful to this day AFAIK although they rename / rebrand every five years. The remainder tries to coast by selling imported Chinese stuff with its famous name rebranding the cheap import, but the writings on the wall as it crashes.

So for both examples, if your core competency is XYZ and you spin off your healthy XYZ division and don't really have a post spinoff plan, the empty dehydrated husk that remains will wither away pretty quickly.

Essentially you've got what banks call the good bank / bad bank strategy where you split and one fails and the productive part remains. For whatever reason companies like HP and Kodak throw the historical branding into the "bad company" side. But the "good company" sides are healthy and in business to this day.

Fuji made some excellent early digital cameras. So well built and using very little power. I took one into my workshop and it even survived there during several projects (and that's a pretty bad environment for a camera).

I'm not surprised they survived, they caught on early and made good gear.

As opposed to Canon cameras that give cryptic errors about lenses 3 days after the warranty expires, HP cameras that used a set of batteries every 60 shots or so and so on.

It's a pity that Asahi/Pentax didn't survive as an independent.

Pentax lives on today under Ricoh, and Ricoh is taking good care of it by making new camera bodies and lenses under the Pentax name.

Pentax is also the only brand to make affordable medium format digital cameras.

Their new full frame 35mm camera (the K-1) is also surprisingly affordable ($1,800). Full frame camera form Nikon/Canon with similar features start at around $3,000.

I have a K50. It's weather sealed and with two weather sealed kit lenses. It was less than $500. It works with any old K-mount lens from the last 40+ years and adds image stabilization because Pentax moves the sensor to stabilize the image.

So far Ricoh seems to be doing a great job with Pentax -- the newest cameras, the K-1 and K-70 are both fantastic.

Sometimes I think nostalgically about my DOS 16 bit programming skills - all quite useless today. It's hard to give that up.

Retro indie games are making a comeback.

Well, the Digital Mars C/C++ compiler still supports DOS programming (I just can't seem to let that go!)

Good to know!

I thought that OpenWatcom was the only one remaining to support DOS (and it appears to have been stagnant for a couple of years)...

(Not that I've done much with DOS - I did write a ~10-20 line program in C to set the serial port to specific settings, but that was all I've done on DOS.)

Can I write DOS code in D?

Sorry, no. D has a bit much overhead for the 16 bit world. C++ does, too, which is why to C++ for 16 bits has exception handling and RTTI removed.

My high school physics teacher worked at Kodak's research labs on CCDs, including some that were for use in "specialized applications," which I assume to mean spy satellites†. He said that he had quit when Kodak decided to stop shooting themselves in the foot and shot themselves in the head instead. That would have been the early 90s, I think. I don't have any specific mismanagement stories, but I'll send you his email address (the most recent that I could find.) I always wished that he would talk about it in more detail and now that it is some years later, maybe he will.

† He told us one fun story. One of his research papers had been cleared by the censors for publication and accepted by a scientific journal. However, just before the journal went to print, the censors changed their minds. It was too late to fix the layout, so the edition was released with a sheaf of blank pages in the middle. He said that it was the proudest anyone had ever been of some blank paper.

Edit: Apparently, there is no way to private message an HN user. If you have a Reddit account or similar, I can pm you there.

Kodak was always a big part of US IMINT capabilities. Before CCDs, they were making specialised films for the film-return spacecraft, and operating the facility where it was processed. There's some interesting stuff in the declassified NRO histories about upgrades to the film emulsions -- which I'm sure filtered through into Kodak's civilian products (e.g tabular grains).

While it seems likely that they remained involved in sensors and also optics, I wonder whether the loss of these secret film contracts may have left them weakened in the late 80s/early 90s (last film-return satellite should have flown in 1986, but was lost due to a launch failure), just when they needed to focus on some new product lines.

The end of the Cold War probably wasn't all that good for people in the National Security segment of the remote imaging business, either.

I worked a summer job in 1987 or 1988, doing 9cm glass-plate manufacturing. The main application for these plates was apparently U2/SR-71-style high-altitude photography.

Of football games, I'm sure. They always told us they could blow up the exposure to that size, anyway :)

Ten years ago, "the mobile web" might have been a reference to WAP. Nine years ago, when the iPhone arrived, mobile web was Edge: where you could get it and when you could afford it.

Companies like RIM and Nokia had smartphones. The people running them were smart. Their engineering was good. It had to be because wireless access to the internet wasn't ubiquitous. Suddenly the companies faced the first mover disadvantage.

It's difficult to imagine how revolutionary the technology of Kodachrome was. It utterly disrupted consumer photography and photojournalism and professional photography. The fact that Kodak was experimenting with digital photography in the 1970's shows how out front they were and they were right to treat it as a technology that wouldn't be viable for more than two decades...and one that nobody has figured out how to monitize except via the sale of hardware.

There's probably no plausible alternate universe where Kodak managed to produce sustainable profit from processing and storing digital images or selling media or anything related to their core business. Digital photography moved image production out of retail channels. I could text an image to ten of my relatives without a trip to Walgreens for one hour processing, and $0.08 3x5 prints in an hour available in the mid 1990's was a pretty amazing innovation versus the four or five days and significantly higher prices that were typical in the 70's and 80's.

Kodak wasn't a company standing still. It just didn't have a good way to make money from digital imagery: HP had them beat in the printer ink as liquid gold market and the camera manufacturers weren't going anywhere: optics are still bounded by the physics of optics.

Circling back, I think it wasn't so much people sitting around and thinking "we're Kodak" as it was the fact that Kodak wasn't Nokia and hence didn't have a history of selling off it's mainline business and moving into a new industry. Not that as a publicly traded company in the US that would have ever really been a viable option. Quarter by quarter, Kodak was obligated to maximize stockholder value for the short rather than long term.

Companies become obsolescent. Consider Sun.

There are quite a few articles online that go into some detail about it. Just search for "Kodak Clay Christensen", or something similar. Here's one: http://www.economist.com/node/21542796

    Another reason why Kodak was slow to change was that its
    executives “suffered from a mentality of perfect products,
    rather than the high-tech mindset of make it, launch it,
    fix it...”
    Bad luck played a role, too. Kodak thought that the thousands
    of chemicals its researchers had created for use in film
    might instead be turned into drugs. But its pharmaceutical
    operations fizzled, and were sold in the 1990s.
On a related note, I just purchased a 10 pack of Kodak Portra 400 4x5" sheet film last night. I normally shoot Kodak's Tri-X and 5222 cine film, or Fuji's Acros 100, but thought it'd be fun to get into large format color photography on occasion.

