Russell D. Hoffman Interviews Dr. Robert Farran, Kodak


Interview with Dr. Robert Farran, Kodak

An interview by Russell D. Hoffman on his radio show HIGH TECH TODAY.

The following full transcript is from a radio show broadcast on radio station WALE. The views expressed are solely those of Russell D. Hoffman and his guest and do not necessarily reflect anyone else's point of view.

Brand names belong to the company they are associated with.

February 23rd, 1996

Russell Hoffman ("Host"), High Tech Today
Dr. Robert Farran, Kodak ("RF"), Director of Strategic and Business Planning for the Advantix System from Kodak

Host: ...And you're listening to High Tech Today with your host, Russell Hoffman. Today's show is going to be talking about a technology that in some ways has been around for many years--photography, but Kodak has come up with some new cameras and new film, and they're going to be talking about it. Now, I have a quote here: "Kodak built an industry by making it easy for people to take and get good pictures." Well, that comes from Kodak Chairman and CEO George M. C. Fisher. And in keeping with that policy, we have as our guest today Dr. Robert Farran. He's the Director of Strategic and Business Planning for the Advantix System which is a division of Kodak. It concerns new camera and new film. First of all, Dr. Farran, I'd like to welcome you to the show.

RF: Thank you very much, Russ. It's a pleasure to be there.

Host: And, why not tell us a little bit about the main features of this new camera, and also--is it out yet or is it something that's going to be released soon?

RF: Okay, Russ, well, as you're listeners should know, I'm in Las Vegas at the moment, at the Photo Marketing Association trade show, and in Las Vegas, Kodak and many other photographic industry members are announcing their Advanced Photo Systems products.

Kodak is announcing its Advantix products, and it's a blend of I would say, very new high technology with our traditional technology and as our chairman George Fisher has said on some occasions, the first George Eastman said "You press the button, we do the rest" and our chairman George Fisher is very impressed with the new advanced photo system in that it takes that concept into the 21st Century, and that's what's going on here in Las Vegas.

The system, if I give you kind of a brief description first, and then we can expand from there. It's a system that blends traditional silver halide photography with magnetics to provide cameras and photo finishing systems that deliver three different print formats to each consumer: An index print, that contains basically an image on one print that would be the 25, 15 or 40 images that the consumer captures on the roll, and returns the negative in a cassette with the magnetic information and the images [together] so that reordering through the photo finishers is very easy, and convenient for the consumers, as well as storing the images and the negatives and finding them easily later.

Host: Now, the new film is actually very different from anything that's been used for consumers before because it's a hybrid of a magnetic layer that contains digital information about the film as well as the regular 35 mm chemical emulsion type of film.

RF: Yes, that's true Russ. Within the new cassette, it is a new format. It's not 135 film in a magazine, as has been traditionally the favorite format for 50 or so years, but the film comes in a cassette, it has a magnetic layer on it, and a new film base that's required for the stiffness and structural strength that's required for negatives that will be returned in a cassette.

The drop-in load feature is probably the most unique feature that the consumer first comes in contact with. The Kodak Advantix cameras have a pop-open chamber. The consumer drops the cassette into the chamber, closes the door, and the camera will read information that is on the cassette, in terms of the film type and the exposure length. Then the film is drawn into the camera by the camera mechanism, and the camera then--particularly our upper-end camera models that use the magnetic layer--the consumer goes through the composition of the three different formats, which would be essentially what we call the standard format or the classic--the 6 inch by 4 inch print that is normally gotten from 35 mm. There's a group size that is 4 inches by 7 inches, and then there's the other selected mode that the consumer can pick, which is the panoramic image, which would be a 4 inch by 12 inch print, and these are all individually selectible by the scene, and the information as to the print format, as I said on our upper-ended camera models would be written right onto the magnetic layer, and on the lower-end cameras it's written on by basically an optical encoding system that is later read by the photofinisher.

On our upper-ended models, the date and time of image taking is recorded magnetically on the film. Some of the very upper-ended camera models that we and others have, will put down what we call a roll title on the magnetic layer as well. So we're recording digital information as well as optical information on the film structure.

Host: The new film, is it--how does it compare to regular 35mm film or to your Ektar or some of the other high-end films?

RF: Okay. Russ, in order to create very small cameras which is one of the emphasis of the Advanced Photo System, Kodak has entirely redesigned all their 100 speed, 200 speed, and 400 speed films. The cassette takes a smaller dimensional film strip and negative. Instead of being 35mm in width, the film is 24mm, although we actually use about 60% of the same image size in order to create, with the new emulsions, a very sharp color image that clearly rivals 35mm images even though the negative begins somewhat smaller than the current 35mm negative.

