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Kodak is back in the camera business (but isn't actually making cameras)

JK Imaging is licensing the brand for new lines

Published: January 24, 2014 03:00 PM
Kodak PixPro SL25 Smart Lens camera

Photo: JK Imaging, Ltd

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It sure seemed that Kodak was a thing of the past. In 2005, the company abruptly exited the professional SLR market. More recently, Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, then exited the inkjet all-in-one printer and consumer digital-camera markets.  

But the brand hasn't disappeared altogether: Several new Kodak cameras are available online from stores such as Best Buy, Walmart, Staples, and others. And at the recent CES 2014, I was shown a whole host of new Kodak digital cameras: the 20-megapixel Kodak PixPro AZ651, with 65x optical zoom; the Kodak PixPro SP1 action cam; the mirrorless SLR-like 16-megapixel Kodak PixPro S-1, and the Kodak PixPro SL10 and SL25, two wireless models—called "Smart Lens" cameras—that are meant to be used in conjunction with an iPhone or Android smart phone, in the same way that Sony's QX series of cameras are.

So is Kodak back in the digital camera and camcorder business?

Not exactly. I recently met with executives from JK Imaging, a Los Angeles-based company that is producing the new Kodak-branded PixPro cameras and camcorders under a licensing agreement with the Eastman Kodak Company.

For more on point-and-shoot cameras, check out our Ratings for digital cameras.

Kodak PixPro SP1 Action Cam

Photo: JK Imaging, Ltd

JK Imaging is in charge of designing, developing, producing, and marketing the digital-imaging devices, though Kodak still has some input in the process. In essence, if it doesn't like a camera or camcorder made by JK, Kodak can withhold the license. In addition to the mirrorless SLR-like model, two Smart Lens cameras, and two action cams, JK Imaging says it has nine superzoom models (which range from 25x to 65x optical zoom) and four lower-priced budget point-and-shoots.

Will these new models share anything in common with the Kodak digital cameras of the past, which were often very easy to use and simple to operate?

When you look at how other digital-imaging companies have operated under licensing arrangements, you see a pretty dismal picture. Take Polaroid, a company that has been plagued by similar financial problems and declarations of bankruptcy. Over the last few years, Polaroid's partnerships have mostly produced mediocre cameras and other digital-imaging products, at best. In some cases, products announced by Polaroid, such as the GL30 instant camera unveiled by Lady Gaga at a special CES event in 2011, never hit store shelves. Will these new Kodak PixPro models follow Polaroid's checkered past?

We'll find out some of the answers to these questions when we get these Kodak models into our labs and see how well they perform. At that point, we might also have a better answer to the question: Are these new Kodaks the same as the old Kodaks?

—Terry Sullivan

Kodak PixPro S-1 mirrorless SLR-like cam

Photo: JK Imaging, Ltd

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