Christensen's book, The Innovator's Dilemma, is well worth reading.

I don't think it's one of Christensen's examples (it's been a while since I read the book) but IMO the all-time greatest blunder of this type was Sears closing down their catalog operation the same year the first graphical web browser was introduced. The younger readers may not remember this, but there was a time when the Sears catalog sold everything. You could even buy an entire pre-cut house that would be shipped to you for assembly.

They basically had Amazon, and threw it away. Now they're essentially nothing but a subsidiary brand of K-Mart.

That puzzled me, too. Sears was the first company to figure out large scale order fulfillment, around 1890. They had the back end operation figured out. They had merchandise for everything you really need in stock. All they needed was online ordering, which is the easy part.

What's left of Sears is now owned by K-Mart. (K-Mart is descended from S.S. Kresge, which operated "dime stores". Dime stores were like dollar stores, before inflation.) Now they can go down together.

Worse, they figured harder problems out -- they had solved the delivery problem in suburban and rural areas for large items. there was a Sears franchise network where you could pick up stuff delivered by an 18 wheeler or rail rather than wait for parcel post or ups.

Yep. Those were called "catalog stores", as I recall, and if you had your item sent to the catalog store shipping was free (or maybe reduced price -- it's been a long time, but there was definitely some kind of break on shipping costs).

I think they had a dock and you could get really big items too. IIRC, the farmer I worked for picked up a giant generator on a flatbed at one of these places.

Not sure if that was a Sears purchase or not though.

A legendary Metafilter comment re: Sears' shortsightedness: https://www.metafilter.com/62394/The-Record-Industrys-Declin...

They also had a share of Advantis, which evolved into IBM Global Network. They sold off their share to IBM some time in 1996 or 1997 just as the Internet shifted from crazy to insane.

IBM, in turn, sold off IBM Global Network and much of their web hosting business to AT&T in 2000.

edit: I forgot that Kodak also had a role in the formation of IBM's Global Services business...ISSC (an acronym which I can't remember the expansion of other than the I was IBM) started as the bundling up of Kodak's I/T services organization, eventually selling completely to IBM.

According to Wikipedia: "The beginning of IBM’s involvement in IT services can be traced back at least to 1989 when Eastman Kodak Company and IBM completed an agreement by which IBM designed, built and managed a new state-of-the-art data center for Kodak in Rochester, New York under the brand name ISSC, Integrated Systems Solution Corporation."


To be fair, though, the first 15 (27?) years of the web were terrible. There was no way Sears was going to go whole-hog on 1990's web. Or 1993's web. Or 1999's web. It's barely usable now (he says, typing this into a web forum in 2016). A cow-orker of mine has a paper copy of the "1994 Internet yellow pages" and guess how many web sites are included? 0!

Yes, somebody should have come up with Amazon before Amazon did. But they didn't, and here we are now.

That one has always astonished me a lot more than Kodak, even as a foreigner. Why the hell would you close down a successful business operation, especially of that sort?

By the mid-1990s Sears was getting destroyed by Walmart, which was running circles around them with their logistics operation.

Robert Gordon mentions that in The Rise and Fall of American Growth.

Sears shut down its catalog division in 1992. Amazon launched in 1993.

>Another reason why Kodak was slow to change was that its executives “suffered from a mentality of perfect products, rather than the high-tech mindset of make it, launch it, fix it...”

This is actually my preferred work environment. Fuck profits, I've got a rather short life to lead, and I'd like to get a little enjoyment and intellectual satisfaction for all my efforts.

Has the development of anything really lasting been rushed? "Hey, Stradivarius! Stop dicking around and glue that shit together, we'll deal with it after the sale if the customer complains!"

On the other hand, Stradivarius made 1100+ instruments, which even over his long career - 77 years - comes to more than one per month, and probably more than that over his prime period. He certainly doesn't sound like someone agonizing over making the perfect instrument, instead improving them version by version.

I don't know if the story of the ceramics teacher is actually true, but it has the ring of truth and it applies to this example. Incremental improvement is a more sure path to success than striving for perfection out of the box.


The pride in building products is making them fit for purpose, useful and appropriate. You don't understand what that means for any given product by sitting in a workshop. You have to get people to use your product in order to understand how they use it.

The most beautiful things are iterated on endlessly. The first attempt is always crap.

The problem with working on the "perfect" product is that unless you're making the right product, it can become a colossal waste of time. You see this sometimes with craftsmen in the tech space, who come up with a half-baked idea for a business, and then develop the perfect product for that. It then fails after significant development time.

For litmus tests, the MVP approach of make it, launch it, fix it is perfectly justified. Once you have zeroed in on something interesting with proof it is both technically and economically feasible, you can worry about perfection. In a sense, it's the business equivalent of measure once, cut twice.

Real artists ship.

When their art is ready, which might be never. It's art after all, not a product.

When I was gainfully employed by a large telecom, very little of what I did found its way anywhere near the market.

Most go to the grave with their masterpiece unstarted, much less signed. Free your mind.

Regarding your aside, if you develop black and white at home, there are kits to develop C-41 and E-6 at home as well. They're as easy as any standard black and white process.

I use a community darkroom about a mile from my home: http://pcnw.org

They have three film sinks, including one specifically designed for tray-based large format black and white film processing.

They also have 18 enlargers, including a monstrous 8x10" enlarger: http://pcnw.org/facilities/black-and-white-darkroom/

I bought Tetenal's C-41 kit last night with the Portra, and plan on developing there, as they also have filtered water, film dryers, and Photo-flo :)

I've looked into these processes years ago but backed off because they seemed to require some really stringent temperature control. Is it no longer the case?

In general I'd say the C-41 kits are relatively simple for someone who's accustomed to B+W development. It comes down to being sure the chemicals are at the proper temperature and that agitation is even. There's much less tolerance for variation compared to B+W but it's still well within the reach of a diligent amateur who focuses on reproducibility and good lab skills.

