Photography Pioneer Kodak Exits Digital Camera Business

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Unable to keep pace with the transition from film to digital technology, film photography pioneer Eastman Kodak Co. said that it will stop making digital cameras, pocket video cameras and digital picture frames. “Thus, marking the end of an era for a company that brought photography to the masses more than a century ago,” wrote the Associated Press.

According to an AP report, Kodak was founded by George Eastman in 1880, which is famous for its Brownie and Instamatic cameras, as well as yellow and red film boxes. However, the company was beaten by Japanese competition in the 1980s, and was unable to keep pace with the shift from film to digital technology.

As per the recent report, Rochester, N.Y.-based Kodak, which filed for bankruptcy protection last month, said it will close operations for these product lines in the first half of 2012. Instead, it will now look for other companies to license its technology for those products.

For Kodak, it is a very sad day as it created the first digital camera in 1975 using a new type of electronic sensor invented six years earlier at Bell Labs. A Kodak engineer named Steven Sasson created the first digital camera, which “was a toaster-size prototype capturing black-and-white images at a resolution of 0.1 megapixels,” wrote the AP.

Kodak has spent some $4 billion developing the photo technology, which is inside most of today's cell phones and digital devices. However, reluctance to ease its heavy financial reliance on film helped rivals like Canon Inc. and Sony Corp. to move quickly into the fast-emerging digital technology. The report indicates that Kodak was more focused on the lucrative analog business and paid little attention to filmless digital photography it invented.

Meanwhile, standalone digital cameras are facing stiff competition from embedded smartphone cameras as their usage surges. In addition, Kodak owns patents that cover a number of basic functions in many smartphone cameras and as a result, the company generated about $27 million in patent-licensing fees in the first half of 2011. In fact, the report shows that Kodak generated about $1.9 billion in revenues from those fees in the previous three years combined.

Interestingly, Kodak is now eyeing home photo printers, high-speed commercial inkjet presses, workflow software and packaging as the core of its future business. Report indicates that the company has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into new lines of inkjet printers, which is the next frontier for the camera maker.


Ashok Bindra is a veteran writer and editor with more than 25 years of editorial experience covering RF/wireless technologies, semiconductors and power electronics. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jamie Epstein
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