prior to Instagram, the disposable camera aided pave the means for digital photography. Yet the straightforward idea was a century old by the moment it go mainstream.


Filed under: camera, cameras, disposable camera, film, film processing, fuji, kodak, kodak history, photography, photos, ready Fotografer, recycling


Today in lifwynnfoundation.org: It take it us around a hundred years to rotate film processing (in many cases) from something that took a day or longer into something the was usually instantaneous. The reality is, when photography is a high art for a significant number that people, the masses want something basic that decreased the pain of acquisition photos—because lock cared about the pictures an ext than the camera. They want something … well, disposable, that could “disappear” once they were done with it. The result of this need, the disposable camera, offered the film industry a genuine kick in the trousers just before the digital camera took hold. Today’s lifwynnfoundation.org breaks under the disposable camera, i beg your pardon is older 보다 you’d guess. — Ernie
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Today"s GIF originates from a commercial because that the Kodak FunSaver Pocket, a maker that went the end of its way to not contact itself “disposable.”


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“On the job that marked the notice of Dr. Land"s Polacolor process, I occurred to it is in lunching with among his associates. Idly speculating, we wondered with what Eastman Kodak would certainly foil this body blow. A member that our staff quipped: ‘They"ll lug out a disposable camera, no doubt.’ This instrument, fortunately, is tho in the future, and not adding to the great American sports of littering the highways.”


— grace M. Mayer, a popular photography curator because that the Museum of contemporary Art, stating the 1963 announcement of Polacolor, the immediate camera an innovation developed through Polaroid cofounder Edwin Land, in a 1967 post for the newspaper Contemporary Photographer. Little did Mayer know, tools of this an extremely sort had already existed for decades in one kind or another. It was simply that Kodak hadn’t released theirs yet.


The prepared Fotografer. (via the Smithsonian Institute’s history of Photography collection)

The world’s an initial disposable camera predated the initial Kodak camera

The indigenous “disposable” implies numerous things around cameras and other similar devices, but often, a couple of key facets are in ~ play.

First off, the camera must allow for the shooting of a photograph at a low cost, one that would not break the bank. It’s intended for world who don’t constantly want to lug a camera around, yet sometimes have a need for one. The camera have to be inexpensive, yet usable. And, most importantly, once you’re done making use of it, you require to have pictures, and you should not have a camera.

Given the description, the first camera to fit the bill is the ready Fotografer, a machine that dates to the so late 19th century. Very early pinhole camera finish with glass plate, the all set Fotografer’s insurance claim to fame to be its capability to take decent-quality photographs making use of a mix of cardboard, paper, and also glass, regardless of having a price of just 25 cents, a far cry native the $50 that numerous handheld cameras go for throughout the 1880s and 1890s.

It likewise had a business model that went past the disposability: You could technically develop it yourself utilizing the dried plate, however you could additionally mail the maker to mountain Francisco to have someone else carry out it because that you.

Sending a camera in the mail to have someone print your photos—that sounds pretty crazy to think about in 2018, no it? It turns out, though, the this was the system that numerous disposable camera solution used.

A 1988 short article in Popular Photography by camera historian Eaton S. Lothrop, Jr., go a thoughtful job of pointing out just how this an easy idea of sending cameras in the mail to be a significant driver of customer photography—both in disposable form, and (on a concurrent track) through the use of “returnable” cameras.

Some that the earliest instances of single-use cameras offered this tactic—including the “Picture Box,” a 1940s camera made of special cardboard, and also the “Photo-Pac,” which had plastic inner-lining, the an initial of its sort for a single-use camera.

The Photo-Pac, v its inventor, Alfred D. Weir. (via recall Dallas)

The Photo-Pac, which might be had for around $1.50 in 1940s money, was designed to it is in bought at a store, used, and also dropped in a mailbox—after you included the stamp directly on the packaging, of course.

(Its inventor, Alfred D. Weir, patented the maker in 1951, despite he never once dubbed referred come the camera together disposable or single-use in his patent, though it functioned basically the same way.)

Mail handling was a typical theme of early customer camera schemes. It also drove uptake of the initial Kodak box camera from 1888, which was taken into consideration a returnable: fill up the camera through photos, pay $10 to mail the camera, and also you get earlier both the camera—complete through fresh film—and your photos. (Of course, $10 to be no small sum in 1888.)

In many ways, returnables prefer the Kodak worked an in similar way to how Netflix’s original DVD business worked. You have actually a funny day where you take it a many photos, you send the photos in the mail, and eventually you get your shots back, v no clue how any kind of of lock looked at the time other than your memory.

Disposable cameras, which had a version somewhat closer to Redbox (or, really, let’s be ethical with ourselves, Circuit City’s DIVX), had actually this same basic feature, yet they additionally had something else: They to be lightweight and designed to acquire out of the means as soon as you to be done v them. To put it another way, the pictures always were the star the the show—never the camera.


This development is basic in the advancement of the disposable camera, but an excellent luck recognize the guy who made it.

The guy who reportedly coined the hatchet “disposable camera” is just as lost to history as the maker he invented

Despite every this long history, the hatchet “disposable camera” shows up to have actually not come along until the late 1960s, when the ax was provided in a patent for such a device—a patent the is commonly cited in an ext recent variants the the device.

And Christodoulis Balalis, the person who filed for the patent, appears to have disappeared as completely as the cameras he to be hoping come sell. (Despite the fairly uncommon critical name, Google outcomes are scarce, and seem to facility on 1968.)

The device he created, shown above, provided inexpensive plastic and also had the capacity to remove and replace film—a key difference from many disposable cameras, in which the movie is usually non-replaceable.

Besides the patent, which renders the situation to “provide a compact camera that a cost which renders it economical to dispose that the camera after ~ a solitary use,” all us know about Balalis is what was composed in a quick brief about his creation in the New York Times in 1968.

The long and short of it: He functioned as a printer in brand-new York City, and also five years prior, he went top top a honeymoon in Hawaii. While there, he lost his camera. It made that realize the there to be a need for a camera, in case of emergencies no unlike the one the faced. At the moment of his patent filing, that only had a prototype, and also owned his own printing company.

Was he never ever able to discover the right investors? to be there technical problems? Did the just give up on transforming his idea into something consumers would certainly buy? whatever the case, his story ends the means so countless others execute in old newspaper pages: Unnoticed.

Hopefully, someone take it a photo before he disappeared right into the abyss.


“We’ve been adhering to the PDC camera advancement for some time however have no plans to present a litter away camera.”


— A spokesman because that Eastman Kodak, pooh-poohing the idea that a disposable camera in a 1973 write-up in the Democrat and also Chronicle, the Rochester, brand-new York, that company hometown newspaper. The spokesman went on to case that the top quality of such cameras to be low and also that they were based on “not really sound principles.” The camera the spokesman to be critiquing, the Plastic breakthrough Corp.’s Plastic Disposable Camera (PDC), was perhaps the first disposable camera that gained any kind of degree of tendency notice, including a writeup in Popular Mechanics. The camera expense just 65 cent (around $3.84 today), i m sorry was in reality cheaper 보다 the better-known disposable cameras of the ‘80s and also ‘90s.


The Kodak FunSaver Sport, a later model the single-use camera. (Steve Harwood/Flickr)

Kodak didn’t really care about disposable cameras … till a an effective competitor did

Disposable and reusable cameras flourished in absorb in the 1970s, v name brands such as Technicolor talking part in the field, and also a broad array of startups giving their bring away on the miniature camera.

But mainstream camera companies, favor Kodak, had tried pushing points in the direction the cameras that weren’t have to disposable, yet Consumer cameras throughout this era, while no disposable, were really tiny, make them simple to carry about even once you no thinking about it. Kodak’s cartridge-based 110 movie format, along with its later on disc format, played a key role in the expansion of the tiny camera.

(It also helped that Kodak effectively had a monopoly on the amateur photography space and was frequently sued ~ above antitrust grounds during this period.)

But Kodak’s decades-long decision to ignore the disposable camera space ultimately ended up being untenable because that one reason: Fuji. In 1986, the world’s second-largest film-maker got into a market that had actually been relegated to niche players, suddenly providing the idea tendency recognition.

Reports the the time said Fuji was playing off a broader trend in Japanese culture toward disposable goods, yet the success the its camera—even if it wasn’t as great as a full-fledged camera and came through a bunch that limitations—nonetheless expected that the disposable camera was about to end up being a mainstream phenomenon in the U.S., too.

Kodak had to gain into the disposable camera space, since if it didn’t, it intimidated to shed the upper hand in the consumer photography market it had long fostered. Part startup inventing a small camera that cost 65 cent was nothing; it can argue the the quality wasn’t very great and the the challenger was destined to fail. But Fuji to be the Toyota come Kodak’s Ford; the competition in between the two providers was high in the ‘80s, and Fuji really likely come succeed with disposable cameras.

In a 1987 UPI piece discussing the arrival of Kodak’s Fling camera, sector analyst Eugene Glazer basically stated as much, despite in the same piece Kodak denied together strategic thinking.