The main requirement is a temperature-controlled hot-water bath for warming the chemicals, which are relatively easy to construct with some creative use of aquarium equipment. Buy yourself a digital thermometer from Amazon to verify your chemical temperatures (you should have one anyway for B+W development).

You may also want to consider a rotary development instead of hand agitation. If you can find a "roller base" unit, you can just place a standard developing tank on the rollers and it works fine. I love mine for B+W development too. Works like so.


E-6 is a little more complex than C-41 and I do not recommend the DIY kits in general. The DIY kits are a simplified 3-bath version of the full 6-bath process and has negative consequences for quality and long-term stability of the resulting slides. Since it's more difficult and the finished product is inferior I recommend just getting it commercially processed.

You can send it out at most supermarket photo centers, just mark "E-6 Process" on the "special instructions" box. It all gets sent to a processing company (often Fuji) and they know what to do with it. Nobody does in-house ("1-hour") processing anymore, sadly.

Thank you, looks like little has changed since I checked last time.

I live in a relatively mild climate and B+W development usually means measure the temperature of tap water once and go with it for the day. For C-41 it's also a bit harder to keep things at 39C which makers a larger gradient against room temperature than 20C, but in the end I suppose it's not too hard with a water bath.

It is mostly the case. Some of the kits are designed to be more manageable at home--not requiring lab-level controls. But still a little fussier than b&w, no matter what. Personally, I haven't looked into too much, because I am color blind and have a hard time with the printing. I stick to b&w now mainly.

I just traded two Mamiyas for a Hasselblad 503. The Mamiyas are fine, but I have too many systems to feed now.

The printing is the fun part, anyway.

I worked for Creo when it was acquired by Kodak in 2005 for $1B and then later for Kodak for quite a few years. At the time Kodak still had cash but film was obviously in decline. This acquisition was part of a $3B acquisition spree.

Kodak's mangement proceeded to run Creo into the ground through a series of layoffs, remote micromanagement, shuffling things around etc. At the time of the acquisition Creo was profitable (though definitely with some challenges) and had a few growth initiatives that looked promising (all cancelled). Very capable management, good people, and well run. There were a lot of opportunities to create some long term value in different areas but the only Kodak strategy was to keep cost cutting and milk all the businesses to their death.

What was amazing to me is that the CEO kept his job even after Kodak's market cap went below $1B. I forget what that market cap was at the time of the acquisition but probably in the $10-$20B range. Gotta be one of the top ten value destroying CEOs of all times.

For many many years it didn't matter what management did, film kept printing money for the company. Only when things changed you could tell that management was actually incompetent. Before that you didn't need to be competent to keep making money. Kind of like Warren Buffet says, only when the tide goes out you find who is swimming without their bathing suits...

I just saw something on Bloomberg the other day about Kodak finally getting some anti-counterfeiting technology that AFAIK is the same one developed in Creo over 10 years ago (Traceless) released.

EDIT: Another personal anecdote is that the first "real" digital camera I ever used, I'm guessing around 1996, was a Kodak. It was pretty decent. I think the price tag was quite high. At that point in time Kodak had a good reputation in digital cameras. The problem is digital cameras would never replace film as a business even if Kodak went 100% into digital. They needed to diversify.

For context, Creo is the company founded by Dan Gelbart, the extremely accomplished guy who built a micron-precision metal-cutting lathe out of granite in his house: https://www.youtube.com/user/dgelbart

"The problem is digital cameras would never replace film as a business even if Kodak went 100% into digital. They needed to diversify."

In my short time in business, I have noticed how rare it is for a company to successfully get smaller and survive- even when the obvious business is going away.

If you have 1000 mid-level managers, how many of them can you get on board with a plan to end up with 300 mid-level managers? The ones who do not get on board are a huge cost that your competitors don't have to offset in their top line.

I (and I've noticed this in others my age) still have a lingering thought that photography is expensive, and to conserve 'film'. Back in the day, even with slides, the finished cost per slide was about a buck each. It's just hard to dispel the habitual thought "is this shot worth taking?"

I'm still getting used to the ability to snap a pic and casually text it to a friend instead of trying to describe it.

I just downloaded a phone app that turns it into a scanner, complete with OCR. It's not as good as my flatbed, but it's incredibly convenient.

I feel like I'm living in the future.

Film is expensive but its still unbeatable in terms of dynamic range and details, especially if you go to larger formats than 35 mm.

I know. But I never was a good photographer, and digital photography has improved to the point where it's more than good enough for me.

My dad had a rangefinder Leica, and he swore by it. But I look at the pictures he took, and they're often slightly out of focus, grainy, under/over exposed, etc. I'm sure great photographs can be taken with a Leica, but you've got to be a great photographer to get them. But for sure they were better than the brownie he had before :-)

That's not really true anymore. While large format film may still have a slight resolution advantage IF you have high resolution lenses to match, most high-end sensors have better dynamic range than film (~14-15 stops vs ~13 stops).

> most high-end sensors have better dynamic range than film (~14-15 stops vs ~13 stops)

Film is the one with 14-15 stops. Plus its automatic S-shaped gamma curve, with gentle roll-off of the highlights, makes it easier to produce pleasing images. Movies, TV shows, and commercials that were shot on 35mm film in the 80s and 90s usually look better than the digitally shot ones today.

> look better than the digitally shot ones today

Probably because modern directors cannot resist mucking about with the palette so it is all blue and orange. If it's a period peace, they make it all sepia brown. They've reverted to the two-strip technicolor from the 1920's. Arggh.

Oh yeah, the infamous teal-and-orange palette, haha

> While large format film may still have a slight resolution

For 4x5 format it's not "slight resolution" advantage, it's a major resolution advantage. The most expensive sensors these days go in the range of 50~80 M pixels, 4x5 goes way beyond that if you want to use pixels to reproduce the kind of details it provides. That's why film is still used for stuff like very large posters.

90 Mpixels at 9m by 5m (if the sensor matches the format) would be sqrt(2) Mpixels per metre.

That's a dot-pitch of 1400 dots-per-millimetre or 36000 dpi; standard magazine print is 300dpi.

