Yesterday, it was announced that Kodak is going to stop making cameras and completely remove itself from the camera business.
For many photographers, myself included in this lot actually, their first camera was a Kodak camera. Technically speaking, if you ask me, my first “real” camera was a Nikon FE. I say “real camera” because this was the first camera I got that allowed me any control over any of the settings. I got this camera in the early 1990’s. But, if you dig back a little more, you’ll find that I actually got my first camera when I was about four years old. It was a Kodak Instamatic style camera and I kept it until I was in my teens, replaced then with a Kodak 110 camera, then later a “disc” film camera (onto an Olympus point and shoot, which I still have by the way, and then the trusty Nikon FE after that.) So, you see, my first camera was a Kodak too, although I lack the fond memories many people have of the old Brownie line of cameras. I never did get a Brownie camera, although I have always wanted one for Christmas.
This death of Kodak got me thinking. If I were in charge of Kodak, what would I do? What would I do differently? How would I try to save the company or even move the company forward, given the new generation of digital imaging? (Many people don’t realize it, but Kodak had partnered with Nikon in the early days of the digital camera to help bring digital imaging to where it is today.)
So many people have started to come out already and talk about how they have fond memories of their old Brownie cameras. Indeed, the Brownie was Kodak’s bread and butter for a long time. It was “THE” camera everybody had. It was cheap and it took great pictures. It ushered in the new dawn of everybody owning a camera and really took photography to the masses. Yesterday was a sad day indeed, when they announced the maker of the trusted little old “Brownie” would be making cameras no more.
Back to what I would do.
What I think Kodak should do is come up with a “Digital Brownie.” Yes, there are many digital cameras out there, probably too many and, yes, I’m actually crazy enough to advocate for yet another, but, bear with me on this, I think Kodak could pull this off. What I would propose is a “Digital Brownie” camera that would be a small, lightweight digital box style camera that was set up and designed for shooting good digital black and white images. When I say “set up and designed” I mean set up and designed, as in “right out of the box.”
You see, I think there really is a niche in the digital camera market, actually a niche to fill, if you will. There are many cameras designed to be light, easy to use, work underwater (!) be shockproof, etc. but there are none designed to shoot black and white straight out of the box. And black and white images are hard to work on in Photoshop. It takes skill to post-process digital images and come up with good (I mean really good) black and white images. Kodak could fit in here. Kodak could design a small, lightweight “Brownie” camera that came with software and processing pre-set to capture the best black and white images. They could put this in a cute, “Brownie” retro package and sell it to all of the kids who want to have a “Brownie” camera just like Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma and Grandpa might even buy one. Think of how popular they would be at Christmas time? Every old person would buy one for their kids and grandchildren as gifts. I could really see this happening. The conversation would go something like this, “When I was a kid, cameras all looked like this. We didn’t have cell phones and pictures came in black and white.” It would be Kodak’s “Holga” moment, if you will.
Black and white photography is timeless. It never goes out of style and it always looks good when done well. Brownies (and the “Brownie” name) are synonymous with good black and white images. I still wish I had a good Brownie camera to run black and white film. Yes, sure, I have a Hasselblad, and, yes, it’s a GREAT camera but it’s darned expensive. A Brownie was cheap, almost on the level, and a lot of fun to play with. Brownies were great cameras and I think there really is a place for them in the digital age.
Kodak could even make Brownies with several versions of “glass” or filters-for example, one where they had an old “crappy” scratched glass filter over the lens to make the images look worn (as if from an old camera) and one new “nice” glass filter to render them sharper, for those who want it that way and like a more modern look to their pictures.
This would be such a great camera, I could really see it catching on. I sure as heck would want one. But, alas, it will never come to pass. Kodak will be busy, I’m sure, making whatever it is they make now. (Fuji makes drugs now. I guess all that Velvia finally went to their heads!) Nobody will ever get to own my newfangled little “Digital Brownie” for the new generation, and that’s a sad thing really. It really is a sad day, even if not many people use Kodak cameras anymore. It’s the end of yet another era.
If anybody has an old (working) Brownie camera that shoots 120 film and is offering it for a reasonable price, please do let me know. Yes, I’d still be interested in such a beast, even given all of the cameras I have access to now, there’s something somewhat magical about those old Brownie cameras that’s hard to replicate in our new gear. Film be damned! I so would shoot one anyway.
Until next time…