Tour the Kodak Underground Archives

At the ISO standards meeting in Rochester, I had a chance to see the underground camera archives at the Eastman House. All of Kodak’s cameras, including many cameras that were never mass produced, are stored here. The Eastman house also has unique cameras from many other manufacturers.

Early digital cameras highlight how far the industry has come in a short time. The large case to the left served as a “flash drive” for this early Nikon camera – not exactly my definition of portable. Now, my cell phone has a greater storage capacity.

This early consumer camera appears to have the sophistication of an 8-track tape player; yet for its time was quite advanced. I have a hard time imagining paying nearly $1000 for this camera, although I am sure it appeared quite reasonable when it was introduced. It even had a flash!

I hadn’t thought about it, but many of these early cameras require a computer from the same era to function; consequently, the Eastman House must also maintain computers with old versions of the Microsoft and Apple operating systems.

This QuickTake 100 camera is designed for the Macintosh computer. This camera may be the great grandfather of the iPhone I am using to take these photos.

The Eastman House has many, many cameras and I could not possibly see them all. I did have a chance to see some of the more  unique items in its collection.

This camera was designed for news organizations. It held three rolls of film: black and white, color, and slide film. The photographer rotated the back to change the type of film. I will think of this camera the next time I click on convert to black and white when editing my photos. By the way, I think slide film is still available. I am less clear on why anyone would still use it, given the computer screens and video projectors that are literally everywhere.

An early television camera illustrates how far video technology has come. I would like to see a quality comparison between this camera and the latest flip or cell phone video. I doubt that youtube was in the minds of the people who developed this camera; yet, that is how technology has evolved. Today, anyone with internet access can easily produce their own TV show. Internet video would not exist if video cameras had remained the same size as this model. I cannot imagine trying to position one of these cameras on top of my computer monitor.

Some of the early Kodak cameras were quite elegant. Kodak engaged prominent industrial designers to produce this art deco design and other designs that were a far cry from the early box cameras. Apparently the model shown here is considered quite rare, so if you have one lying around you may want to list it on ebay.

High-end early cameras were works of art. Large cameras were designed to take advantage of larger film sizes. Smaller pocket cameras were designed for portability, although they still required extremely large pockets. The bellows mechanism for these cameras still functions well.

Other cameras were designed with the mass market in mind. These cameras included the Instamatic and the disc cameras. 25 million disc cameras were sold between 1982 and 1989; yet the product was not well accepted due to poor image quality. Disc film was discontinued in 1999 and is no longer available.

Finally, Disney was represented with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cameras. After all, we can’t forget that photos should be fun.


About Mark Mizen

I have over twenty years professional experience in all aspects of photography and digital imaging. I am Chair of the ISO WG5 TG2 committee responsible for physical properties and durability of imaging material and am currently with HID Global working on systems for security printing for IDs, licenses, and credit cards. Previously, I was Director of Digital Development at Creative Memories from 2009 to 2012 and was responsible for the Creative Memories digital products and services. I also established and directed the Creative Memories Technology Center, which evaluated new products prior to product introduction, assisted with production difficulties, and provided technical information to support product sales.
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