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16 JANUARY 2012

Technological change: The last Kodak moment?

"LENIN is said to have sneered that a capitalist will sell you the rope to hang him. The quote may be spurious, but it contains a grain of truth. Capitalists quite often invent the technology that destroys their own business.

Eastman Kodak is a picture-perfect example. It built one of the first digital cameras in 1975. That technology, followed by the development of smartphones that double as cameras, has battered Kodak's old film- and camera-making business almost to death. ...

While Kodak suffers, its long-time rival Fujifilm is doing rather well. The two firms have much in common. Both enjoyed lucrative near-monopolies of their home markets: Kodak selling film in America, Fujifilm in Japan. A good deal of the trade friction during the 1990s between America and Japan sprang from Kodak's desire to keep cheap Japanese film off its patch.

Both firms saw their traditional business rendered obsolete. But whereas Kodak has so far failed to adapt adequately, Fujifilm has transformed itself into a solidly profitable business, with a market capitalisation, even after a rough year, of some $12.6 billion to Kodak's $220m. Why did these two firms fare so differently?

Both saw change coming. Larry Matteson, a former Kodak executive who now teaches at the University of Rochester's Simon School of Business, recalls writing a report in 1979 detailing, fairly accurately, how different parts of the market would switch from film to digital, starting with government reconnaissance, then professional photography and finally the mass market, all by 2010. He was only a few years out.

Fujifilm, too, saw omens of digital doom as early as the 1980s. It developed a three-pronged strategy: to squeeze as much money out of the film business as possible, to prepare for the switch to digital and to develop new business lines.

Both firms realised that digital photography itself would not be very profitable. 'Wise businesspeople concluded that it was best not to hurry to switch from making 70 cents on the dollar on film to maybe five cents at most in digital,' says Mr Matteson. But both firms had to adapt; Kodak was slower."

(The Economist, 14 January 2012)

Fig.1 John Terret (03 Nov 2011). "Kodak misses the moment", Al Jazeera.

Fig.2 Kodak (1922). "Kodachrome Film Test".

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TAGS

19221975cameracamera-making businesscapitalismcolour • complacency • convergence • death knell • demise • digital cameradisruptive innovationEastman Kodak • film test • FujifilmJapanKodachrome • Kodachrome Film Test • KodakKodak Eastman • Kodak moment • market dominanceobsolescenceold media • picture-perfect • product designradical innovationsmartphonetechnological changetechnological innovationtechnologytechnology innovationVladimir Lenin

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
08 JANUARY 2012

Film Fading to Black: ARRI, Panavision and Aaton have quietly ceased production of film cameras

"While the debate has raged over whether or not film is dead, ARRI, Panavision and Aaton have quietly ceased production of film cameras within the last year to focus exclusively on design and manufacture of digital cameras. ...

'The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared,' says ARRI VP of Cameras, Bill Russell, who notes that the company has only built film cameras on demand since 2009. 'There are still some markets--not in the U.S.--where film cameras are still sold, but those numbers are far fewer than they used to be. If you talk to the people in camera rentals, the amount of film camera utilization in the overall schedule is probably between 30 to 40 percent.'

At New York City rental house AbelCine, Director of Business Development/Strategic Relationships Moe Shore says the company rents mostly digital cameras at this point. 'Film isn't dead, but it's becoming less of a choice,' he says. 'It's a number of factors all moving in one direction, an inexorable march of digital progress that may be driven more by cell phones and consumer cameras than the motion picture industry.'

Aaton founder Jean-Pierre Beauviala notes why. 'Almost nobody is buying new film cameras. Why buy a new one when there are so many used cameras around the world?' he says. 'We wouldn't survive in the film industry if we were not designing a digital camera.'

Beauviala believes that that stereoscopic 3D has 'accelerated the demise of film.' He says, 'It's a nightmare to synchronize two film cameras.' Three years ago, Aaton introduced a new 35mm film camera, Penelope, but sold only 50 to 60 of them. As a result, Beauviala turned to creating a digital Penelope, which will be on the market by NAB 2012. 'It's a 4K camera and very, very quiet,' he tells us. 'We tried to give a digital camera the same ease of handling as the film camera.'

Panavision is also hard at work on a new digital camera, says Phil Radin, Executive VP, Worldwide Marketing, who notes that Panavision built its last 35mm Millennium XL camera in the winter of 2009, although the company continues an 'active program of upgrading and retrofitting of our 35mm camera fleet on a ongoing basis.'

'I would have to say that the pulse [of film] was weakened and it's an appropriate time,' Radin remarks. 'We are not making film cameras.' He notes that the creative industry is reveling in the choices available. 'I believe people in the industry love the idea of having all these various formats available to them,' he says. 'We have shows shooting with RED Epics, ARRI Alexas, Panavision Genesis and even the older Sony F-900 cameras. We also have shows shooting 35mm and a combination of 35mm and 65mm. It's a potpourri of imaging tools now available that have never existed before, and an exciting time for cinematographers who like the idea of having a lot of tools at their disposal to create different tools and looks.'"

(Debra Kaufman, 2011, Creative COW)

Fig.1 The Xterà by Aaton (Super16 camera with film magazine).

Fig.2 The Penelope-Delta by Aaton (digital camera with internal full resolution recorder).

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16mm200935mm • 35mm camera • 4K • 4K camera • 65mm • Aaton • AbelCine • ARRIARRI Alexascameracamera-making businesscelluloidcinema • cinematographer • consumer cameras • creative industries • demise of film • devicedigitaldigital cameradigital cinematographydigital filmmakingdigital progressDSLR • ease of handling • feature filmfilmfilm camerafilm industryfilm makingfilmmaking • Jean-Pierre Beauviala • motion picture industry • obsolescencePanavision • Panavision Genesis • radical innovationRED Epic • Sony F-900 • stereoscopic 3D • Super16 • technology innovation

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
09 SEPTEMBER 2011

The Impossible Project Brings Back Polaroid

"In October 2008 The Impossible Project saved the last Polaroid production plant for integral instant film in Enschede (NL) and started to invent and produce totally new instant film materials for traditional Polaroid cameras. In 2010 Impossible saved analog instant photography from extinction by releasing various, brand new and unique instant films."

(The Impossible Project)

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2008analoguebrandcameracamera-making business • chemical solution • chemicals • company • convergencedigital technology • Enschede • enterpriseentrepreneurshipfilmiconicinnovation • insolvent • instant film • instant photographymanufacturingmaterialsNetherlandsnostalgiaobsolescenceold mediaphotographyPolaroidproduct change • product production • radical innovationsolutionSX-70technology • The Impossible Project

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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