I really can't believe that something higher than that can be useful resolution for billboards unless you're cropping to a very small section of the full image. The stretching of the image with the glue is going to give you lots of distortion, never mind the ridges they usually have in them. http://graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/3651/what-d... suggests a max working ppi of 75 for an actual reproduction of ~9dpi for a billboard.

A very large poster that you want to see close up I can imagine doing at 600dpi, maybe even 1200dpi; but you're going to need a magnifying glass to see that pixelation with normal eyesight I feel.

Even for film reproduction other errors in the process would seem likely to wash out any higher resolution, like dust on the lens in the cinema [do they have some sort of laser cleaning mechanism??], or indeed dust in the air in the cinema?


The caveat here is that large format has rather shallow depth-of-field, and if you stop way down then diffraction limits your resolution. There is somewhat of a resolution advantage from moving to larger formats, but it's not as large as you'd think when comparing to an equivalent depth-of-field with a smaller format.

The counter-caveat is of course that large format is often shot using camera movements that allow the line of focus to be creatively placed to make the most of the smaller depth of field, so stopping down an equivalent amount is not always necessary.

Off topic, but would you mind naming the scanner app?

Several showed up in the top business category, I picked one at random. I don't wish to endorse something I haven't used much nor have a basis for comparison.

One thing about its operation that pleased me was it did a much better than expected job of removing the distortion from the page, one thing you won't get from just a photo. I did like the OCR feature, too.

The others claimed to do the same thing.

Almost all apps seem to handle page orientation and correct it. However, I haven't come across any which can handle page curvature (like scanning a page from a book, instead of a single page document).

This one seems to do a credible job of fixing the curvature (what I meant by distortion).

CamScanner has been excellent for me. Anything less than $5 is a great deal for it.

Microsoft's Office Lens is pretty good. There's also TinyScanner.

i'm old, and i still feel that way and unconsciously hesitate to take multiple shots. Along those lines I get a brief flash of worry when someone calls me on the phone, 'long distance', because its so expense.

Steven Sasson, the man who invented the camera gave a talk to my program (CE at Rochester Institute of Tech) about the process and downfall of his invention at Kodak. It all started as some backroom research project with no funding to see if they could do something with the new technology of CDC cells. The camera ended up at .01 Megapixels and stored on a tape (with about 20+ second write time). What most people did not realize is he also made a device for displaying the image onto a TV (what good is a digital image if there is no way to display it). IIRC the first "public" demo of this technology was during the Tiananmen Square Massacre to smuggle/transmit the video out of the county. If you watch one of the original broadcasts the only sign of it was a little Kodak logo at the bottom of the screen. Now there is something you need to know about film.... it was probably one of the most profitable products ever. Also Kodak was not really a pure technology company, it was more of a consumer tech/chemical company. While they did have a lot of engineers (many of my professors all worked there), some were more focused on the manufacturing process rather than an end product. A lot of their internal structure was focused on making and processing chemical film. When he showed this product to the upper level (however never the CEO) the demo went something like: walk into room with the camera, take picture of attendees, show picture on TV. While this was totally unheard of the time, mostly they all just laughed at the quality of the image and brushed it off. They also saw no appeal in viewing pictures on a TV screen vs an actual picture. A patent was filed and that was mostly the end of it. A lot of people laugh at Kodak for that mistake, but it really it’s just another example of the inventors dilemma. At that time though it made perfect sense for Kodak to make that decision because they were just making so much money. One could say the technology was ahead of its time. Well then digital really started to take rise. They ended up turning a lot of their focus into making personal photo printers. In 2004 Kodak then realized that almost every company that made a digital camera infringed on their patents and started to sue them all. They ended up winning a lot of money but they could never get their foot back into the market. TLDR: Camera was ahead of its time and threatened to undo the whole company whose main focus was producing and processing chemical film.

I don't see it as so much of a failure of management.

To grab a large slice of some niche, you need to be invested in exploiting it. In Kodak's case, that meant having all these huge facilities for film technology. There's no other way to be a big player in this niche. The upside is nobody will ever avoid thinking of your brand when they are shopping for film.

The downside is you can't just change direction. If film becomes obsolete, the market in the replacement is not going to be big enough at the stage when you can see it. And its size is in itself what you will be using to judge whether it will happen, so it's quite hard to decide to dump all the old tech in favour of a tiny industry that might run into trouble. I'm sure there were many naysayers pointing out various flaws and potential roadblocks with digital.

If you do change direction, you inevitable step on the toes of someone else in the value chain. You make your own camera, you annoy the camera manufacturers. You want to be a chemicals business? It's full here, too. Remember you're a huge operation, and there's only so many things to do.

We should not mourn the death of large corporations though. Just like in nature, it frees up resources for new players doing new things.

Except when the retirement and health benefits of 10% of the entire city is eliminated, so that the CEO can still get his $5M "performance bonus". That's not exactly efficient use of capital.

It's worth noting that Eastman Chemical, which was spun off from Kodak in 1994, is doing just fine as a Fortune 500 company with about 15,000 employees and a market cap of $10B USD.

It's stock is up some 200%+ since the spin-off from Kodak in '94 (compared to 400%+ for the S&P500).

If you had kept your Eastman Chemical stock after the spin-off from Kodak in '94, sold your Kodak stock, and reinvested the proceeds into Eastman Chemical, you would have more than doubled your capital, not including dividends.

Digital cameras in the 70s and 80s were impractical, low quality devices that were mostly useless without a computer, which is not something that the majority of people had in their homes.

Kodak did follow up with digital though. They had a digital SLR by 1994 (before Canon or Nikon) and digital cameras for $299 by 1996.

The advantage that companies like Nikon and Canon had are their lenses, and the huge investments photographers made in their lenses is what locked them in to a particular brand.

This is why a lot of traditional camera companies (Konica, Minolta, Fuji, Polaroid) were unable to keep up.

Minolta had rather astonishingly good lenses, actually. They had a number of oddballs, from an STF lens (great bokeh) to a tiny 500mm autofocus mirror lens (with very good image quality -- not the reputation mirror lenses have), and many others.

And Minolta is now Sony I think?

Grew up in Rochester. Both my father and Grandfather did about 30 years at Kodak at a fairly high level.

