The Worst Cameras Of All Time #2: The Kodak Disc Camera

Ah man, I hate doing this! I hate doing this so much that it’s been almost three years since the last time I wrote one of these “worst camera” articles. Most of you regular readers know that I am proud and fond of saying I love all cameras right?

Well, I do, I really do! That said, we can’t always have winners, not even in the camera world! So today we have another candidate for worst camera of all time, and again, as a prerequisite for me, it is another camera I have used.

Our first recipient of this distinction was the Nikon N70 film camera with its “FAN” shaped thingy! The reason I feel bad writing this today is that when I first wrote the article on the N70 in 2016, I never expected that the article would still show up on Google’s front page whenever someone types in “Worst cameras of all time.”

How could I have known that nearly three years later it would still be there?! It makes me feel bad. It makes me feel like I have “wronged” the Nikon N70 in some way!

It’s not the worst camera ever, but it might just be the worst designed Nikon and so I stand by my writings.

Today, we will take a look at a camera that I think most camera nuts and historians would agree should certainly be on this “distinguished” list and that camera is the Kodak Disc Camera.

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INTRODUCTION

The Kodak Disc Camera system was introduced by Kodak in 1982. There were several different models, of which the best known was probably the Disc 4000, the cheapest model. Other models included the 4100, the 6000, the 8000, and even a telephoto model called the Tele Disc.

If you want specifics on any on these models, please do a search on them. It is not my intention to review each model here.

MY RECOLLECTION & EXPERIENCES WITH THE KODAK DISC CAMERA

The year was 1983. My Mom, perhaps noticing my budding interest in photography got me a Kodak Disc 4000.

Now I’m not sure if I was pestering her for it or she did it herself, but somehow she brought home a Kodak Disc 4000 camera one day. As Mom had no photographic inclination, I would imagine me and my brother nagging her about it!

I remember well, Kodak had a big television and print advertising campaign on this camera! They even used celebrities if I recall correctly. It was indeed their next big thing…or so they wanted us to believe.

Using the camera was the simplest thing in the world. You drop the film in and the camera did the rest! You press the shutter and the camera winds, rewinds, decides whether or not to use flash, etc. It’s a straight up point and shoot in the best sense of the word!

YOUTUBE VIDEO

For those of you who prefer watching videos, here’s our video on the Kodak Disc Camera. The only thing missing in this article that’s on the video is me explaining how I feel about Kodak in an era where a rap star “Kodak Black” is more well known than Kodak the film company! That’s nuts! 🙂

THE KODAK DISC FILM

I don’t want to jack some picture off the internet so please do a search if you’re interested. I’ve always told people that the Kodak Disc film reminded me a lot of those circular slides they used in the children’s ViewMaster toys. You know, that classic red binocular looking toy that would illuminate slides of animals and such for children.

The disc/film itself was quite solid and thick. It didn’t bend like a 35mm negative would. It felt like a plastic disc. Apparently the thickness of the Kodak Disc film was comparable to 4×5 sheet film though it felt more solid to me, if I recall correctly.

The negatives were about 10mm x 8mm and you got 15 shots per disc. To get the best out of this film the labs had to utilize special Kodak lenses for printing, but apparently a lot of places did not use these special purpose Kodak lenses which may or may not account for lowered quality in the final print.

THE PICS

Here are just a few shots I took using the Kodak Disc 4000 circa 1983-1984. A lot of these images are like a 1980s time capsule! They are not artistic masterpieces. However, if you look at the photos you will see quite a few legends of the era in there! Plus I also think this camera helped me learn how to capture “the moment” so to speak.

Ed Koch, NYC Mayor, 1983. Kodak Disc Camera. I shouted “how am I doing?” to mimic Ed Koch’s famous slogan and he repeated it back to me! Haha!

You got to remember this was like a 13 or 14 year old kid with his first camera living in a time, pre iPhone, pre digital camera. I could not take a thousand photos and edit them to find the ones I liked best.

“Daddy Boombox” 1983. Kodak Disc 4000. Just like Archie Bunker, Dad sits on “his” couch and plays around with the new Panasonic Boombox he just bought us. The 1980s were an awesome time for electronics!

I was shooting not to post online because there was NO online! I was learning photography and shooting the moments in life, the “Kodak Moment” and I loved it! 🙂

Science Fiction Legend Isaac Asimov, 1983. Kodak Disc Camera. I shot this at a little known event in Manhattan called the “Comic Convention.” Today I believe this has grown into a huge mega-event called “Comic-Con.”

