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Saturday, 09 January 2010

Comments

Isn't kodak making the sensor for the Leica M9?

mitchell,
Yes, the KAF-18500, a CCD type made specifically for the M9. The S2 also uses a Kodak sensor.

Mike

Hey, I bought Kodak Digital Media. 10 5 1/4" 360k disks at an introductory price of $50 dollars discounted from $75 (if you think that a bad price, a 20 MB hard drive was $500). I bought them at my local camera store as there were no consumer focused computer stores in those days (come to think of it there were no consumer focused computers either!). Came in a box of delicious Kodak yellow, like a humongous box of K25. Still have the box! Bought elsewhere once I realized my computer was colour blind :-)

And from Mr. Hayzlett and Kodak we have this over on Twitter:

# kodakCB

Like to have lunch 2day at #CES at the Kodak booth w/ @jeffreyHayzlett CMO of Kodak? Tweet what you would share w/us & we'll pick a winner about 7 hours ago from web

# Jeffrey Hayzlett

I will host #CES today lunch for person to share best idea you have for kodak-- give @kodakcb your pitch


I'm not at CES but I went ahead and replied. Said I'd love to see the return of the Retina as a Micro 4/3 camera. Ain't gonna happen but what the heck.

Bottom line: there's still plenty of hidebound thinking at Special K. I sure hope they survive, even though I'm mostly using Fuji and Agfa film right now, the craft needs Kodak, too. Of course, if the film business is viable on its own, it will survive.

I can't claim the kind of access to inside information Ctein has had over the years, but I have spoken at length with several former engineers from Kodak's digital labs. I've also lived in the Rochester media market for over 20 years, which provided a ringside seat to Kodak's meltdown. There were (and are) many brilliantly competent and far-sighted folks working on digital photography at Kodak. However, the parallels with the fumbled breakthroughs made by Xerox PARC (another Rochester-based company, by the way) are quite uncanny. Twenty years ago, Kodak was on the leading edge of most digital photography technologies. Today they're still competitive in extremely high quality (i.e. medium format) digital sensors and a handful of niche technologies, but they have lost the vast amateur/enthusiast market they once dominated. The company is a ghost of its former self. They've been largely supplanted by Japanese digital imaging companies. Epson enjoys the kind of profit margins on printer inks that Kodak once saw from film and paper.

Circa 1990, Kodak's labs had plenty of cutting edge digital techology in the pipeline. But the exceptionally profitable film business—Kodak commanded a substantial price premium based on its reputation for quality—left management fatally blinkered. When aggressive moves into digital photography might have made a difference, Kodak instead ruinously sank over a billion dollars into APS. When the magnitude of this fiasco became apparent, Kodak's recovery 'strategy' was to fund a crash conversion to digital photography with profits from expanded film sales in the developing markets in Asia & Latin America. But amateur photographers in these emerging markets ignored the yellow boxes and bought digital cameras instead.

You know, it's funny the silliest things that can turn you off a brand.

Roughly ten years ago, I was working a company that had some Kodak cameras and was running Win98. They upgraded to Win2000, which broke the driver that was needed to get the pictures off the camera. Kodak's answer was the camera was a consumer model, and the operating system was business, so they weren't planning on releasing drivers to allow that camera to be used anymore. Remember that Win2000 was the foundation that WinXP, Vista and Win7 are built on.

Ever since, I always recommended that people stay away from Kodak.

Don't forget Kodak's "Center for Creative Imaging" located in Camden Maine and closely associated with the Maine Photographic Workshops. It was a joint venture with Apple (John Scully had a summer house in Camden)
It was short lived, my assumption because of the economic timing and what was perceived as extravagance by the Kodak Board. But it was a great place, I was fortunate to provide the audio systems for the facility and had the pleasure of meeting visiting photographic dignitaries like Douglas Kirkland, Herbert Keppler and Creative artist Joni Mitchell.

dale

The new Ektar 100 frequently resides in my Leica M6... as does their great line of Portra films. (And, of course, Tri-X and new T-Max.)

I bought the Leica to combat the sterile and harsh look coming out of the digital cameras I've owned. Yes, I still shoot digital quite a bit, but my Leica with film allows my soul to let out a happy sigh every now and then. So, I'll continue to purchase film as long as Kodak, Fuji, and Ilford keep making it.

Omar,
Oh, Lord, I know, I know...I could tell you SO MANY stories about Kodak's obsession with the consumer/professional split in the '80s and '90s...they were completely set on making the Universe fall into one or the other categories. Seriously, I could tell you six stories before I got started.

