ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The latest advance in old-fashioned photography is coming soon: a self-service kiosk that can convert a roll of 35mm film into prints in as little as seven minutes.
Eastman Kodak Co.'s Picture Maker film-processing stations will be test-marketed in Detroit this month, with a full-scale rollout set for later this year in pharmacies, supermarkets, and photo-specialty shops across the United States and Europe.
Last fall, the world's largest maker of photographic film unveiled an ambitious new strategy to accelerate its push into new digital markets. At the same time, it acknowledged that its traditional photography businesses -- a century-old cash cow -- were in irreversible decline.
The kiosks appear designed to plug a gap between photography's old and new ways of creating images and perhaps even slow the faster-than-expected migration of shutterbugs to digital cameras.
"It is very easy to believe that this could change the trajectory in the decline of film," said Kent McNeley, general manager of Kodak's consumer output operations.
The kiosks will allow customers to preview, crop, enlarge, and tidy up their snapshots, then print only those they want -- a benefit that digital camera users already enjoy. Instead of negatives, the machines also will store the photos on a digital CD.
Digital cameras outsold film cameras for the first time in the United States in 2003, the Jackson, Mich.-based Photo Marketing Association said. As a result, 200 million fewer rolls of film were processed last year compared with a peak of 781 million in 2000, it said.
Photography analysts scoffed at Kodak's notion that film kiosks might alter those trends.
"It would be nice if it happens but I wouldn't bet on it," said Ulysses Yannas of Buckman, Buckman & Reid in New York.
Nonetheless, with tens of millions of film cameras still in use, "there is and there will continue to be a very big market for film," particularly in developing markets in Asia and Latin America, Yannas said.
The conventional photography business still provides Kodak with the bulk of its profits, so extending its life could prove vital as the company steers into digital waters. To complete the painful transition, Kodak said last month it is cutting 12,000 to 15,000 more jobs -- or nearly a quarter of its workforce -- over the next three years.
Kodak acquired the rapid film-processing technology from Applied Science Fiction Inc. of Austin, Texas, for $32 million last year. More than 150 new patents used in creating the film kiosk will make it difficult for competitors to match, Kodak said.
One-hour photo shops in the United States, already buffeted by the ability of digital enthusiasts to print their pictures at home, might feel the heat more than most.
"Everything that's happening in the photo industry is threatening the one-hour photo shops," conceded Marc Salzman, owner of Wink 1-Hour Photo & Digital in Pittsford, N.Y. Kodak is hoping the film kiosk's relatively low price tag -- $30,000 to $40,000 -- will lure retailers who might balk at installing a digital minilab, which can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000.