Polaroid sales with no-flash mayn't be a snap

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Polaroid Corporation has introduced a brand-new line of cameras, claiming they will make photographic results more instant and more certain than ever before. But when it comes to the effect of these new products on the company's financial fortunes, brokers are predicting neither immediacy nor certainty.

Ty Govatos, an analyst for Bache Halsey Stuart Shields Inc., attended a promotional meeting for the camera as it was introduced to the public on May 27. He was seated with "five pros" -- photographic and financial experts -- and when the conversation turned to the future state of Polaroid stock, Mr. Govatos said, "It was anyone's guess. I heard anywhere from up 5, down 5, or flat."

Mr. Govatos holds that the new Polaroid line is "a very good camera" and represents a "quantum leap forward" in terms of photographic technology, but he wonders whether Polaroid might not have marketing problems. "I'm very bullish on the stock and always have been," he adds. "But in the short run I'm not going to chase it."

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William Rellyea, an analyst at Paine Webber Mitchell Hutchins, says he'd "be very surprised" if the new cameras produced much of an effect on Polaroid stock. "It's not really something outrageously different," he claims. "It's nice -- but it's not a blockbuster."

Blockbuster may not be the word Mr. Rellyea would use, but it was a blockbuster billing that Polaroid had given its new 600 system cameras. The company allowed speculation and suspense to mount before unveiling the new cameras on Wednesday.

The Polaroid Autofocus 660 Land Camera and the Polaroid 640 Land Camera both include state-of-the-art technology which make picture-taking a simpler and more sure-fire process. Both cameras feature a built-in strobe which automatically blends light to correct unfavorable lighting conditions.

Introduced with the cameras was a new high-speed color film, capable of working at higher shutter speeds. The 10-exposure film pack (expected to retail at $9.95) also includes a high-capacity planar battery that supplies the power for all of the camera's functions -- eliminating the need for separate batteries or flash attachments.

The cameras also boost innovations in photographic optics, light-sensing techniques, and sonar automatic focusing.

Despite these innovations and despite favorable response from many in the field, however, a fair number of others were disappointed. a rumor had circulated that Polaroid had developed a 35-mm camera capable of taking instant pictures, and with that rumor, Polaroid's stock jumped 2 points. But on Wednesday, after the public had had a look at the new equipment, the stock dropped 50 cents a share.

George Elling of Bear, Sterns & co. agrees with Mr. Rellyea's assessment that the new system is not a blockbuster, but he predict that "it's going to help" Polaroid.

However, he adds, "It's not something that's going to sell itself. They'll have to sell it."

Mr. Govatos also feels that Polaroid may have problems convincing the mass market buyers that they really want the new cameras, which carry midline prices (the 660 has a list price of $95; the 640, $70), and are basically an update of previous models, rather than a new generation of camera.

The company is mounting an extensive and costly ad campaign, but Mr. Govatos wonders whether 30-and 60-second TV ads will be able to communicate to buyers some of the camera's subtler points of superiority. He concedes that Polaroid has always been good at marketing, but this time, he says, "There is no way of evaluating the success of the camera."

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