Mike

Personally I think that Kodak dropped the ball long before the advent of digital. For many photographers working in Europe during the early 80's the death knell was sounded when they transferred the bulk of their Kodachrome processing to France. The system was so huge that films got lost on a regular basis and turn around times that often exceeded 4 weeks. I had film from several assignment go missing and lost jobs because of the turn around times. Kodak acted as if they were the only game in town and in their arrogance denied there was a problem and refused to listen. Then came along Fuji with their E6 films and the professional's life became so much easier, 1 hour turn arounds and a company that was willing to listen to its customers. I haven't used a single Kodak product since then and I know a lot of other photographers did the same.

Kodak's history presents an excellent example of the ol' corporate wisdom "Each of us is smarter than all of us."

Dead man walking.
bd

"the consumer/professional split in the '80s and '90s..."

Oh that's nothing, trying to buy aerial photography film that was in their industrial/government sales dept was Kafkaesque.

Aerial Pan-X turns out to be my absolute favorite portrait film.

Once digital projection of feature films in theaters takes over completely I think Kodak won't be able to continue to make a profit in film because the volume just won't be there.

In the early eighties I worked in a minilab using Kodak gear and materials, each fortnight or so the Kodak rep called by to chat, offer help and sort out issues. He was a top guy, so here we were in mid 1982 and he says to us "the future of photography is going to be all electronic (the word digital was not used) and it is going to be a revolution" the then went on to tell us about some of the ideas and innovations Kodak had in mind. We probably learnt a bit more than other labs because our manager was an ex Kodak tech and knew the rep really well.

Our response was disbelief, we said something like, There is no way that will work, video footage is horrible etc, basically we laughed the whole thing of as a waste of effort sure Kodak had really taken a dead end path.

He was right of course, but one wonders how Kodak lost their way so badly.

Maybe it was stubborn pride and underestimation of the competition, even at that stage most Kodak folk seemed unable to accept that that Japanese upstart Fuji could possibly make film products that would be even half as good as theirs.

I hope Kodak goes on and continues to innovate, they have after all one of the richest histories in photography and we all have benefited from their work. But frankly they have also a history of releasing some pretty half baked products which have tainted the market against them so it won't be easy.

There is one more moment in the Kodak saga. Several years ago, they employed IBM as their consultants. (IBM switched from hardware to software and consulting and solutions.) IBM suggested a change of the business model. So Kodak divested themselves of their camera division.

Now the Kodak compact cameras are manufactured somewhere in the Far East, while Kodak, afaik, gives only the name and the sensors.

They are pretty big in the medium format sensors, though. Beside S2, they manufactured the sensors for Hasselblad: KAF-31600, KAF-39000, and KAF-50100. 31, 39 and 50MP, respectively. I wonder where their 40 MP, KAF-40000, sensor ended.

Re: "consumer" vs "professional" markets at Kodak in the '80s and '90s

I spent those years at IBM, which back then rejected any ideas with a tinge of "consumer" market about them, always asking, "does this open up a multi-billion $ market." The PC was smuggled around the IBM development executives by a team of 10 engineers that grew to 100, then to 1000, moved out of rented quarters in Delray Beach into a legacy architected round building (expensive!) in Boca Raton, then to 5000 people in Raleigh, NC (much cheaper setting). After a near-death experience in the mid '90s, IBM sold the PC business to Lenovo in China, spun off the printer business (Lexmark), sold the hard disk business to Hitachi (keeping the software and systems parts). Today, IBM is making more money than ever and the stockholders (like me) are happy. As an employee, I didn't look forward to refocusing IBM on the "professional" side of mostly Fortune 500 customers, but I am now in academia.

I think the difference between Kodak and IBM is that I can't believe that the "professional" side of Kodak's business ever had that much money to offer, to add to the obvious prestige factor.

scott

From Kodak's 2008 Annual Report:

"Kodak holds top three market shares in many major categories in which it participates, such as digital still cameras, retail systems solutions, online imaging, and digital picture frames.

"Kodak has the leading share of the origination film market by a significant margin ...

"The distribution of motion pictures to theaters on print film is another important element of the business, one in which the Company continues to be widely recognized as the market leader.

The old girl's traditional markets have changed and she ain't as grand as she once was. She's made some big mistakes over the years but she ain't dead yet. Not by a long shot.

Business is hard. Big business is really hard.