Host: So would this be a low-end professional unit as well?

RF: Well, it certainly could be. Our professional folks at Kodak, and professional photographers we have shown the images to are very impressed with the 16 by 20 [inch] enlargements that we have created, and I think we've gone up a little beyond the 16 by 20 as well, and the pictures are outstanding. For professionals, we expect that they will see some advantages of the magnetic layer as well, in terms of encoding certain types of information as to F-stop, light level, shutter speed and so forth that can be recorded on the magnetic layer according to the architecture that's involved in the digital file system.

Host: With this new camera--Kodak is actually offering a camera, and a film, and of course a processing system.

RF: Yes, that's correct.

Host: So, you've pretty much tied everything up. Are other companies going to be able to release cameras that use the same film?

RF: Yes. In fact, let me make a point that I think will be very useful for your listeners and that is, that approximately four years ago, Kodak brought together Nikon, Canon, Minolta, and Fuji companies to create the standard that is being announced this month, [February, 1996] and made available.

Host: ...[break]...We're talking to Robert Farran, of Kodak. He's the Director of Strategic and Business Planning for the Advantix System which is Kodak's new camera, new film, new developing system. And you're in Las Vegas now--you told me 40,000 people are there and the big interest--the big topic--is this camera, this system?

RF: Yes, there's no question about that, Russ. Historically, the maximum number of people that have visited this particular trade show has been about 25 to 30 thousand, and this year there's 40 thousand visitors. It's trade representives, retail, trade, dealers from all over the world. I mean, truly an international set of visitors as well as very high attendance from the United States. And there are probably twenty to thirty companies here that are demonstrating, showing, and taking orders for products that relate to the new Advanced Photo System. There are camera manufacturers with cameras. Film manufacturers with film. Photofinishing equipment manufacturers with minilab and wholesale lab equipment, and frame and album manufacturers and providers so that there will be products available I would say in April [1996] is really the launch time of all the participants in the new system, and at the end of April there will be products all over the U.S..

Host: So, this is big--this is a big thing. And I'm wondering, looking towards the future, in the world of digital transmission of images, the Internet, and so forth, which we're highly involved with or talking about on this radio show--how does a actual 'film' camera fit in? What's going allow to them to survive into the 20th Century and beyond considering all the digital options that are available. I guess even Kodak makes scanners, if I'm not mistaken?

RF: Well, I think that's a real good question, and I'll give you what I believe is an answer that will persist for a long time, and that is: The easiest and best way to capture a very high quality image will be on silver halide film. Today Epson showed here in Las Vegas there are many products from Kodak and from other manufacturers that scan and digitize the images from film or from color print, and then right to either a photo CD or floppy disk, or some other type of magnetic media for storage of that information for further use, which can either be loaded into a personal computer, sent by image transmission to someone else's computer or to a photofinisher.

There will be a number of pathways that will handle the information that is initially recorded on what we call conventional films, although I would rather refer to them today as maybe not so conventional, because the applications of films, color films on silver halide, are really being very bridged to digital, either scanning and storage or transmission systems, or to printers. I've seen images--I'll give you just one example--the Kodak booth includes print scanners and film scanners that put the images on floppy disk, and the floppy disk can be placed into a computer, and some of the current commercial inkjet color printers can provide a very good color print.

The images can also be merged with text files to create documents that consumers might use for personal letters, or notes at Christmas time, or the home office or a small office can use as part of their communications systems. Basically documents. So, the interfacing of color films and digital systems I think are going to be a very active industry and meets an awful lot of consumer's needs.

Host: Certainly, basically what we're talking about is the resolution of the image, and the color--bringing the color foward that one originally sees through the viewfinder--are the advantages of the silver halide traditional media. When you go to digital you usually immediately start by reducing the pixel resolution or the color depth or something like that. And so, you're giving us a way to have good masters.

RF: Well, that's exactly correct. I think--it's hard to determine a pixel equivalancy for films--but basically we would make an estimate that a color negative has on the order of 25 to 30 million equivalent pixels. And there really isn't any way to get that anywhere else. You can do pixel interpolations by some very clever mechanisms from a low-resolution or a medium-resolution capture, but I think, we would say, I would say, there's really nothing like film. And film is, continues to be very inexpensive, and there will be more and more interface options for the consumer in interfacing film systems with digital magnetic optical scanners, whatever. I think it will provide some very intriguing pathways for the consumer.

Host: Including getting the film back, through the Internet. Leaving it off and getting it back thorugh the Internet.

