Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Kodak's moment for posterity - Kodak Gallery too gone


Until a couple of decades ago, photography was a costly affair practised only by those who can afford…… there were famous names such as – Agfa, Kodak, Konica – which all sold film rolls.  Anybody returning from a foreign trip used to gift film rolls of 24 or 36 to friends and relatives. There were some manual cameras where you had to move everytime a photo was taken and some automatic –

You were unsure of the results and one had to wait with bated breath after giving the roll – expecting some good items captured do turn out well ! – there was the standard instruction of Only Good prints (OGP)’ whence the shop will print only those which had come out well.  The developing might take a couple of days and another annoying thing was that the result of the capture would never be known until the entire roll was complete ! – all story of past !!

The name Kodak has been synonymous with the world of cameras since the firm was founded by George Eastman in the 19th Century.  His vision to keep Kodak at the forefront of photography by the masses has seen its peaks and troughs.  George Eastman saw Kodak take off after pioneering roll film in 1886 - an alternative to cumbersome photographic plates normally only developed by chemists and specialists. The opaque backing paper allowed roll film to be loaded in daylight. It is typically printed with frame number markings which can be viewed through a small red window at the rear of the camera.

Photographic film is a sheet of plastic (polyester, PET, nitrocellulose or cellulose acetate) coated with an emulsion containing light-sensitive silver halide salts (bonded by gelatin) with variable crystal sizes that determine the sensitivity, contrast and resolution of the film. When the emulsion is sufficiently exposed to light (or other forms of electromagnetic radiation such as X-rays), it forms a latent (invisible) image. Chemical processes can then be applied to the film to create a visible image, in a process called film developing.  The roll film was so famous and most bought out till a couple of decades ago..  . A spool of roll film was  loaded on one side of the camera and pulled across to an identical take up spool on the other side of the shutter as exposures are made. When the roll is fully exposed, the take up spool is removed for processing and the empty spool on which the film was originally wound is moved to the other side, becoming the take up spool for the next roll of film.

The company's ubiquity was such that itstagline "Kodak moment" entered common lexicon as a personal event that demanded to be recorded for posterity.  Kodak began to struggle financially in the late-1990s as a result of the decline in sales of photographic film and its slowness in transitioning to digital photography, despite having invented the core technology used in current digital cameras in 1975. In January 2012, Kodak filed for Chapter 11bankruptcy protection and obtained a $950 million, 18-month credit facility to enable it to continue trading.  In February 2012, Kodak announced that it would cease making digital cameras, pocket video cameras and digital picture frames and focus on the corporate digital imaging market. 

Big fish eating small fish often happens in market and sometimes even smaller fish takes over the much bigger one – but the death of Kotak was not by any of its competitor in Camera selling.  It was the technology of digital cameras, whose existence also is now challenged by …………… again not cameras, but smartphones, as it is reported that the sale of ordinary device has plummetted 30% in five years

The popularity of smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy series, which have cameras built in, means families are no longer buying separate cameras.  The sales are predicted to fall more.  The technological advances have ensured that smartphones have very good quality cameras that fit in the wallet and are ease to handle, store and print when required.  It is not cameras alone, Camcorder sales too have fallen by 21 per cent over the past five years.  Daily Mail reports that based on some statistics, only 8 per cent of people use a traditional film camera, while 40 per cent use a digital camera and 45 per cent rely on their smartphone.  Quoting a  technology analyst, it is stated  that while smartphone picture resolution is lower than that of the best digital cameras, many people would not be able to tell the difference in the images. As newer technology continues to improve the specifications of top-end equipment, measurements like megapixel density or the top level of optical zoom possible will become meaningless to consumers best served by less expensive, middle-of-the-field devices.

In another blow, Kodak  has announced closure of  its Kodak Gallery website, meaning thousands of  families risk losing the digital photographs they have uploaded to the site.  The Kodak Gallery was Kodak's consumer online digital photography web site. Its featured online photo storage, sharing, viewing on a mobile phone, getting Kodak prints of digital pictures, and creating personalized photo gifts. The service was originally launched in 1999 as Ofoto, and was acquired by Kodak in 2001, renamed Kodak EasyShare Gallery in 2005, and shortly thereafter because simply Kodak Gallery. At its peak, it served over 60 million users and billions of images in 2008. Subsequent to the bankruptcy of the parent Kodak, Shutterfly placed a stalking horse bid on Kodak Gallery on March 1, 2012, for $23.8 million.   Kodak Gallery has  shut down on July 2, 2012 and photos will be transferred to Shutterfly.

Uploading photos to Kodak Gallery was free, but with strings attached as  unless purchases (e.g., of prints)  were made on the site, the pictures were only stored for 90 days and then deleted.  So it is dusk of an era – no more Kodak’s Online photo gallery too.. – transfereed to Shutterfly.com for free. But projects - like video slideshows or photo books - will not be moved.

And that is not all over  -  Kodak says bankruptcy court has approved an auction of its imaging patent portfolios over the objections of Apple and FlashPoint Technologies, giving the photography pioneer clarity on ownership claims.  This way Kodak is looking to turn 1,100 digital imaging patents into ready money.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
3rd July 2012

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