Lessons from Kodak


The Chapter 11 demise of Kodak  contains within it hints to a possible roadmap for photography. This is of interest to those making decisions now in regard to hardware purchases, but more importantly in careers in commercial or fine art photography. This is an article written by an optimist (and a self admitted elitist) who sees a fork in the global photographic road in the the near future.

I quote Rick Newman in his thought provoking article posted on US News.com (Jan 19th 2012)  -  4 Lessons from Kodak's Comedown:

 "While digital cameras now dominate consumer photography, they're also low-margin products that are themselves being displaced by smartphones, tablets, and other devices with built-in cameras"

(Full article http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/rick-newman/2012/01/19/4-lessons-from-kodaks-comedown)

My contention is this. throughout the era dominated by film photography  Joe Public was furnished by cheap film and reasonably priced hardware. Kodak was the giant.

Professional  (and fine art) photoghraphers occupied a stratospheric niche serviced by medium and large format cameras which commanded a great premium in costs but clients were prepared to pay premium fees. It was perhaps the golden age of photography.

The advent of mass produced digital cameras in the last decade changed all that of course. Film has all but faded into a nostalgia driven niche. With digital cameras in hand, millions shoot photographs of the technical standard only possible with costy gear only 20 years ago, and there is little in the way of ongoing costs. This has been a painful enathema to aspiring fine art and commercial photographers over the last decade as their work has been undercut by hundreds of thousands of photraphers with a good eye and excellent digital cameras, who have created a robust DIY market in high quality imagery, undercutting the professionals. This  has created much struggle for those eying photography as a career as making a living has become ever harder  - the market in images is simply oversupplied many hundredfold ! Images are cheap.

However I see the next revolution in popular photography is happening at the time that a giant from the film era bites the dust. Kodak is a casualty of the first digital revoilution as the comapny failed to predict how film  would become a tiny, niche nostalgia market. We need to recognise the next big change.


Smart phones now weild cameras that deliver the IQ if the 35mm film cameras of yesteryear.

We live in the age of iPads,  Samsung Galaxies and photo apps which do all the Photoshop post editing that the average point and shooter could ever want.

My wife, who has just bought the latest iPhone said to me today that she never wants to use a camera again. The quality from her iPhone is so good. And she can instantly share the images with her social network.  If she wants some 4 x 6 prints the IQ is still more tna adequate.

For the mass point and shooter the camera is obsolete.

Enough said, I think.

When the current generation of P+S cameras suffer their untimely demise from early component failure, the camera manufacturers will will struggle to move P+S cameras from the shelves.

But idea that photography as an art form of commercial enterprise is dead is not credible. Clients and galleries will require professional quality images for the forseeable future. But for high end cameras I do not see the sory as finished.

Camera makers will be left with a much smaller market of fine art  photographers,  serious hobbyists  and professionals. The camera makers are going to have to move on this change or die.

In this new paradigm however there is scope for innovation, and those companies that listen to what photgarphers have been asking for will meet the needs of that market and flourish.

Innovations such as Foveon like full frame sensors, tilt and shift sensors, RAW file standardisation and the increasing accomodation of legacy lenses to offset the cost of the new cameras will allow smart manufacturers to continue to make and develop better professional tools.

I guess costs will rise as the market shrinks. The number of camera manufacturers will be much less.

This change will also (I hope) provide a window for serious photoghraphers to re-establish their art and points of difference.

You can almost see the dichotomy in the industry evolving with the likes of Sony abandoning their commitment to full frame professional gear and other manufacturers such as Sigma recognising that they might have something different that is a universe away from an iPhone (their SD and DP cameras). Pentax are ahead of the curve with their prestigious 645D.

I am sure Canikon will recognise the new landscape soon and floursih, but I sense that the future of Panasonic, Casio, Ricoh, Olympus and Fuji may be gloomy as their camera divisions turn out millions of cameras that suit all but will sell to fewer and fewer.

We need MANY less cameras and MUCH more serious cameras. For the photographers.

After all the point and shootists are just happy using their touchy x-phone jobbies, thats what is selling right now and one can see just why.

Malcolm Lyons January 20th 2012.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 2
Klimt z
By Klimt z (Jan 22, 2012)

Looking out a bit further, Imagine sensors in say, your sun glass frames. The imaging is continuous and sees everything you see. Perhaps in holographic 3 D.It transmits itself into the "cloud". Later at home, you view and save what you want.
The hobby of photography is gone the way of the photograghers darkroom. All it takes is sensor and computer processing power, just like anything digital. And that has no limit. The human eye will soon be equaled and exceeded. So will the so called photographer himself because he is only a relic of the analog mind. Images will be created and saved and enjoyed ,but they will be automated and effortless.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
By abijake (Mar 18, 2012)

Are you trying to be controversial or just plain idiotic??
So I should no longer visit art galleries as they are just a relic of the pre photgraphic mind ?? Can't be seen to be a dinosaur then. NOT cool !
May be I shall jus develop a Cloud relationship with my wife and children. After all face to face human contact is just a relic of the predigital mind - is it not ??

Total comments: 2