A Snapshot in Time: the Kodak Disc Camera

Kodak 4000 Disc Camera by Capt. Kodak

Kodak 4000 Disc Camera by Capt. Kodak

On hearing of Kodak’s bankruptcy recently, I’m nostalgic, as I’m sure many of us are. I easily remember the excitement of discovering photography for the first time as a child and seeing the Kodak logo everywhere, from film, to cameras, to the envelopes my prints were mailed back to me in (remember “sending off” or “dropping off” your film?). This is best summarized for me now by remembering Kodak’s Disc camera.

What’s a Kodak Disc?

For their time, the Kodak Disc cameras were very innovative. It could easily slide in your pocket, came with a built-in flash, and even the film was compact. Sure the picture quality wasn’t great, but for the ease of use and relative affordability, it was a decent experience. Snapshots of life as a kid for me came through the lens of this camera, and I’m intrigued by the parallels of our gadget-obsessed consumer society. I still have prints from my Disc camera, and as I record HD video with my phone today, I wonder what 20 years from now will make us regard even this activity as primitive.

Says Capt. Kodak:

Manufactured from 1982 to 1989 by Eastman Kodak Co. When introduced, they made a big splash—in less than 10 years, they were gone. They featured a 15 exposure flat “disc” of film using new film technology to get acceptable images from it 8x10mm negative size. Some of this film technology was later introduced into the 35mm line of films making them even sharper and producing better images on a bigger negative. Ironically, that improvement and Kodak’s own introduction of inexpensive 35mm cameras may have led to the Disc camera’s demise.

iPhone Ancestor?

iPhone Ancestry

iPhone decal, Disc style

Back when I rocked the iPhone 4 bumper, my swag was enhanced by this awesome Kodak Disc iPhone skin. The symbolic convergence of technology and art through photography on so many levels with this simple decal is so poignant to me. Though no longer available from this manufacturer (another similarity with the actual camera), I truly appreciate how this is a tribute to digital ancestry in consumer electronics and photography. Like the gadget that inspired it, this decal goes along with you in your pocket, attached to your camera that also makes phone calls, sends SMS messages, surfs the Internet, is your GPS, Yellow Pages, day planner, entertainment hub… um, while fun, the Disc didn’t do all that.

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Sure, I love my iPhone and applications like Hipstamatic for their high-quality and instant gratification. Yet it’s so interesting to me how nostalgia in the form of apps like Hipstamatic or digital photo booths is enjoying popularity now. And the Disc’s portability and ease of use can’t help but come to mind these days when I’m whipping out the iPhone for some snapshots with a retro-camera app.

I also love the ease and fun of social networks like Instagram and management tools like Flickr for making sharing our snapshots so easy and ubiquitous. In fact, I fully credit Instagram for reigniting my own interest in photography these days — which happen to be directly traceable to the days when I was posing my Star Wars action figures for some action shots with my trusty Kodak Disc.

What do you think? Are you sad to see Kodak’s demise? Did you or anyone you know ever work for Kodak? Do you use any Kodak products today (paper, digital, etc.) What lessons are there to be gained by the fall of a once-great innovating company? Let us hear from you in the comments!

Photo Credit: Kodak 4000 Disc Camera, by Capt. Kodak

13 thoughts on “A Snapshot in Time: the Kodak Disc Camera

  1. Pingback: Maybe I just take too many pictures to begin with « Write on the World

    1. rsmithing

      Interesting that you hear about this from your father rather than experiencing it first hand – more evidence, I say, of how the business climate evolves over time.

      Reply
  2. Em²

    Must admit we never had a disc camera. I presume the supposed advantage over 35mm compacts would be that they were small in a pocketable way and that the film was flat already so didn’t have to have a pressure plate to flatten it as per formats where the film was on a roll.Was the picture any better than 110? I tell what we did have though when I was very young and that was one of the short lived Kodak instant cameras. I think Polaroid forced them to withdraw them due to infringing some of their patented technology. I think Kodak funded a trade in for a Polaroid model at our local camera shop.

    Reply
    1. rsmithing

      You are correct; the advantage for the Disc was its portability and ease of use. As evidenced in numerous other places, it certainly wasn’t image quality. The fact that it took “good enough” shots (not even as good as the 110 in my opinion) while being easy to transport was its appeal – not unlike the first camera phones. And wow, I never knew that about the Polaroid trade-in! What a PR challenge that sounds like. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  3. Bob Stocking

    I too owned a Disc camera in college, and thought it was a cool alternative to the boxy Kodaks. Imagining them going out of business would have been as crazy as imagining car companies needing bailout funds, or houses being built without phone lines.

    Reply

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