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Kodak ducks out of digital camera market: necessary or prescient?

Kodak ducks out of digital camera market: necessary or prescient?

Posting in Technology

The recently bankrupt, yet continually iconic, camera maker is leaving camera making. Will other companies follow suit?

In 1888, the Kodak we know was born with the debut of its first camera. High school dropout and company founder George Eastman had invented film-on-a-roll several years earlier, and the first Kodak camera came preloaded with 100 exposures for just $25.

But after more than a century of innovation, the company will no longer make cameras and other “capture devices,” while maintaining its business in photo development and printing, including in-store printing kiosks and high-quality photo paper.

The announcement pulls at my heartstrings, but is not a complete surprise as the 132-year old company filed for bankruptcy last month. Furthermore, the decision may not just be due to financial troubles, and rather may foreshadow the changing camera industry.

So why would Kodak nix cameras, their definitive product? Executives must be keeping up with recent surveys, which suggest that stand-alone point-and-shoot cameras are on their way out. More photos are taken with cameras than mobile phones, but camera use dropped from 52 to 44 percent while cameraphone use went up, according to a report from market research firm NPD Group.

Additionally, more Flickr users post photos from their iPhones than any other cameras — and that doesn’t include other smart phone models, which Flickr notes are “underrepresented” in their data.

How far these trends will extend is the big question. There will certainly always be a market for high-end cameras, but as cameraphone picture quality continues to rise -- some 16 megapixel phone cameras were debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month -- digital point-and-shoots may be on their way out as a major product.

These trends should be alarming to all camera makers — and if they continue, Kodak may just be the first company to duck out of point-and-shoot manufacturing.

For a lovely eulogy to the Kodak camera, see Alexis Madrigal’s piece at The Atlantic.

Photo: Flickr/Vick the Viking

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Hannah Waters

Weekend Editor

Weekend Editor Hannah Waters is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. She writes a blog on the Scientific American network, and has written for Nature Medicine and The Scientist. She holds Biology and Latin degrees from Carleton College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure