At some point, America’s vaunted camera makers – think Kodak and Polaroid – simply became too big to innovate and started to play catch up with all the big digital photography innovators. With that in mind, here are some of the way-too-late-to-market innovations that the camera industry has mustered of late – you can view them as inspired attempts to catch up and pass the iPhone 6 or as the last gasp of a dying industry:
1. The Polaroid Socialmatic
Described by some as an “Instagram concept camera,” the Polaroid Socialmatic has an appearance that probably reminds you more of the icon for Instagram than it does the logo for the original Polaroid OneStep. That’s a big problem. The Socialmatic, a 14 megapixel digital camera with WiFi sharing capabilities, combines the functionality of a vintage Polaroid instant print camera, meaning you can share either online or via print. It’s what the camera industry should have been creating for its instant print consumers who were starting to embrace the Internet instead of waiting for Instagram to show them what to do.
One big problem is that the Polaroid Socialmatic retails for $299.99 on Amazon while the Instagram app for Apple iOS is free. This might be a classic example of how the camera industry completely missed the social aspect of photography enabled by the Internet. Who cares if you can take a great photo, if you can’t add a cool filter and then share it easily with your friends online?
2. Kodak PIXPRO SP360 Action Camera
At a time when the GoPro camera has become wildly popular, it’s no surprise that companies such as Polaroid and Kodak have attempted to jump on the bandwagon. They may have completely missed the digital photography revolution, but they are determined that they won’t miss the action sports photography movement. This might actually be an area where they can steal a march on Apple.
As a result, you get something like the yellow, palm-sized Kodak PIXPRO SP360. It’s clearly positioned as a GoPro competitor, offering unique, first person 360-degree camera angles, perfect for something such as skydiving. Earlier, there was the Polaroid Cube, a rugged (splash-proof and shock-proof) action cam offering 124-degree views for sports enthusiasts. But again, it’s a case of too little, too late.
3. The Lomo’Instant Camera
If you use Instagram enough, it’s easy to recognize the trademark “dreamy, ever-so-slightly blurry” features of the Lomo-fi filter, which replicates the effects of a classic Lomography camera. So it’s no surprise perhaps that Lomography has fought back. The Lomo’Instant is a new instant camera designed with a mix of add-on lenses to create Lomo-worthy effects. This is the instant camera with cool lenses and filters that should have been created years ago.
While the reviews for the Lomo’Instant have been largely positive since it was introduced on Kickstarter in June 2014, this is not a fundamentally better solution than what already exists. You’re paying for an “ugly duckling” of a box with challenging ergonomics instead of getting the Instagram app for free. That’s a point that Apple is making in its “Shot on iPhone 6” campaign – you can achieve the same effects as camera professionals simply with a few apps and editing tools.
4. The Polaroid smartphone
Just announced this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Polaroid smartphone is an Android phone in a wide range of cool colors, designed for the European market. Think of this as a very late low-to-midrange iPhone 5c competitor. The logic is simple: If smartphone companies can make great cameras, then camera companies can make great smartphones, right?
The only problem is, Apple and Samsung are so entrenched as the market leaders in the smartphone industry, that it’s hard to see how Polaroid can ever make more than just a minor dent in overall market share. There have been other entrants in this new class of hybrid camera-smartphones, but none of them has matched the brilliance of the idea for the Kodak Instamatic 2014 – an “elaborate ruse” of a product showcasing an Android smartphone with incredible specs that brings back the innovation glory of the Kodak Instamatic of the 1960s.
5. Fujifilm Instax Mini
The one thing smartphone cameras can’t do that the early cameras did is print instantly. The photo quality didn’t matter so much as the ability to get it instantaneously without waiting for photos to be developed in a lab. Companies such as Polaroid and Fujifilm understood that concept, and had the chance to apply their learnings from the analog era to the emerging digital zeitgeist.
The major problem with the colorful Fujifiilm Instax Mini camera is that it only marks an incremental innovation rather than anything truly disruptive in how to make prints. It’s as if the camera industry is stuck in the 1960s, unwilling to consider new options for getting instant prints to consumers. It doesn’t have to be that way. One “instant print” solution that people have been raving about is the nearly $1.5 million Kickstarter-backed Prynt, which enables instant photo printing for iPhones and Android smartphones simply by snapping on a camera case.
6. Sony QX10
Tabbed as the “zaniest camera of 2013,” the Sony QX10 is the camera that doesn’t look anything like a camera. It’s essentially just a lens barrel that you clamp to a smartphone in order to take better shots. There’s no LCD and no way to carry it around without attaching it to something. You can call the Sony QX10 innovative – the camera that’s not a camera – or you can view this as a way-too-late attempt to catch up with the movement toward apps and filters as the way to create professional-looking shots, not snapping on a bunch of lenses.