How can you transition from the highest margin CPG product of all time to a new regime where there are almost no marginal costs per use? Kodak had well over 100k employees at its peak and was a global brand just like coke. They even saw their demise decades before it occurred.

But what is management supposed to do in a quarterly environment where CEOs are getting ousted other than double down on their success and cut costs? There was never any real money to be made in digital photography and if anyone was going to figure it out, they certainly weren't living in Rochester.

I worked for Kodak UK for a few months in 2002. I was a contractor working on their ERP systems, specifically reporting and BI tools. I wasn't privy to anything strategic but I could see some odd things.

The oddest thing was that they were still trying hard to push the APS format, despite the fact that is was a pretty poor format when it first came out it was now looking even worse when compared to early mass market digital cameras.

There was a certain arrogance amongst higher up managers. A sort of "We're Kodak, we're the best, we dictate the market!" There was a noticeable staff churn problem as a result. I was on a team of 20 of which 14 were contractors.

I can see some interesting parallels between Kodak and Nokia. Two giants who dominated their sectors and just didn't anticipate changes in consumer demand and then couldn't/wouldn't adapt.

Recent design grad from RIT. I learned from / worked with many former Kodak employees from the late 90's into early 00's. The majority of them worked on the consumer product side of the business.

It is my understanding that Kodak's efforts were too little too late. The organization was driven by the business people and was hemorrhaging money and only staying afloat through licensing and selling off their patent portfolio and the medical imaging devision. They watched their consumer product profits from film evaporate and failed to transition into the digital age.

These designers and engineers that I have learned from and worked with are certainly brilliant individuals. It seems that the organizational culture did not provide them with the creative freedom needed to envision and develop products competitive with those coming from smaller, nimbler companies.

Here is the irony.... They were not too late, they were too early. [0] Their CEO pushed hard in digital from the early 90s, but they couldn't handle the losses. This is an example of a company's executives seeing the right thing, but not being able to survive the losses until the market caught up.

[0] http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB869781042786228000

I worked for a subsidiary of Kodak around 91' and can offer a small view. My impression was that they were very aware of what was coming. They came out with the PhotoCD during this time. If you look at it was really a way to lock people into film for a longer time since you still needed to take your negatives in to be transferred.

I also remember taking a photography class in 95 and having the teacher say right at the beginning that in 10 years everything is going to be digital. My impression of the time is that everyone knew what was coming.

They came out with the PhotoCD during this time.

I used a follow-on product called Picture CD, which was an epic fail as far as I was concerned[1].

You paid an extra $7 IIRC when you had your film developed, and you got JPEGs on a CD. I gave them 35 mm print film and they gave me back 1024×1536 resolution JPEGs? That was literally worse resolution than the Canon S110 pocket camera I had then.

They got $7 out of me. Once.

The unwashed masses won't pay an extra $7 for a CD to go along with their prints, which probably cost about them about $7 for the roll (about $0.20 or $0.25 per print IIRC). They were being asked to pay double the total price.

More knowledgeable customers won't pay an extra $7 for such low resolution scans.

So who was this product for? I would have probably tried Photo CD but I think that was much more of a niche product and I didn't know about it. The mini-labs were only offering Picture CD. The services I used were usually 1 or 2 day (which meant actual processing was off-site), so they certainly could have been set up to do much higher quality scans than that.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picture_CD

I paid for it. The quality was pretty poor, but it beat scanning pictures myself (don't think I even owned a scanner at that time), and as a result I still have photos from 15-odd years ago that would almost certainly have been lost in my house moves since then otherwise.

Rochester NY resident since 1982, Kodak's peak employment year. Wrote embedded software for Xerox for a couple years around 2000. My belief is that companies like Kodak, Xerox, HP, IBM, etc. have business structures that cannot survive in a low margin business. These companies drove and thrived with technological change for decades. The leadership could not accept the change of their key lines of business into low margin commodities.

If that is true, I believe Google, MS wold have a similar problem but Amazon won''t

Google's cash cow product is knowledge of people's behaviors. Can equivalent product be built for much less, or be much easier to use? MS seems eager to build a similar business. Amazon store seems built to survive at a near zero margin. Maybe AWS as well.

I think Amazon's ultimate success is predicated on eventually developing a higher margin business.

It seems many previous businesses founded on the low cost producer strategy, e.g. Dell, uses it as a means to get scale, then emphasise higher margin products and services.

Microsoft seems to finally get it. We'll see how it works out.

Spent a 3 weeks integrating the kodak robotic microfilm system with VMS based Vax in a joint bid with Kodak and Digital in this time frame. This system was supposed to save kodak. The Kodak VP of Government Systems from Washington flew in to "supervise" and royally screwed everything up. Guy was the biggest nut bag in the world.

Interesting and sad too. I worked there from 1987 to 1996 mostly in the film business. However, the lab I worked in used digital imaging to analyze and measure silver halide grains used to make film emulsion! So we were well aware of progress being made in digital imaging.

When I got to photocd, the management’s focus was on replicating the quality and detail of film in the digital space, and they did not notice/understand that the lower level of quality of digital would still be useful. Their marketing was driven too much by the voices of professional photography and the ad industry’s need for the quality capability of enlargement.

My colleagues and I actually started work on a business plan to use lower resolution digital imaging for applications in real estate and other industries that could use snapshots of lower resolution. We had really just gotten started on this, when management found out via a personal dispute of one of my colleagues and hauled us in for discipline. We stated our case and said we thought Kodak should get involved, but that fell on deaf ears. Our group fell apart when Kodak did not renew one of our contracts, and he went to work for Sony writing their digital image storage software, which became one of the top tools at that time.

The impression I got was that upper management was well aware of the digital advance but completely oblivious to the speed of its progress. They thought in terms of the huge length of time it took to develop new film products and their associated factories. In 1992, they actually thought that digital would not be a serious threat until about 2005. Oops!

I have no inside information what so ever, but I am still today using a digital camera with a Kodak sensor almost daily (a M9). I am still baffled, how a company of this size and revenue can fall apart like this - probably only paralleled by the demise of Nokia. Till the early 2000s, Kodak was not only a leader in film but also in digital photography. Their CCD sensors are still made today, their sensor division now owned by OnSemi.

