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Thread: Would Kodak have a chance if they just produced film & chemistry?

  1. #1

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    Would Kodak have a chance if they just produced film & chemistry?

    Sorry to start another Kodak thread and let me know if this has been covered elsewhere, but I couldn't find this angle in existing threads.

    Soon everyone will have 60 Gigapixel, f1:1, 10-1000mm optical zoom cameras in their phones anyway, but they have a perfect product with a devoted following worldwide.. Even if the motion picture industry went all digital (and it's far from doing so yet) would it not be a viable business to have a little factory somewhere in China cranking out Tri-X, Portra, D76 and C-41 for those who are willing to pay (lets face it) almost anything to get at it??

    Vinyl producers are digging their lathes out of storage for the audiophile and collectors market (and I know making film is harder) but there are SO many businesses out there trying to invent and market crap that nobody wants ... why can't Kodak just provide something that has a reliable market?
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    Re: Would Kodak have a chance if they just produced film & chemistry?

    That is what Harman Technology (Ilford monochrome products) is trying to do. For the year ended Dec 31, 2010, Harman's total revenue was £22.6 million. They seem to be stable at around that level, though they're still shedding staff periodically and squeezing operations further as volume drifts downward. Note that not all of this revenue represents traditional analog photo products; they sell some inkjet paper and are trying to develop other lines of business.

    Based on latest quarterly reports, Kodak's overall 2011 revenue should be somewhere just north of $6 billion, with the Film/Photofinishing/Entertainment Group representing roughly a quarter of that - call it $1.5 billion.

    That is the magnitude of the problem. "Why don't they position themselves as a niche business?" means that someone has to figure out how to extract a piece of Kodak manufacturing infrastructure and technical and management support that's viable at a small fraction of its current, already radically-reduced scale, without trashing product quality.

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    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Would Kodak have a chance if they just produced film & chemistry?

    If Portra and Tri-X were made in China they'd probably not be Portra or Tri-X. Nearly
    every single US company which has "outsourced" to China basically becomes just a
    label on some low-quality bait-and-switch substitute. Why do you think our economy
    is doing so badly compared to before? When former manufacturers no longer have factories, skilled workers, or control of their own inventory, they basically just own a label and run on a bluff for awhile. But it never succeeds in the long run.

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    Re: Would Kodak have a chance if they just produced film & chemistry?

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Wiley View Post
    Nearly every single US company which has "outsourced" to China basically becomes just a label on some low-quality bait-and-switch substitute.
    Many western-branded products are now manufactured to a high quality standard in China; I own some of them. But film has not been among them. The investment required even to try to bring film manufacturing in China up to Rochester or Mobberley standards, without assurance of success, would likely be way out of proportion to the economic return.

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    Re: Would Kodak have a chance if they just produced film & chemistry?

    I didn't mean to make too much of the China thing: keep it in Rochester by all means, if that's economically possible.

    It is true that there are many examples of inferior Chinese products, both past and present, but that is less a sign of Chinese inferiority, and more a sign of Western market demands for the cheapest products (in both senses of the word). Remember "Jap crap"? Well, given a decade or two they wiped us off the planet with it, fair and square... China is next.

    Although innovation is not as strong in China as in the West, given the patents and the diagrams (or Kodak's technical leadership), I can assure you that the Chinese are more than capable of smearing a few layers of chemical goop onto some acetate. They have a space program you know ..
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    Re: Would Kodak have a chance if they just produced film & chemistry?

    Quote Originally Posted by Oren Grad View Post
    The investment required even to try to bring film manufacturing in China up to Rochester or Mobberley standards, without assurance of success, would likely be way out of proportion to the economic return.
    That is the question, precisely. But as I said, keeping it in Rochester would be great.
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    Re: Would Kodak have a chance if they just produced film & chemistry?

    Quote Originally Posted by Oren Grad View Post
    That is the magnitude of the problem. "Why don't they position themselves as a niche business?" means that someone has to figure out how to extract a piece of Kodak manufacturing infrastructure and technical and management support that's viable at a small fraction of its current, already radically-reduced scale, without trashing product quality.
    100% agreed: can this be done people??
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    Format Omnivore Brian C. Miller's Avatar
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    Re: Would Kodak have a chance if they just produced film & chemistry?

    No. Go over to APUG and read the recent posts by PhotoEngineer, who is a retired Kodak engineer. Also, read the sticky post about what another engineer in your neck of the woods did in his garage, and there are photos.

    The problem is that general snapshot film is now like 3% of Kodak's production. LF is less than that, like, uh, 0.01%? Maybe that high? I have no idea. Anyways, the 35mm people outshoot us like no tomorrow. If Hollywood went all-digital, then the current Kodak plant, note the singular, would go from a 40-hour work week 52 weeks of the year, to, um, right about zero. And all of those people still have to be paid year-round.

    Toast is toast.

    Something like that might even take out Ilford and the other European plants as well. The problem is the base material. This is special stuff for coating with emulsion, and a certain gargantuan amount must be produced per year to make it worth the plastics companies' time. There's a four roll minimum order, and each of those rolls is well over a mile long.

    Without that huge movement of product, everybody can expect to go back to glass plates!

    Would we have color? I have no clue. How much effort would it take to reproduce Kodachrome? While the product was first produced in 1935, there was already a tremendous base of knowledge, and Kodak's enormous backing. The emulsion is at least 8 layers, and with defects, you'd have to expect a 20% yield. Remember what Kodachrome used to cost? Twice as much as E6, before processing? Would you like to spend, say, $50 per sheet or more for color? Or would you rather make a tricolor split photograph on three sheets and then recombine the image?

    I know that there has been work on reinventing Autochrome. I have seen images and discussion, but that's all.

    Anyways, all of that is over on APUG if you want to actually research what it really takes to make what we use.
    "It's the way to educate your eyes. Stare. Pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." - Walker Evans

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    Re: Would Kodak have a chance if they just produced film & chemistry?

    That settles it then... glad I just ordered $2K of Portra. Thanks Brian.
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    Re: Would Kodak have a chance if they just produced film & chemistry?

    Quote Originally Posted by Uri A View Post
    ...given the patents and the diagrams (or Kodak's technical leadership), I can assure you that the Chinese are more than capable of smearing a few layers of chemical goop onto some acetate.
    No. Film manufacture is voodoo - the stuff that's needed for it to be successful is not fully captured by any recipe that's written on paper. You could steal all the documentation for TX and be utterly unable to reproduce it elsewhere even with all the money in the world. There's lots of tacit knowledge required, that resides in the experience and intuitions of engineers who have been running the machines for years, and who acquired their practical wisdom on the job.

    What Brian said, etc.

    EDIT: Oops, posts crossed... don't mean to be beating you over the head.

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