The company launched its revolutionary Instamatic camera 50 years ago, staying true to its original logo, “You press the button – we do the rest”.
It would become, for that era, the equivalent of today’s smartphone cameras: easy to use, light, affordable, and ultimately ubiquitous.
What changed the game
The year 1963 was yet another one when Eastman Kodak Co. was still on a roll, pun intended. The Instamatic camera was released, being the first to benefit from Kodak’s new 126 format, as George Eastman House blog reminds us in a press release. Lead designer Dean M. Peterson came up with a solution for the difficult process of loading and removing a film roll by housing it inside an instantly interchangeable cartridge. This canister also acted as the camera’s backing plate, which included an exposure counter. Setting up and using a new film became easier than changing batteries.
The engineers’ design allowed inexpensive manufacturing costs, while looking simple and smart at the same time. The camera also made use of a pop-up self-contained flash, setting it as a staple in amateur photography cameras. All this at the price of $16, the equivalent of today’s $120.
It was a revolution in photography, bringing Kodak closer to George Eastman’s very ideal of what photography should be – universally accessible.
Success and popular appeal
Continuing where the company’s Brownie success story left off, the Instamatic was a camera that anyone found easy to use, having a fixed shutter speed, aperture, and focus.
Needless to say, the Kodak Instamatic became a worldwide hit and it was followed by a slew of imitators. Having such an ingenious name, though, and benefiting from the time it took for the rest of the industry to catch up, the camera went on to sell in over 50 million units between 1963 and 1970.
Detractors point out its low quality photos, but lack of quality always makes up for lack of memories.
The Instamatic’s legacy
The camera has become so well-known for miniaturizing and simplifying the photographic process that the word “instamatic” is often associated with the very idea of using a point-and-shoot camera. It has been resurrected countless times by popular culture, honorably placed in the same league as lomography.
Like other arts, photography had a time when it was reserved for professionals or very committed individuals, the main reason being accessibility and affordability. The Instamatic was a stepping stone in changing this and helped expand photography from art to more fun territories.