The End of Photography As We Know It

By Drew Muller We all remember Kodak. Its familiar red and yellow film boxes captured the frolicking of our youth, the moments we’ll cherish for a lifetime. But times have changed, and Kodak hasn’t been able to change with them.

For many companies, the hurdle to the digital age has been too high to clear, and this has historically meant a catastrophic drop in profits and a rapid decline in brand awareness. It’s a dog eat dog world out there—essentially, get digital or die.

Kodak is not deceased quite yet, but a recent decision to halt the production of digital cameras in response to filing for bankruptcy could just be life support to stave off the inevitable. The irony of the situation is almost poignant as Kodak actually created the first digital camera in 1975 and is now leaving the market, dejected and unable to compete with smart phones that have built-in cameras.

The future of photography is in flux. People don’t want to lug around multiple devices when their phone doubles as a high quality camera, but Newhouse graphic design and photography professor Bruce Strong doesn’t think the demand for digital cameras will completely disappear.

“When the quality you can get from an iPhone or another smart phone competes with that of the consumer market camera, why carry another device?” Strong said. “But there’s plenty of space for high-end digital cameras made by Canon and Nikon. Professionals are going to gravitate toward those.”

Smart phone cameras are great for capturing the kinds of things that surface on Facebook the next day, but professional photographers will still favor the models they’ve trusted for years. The market will undoubtedly become more nichified because consumers are more than happy to settle for the quality of smart phone cameras. Professionals, on the other hand, will stick with their traditional tools, unless Apple comes out with a 35-millimeter lens app.

“There’s still a market for digital cameras, but business models with one-function devices are dying,” Strong said.

And that’s exactly what happened to Kodak. Its revamped business model emphasizes home photo printers and high-speed commercial ink jet processors as core products, but it remains to be seen if the transition can be made smoothly.

“It’s a shame because Kodak has been a reliable sponsor and has contributed to photography and education,” Strong said.

If only that could save it from implosion.

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