Kodak and the dying of the light

Kodak is, finally, on the brink. The company that has been edging close to life support for the past few years finally filed for bankruptcy protection and as a result the media can begin performing the last rites. The laments focus on film and the focus for the company’s failure is assumed to be its inability to convert to digital. Well, in a word, bollocks.

Yes, Kodak is associated with film. In particular esoteric hues such as Kodachrome and black and white so sexy you want to lick it in the form of TriX. They also made box brownies and other easy to use compacts. In defiance of the conventional wisdom they also were first off the blocks to launch consumer digital cameras and have made sensors for pretty much all the main players (this latter part is not unusual, one of the reasons digital cameras produce very similar results regardless of brand is the shared technology being used). What has gone wrong here has nothing to do with the usefulness of film or a company coming to the end of its natural life and everything to do with an organisation that simply misjudged the market and no doubt (I haven’t seen the figures obviously but I’m willing to follow this line of thought) pissed away money on ill-advised misadventures.

The market it misjudged though wasn’t film/digitial. Fuji appears to still be able to manage both after all. Kodak never established itself as a serious camera maker in the digital age. Its cameras were always about being easy to use and gave the impression that they were for people not seeking top drawer results. This worked when talking about film because high quality photography really was expensive but it doesn’t work when your competitors are (misleadingly) selling cameras on the basis that digital superiority now means anyone can take pro quality snaps even with an compact sensor. I’ve used entry level Kodak and Fuji compact cameras, the latter was all about how it had manual over-ride and multiple functions. It was fundamentally rubbish and produced horrid sharpened images. The Kodak was mostly auto but magnificent – and if I hadn’t been a klutz and dropped it on a marble floor I’d still be carrying it round now. But it cost £50 and was about the most expensive Kodak out there – who’s making money on a company that’s only selling £50 auto cameras?

So, yes, let’s mourn the passing if that’s what it turns out to be. But let’s keep the flag flying for a photography world where there are differences and diversity. And bonkers Kodachrome colours because the world looks boring without such insanity.


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