“What ns think is apparent is Kodak"s desire come preempt Fuji"s announcement,” Glazer stated. “That"s component of what we"ve to be seeing for the past few years now. It"s sort of choose they"ve vowed never ever again to allow Fuji to beat them.”

The Fuji smart QuickSnap super Slim, the smallest single-use film camera ever before made. (Steve Harwood/Flickr)

Kodak’s Fling, in ~ $6.95, cost less than Fuji’s $10 fast Snap, which represented the Japanese company’s advent to the American market, but that lower cost came with lower quality; the rapid Snap readily available full 35mm film, while Kodak’s initial supplying was a 110 style camera.

Soon enough, this cameras would certainly be everywhere. Simply as Polaroid immediate cameras did, they really much characterized consumer photography in the so late ‘80s and throughout the ‘90s.

Part the the reason, as New York Times reviewer Andy Grundberg wrote at the time, was their intended audience: “In short, the Fuji disposables seem fine intended as emergency point-of-purchase items, and also chances are you"ll be seeing them no in camera stores yet next to the postcards and also T-shirts in ~ concession stands wherever scenic wonders are sold.”

They additionally were marketed at drug stores, at superstores, and at supermarket checkout lanes, similar to two other symbols of ‘80s disposability, the Bic razor and Bic lighter.

It was advocated at the moment as a brand-new idea—and some elements, favor the usage of 35mm film, definitely were new additions come the equation. And also the cameras might be dropped turn off at the exact same camera shop whereby you acquired all your other photos developed, necessary due to the then-prevalence the one-hour picture shops.

But in countless ways, it was a success story around 100 year in the making. It set the stage for other even much more disposable: Digital pictures. (It might have also made Kodak a bit lazy and complacent in the process, yet that’s a story for an additional time.)


The number of single-use cameras that were sold in 1999, according to an estimate from PMA Marketing study reported in a 2000 Gannett News business article. Sales of single-use cameras peaked about this time, yet quickly started to nosedive together digital camera sales picked up quickly. (Around 121 million digital cameras offered in 2010, the product’s peak year; smartphones, for many, have largely replaced both single-use cameras and also standalone digital cameras.)


Grace M. Mayer’s great fear the disposable cameras lining the highways of the American see weren’t totally unfounded, however one the the great things about disposable cameras is the the term in reality turned out, in the end, to be inaccurate in relation to the cameras Fuji and Kodak made.

Sure, there to be nothing the film companies might do if you made decision to throw your camera, complete of unprocessed film, in a garbage can, however the companies and also their competitors, sensing a potential debate on your hands, acquired quite good at remanufacturing the cameras.

Think about it: as soon as it comes under to it, a disposable camera is a close up door loop. You had to send that somewhere, usually your neighborhood drug keep or one-hour picture shop, and they go the tough work of preparing the pictures. You weren’t acquiring the camera back, so the might as well go back to the manufacturer, which can reuse many of the components without any major changes. The companies also incentivized the recycling by buying back the shells, much like one could do because that recycling bottles of soda.

Per a 1991 New York Times piece, Fuji and Kodak would even accept their competitors’ disposable camera shells, though they would certainly pay less.

The college of Delaware’s great 2014 project Disposable America, which records the background of a selection of wasteful objects, composed a reasonably detailed item on the disposable camera, noting the brilliance of Kodak’s recycling routine in particular. When Kodak upgraded its camera to the Kodak Max in 1995, for example, the new camera was designed to recycle many of the components in the version it replaced.

“Consumers made it recognized that they wanted disposable cameras the were cheap, convenient, satisfactory in quality, and also environmentally responsible. Kodak and Fuji answered their call,” the piece explains.

In recent years, Apple has made a big deal around its robots that can disassemble iPhones in rapid order. In plenty of ways, the the brand-new generation the disposable camera recycling, utilizing a comparable closed-loop model.

It feel a little an ext uncomfortable, though, because Apple is take it apart $600 phones the can’t be upgraded and require an array of extra peripherals due to their proprietary design, rather than $10 gadgets for the masses. Once you require your customers to carry approximately pieces that plastic and wire just to usage the gadgets they currently own, girlfriend can’t speak to yourself environmentally friendly.

(And don’t gain me started on the laptops, which can not be upgraded to expand their life, in spite of the fact they cost significantly more than your competitors.)

In countless ways, our human being has gotten both less disposable and an ext disposable due to the fact that the days when throwaway cameras came to be a cultural phenomenon.

One hopes, however, that companies will see just how Kodak and also Fuji stepped up when called out top top the influence of your disposability and follow suit.

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Apple, whose phones (and the sector they inspired) have actually done more to change the disposable camera than any type of other company, should be first in line.