All the first Nikon and Canon DSLRs had Kodak technology in them. Not sure how things happened in detail, but eventually Nikon and Canon had their own digital technology, mostly based on CMOS sensors. Kodak had one more CMOS camera of their own - the 14n based on a Nikon body. But while being the highest resolution body at that time, it got mixed reviews. Still at that time Kodak probably would have had enough cash to buy Nikon.

Yet they withdrew from professional digital cameras, the last life sign was providing sensors for the Leica M9 and S. And with no other leg to stand on, the company mostly vanished with the collapse of the film market.

Ironically, the price you pay per roll of film is on an all-time high, so in theory, the business of making film should be more profitable than it was, but the scale just is not there any more.

OnSemi are retiring their CCD offering, IIRC they will stop producing CCD sensors by the end of this year.

As are Sony.

This isn't exactly insider, but offhand experience. I worked at a pharmacy from 2005-2013 that had Kodak film processing and digital printing machines. Early on, there was a still a great deal of actual film. Digital cameras still were expensive or not rivaling the quality of film. Many machines didn't offer negative-to-cd, but offered a floppy disk. This slow updating of their equipment was a theme in the company. As film sales slowed, Kodak grew worse. Outsourced tech support for the machines, who were graded on whether or not they had to send a technician out to the store. That was switched to another system, where a tech called back. Most times this was recorded as done, but wasn't. This sort of thing was very common, and didn't improve as they sold off and outsourced bits of the company. They did finally start updating machines, and having fewer locations that processed film quickly and phased out send-away processing - truly focusing on digital products. By then, their advantage had slipped. While they relied on quality film before, their prints seemed no better quality than competitors.

Part of the problem was obviously that they didn't take digital seriously soon enough. This in combination with what seemed like a poorly run company meant software always lagged behind sometimes by years. For example, it took some time before folks could put video from their camera onto a dvd, and the cd's themselves could only hold 120 pictures while SD cards were keeping thousands. It was a software issue. In addition, some of the retail outfits they contracted through seemed overpriced.

I think the official story was filled with lament over not taking digital technology seriously early on. While I read some stuff about them, it has been some years and I don't know how much was reserved for the workplace environment.

Here's a memoir from Brad Paxton, a family friend. Might be worth checking out (disclaimer: I'm related to the editor) since he was a VP who had a lot to do with high-tech projects during this time:


Just thought it make the thread more interesting if I mentioned the fact that Kodak used a non-standard calendar up until 1989.


I hate these topics. After the fact it is always easy to make better choices and every big company has made more than a few mistakes, some of which really stand out in hindsight...

Kodak was a darling of the entire business world, for like a century. They printed money, they provided great jobs to hundreds of thousands of people. They were disruptive and put photography into everyone's hands. I think companies have a fixed life and theirs came and went.

Trust me, if they had a big pivot that was blown off, it was in to industrial chemicals or energy chemical manufacturing or something, it wasn't simply a matter of repositioning as an imaging company from a film company.

Tell me, how should Pony Express have pivoted when the telegraph came on line? Kodak, the brand and most of it was in a similar position.

I was a summer intern working in OLED research at Kodak in the early 90's. While not that many people associate Kodak with OLED, Kodak was considered one of the world leaders in OLED research at that time. There is a short paragraph about the folks I was working for, on the OLED page on Wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OLED ). While Kodak was able to license the associated technology/patents, it didn't seem like they came out with any consumer OLED products of their own in the years that followed my short stay, there.

Thought experiment..even if you could time travel, how would you have saved Kodak?

The answer is not to save Kodak, but rather sell the patents and chemicals business, and wind down the photography business in a way that maximises shareholder returns (ie. without ploughing capital into a low margin business like digital cameras, or a business where they had no competitive advantage such as ink jet printers).

Michael Dell received a lot of criticism for saying in the 90s that if he was CEO of Apple he would wind down the company and return capital to shareholders. But far too many CEOs are blind to this option.

The answer to the rhetoric question is probably to invest every earned dollar into Kodak2.0 for 10 or more years, and then hope that "digital" takes off.

As you probably already know, most people would probably rather take the money as long as it comes in instead of making that bet.

Get Dick Merrill in there and take my chances on Kodak being able to make something of the Foveon sensor.

Mind you, at least Sigma managed to get the DP1/2/3M cameras out into the wild, and very nice they are too!

Big ships are slow to turn. One systemic cause based on my experience in old-big companies is that if profit margins on some products are high, mid and some high level managers maximize that product (e.g. roll-to-roll manufactured films in Kodak). With such optimization, you end up at "local-maxima". This continues until you have an "iceberg right ahead" moment when profits start to spiral downward. Depending on the pace of growth of the technology/sales of your competitor(s), this descent is rapid and irreversible.

I understand that abstract idea in the big picture, but I am interested in the specific history of how that played out at Kodak.

I wonder what would happen to record companies if DAT tape existed in the 1970s (before they really consolidated).

Big systems also rarely want to kill their "ego". The desire to develop what means your current self will disappear (physical print) is difficult to do. Not in the same way a young group can.

We lived in upstate NY during the 1960's and I visited the Kodak campus in Rochester, I think as a cub scout. It was an amazing place. I remember feeling awe as we were walked through this long dark place where they proofed new rolls of film. The memory of the feeling, at least, is still quite clear after all these years. Great to read all the anecdotes about the company here.

They didn't entirely have their heads in the sand. --They invented the world's first digital camera Source: http://petapixel.com/2010/08/05/the-worlds-first-digital-cam...

-- They developed a massive patent portfolio including many digital photography patents that had an estimated value of $1.8 to $4.5 billion at the time of their Chapter 11 filing (read the article if you're interested for why it got sold for far less - it's fascinating) Source: http://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/innovation/the-lowballing-o...

It's tangential, but I'm reading Dracula atm and Jonathan Harker mentions taking pictures with a Kodak. It was written in 1897.

There are few insider details from a NYTimes profile on Steven Sasson[1] who invented the digital camera while at Kodak.

[1] http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/12/kodaks-first-digita...

This is the essence of that tale, and the quintessential definition of "Enterprise Blindness."

“They were convinced that no one would ever want to look at their pictures on a television set,” he said. “Print had been with us for over 100 years, no one was complaining about prints, they were very inexpensive, and so why would anyone want to look at their picture on a television set?”

