By Don Clark
LAS VEGAS–Eastman Kodak Co., the photography pioneer that was disrupted by the digital revolution, is placing a new bet on a gadget from a simpler time.
The company is using the Consumer Electronics Show to lay out plans for a film camera based on the Super 8 design launched 50 years ago. Kodak stopped producing Super 8 units in 1982, after video cameras savaged the market for home movies made with film.
Jeff Clarke, Kodak’s chief executive, isn’t ignoring the changes in the market now that billions of consumers own mobile phones with digital cameras. But he believes professional filmmakers and serious amateurs will appreciate the subtle qualities of an analog medium that many Hollywood veterans used to learn their trade.
Mr. Clarke cites the preference among many Hollywood directors to shoot on 35-millimeter or 70-millimeter film. He also sees a parallel in the way some audiophiles prefer the analog medium of vinyl records.
Kodak plans to play on some of the conveniences of digital technology. Just as movies shot on film are usually converted to digital files for editing and projection, buyers of the new camera that turn to Kodak for processing will get a digital copy of their imagery as well as eight-millimeter film to use in projectors. The new camera will feature a digital viewfinder, he said.
“This is no longer the classic script of a war of digital versus analog,” Mr. Clarke said. “What it really is now is the complementary characteristics of both.”
Mr. Clarke, a tech industry veteran, is known for stints at companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co.HPQ -1.76%, software maker CA Inc. and the travel technology firm Travelport Inc.TVPT -2.84% He joined Kodak two years ago hoping to lead a turnaround at a company that filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after years of declining sales as consumers flocked to digital cameras.
The company emerged from Chapter 11 protection in 2013 and is now meeting financial targets, Mr. Clarke said, deriving most of its revenue these days from printing-related products. But he added that Kodak “is still a company where most of the business is in slow-growing or declining markets.”
While shedding many operations, Kodak decided not to exit film altogether. Mr. Clarke, in fact, helped spearhead an effort to seek Hollywood’s help to keep the medium alive. Six major studios agreed in help by purchasing film in sufficient quantity to allow Kodak to keep its film plant in operation.
The first Super 8 camera was launched at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and went on sale the next year. It featured a pistol-style grip and packed eight millimeter film in a cartridge, an advance that avoided the need to thread film through the camera in the dark.