There it is in the Sears catalogue, prominently displayed among the Kodaks and Polaroids: the Nimslo, a four-lensed, 35-millimeter camera that creates three-dimensional pictures on conventional film.
The Nimslo is now on sale in camera stores, for about $240. The stock of its manufacturer, Nimslo International Ltd., is for sale on the over-the-counter market for about $3.50 a share. The folks at Nimslo envision both as the hottest items since the arrival of Polaroid, but the stock and the camera are drawing some less-than-rave reviews.
Named for its inventors, Jerry C. Nims and Allen Lo, the Nimslo camera is either a revolutionary new product that will soon capture a strong place among both amateur and professional photographers, or a gimmick that will fade away as quickly as it arrived on the scene, depending on who is doing the predicting.
Nims, chairman of Nimslo International, said in a recent interview that the company has shipped 20,000 of the cameras since test-marketing began in Florida early this year, and has orders from dealers for 100,000 more. "It's moving very much better than we expected," he said.
But that was before Consumer Reports magazine dismissed it as an "intriguing but expensive novelty," with limited range, usable only when held horizontally, producing prints of widely varying quality. "Given its limitations," the magazine said, "the Nimslo wouldn't serve well as a photographer's only camera."
Incorporated in Bermuda, the company raised about $14 million in the sale of stock through private channels in Britain in 1980. The company has also won a commitment of financial backing from the French government to establish a research center in Besanc,on devoted to the scientific applications of three-dimensional photography. Nimslo's partner in that venture is Timex Corp., which also manufactures the Nimslo camera in its plant in Dundee, Scotland.
Timex is controlled by Fred Olsen, a Norwegian shipping tycoon who is one of Nimslo's heaviest financial backers and major stockholders.
Nimslo began selling stock to the public a year ago, first on the London Unlisted Securities Market and then over-the-counter in the United States. With 25 million shares distributed at $4.25 per share, Nimslo became, according to the Financial Times of London, "the most heavily capitalized Unlisted Market company before a single camera had been sold."
A large chunk of Nimslo's capital has been invested in the stock of Berkey Photo Inc., a photographic processing company from which Nimslo hired two key executives. Nimslo recently inceased its Berkey holdings to almost 795,000 shares, or 16 percent of the stock, worth about $4.6 million.
In its initial registration filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last February, Nimslo warned prospective investors of "the uncertainties involved in the manufacture and marketing of what are essentially untried products in competitive markets."
But Nimslo also cited a market analysis by a unit of the consulting firm of Booz-Allen & Hamilton saying that by 1985 Nimslo could capture 4 percent of the $12 billion-a-year worldwide market for cameras and film processing. Based on that report, Nimslo is "projecting" a pretax profit of $156.2 million on sales of $735.2 million by 1985.
One of the most outspoken skeptics about such projections is Reginald Duquesnoy of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. "I just don't see where it's going to fit in the market," he said. "It's a gimmick, a novelty. In the American market, there are always a lot of suckers and you can sell anything for two years, but what's going to happen after that? I smell a rat, and a lot of suckers are going to regret it."
The answer, according to Nims, is that the three-dimensional process he and Lo developed will be refined and expanded into new products used by amateurs for fun, by professionals for studio and portrait work, and by scientists for projects such as exploration of the inner ear. "Our work in science is just beginning," he said.
The Nimslo is a fixed-focus, variable-shutter camera with removable flash attachment that resembles many conventional 35mm cameras, except for its four lenses. It uses standard 35mm film, but each print uses two frames, so a 36-frame roll of film yields only 18 prints.
Nimslo, which has set up its U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, collects the film from conventional photo-processing shops, and does the developing and printing in its own laboratories. The cost to the consumer is about 70 cents per print. Consumer reports said some rolls of film took up a month to return, but Nims said processing time has been cut to about three days.