You are a hugely successful business, and all of your numbers are great, so this indication that some time "far off" into the future you will have an issue? Well you can worry about that when you get there. And senior management will continue to manage "to the numbers." That means sales guys are making their quota, margins are hitting their targets, Etc. And in Kodak's case, when they lost a customer they had no visibility into it, that customer simply stopped buying film and prints. They didn't buy them more cheaply from some competitor (that would have shown up in their market surveys) instead they just vanished.

What was more, their competitors were living off the amateur market. The amateurs who wouldn't buy the professional grade film, and so their competitors died or quietly exited the business while Kodak's core business remained "strong". There was no price pressure on film or processing.

As a result it was easy not to see the fundamental cancer growing in the middle of the film business, and when demand for film started falling off a cliff the company was already half dead. The "fix" would have been to reduce the company size to a point where it didn't have the capacity to meet all of the current film demand, because by the time the company had shrunk that far demand would have shrunk to meet it.

This is all obvious looking backwards, and to some other peoples points the executives all retired and got pensions and payouts. As an institution, the company failed. There was no process for re-creating the company from the ashes of the dying product line.

The story of staggering institutional inertia and failure is amazingly similar to Xerox's, and similar to hundreds of other US corporate manufacturing giants declining into bankruptcy over the last 40 years, by failing to be concerned with, or collectively act on (board, executive, staff) the future year risks of on a several-decade time scale. This list of inertially failing organizations, among others, includes General Motors, IBM, HP, AT&T, and others.

[Can any public company plan on a multi-decade time scale? This is an anthropological, sociological, cultural and business question of interest in the academic literature.]

Others, along with Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen, have written extensively on the general cultural difficulty of spending money now for an uncertain future while making money presently on a multi-decade investment.

Xerox was originally under the thumb of Kodak, in Rochester, New York, as the maker of photographic paper, chemicals and related equipment, known as the "The Haloid Photographic Company" (halides -- bromine and related chemical elements, along with silver, being the key photographic chemicals of photography) and founded in 1906.

The owner-leadership of the Haloid company in the 1930s and 1940s knew the company was doomed in the long-run with their then-present capability. Later on, it turns out that neither the Xerox of 1995, nor the Kodak of 1995 understood the necessity of having a keen paranoia of their technology's changing future and future unreliable income.

Xerox's, Kodak's, and other corporate stories are both studied in graduate-level business and engineering programs looking at the risks of failing to plan for change, the end of patent monopoly and market domination, and the cultural and financial necessity for understanding, committing to, and planning on the demise of the present technology currently sustaining an organization.

The Haloid company was not crushed by Kodak, in part, because of antitrust laws, but it was always in danger of failing in a competitive market dominated by Kodak, and from the 1930s onward had committed money to find and own a technology that was sustainable and patentable to survive: the Haloid company invented the term "xerography" (dry image transfer).

After the growing success of xerography in the late 1950s, and 1960s, after near-death experiences bringing the technology to market, the culture of developing and ultimately surviving on the new market of new-but different technology was lost in the profits of xerography in the minds of the then-present executive leadership, addicted to the amazing profits of xerographic patents: thus the results of new research and technology failed to be supported to make it to market.

Yet the Xerox company's creations, developments and discoveries are the present backbone of the present era of computing: ethernet, laser printers, personal computers, graphical user interfaces, Smalltalk (see also Object Oriented Programming and Virtual Machines, and the like). Look up the history of Xerox's "Palo Also Research Center (PARC). The Smallalk VM was the foundation of Self, and the later Java VM, with the addition of a couple decades of further work.

See "Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer" by Douglas K. Smith and Robert C. Alexander for that story, published in 1988, nearly three decades ago. The cultural failures and non-response parallels are remarkable.

Doubtless there are dozens of similar reports on the Kodak cultural inertia and failure to understand change, in academic articles, and books. Google is your friend.

Kodak leadership thought that they could not profit from digital cameras, and early and expensive technology could only be used by large institutions (NASA). As costs dropped, Kodak thought that their market was commodity consumables, so they licensed the technology they created. The consumables chemistry and photographic films and papers market ended with with the rise of digital photography (no negatives), and digital, color ink-jet and xerographic reproduction of images.

EDIT: halide elemental chemical family

[Can any public company plan on a multi-decade time scale? This is an anthropological, sociological, cultural and business question of interest in the academic literature.]

The Bell System (that is, the old, pre-divestiture AT&T) routinely planned on a multi-decade basis. Switches built and installed in the 1920s and 1930s often lasted 40+ years. This was fine back when electromechanical switching technologies were all that existed, but little did they realize that, when they developed electronic switching in the late 1950s/early 1960s that the pace of technological change would far outstrip their own long-term planning.

By the mid-1970s, their competitors were introducing fully-digital central office switches, and the #3 ESS (a small switch for rural use) was still a reed-relay switch, while competitive switches such as Northern Telecom's DMS-10 and Stromberg-Carlson's DCO were fully digital. Never mind that Nortel and Stromberg would eventually vanish as well.

There were few enough takers for the #3 ESS that when equal access to long-distance networks was mandated, it was found that it would cost less to rip-and-replace with the digital #5 ESS than to write new software for the #3.

The chemical grouping is halide, yes, but the Xerox precursor company was indeed called Haloid.

Palo Alto did some really interesting stuff back in the day -


In some sort of alternate history. Setting Apple acquisition aside.. Kodak would have acquired Kinkos and branched out into online ondemand photo proofing for digital images. Then went totally Android and came out with something more like an iPad than a phone, perhaps leaning in the direction of GeoTagging and Environmental sensing. Phone tech might take a second seat to messaging and something more akin to video calls on demand.

Yeah Shoulda Coulda Woulda, it just seems there were less barriers to survivial and thriving than simply egos and business as usual attitudes.

What I've always been curious about was whether Apple's engineers reached out to Kodak when designing the iphone's camera?

It would seem logical that Kodak could have potentially been a possible supplier.

Kodak and Apple already collaborated on a camera, back in the early 1990s:


Kodak? Around 2005 when the iPhone hardware spec was being designed? They had completely lost the digital camera game by then.

I had a Kodak digital camera in 2003. It was no better or worse than competing consumer digital cameras - i.e. it was a usable but mediocre affordable snap cam.

