Why did Kodak stop making Kodachrome film?
Paul Simon’s song about Kodachrome was a huge hit in 1973. In the song, Simon extolled the virtues of the world’s first mass market color film.
“Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colours / They give us the greens of summers / Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day.”
The world’s a little less sunny today, as the Eastman Kodak Company announces the end of Kodachrome film. Eastman’s Kodachrome film was the first commercially available color film that achieved success. First developed in 1935, Kodachrome film was long the standard for commercial and print photography. Kodachrome film required professional development, due to its “subtractive method”, and as of this writing only one commercial photo developer will work with Kodachrome — a small photo shop in the state of Kansas. So why the sudden decline in the use of Kodachrome, and why is Eastman retiring the once popular film? Eastman says the 74 year old product has been facing dwindling sales for years now due to newer technology, and also cites the fact that almost no labs process the film.
According to Eastman, revenue from Kodachrome film represents “a fraction of one percent” of Kodak’s annual sales. In a statement released today, Eastman Kodak acknowledges that Kodachrome was the world’s first commercially successful color film, but that digital technology and films that are easier to process have curtailed the Kodachrome market.
Eastman Kodak, a Rochester, New York company, has complained that its film business’ profits have evaporated as digital cameras came to dominate the photography world. Chief Executive Officer Antonio Perez said earlier this year that the company lost over $ 4.5 billion in market value in 2008 alone. Perez said the company is “struggling to show investors it has a place in new technology,” and that Kodachrome is not a part of that plan.
It is true that the majority of photographers today prefer digital technology to capture and manipulate images, both still and video. The wide availability of digital technology and the easy with which a user can alter and even publish the digital images has made old film practically obsolete. Even professional photographers — be they taking photos of models or for a more artistic purpose — are switching to digital. According to Eastman Kodak, the company earns as much as 70 percent of its income from commercial and consumer digital businesses rather than film.
Photo labs that are willing to process the old Kodachrome film have literally shrank to one size fits all — Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas is the last remaining photo shop that will develop Kodachrome film. Dwayne’s Photo lab will continue processing the film through 2010, for those customers who wish to continue using Kodachrome as long as they can, and the Kodak company has estimated that existing Kodachrome film and other supplies will last until “early fall”. After that, it may be impossible to find Kodachrome.
The news that Kodak is abandoning an obsolete technology may have helped their stock price in the long run — Kodak has lost just 4 cents today and the stock price stands at $2.81. How is this good news? Shares of Eastman Kodak had been on a major slump — dropping 57 percent so far this year. Maybe Kodak’s commitment to move toward new technology has given investors a much needed bit of confidence.
The President of Kodak’s Film division had this to say about the long standing product — “Kodachrome is an iconic product and a testament to Kodak’s long and continuing leadership in imaging technology. It was certainly a difficult decision to retire it, given its rich history.”
For all of its beauty and tradition, Kodachrome film requires a complex and expensive manufacturing process, and an incredibly difficult processing procedure. Compare this to a digital camera, which users can point and shoot, alter the image on a home computer, and print the photo in just a few minutes. A lack of any real processing availability, as well as the features of other films introduced by Kodak over the last 74 years, has created a market where Kodachrome film is simply not neccessary.
What products have replaced Kodachrome? Outside of digital processing, Kodak has constantly added new film products to the market, including seven professional grade still films and the popular Vision2 and Vision3 motion picture films, these nine new products in just the past three years. These new still film products, as well as products not made by Eastman Koda, are the major choice for professional and even many amateur photographers who are looking for quality still and motion picture films.
To retire Kodachrome, Kodak will host an online gallery featuring popular and groundbreaking work made on Kodachrome film. The last few rolls of Kodachrome ever made will be donated to the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, where photographer Steve McCurry (probably best known for his photograph of “The Afghan Girl” for National Geographic magazine) will shoot one of these last rolls of Kodachrome, and the images will be donated to Eastman House and displayed on the internet.