RF: That's exactly right. I mean, the consumer will be able to, for example with the Advanced Photo System, to have an Advantix cassette with the exposed and processed negatives in it, pop it in a little device, with thier home computer, and send the image to Grandma. Send the image to a photofinishing lab and have enlargements or postcards or whatever made, or make them at home. That is one pathway. They could also have the photofinisher return a diskette with the prints, and the negatives in the cassette, and go that route. So they would not have to have their own device at home to scan either prints or scan the negative, but they could have it done for a fairly modest price as a service, and then put that cassette into a single disk drive and read it into their own memory on their computer, or transmit it for additional service or send it to a friend or whatever.

So, there's going to be some real intriguing applications here, and I think one of the things that I've also spoken about on occasion, is that with the magnetic layer that is across all the film structure, there's a fair amount of magnetic information that can be stored there digitally. We've done some things in the lab, where we've stored 1.44 megs of information along with the pictures on a roll of film, and you could imagine that you could carry a digital picture along with the silver halide picture, so that you could actually read off an image in two different modes.

Host: ...[break]... We're talking about the new camera, the Advantix System. And, why not tell us a little bit about--this is something that I think is very interesting--is that Kodak didn't just change the film. They're changing cameras, they're changing film, they're changing processors. They've had to get together with a lot of other companies to do this. It's really a major shift. That's the risky way to do things in life! Why did you do it, and what was it like, and what steps did you take to achieve a successful implementation of such a radically new idea?

RF: You're right, it is a risk to make very large changes as we did, but let me give you a little bit of background, and the background probably goes back six or seven years when, as we generally do, we're always looking for ways to respond to the consumer, and ways to increase the satisfaction of picture taking, and we've spent a few years trying to find small things that we could do within the 35mm system, and after a few years of trying to find, again, things that would be of value to the consumer, and doable.

We elected to do two very large consumer studies. Actually three if you include our looking at 3,000 rolls of film of consumers to look at what sort of problems did they have? So we looked at consumer's film, we talked to about 6,000 consumers person-to-person. Now, these were not Kodak engineers talking to consumers, they were marketing firms, consumer research firms, so that we would not have a bias built from our point of view.

And consumers told us a number of things. They were looking for better pictures, pictures the way they wanted them, some ability to customize pictures. They were looking for better quality. They were looking for a way to keep track of their prints and their negatives, they were looking for a way to basically have some added confidence in the photographic system. There were a large number of prints, there was about 3 to 5% of the negatives, that are processed and have no images on them at all. They come from rolls of film that people either don't feed through the camera properly, cameras that malfunctioon, consumers will think that a roll has been through the camera when it's actually has never been placed into the camera, and so forth. As we analyzed the data with the consumer research firm, we broke it down into basically 300 issues that consumers had with the current 35mm photographic system.

We then put our engineers together with the consumer research firm, and basically came to what is really the risky conclusion, as you indicated before, and that is that there was no way to make the significant improvements for the consumer that were required without making dramatic changes to the system.

Changing the film, the whole format, changing cameras, changing photofinishing, and we worked that on up for a period of time, and also recognized that if we were to go and do this alone in the market place, the consumer would not be as advantaged, nor would the industry be as advantaged, as if we were able to work with other major players in the industry, define a standard that could then be universal through the industry, again for the consumer's benefit, and for the overall benefit of the industry, rather than having an outlying standard that would be perhaps not with full participation or support by everyone. And also, it's good to get everybody's good ideas! So as we worked with Nikon, Canon, Minolta, and Fuji to develop the key elements of the standard, the research with consumers was key to that.

On the way to today, we have actually delt with 22,000 consumers, and what they tell us is, as soon as--90% of them say, as soon as there is an opportunity for them to buy a camera, they would buy an Advanced Photo System camera. And in fact, the market research says that 20% of them will actually buy a camera in the first year that it's available! And of all the people we spoke to, that's a huge endorsement for the system's design. And as you can imagine, the Kodak designers of the film, and camera, and our photofinishing solutions that we've designed, piggyback very dramatically on this research in order to make the system very satisfactory for the consumer from his or her point of view, but also make it easy enough for the photofinisher to deliver the three formats, the index print, the negative return and cartridge. Another element that we often overlook because it's somewhat in the background, is that the magnetic information and the optical information is used in the photofinishing algorithms to deliver better pictures from the role of negatives, than the photofinisher has been able to deliver from 135 before.

Host: I'm sorry, Dr. Farran--we're out of time on High Tech Today... We've used up a half hour, it went by just like that--like a snap shot.

RF: It certainly did.

Host: This has been a Kodak moment! I would like to suggest that everybody visit Kodak's web site at to get more information about that. I'm sorry we don't have more time to talk, Dr. Farran, but it's been a pleasure having you on.

RF: Thanks very much Russ, I enjoyed it.

Host: Okay, thanks very much. This has been High Tech Today. Bye Bye!

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