I think where Kodak lost it was failing to bring high end technology into compacts. Kodak had a big stake in professional digital cameras before 2000. It's completely wrong to say they weren't in the market. In fact they almost owned it. The first professional digital bodies were being sold by Kodak in 1991, and the former sensor division is still going under another name.

But they didn't seem to understand that the same technology was going to move into affordable prosumer cameras, and eventually into consumer snap cameras.

They certainly didn't understand it was going to move into mobile phones, where it would kill consumer film cameras. And they totally failed to anticipate photosharing culture online.

To be fair, I think almost everyone underestimated mobile. I had a Nokia 9500 Communicator with a camera at around the same time I had the Kodak. The quality was pretty bad, and there was nowhere near enough bandwidth to consider photo sharing.

Now I have an iPhone with a camera which can give an old SLR a run for its money, and photo sharing is no problem.

The difference is that Kodak were creating products - technological artefacts for a single purpose.

Jobs and co were creating a culture - a set of experiences that include hardware, software, marketing, and media attention.

Culture companies are much more likely to kill product companies in the same niche than vice versa.

> Now I have an iPhone with a camera which can give an old SLR a run for its money

Absolutely not. Older DSLR had lower resolution, but level of detail is not all there is to image quality. Dynamic range, bokeh, control over perspective, the ability to take pictures of moving targets at higher iso without the picture becoming too grainy and the ergonomics are all things that even a 15 years old DSLR can do better than an iPhone 6s. You just can't get pictures like these out of a smartphone : http://i.imgur.com/kV2CfBE.jpg http://i.imgur.com/0jugE5B.jpg http://i.imgur.com/2bV1HJz.jpg

These all come from a Nikon D1h, samples from dpreview. The D1h was released in 2001. Nowadays, even the lowest end DSLR will outperform it in almost every single way, apart from build quality. Even so, that old top end camera still outperforms smartphones where it counts from the point of view of art photography. In 2001, I still used film cameras because good DSLR like the D1h were out of my reach, but these days, even a $300 DSLR will just obliterate anything you could do with a smartphone.

And then there's the fact that most casual photography is taking pictures of other humans, and that the wide angle lens of smartphones distort perspective and make people weird up close. The iPhone has a 30mm equivalent which is very unsuited to taking pictures of people. http://fotografeando.me/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/focal-len...


You can see here how even the 35mm is plainly inadequate compared to the 50mm focal length.

I think TheOtherHobbes' statement about iPhones giving old SLRs a run for its money is quite insightful -- not as a pure technical comparison, but more about what consumers value from cameras.

The Nikon D1h, Canon 1D, etc... definitely has better bokeh, dynamic range, perspective control, etc than even the best smartphone camera on the market the today, but consumers just don't care that much about actual photographic quality. They see a DSLR today and think "bulky", "another set of batteries I need to charge", and "how do I share photos to Snapchat with that thing?"

Most smartphone cameras are more than good enough for daylight shots, selfies or Instagram, and if you are not into photography, that's good enough.

I don't know about that. I got excellent results over ten years ago from a digital camera, at night, of fireworks. My favorite shots: http://boston.conman.org/2003/07/04/p100048.jpg http://boston.conman.org/2003/07/04/p100049.jpg (this one, the launch of the mortar failed and it exploded at ground level) http://boston.conman.org/2003/07/04/p100059.jpg http://boston.conman.org/2003/07/04/p100066.jpg

I will grant you that I might have trouble getting the shot of the racing car with my current crop of digital cameras. But the other two ... I guess I'm not just seeing the difference.

> Now I have an iPhone with a camera which can give an old SLR a run for its money, and photo sharing is no problem.

Well, the iPhone may be nice if you're near the object you want to photograph and it's a bright sunny day, but:

- it horribly sucks at low-light photography, you can't just screw an iPhone to a camera tripod to get a beautiful shot of the night sky

- there are CF and SD cards with WiFi support, which can be used in virtually any camera

- good luck taking a good distance shot with an iPhone

- good luck putting an iPhone onto a stabilizer (e.g. Steadicam)... and no, software can't replace that.

> Now I have an iPhone with a camera which can give an old SLR a run for its money

Modern smart phone cameras are very very good.

But you can change the lens on SLRs, and that's something you can't do on iPhone.

And you can change the aperture and shutter speed on an SLR, which gives you a lot of control over the image.

Wide, telephoto, and macro lenses for the iPhone.


The miniature bayonet mount is really nicely done.

I was at RIT during the later half of the 90s. Most of my professors had done work at Kodak, and the mantra was that if you had a job there, you were set for life.

I think the digital camera and the market crashed from the dotcom bust worked in tandem to take down Kodak.

They had some really smart people working there, and they invented some really important tech that was used beyond cameras. Think image processing for satellites etc.

What I don't get is that my very first digital camera was a Kodak (must have been in 2000). It wasn't very good (but no camera were then) but it was one of the cheapest. So it's not like they were absent from the digital market. But still somehow they missed the boat.

I know of a story where a company selling software that banked on digital, being told quite seriously by a member of the board that digital would never be a thing. This was around 97-98.

I heard a similar story about Polaroid having their own digital camera. Not sure about the details.

I'm also interested in the more specialist products - holography, xray, and movie film.

Xray film is just cheaper orthochromatic black & white film. Some large format photographers like it because it's so cheap, despite being harder to use. (Double-sided emulsion, so you can't manhandle either side of the sheet; very contrasty, so development has to be carefully controlled; and generally a very slow ISO, around 25.)


I've experimented with similar film (Ilford Ortho Copy), but I generally prefer the look of contrasty skies (filter out blue and green), which is the opposite of what orthochromatic film will look like. (This is why older B&W photos have stunningly-bright skies, contributing to the characteristic look of photos from that era. Panchromatic film didn't exist, and the sky is very bright relative to terrestrial objects when all you have is blue light.)

Generally the stuff gets the job done, though. Here's a test shot of Ilford Ortho Copy:


Versus the same scene on Tri-X 320:


It was cloudy, so you don't really see the overexposed sky effect, but you can see how the trees on the top right look darker. Presumably there was some greenish moss on there or something.


Please don't do this here.

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