You have to put this into perspective. First, it's easy to tell in 2010 what Kokak did wrong in the 90s. Fact is, however, that Kodak did recognize the importance of digital and was a strong innovator. The DSLR as you know it today was brought to market by Kodak, in a very clever and effective way. Lookup the DCS520 and it's predecessors, or the RFS3570 scanner!

What Kodak missed was the transition to mass market and consumer electronics - but seriously, the market moved in such a frenzy that nobody would have been able to predict anything. And you noticed that many fine companies went out of business - Konica, Agfa, Bronica.. For the sake of comparison, who saw coming that e.g. Sony, the owner of the portable music player market, would be humbled by a niche computer manufacturer?

The fact that Kodak still exists is an achievement. The business model it relied upon for more than a century was obsolete within a few years. They even had chances to become relevant players in digital photography, as was already mentioned. Kodak reinvented itself, and is still in business. And without a taxpayer bailout.

Compare this to Agfa, a company with a very similar business model. Agfa plainly refused to acknowledge that the world had changed, rejected all possible innovations and preferred to go out of business. In fact, I have never seen anybody refusing progress so stubbornly as the Agfa folks.. as a car manufacturer, the taxpayer would have come to rescue - but a photochemical manufacturer does not have such privileges.

Kudos to Kodak for still being around, it's a dinosaur that survived ice age. Given the fact that corporations with such a history and size usually are totally unable of changing, this is a huge achievement.

This thread makes me sad but it also got me off my dead butt to order a a few pro-packs of TXP 120 while I still can.

Well, I will never, NEVER forgive them that they took my Kodachrome away ...

Two of my favorite film stocks are Ektar and Tmax 400 (TMY-2), both recent additions to the Kodak stable of film. To me, both of these look very modern and at least as good as the best that digital can offer--and in my opinion better. The loss of Kodachrome was tragic but the loss of Kodak would be catastrophic. Keep shooting Kodak.

In the year that Kodachrome processing was passed off to other (inferior) hands, Kodak was 'reinventing' itself as a manufacturer of branded clothing, among other divestitures.

And those film products that Kodak marched out to replace Kodachrome were poor substitutes, rushed to market far too quickly, so that we (professional) consumers were left to discover their fatal flaws while supporting ourselves and families.

As sad as it is to see a great American company toppled from the highest perch of success, that fall was triggered from within, when the company trashed the trust of its professional consumer base.

In spring 1987 I was taking a undergrad marketing class as part of my degree, and our teacher had previously worked for Kodak. She said, basically that before the Polaroid lawsuit, Kodak deemed themselves in the "silver haloid photography business" and afterwards changed that to "we're in the picture taking business" which seemed like a better fit.

They used to give a large annual bonus based on profits. Employees would plan vacations and major home appliance purchases based on the bonus and after they lost the lawsuit with Polaroid, there was no bonus that year.

And speaking of Photo CD, it wasn't really an open format. Yeah, Photoshop and some other graphics programs supported it, but the discs had to come from Kodak at a cost of $10 each and there was no way a person could make them themselves. I treasure my PhotoCDs and wish there was a way to get PhotoCD quality (at a minimum) easily of my slide and negative collection. The last time I ordered a Photo CD it was spring 2002 and I paid a premium, somewhere around $50 for one roll of slide film. It was a special case and I had to do it.

The gradual loss of the pro E-6 market to Fuji and the lack of a viable digital consumer printing device like the Fuji Frontier saw Kodak lose substantial market share here in Australia. Skinny margins on digital cameras also adds to the losses. I hope they survive as competition keeps all players honest.
Warren

It's interesting; I don't really find the progress of digital imaging from about 1999 to be that surprising. It was a new area of digital technology, and hence participated in the typical very steep progress curve. Maybe that was optimistic, but it does seem to be the way things behaved.

Kodak's mistake-in-hindsight was certainly in expecting the consumerization to be slow. The company that inflicted the 110 and Disk cameras on us certainly ought to have been prepared to understand that the mass consumer market didn't require that much technical quality; then again they might have been remembering that stuff being overrun by the compact AF 35mm P&S cameras in the 80s, on the basis I believe of their better image quality.

Dear Brendan,

The Polaroid case is an interesting one. There is a certain amount of karma involved, although not enough to save Polaroid. Kodak decided to get into the instant camera business in the late 1970s as corporate warfare. They didn't expect to make money off of that sideline; they wanted to siphon away enough of Polaroid's profits that Polaroid wouldn't have the resources to invest in competing with Kodak in the conventional film and paper markets. (I don't know if Polaroid ever had any intention of doing so, but Kodak was afraid they might.)

