Why did Kodak not make cameras?

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by BetterSense, May 13, 2009.

  1. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    Ok, sounds like a dumb question. I know there were the retina rangefinder cameras, and the brownie box cameras, and folding cameras, and ok, the instamatic cameras. But it seems like Kodak never made a 35mm SLR camera that competes with the Japanese Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Minolta cameras. This was all way before my time, so I'm not familiar with the dynamics of the time. It seems strange to me that Kodak would just stay out of what was clearly a giant market.
     
  2. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    Retina Reflex S and III.

    Interchangeable lens SLRs but with leaf shutter in the body rather than a focal plane shutter. I have a couple which work really well but they are not known for their reliability. I have a couple more which are seized up with the shutter half open.

    Camera repair people don't like working on them either. If you turn up with one they are likely to run away and hide under the table until you have gone!


    Steve.
     
  3. darinwc

    darinwc Subscriber

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    Kodak made a ton of cameras for for at least 50 years!! Including SLRs - look up retina reflexes.
    With such great success of their film products and inexpensive cameras like the instamatic.. i dont think it was worth it for them to compete with the likes of leica, nikon, canon, minolta, olympus, pentax, and others who dominated the pro camera markets in the 70's and onwards.
     
  4. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    Though branded "Kodak", they were made by what was Nagel in Stuttgart, Germany.

    I don't think that Kodak had anything to do with their design, either, as their lens mount, shutter and lens line were shared by several other contemporary German cameras (Voigtländer, Braun & so on).

    I'd be curious to know what Kodak's input was, if any...
    (General marketing strategy? What type of product to come out with?)
     
  5. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    Perhaps it was: Make something that looks and works a bit like a Bessamatic but put Kodak on the front. And the winder on the bottom!



    Steve.
     
  6. Steve Roberts

    Steve Roberts Member

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    I guess that Kodak were doing very nicely out selling the ammunition for all the cameras mentioned. They didn't do too badly in the "stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap" camera market either, so there was probably no mileage in going head to head with the serious camera manufacturers. Just my guess.

    Steve
     
  7. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    And the World's most complicated to reset frame counter, also on the bottom...
    ;-)
     
  8. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    Funny you should ask that question.

    Looking back through various copies of the British Journal Photographic Almanac recently from the mid 30's to the early 60 it's very noticeable how Kodak never really competed properly in the market place with good modern cameras. By the early 60's they'd really been left behind.

    For many decades Kodak relied on Box Brownies, I don't know exactlywhen they were finally discontinued but the were still vaailable in 1962. Kodak had made a good attempt to improve by taking over Nagel in Germany in 1931, but they were never innovative and like many other German camera manufacturers, like Zeiss Ikon, they didn't make cameras that could compete with the Japanese in the 50's and 60's.

    It's easy to see the gulf that had opened up by the early 60's both Fuji and Konica were manufacturing modern reliable reliable cameras and other manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, Minolta etc were being imported into the UK in increasing volumes. Kodak sat at the bottom end of the market with their cameras after that.

    We knock Kodak management now for it's mishandling of it's business but the roots of its problems go back a long time to before WWII. As Steve says film and consumables like paper & chemistry were the bedrock of the company, but they lacked vision and inspiration when it came to the future of the camera market. They stayed in the mass market with 126 which was just repackaged 828 roll film in a light proof cartridge, then 110 & eventually Disk cameras.

    Ian
     
  9. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    When they are working, I find the Retina Reflex III very nice to use. I like the interlocked aperture and shutter speeds and the twin needled meter viewable on the top plate and in the viewfinder. The Zeiss lenses are nice too especially the 50mm f1.9.

    The problem is they are just too complicated. This was reflected in the price. I don't remeber the figures now but when my father bought his first one he found an old advert from around 1960. A Kodak Retinette 1b (simple rangefinder like camera) would have cost him about half a week's pay at the time whereas a Reflex III would be more like ten week's pay.

    I think the Reflexes, Retinas and Retinettes did compete favourably at their time of introduction but were quickly surpassed by the Japanese and German manufacturers.



    Steve.
     
  10. Soeren

    Soeren Member

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    And the German manufacturers went behind competition because of some stupid agreement that they should use Compur leafshutters. Maybe such an agreement existed for Kodak as well.
    Best regards
     
  11. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

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    I attended a Kodak stockholders meeting in 1974 as a high school senior (I did not own any stock, it was an educational experience), and the very same question was asked of the CEO at the time. "Why doesn't Kodak make any good 35 mm cameras?"

    The answer was like this. At the time Kodak was selling around 90% of all cameras bought in the US. The vast majority of photographers in American were happy with the basic box camera Kodak always sold. The CEO said it wasn't cost efficient to go after the last 10% of the market, and would raise issues about 'monopoly' from Federal regulators.

