The news that Kodak is pulling out of the hardware market — excepting printers — for good means that, effectively, Kodak is dead. Is this the death knell for the compact digital? OK, so Kodak's not technically dead. It'll still make inexpensive printers, and naturally enough as every technology firm since the dawn of time, it'll also look to leverage its vast digital imaging patent portfolio.
I wonder if, at the dawn of time, Ug had looked at the wheel and rushed off to the patent office, where we'd all be?* But I'm digressing.
A company that makes printers and rests on a couple of decades of digital imaging technology patents might make a more compelling prospect for investors — and may indeed be the only way for Kodak to get out of the financial mess it finds itself in — but it's not really Kodak, now is it? The motto used to be "Shoot. Touch. Share". Will a printer and IP business, does that now morph into "Sue. Touch. Don't Share"?
Kodak has decades of film photography history, and outside heavy enthusiasts that market's dead, but digital isn't. The first digital camera I owned was a Kodak digital camera — the EasyShare LS420, a two megapixel monster that wouldn't cut the mustard in today's market, although I do think it still looks quite good, aesthetically speaking.
There's a wider question at stake here though, as Kodak very heavily tied its recent fortunes to the compact market; while the DSLR and Micro 4/3rds market is fought between names like Canon, Nikon, Sony and Panasonic, to name but a few, that wasn't where Kodak played in recent years. It's widely thought that one of the key things that hit Kodak hard was the inclusion of decent quality lenses and sensors in smartphones meaning that nobody was buying compacts any more. That's probably true, and Kodak's exit from the market will hasten the fate of compact digital cameras. That too makes me sad.
Certainly, a lot of people do use their mobiles as their camera, but there are some limitations there that I think compacts address that smartphones do not.
For a start, there's the issue of optical zoom; to date the only smartphone we've had a sniff of with integrated zoom optics has been the Aigo A8, AKA the Altek Leo; so far no major phone manufacturer has been quite savvy/insane enough to produce a mobile with built in zoom optics for the Australian market.
That'd be an interesting niche product, but so far all you can do is either use dodgy digital zoom, or the poor man's zoom, namely moving closer to the object you want to take photographs of.
Then there's the time and power considerations. I hit this quite frequently; if I spot something happening that I want to shoot (and there's no DSLR handy), I could either grab a compact camera, fire it up and take a shot, or take my phone out of my pocket, unlock it, launch the camera app — depending on the model I may be able to "quickly" jump straight ot the camera from the lock screen, but this isn't universal across all phones and platforms. By the time I've sorted out the camera — and this is presuming that the battery is up to it — the moment may have passed. It's also part of the reason I always have a Flip camera in my bag — although that, too, is a dead product line.
What do you think? Are compacts the cameras of the past, or is there still a market for a good compact digital?
* Sadly, I suspect that once Ug got to the patent office with the wheel, he'd find that his discovery was blocked by Wug's prior art on the rock.