Why Kodak decided to so blatantly infringe upon Polaroid's patents is beyond me; it wasn't even a close call. By the time the case was resolved, though, it was too late to do Polaroid much good.

Interestingly enough, Polaroid was a company that didn't have a clue what digital cameras were good for, unlike Kodak. Shortly after Polaroid introduced their first digital cameras, I had a conversation with a few of their higher sales and marketing people about it and I commented that this was a very sensible thing for Polaroid to be getting into, since the digital camera was clearly the Polaroid of the 90s. So help me God, they looked at me blankly. At that point I knew they were doomed.

As for PhotoCD, I think you may be confusing failure with intent. So far as I know, Kodak was, indeed, the only supplier of equipment to make PhotoCDs, but that wasn't their plan. Their intention was to license the technology to anybody who wanted to build PhotoCD equipment. The problem was that they failed to establish a new industry-wide standard with it, and so nobody else cared. Had it succeeded, they wouldn't have been making all the CD blanks and mastering equipment; they'd have been skimming a small but highly lucrative royalty off of all the licenses.

Only one of my PhotoCDs came from Kodak; the rest of them came from independent labs. Kodak was not the only source of PhotoCDs.

As for being able to make PhotoCDs yourself, that was never in the plan; when PhotoCD came out, you couldn't even buy an affordable CD burner for your computer (unless I have my dates mixed up). That was still several years off -- you could buy an industrial production unit, not the same thing. Maybe if PhotoCD had become an industry-wide standard, the mastering software would have migrated down to the home computer level. But that is in some alternate reality.


~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
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-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 
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Dear folks,

I hadn't planned on getting into Kodak's economic missteps, but Ken inspired me.

The most charitable phrase to describe Kodak's economic strategy in the 1980s would be "bizarre." The company was essentially run by its pension program. It had an exceedingly strange board of directors and equally strange agendas.

Somewhere in there, Kodak management got the notion that they were in the business of making money. That's fine if you're a mint; for most other companies it's the road to really bad decisions. Kodak started playing money games. There was one year in the mid-80s when Kodak made more money off of arbitrage than anything else, according to an inside source. I never verified they made that much, but it's where their head was at; they were moving resources and money around with the goal of optimizing the return on the money, rather than using it to develop their future.

To maximize their available cash, Kodak decided to drastically cut employee expenses. They instituted wave after wave of early retirement, sometimes voluntary, sometimes not-so-much. They saw it as a major win each time they could divest themselves of a 20 or 30-year employee.

The disaster in the making is that most of the company "gurus" were just such employees. The gurus are the people who know all the stuff about making something that isn't written down. And, believe me, an awful lot of manufacturing art and craft is not written down; it's just stuff you learn from years and years of experience. Kodak started having massive quality control problems in the mid-80s. Surprise! On the trickier products, yields went down, production costs went up, and profits went away. And then the products disappeared from the catalogs entirely. Kodak's catalog shrank and shrank; they were no longer the "go to" company that had everything you could possibly need.

Even on products that weren't obviously tricky, lots of inefficiencies appeared. For instance, you wouldn't think there would be much of an art to making silver step tablets, would you? Well, that's what Kodak management thought. And they had one guru who was the resident expert on that. They pushed him into early retirement. He kept asking for a trainee. They provided him with a trainee three days before his last day. Guess how much the trainee actually learned.

I saw firsthand how much difference a guru could make. In the mid-1980s, Kodak lost control of the process for making dye transfer paper; it was all coming out defective. Not only could they not make it correctly, they wouldn't even admit that it was out of spec. Finally I forced to them to give me their attention and flew to Rochester for a meeting with the production people, all of whom had been claiming everything was just fine. But for the sake of form, they brought in the Paper Guru. I handed him the prints that I claimed were defective and production was claiming were within spec. He looked at them for less than 10 seconds and said, "Oh, that's obvious!" And he knew exactly what adjustments needed to be made to the production process to make the problem go away. The whole matter took 15 minutes of his time and no additional expense for Kodak.

The following year, the Paper Guru was in retirement.

That's what Kodak was like in the 1980s. If Ken is correct that they are on their last legs, then it's a testament to just how long it can take a really large company to go terminal.


~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
======================================
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 
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The real pity is that Kodak seems to have given up on the film market. Film still has its place and I am sure marketing would help to sell a lot more of it.

When the Motion Picture Industry substantially switches to electronic capture(cut to shot of Mr. Sony rubbing his hands gleefully and laughing maniacally), Kodak will be dead.

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