THE Future That BOMBED

THE NEXT BIG THINGS— THAT WEREN’T

OVER THE YEARS POP PHOTO has been pretty good at predicting future photo technology. “Pretty good,” though, does not mean “flawless.” And the photo industry has launched some, um, breakthrough products that should have stayed on the drawing board. Just take a look.

FUTURE INTERROGATIVE DEPT.

• February 1958: “Will [Video] Tape Replace Film?”

•April 1958: “Are Subminiatures a Threat to 35mm Supremacy?” •October 1958: “Will the Russians Beat Us to a Fully Automated Camera?”

•Sept. 1972: “Is 35mm Dead?”

•June 1975: “Can Photography Help Your Child Develop a Superbrain?”

•December 1978: “Serious 110 photography—bowing in or bowing out?”

PAST IMPERFECT DEPT.

In 1966, the Fotochrome camera was touted as “bypassing the expense of color film and its processing» by imaging directly onto photo paper. That is, a roll of paper in the bottom of the camera, big enough to make 10 2×3-inch prints. The pictures didn’t come out finished—you still had to have the prints developed. And lotsa luck: It used a proprietary paper that pretty much only the Fotochrome company could process. And you had no negative to make enlargements from.

In other words, all the disadvantages of Polaroid with none of the advantages. But the Fotochrome made up for this by being hopelessly unreliable.

REALLY BIG BUST DEPT.

POLAVISION

Born: 1977.

Died: 1979.

We said: “It may well turn out to be the beginning of an entirely new medium. «

Why it fizzled: It was the heyday of Polaroid, so when the company launched a self-developing home movie system, there was no reason it wouldn’t be the Next Big Thing. Except that it was massively, irredeemably lousy.

•DISC FILM AND CAMERAS

Born: 1982.

Died: 1999, after being moribund for years.

We said: “Aids…[taking] good pictures in almost any kind of lighting situation. ”

Why it fizzled: Kodak had been highly successful with a string of amateur film formats: 127, 126 Instamatic, 110 Pocket Instamatic. So why not Disc film? One fatal flaw: The negatives, at 8x11mm, were just too small. Prints were grainy. Blowups? Forget it! But the cameras were cool little things, and they helped give consumers a taste for ultraslim design.

•ADVANCED PHOTO SYSTEM

Born: 1996.

Died: APS film is still alive (Fujifilm makes it, but Kodak stopped in 2004).

We said: “The pint-sized APS frame…dramatically surpassed 35mm in sharpness and granularity.”

Why it fizzled: If you spend five years painstakingly developing something, you end up with a cutting-edge product—for five years ago. One rationale for APS was market research showing that consumers wanted easier-to-load cameras. But by 1996, virtually every 35mm compact (above the most basic) had auto film loading and rewind. It didn’t help that APS loading was less reliable than 35mm, nor that consumers never really took to its three print formats. And then that digital fad came along.

•3D PHOTOGRAPHY

Born: Seemingly every year since the invention of photography. We’ve had stereoscopes, lenticulars, anaglyphic glasses, polarizing glasses, wiggle stereo, digital 3D mode, the Stereo Realist, the Nimslo, the Loreo…

Died: Never. Photography’s version of The Undead.

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