In 1996 the five biggest companies in the photographic industry joined forced and promised the “Dawn of a New Era in Photography.” In an attempt to do what CDs had done to cassette tapes, Canon, Fuji, Kodak, Minolta, and Nikon developed the Advanced Photo System to replace 35mm film and transform the compact camera market.
Their main selling point was size. By reducing the film from 35mm to 24mm, APS allowed for smaller, more user-friendly cameras. The cartridges themselves were self-contained, so they could be loaded and unloaded partially through the roll whilst the camera itself automatically advanced to the next unexposed frame. Along with the choice of three formats – “Classic”, “High Definition”, and “Panoramic” – APS was expected to be extremely popular with casual photographers.
In reality, the format was solely based on greed and the desire to gouge consumers of more money. The size of the film produced inferior quality images. Cameras and film cost an average of 30% more than 35mm. The film couldn’t be removed from the cannisters and had to be developed through dedicated processing equipment.
The firms spent a combined $115 million on advertising in 1996 alone in an attempt to convince photographers to switch. But their gambit proved to be their last, expensive, hurrah.
Portable digital cameras were being produced as far back as the early 1980s, but the first megapixel camera designed for the consumer market wasn’t introduced until 1998. In hindsight it’s easy to see which format would be the eventual winner, but it wasn’t so clear to every photography company at the turn of the century.
At Kodak an engineer named Steven Sassoon developed a digital camera as early as 1975, but the firm still spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the APS format, even as the market was crumbling before their eyes.
The company – who once held 90% of the world’s market in camera film – gave up manufacturing the APS format in 2004, declared bankruptcy in 2011, and is worth today a fraction of what it was during the 20th Century.
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