    That's the word from Kodak's CEO in 1974.
     
  12. jamie young

    jamie young Member

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    Don't forget, for a while kodak had other divisions making cameras as well, like Graflex, which was one of the most popular cameras out there for a while, with every size imaginable.
     
  13. Anscojohn

    Anscojohn Subscriber

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    I think O.P. meant SLRs made in U.S.A. I am led to believe the Retina was made at the old Nagel Werke in Stuttgart which Eastman bought in the 1920s.
     
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  15. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    They were, but the OP only said made by Kodak, not specifically Kodak US.


    Steve.
     
  16. Anscojohn

    Anscojohn Subscriber

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    Yes. And with all due respect to P.E., I think if those mechanical engineers designing cameras over in the other building at Rochester, USA had been given a chance to design an SLR, it would have been a disaster like the Ektra (of 1940?); the professional Medalist 6 x 9 which used 620 film; or the Signet 35, with a very good Tessar-formula lens, a good rangefinder, but with separate shutter cocking, a limited-range of shutter speeds, and ergonomics that left everything to be desired. BTW, anyone wanna buy a Signet 35?
     
  17. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    True, I didn't say Kodak US. But what got me thinking about the whole thing was looking at an old Kodak 8mm projector and seeing it emblazoned with MADE IN USA all over. Plus Officer Mandrake's line in Dr. Strangelove:

    This is a movie from the '60s I believe...it was only going to get worse (or better?). I don't know if the Spotmatic even around in 1964 yet.
     
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  18. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    By 1960 the Minolta SR-1's, Nikon F's etc were making a huge impact. The Spotmatic is 64 and was the 2nd camera with TTL metering, the first was the Praktikamat. In Europe Fuji was already beginning to eat into Kodaks colour film market too.

    Ian
     
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  19. John Hermanson

    John Hermanson Member

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    One of my first cameras was a Retina Reflex IV. Made in Germany, kinda klunky by todays standards. No auto return mirror (mirror resets when shutter was wound), external metering cell, leaf shutter for flash sync at all speeds. Before that they made the Kodak Ektra which is a real collectors item now. John, www.zuiko.com
     
  20. Lopaka

    Lopaka Member

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    Kodak's business model has always been designed for mass marketing. They have not had a lot of success with lower volume pro level stuff. Back in the 1950's, they decided to get out of the view camera business, sold it to a mail order house in Chicago - and Calumet Photographic was born.

    Bob
     
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  21. DannL

    DannL Member

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  22. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    Lets not forget Kodak did take a lead in high end Digital SLR's working with both Canon & Nikon to produce first rate products for quite a few years, and that they were poised to re-enter the film market with a re-badged Kodak/Vivitar SLR a project that has only recently been abandoned.

    Eastman Kodak's whole history has been of buying in technology right from it's early beginnings, this started with companies like Velox, it's early attempts in the 1890's & 1903 to buy or amalgamate with Ilford, taking over Folmer & later Nagel,and there have been numerous other important acquisitions over the years, including Wratten & Wainwright and later Chinon.

    Although Kodak did well selling low end cameras to the masses it might also have been a mistake not to be at the top end as well like Fuji.

    Ian
     
  23. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    Kodak used to create new film types and matching cameras for years. I'm guessing that didn't thrill the competing camera companies. At some point you have to figure Kodak got the hint that competing against the camera companies wasn't the smartest thing.
     
  24. walter23

    walter23 Subscriber

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    I think you hit it on the head here. Their strategy for a long time (even back at the turn of the century (1900)) was mass marketed cameras for everybody. Brownies, autographics, vest pocket kodaks, etc - all made for the common man rather than the professional. Even fairly recently they seemed to focus on all kinds of plastic crap, like the 110 and 126 instamatic cameras.
     
  25. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    Kodak made pro cameras for quite a while. Graflex has been mentioned. Weren't the Centuries Kodaks to?
     
  26. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    We probably have to make a distinction between cameras made by Kodak, and cameras made by a company bought and owned by Kodak.
    Buying Frank Brownell's Camera Works, the Blair Camera Company, Folmer and Schwing. Nagel, etc. does not automatically make the cameras those companies produced, cameras produced by Kodak, instead of just cameras that were 'bought' by Kodak.
    The question is how big Kodak's involvement in the development of all the many different cameras these different works produced was.

    Now if the question was: "why did Kodak not sell cameras?", the answer would have been easy. They did.

    And if you would settle for an answer to the question as it was asked that went no further than that too, i.e "they did" again, it would also be as easy as that.

    But trying to name all the cameras "made" by Kodak?