By Scott Parsons
I've been in the photo business for a while now. Mostly on the retail side. Here are a few things I thought were neat, but never really got anywhere. Why? Sometimes it was the customers and sometimes it was the manufacturers. Sometimes just bad timing and bad luck. Or young Harvard business school graduates, hired by the photo companies, with no practical photo knowledge, making decisions for retailers.
1. APS (Advanced Photo System). A lot of old-timers will scoff at this one. APS really was a love-it or hate-it kind of product. It had a lot of potential but got steamrolled by digital. I sold it as the perfect "Grandma Camera": Simple to load and operate for the mechanically challenged. Good images and small-bodied cameras. Canon's Elph was the clear design and sales winner. There were even a few SLR APS cameras.
P.S. Quick, name me a current camera that can be sold as a "Grandma Camera." Are there any? Easy to operate for the mechanically challenged? Not everyone on the planet is digital ready. Something easy to understand that takes nice, decent quality images. Anyone?
2. ASF (Applied Science Fiction) This is the company that invented The "Digital Ice" algorithm in most of the scanners today. In the mid '90s they showed a prototype of a new film processor that would develop your film and print it all in about 20 minutes. The chemistry was adhered to the film to draw out a latent image, ruining the negatives in the process. The customer saw the positive image on the screen, made print and enlargement choices and received prints and a "digital negative disk" CD. They showed this concept for about three years. Each year it got smaller and more refined. Eventually Kodak bought them out and scrapped the whole thing. But they're still making nice money off the Digital Ice licensing!
3. Kodak's Create a Print Center. This was a standalone enlargement center. You stood in front of it, inserted a film negative strip into the front and made nice-looking enlargements up to 11x14 in just minutes. The processing part in the lower half was rock solid. Standard RA-4 chemistry and a dryer. The top half was another story. Once the negative was inserted it was drawn into a Rube Goldberg apparatus with piano wires and electrical circuits. The whole thing would spin with lenses zooming in and out and, and, and.... It was truly a sight and very problematic. Soon after, Kodak started introducing the digital versions of this idea.
4. Kodak's Picture CD. Way before its time! They had all the right concepts and even had a line of CD players to hook up to your TV for viewing. Many larger processors made good money outsourcing for mini labs. The problem was that not many photographers felt a need to invest in this technology then. Five years later maybe. Ended up selling the players at a huge discount as music CD players.
5. Sony's digital cameras that wrote to the floppy disk. Customers loved this! Regretfully the image sizes had to be small to fit on the floppy. Customers really could relate to the floppy concept. But as soon as Sony changed from floppies to bigger capacity (proprietary) media, this design started fading quickly.
6. "Panoramic" switches on 35mm cameras. A short-lived thing. Flip a switch on the back of the camera and the image was cropped top and bottom. The photo lab would print a 4x10. Neat idea and good for the photo labs. Some customers would forget it was on and shoot a whole roll that way and be very upset upon getting the pictures back. There was no way to reverse this for the customer. (But you could with APS! Thy name is irony!) The idea quickly faded after a year or so.
7. Ektar print film. Another neat marketing concept from Kodak. Nicely designed boxes with a range of ISOs from 25 to 1000. Easy to explain to customers and a nice up-sell from the standard Gold lineup. Again, Kodak's SASS ( Short Attention Span Syndrome) killed the line too soon.
8. Minolta's 8x42 XL binoculars (mid '90s). Camera manufacturers have made binoculars for decades. A really nice sale for most photo retailers. Good margins and names recognizable to customers. But generally, binoculars were binoculars. Black, with a case. But every now and then all the pieces would come together and the exact right combination of design, glass and metal would come together for a really nice unit. These were one on those "divine designs." Low weight, amazing clarity and excellent price. As good as Leica or Swarovski? Heck no, but really super good for the price. Birders loved them. I sold all I could get. But then some design guru at Minolta changed the design, and everything went back to ordinary. Black, with a case.
9. Stacks of filters. This is more of a nostalgia thing, but I really liked small, dense stacks of various filters. Rotating it around to find the exact right one. Adding and subtracting from the pile. Sometimes trying one on just because you want to see what it did. Digital has changed this one. Probably for the better.
10. Choice. I know what you're thinking. "We have tons of products to choose from! A huge assortment of cameras and accessories!" I'm not talking about that. I want to know where you now purchase your stuff. Your choices of retailers are very diminished now. Many fine specialty retailers are now gone because of the choices the manufacturers started making back in the mid '90s. The manufacturers control who sells their stuff and for what price. MAP pricing and competing with the big boxes have changed your choices regarding who you buy from.
Please find a quality independent photo retailer and support them as much as you can.
Scott Parsons is the proprietor of 13 Photography Gallery and Shop, in Grand Junction, Colorado, providing fine art photography and services to Colorado's Western slope.