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2 minute read
Richard Lacayo

FOR A MATURE INDUSTRY, A REALLY NEW product can mean big money. (Think compact discs.) Or just big losses. (Think New Coke.) Last week five famous names in photography took the plunge. Film giants Kodak and Fuji, along with cameramakers Canon, Nikon and Minolta, jointly introduced the Advanced Photo System (APS), the first new approach to film-based picture taking since the early 1980s.

What will hit the stores in April is an interesting but not quite revolutionary product line. The cameras are lighter and smaller. They print such things as date and location on the back of each picture, not the front, so family fun shots don’t look as if they were caught by airport security cameras. Film loading is simplified (drop in a cartridge, shut the camera, the film threads itself), and a button allows you to switch among three image sizes (standard, wider, panorama)–but these are only modest advances over today’s models.

The real changes come with developing. Magnetic codes on the film will instruct photo-processing equipment to correct for errors like insufficient light and will automatically record camera settings. Instead of messy negatives, you get back the tidy little film cartridge–negatives inside–plus a sheet of thumbnail prints to use as a guide for duplicates.

They have built it. Will the buyers come? The new film will cost about 20% more; processing, about 15% to 20% more. It remains to be seen how many photo-developing outlets will be equipped to take the new film. The last completely new photo format, the Kodak Disc system, was a dud. The format of the future, digital pictures that don’t require film of any kind, is still a few years off. APS is a holding action.

The new system will “get the consumer excited about photography again,” predicts analyst Eugene G. Glazer. That’s the hope in a photo business that has faded since the boom in autofocus 35-mm cameras peaked in 1992. And if it flops? Look for the remnants at 21st century flea markets, near the eight-track cassette players.

–By Richard Lacayo. Reported by Elaine Rivera/New York

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