“Roddy Piper vs Jimmy Snuka” 1984. Kodak Disc Camera. The Pro Wrestling boom started in the 1980s and here Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka is about to unleash on “Rowdy” Roddy Piper!

“JC & Hoss Funk” 1983. Kodak Disc Camera. Ah I miss the 1980s. Fun and friends, that’s what it’s all about!

“Brothers” 1984. Kodak Disc Camera. Do you know any of these guys? 🙂

“Mom In D.C.” 1984. Kodak Disc Camera. The soft grainy image works well for this photo of Mom in Washington, D.C., I think.

WHY IS THE KODAK DISC CAMERA ONE OF THE ALL TIME WORST CAMERAS?

I loved the photos I got from the camera, I really did! But on a technical level, yes, I’d have to say the Kodak Disc Camera was one of the worst!

And it’s not so much the cameras themselves. The cameras were thin, sleek, automated. In many ways they were a precursor to today’s digital point and shoots.

Just like the APS Camera System, the main drawback of the Kodak Disc Camera system was the film. The 10x8mm was much smaller than 35mm film. You only got 15 shots as opposed to 24 or 36 shots with 35mm. Plus development costs were high, certainly no cheaper than 35mm.

All these factors added up to another thoughtfully designed but ill executed product. The images were soft and full of BIG GRAIN. They did not enlarge well.

And so most of the Disc cameras were off the market by 1990, though Kodak continued to produce the film until 1999. Personally, I cannot recall anyone past 1988 or so using one!

IN HINDSIGHT

The power of hindsight is a great thing. As horrible and grainy as those images were, I loved the shots I got out of the Kodak Disc Camera!

It may be part nostaligia; yes Mom gave me the camera. Yes, it was kind of like my first “official” camera that I used regularly.

But at the same time, living now in a world of beautiful, noiseless, grainless, homogenized digital images, I can appreciate the Kodak Disc Camera images more.

I would even say that if someone made this camera today, it would be a hit with a certain niche market. Lomography, lo-fi, Polaroid enthusiasts, etc. You know the crowd!

I like that stuff too but not all the time. But yes, I can appreciate it!

PRICE. AVAILABILITY. 

If seeking one of these Kodak Disc Cameras, they are plentiful on auction sites and elsewhere for very low prices. The prices are trending anywhere from $3-25 and the films are averaging $8-10.

I wouldn’t pay any more than $10 for either. This is not a product that’s likely to increase in price or regain any appreciation, which is good for us camera geeks!

CAN YOU STILL USE IT? WHERE TO DEVELOP?

Assuming you find a camera in working condition and you’re inclined to take a chance with film that’s been expired for over 20 years, chances are good that you can still get pictures out of this thing!

The development part is a little harder but apparently a few places will still develop Disc film! The one I know off hand is Dwayne’s in Kansas. The shop that famously developed the last official roll of Kodakchrome.

I’ve heard of others developing the discs themselves. I’m not sure if I’ll ever shoot Kodak Disc film again, but if I do, I’d probably try that route.

BOTTOM LINE

The Kodak Disc Camera system was an enthusiastic attempt by Camera Legend Kodak to introduce a new film format along with new cameras to take this film.

It offered conveniences such as autoload, autoexposure, and autorewind, all packaged in (then) new and slick looking cameras that explored the wonders of the electronics boom of the 1980s.

It was ultimately let down by poor image quality and high cost per shot. It gave people convenience over quality.

It was yet another example of a big company making a calculated move, assuming they knew what people are willing to accept and in the end they were dead wrong.

People want convenience, but they want quality too. The Kodak Disc Camera did not deliver the latter and eventually became one of Kodak’s biggest photographic flops and earning it a distinction as one of the Worst Cameras Of All Time!

COUNTERPOINT. COMMENTS?

How do you feel about it? Were we too hard on the Kodak Disc Camera?

Did Kodak try their best to deliver a product that offered a good compromise between convenience and quality?

Or was it yet another example of Kodak’s lack of vision and big company greed? Did they not learn from their attempts to sell and capitalize on the proprietary films (and cameras for them) they developed such as the 126mm or 828mm films?

What do you think? I’d love to know! And please don’t be mad at me for bashing Kodak. I did say that on a personal level, I LOVED the Kodak Disc Camera!

 

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