The first instant film camera in years to bear the famous Kodak name and branding was announced today. The Kodak Printomatic is a pocketable digital camera that combines a 10-megapixel sensor with the ability to instantly print 2 x 3-inch sticker photos on non-ink Zink paper.
Wait, haven’t we heard this before? Ah, yes: the Polaroid Snap, which was released in 2015, also shoots 10-megapixel images and prints them on 2 x 3 Zink Paper. The cameras also look cosmetically similar, if not identical. So, what’s going on here?
Well, since Kodak doesn’t really make its own consumer cameras anymore, the Printomatic is actually being produced by a company called C+A Global, which is just licensing the Kodak name and branding. C+A also licenses Polaroid, and was behind the two-year-old Snap. Both cameras were designed by Silicon Valley firm Ammunition Group, which confirmed to The Verge that the Printomatic is basically the same camera as the Snap, though simplified and rebadged. (The cherry on top of this corporate synergy sundae is that C+A also works with Zink.)
The Snap was fun when we tried it back in early 2016. But this is unmistakably the result of C+A slapping a new coat of paint on a two-year-old idea in hopes of tapping a new vein of nostalgia. It’s also further evidence that these once-great companies have been been reduced to branding that’s as interchangeable and fleeting as a fashion trend. At the very least, that continued reduction has some value; the $69 Printomatic is cheaper than the $90 Pop.
The press release for the Kodak Printomatic says that the camera is just the “first of the full product lineup to be launched in 2017 and continue into 2018.” C+A did make a more technologically advanced (and, I think, more stylish) version of the digital / print hybrid idea called the Polaroid Pop, which was announced at this year’s CES. So if the company is keen to keep styling one camera to fit two legacy brands, I wouldn’t be surprised if we someday see a Kodak version of the Pop, too.
There’s also some extreme historical irony at play here. Polaroid pioneered the instant film camera in the mid 1900s and, years later, Kodak followed with its own. But Kodak’s version hewed too closely to Polaroid’s patented instant camera tech. The result? Kodak left the instant camera market altogether in the 1980s, and was ordered to pay Polaroid nearly $1 billion in the ensuing legal battle. At least Kodak won’t have to worry about any of that this time around.