Kodak seeks sharper disc-film images

The Kodak disc camera takes better pictures now, the company claims, thanks to new film. And by year's end, the Eastman Kodak Company's disc camera and disc film will have racked up the most sales of any Kodak camera or film in its first two years on the market, predicts Colby H. Chandler, the company's chairman and chief executive officer.

Given sales slippage last summer, however, the optimism may sound premature. This year's disc camera and film sales through June, July, and August ran below the 1982 summer sales, said Peter J. Enderlin, a securities analyst at Smith Barney, Harris & Upham. One of the causes: Photos were too grainy, customers complained.

But last month Kodak introduced a new disc film to put a stop to those complaints and, the company hopes, to increase sales.

''With the new product, consumers may give (Kodak) disc film a second chance, '' Mr. Enderlin said.

The new disc film, called Kodacolor VR, features improved grain, sharpness, and contrast. It sells for the same price as the original disc film, and apparently it's catching on. ''The response to the new film is better than expected; we are working overtime to meet demands,'' says Tim Elliott, spokeman for Kodak.

If a recent informal test is any indication, the film may give Kodak's chief disc film competitor, Fuji Photo Film Company of Japan, a run for its money.

Michael Ellmann, an analyst at Wertheim & Co., a Wall Street investment bank and brokerage firm, showed 12 pictures taken with the new Kodacolor VR Disc Film and 12 others taken with Fujicolor HR Disc Film to 16 office workers, without revealing the film name.

The test showed that the Kodak pictures were favored about 2 to 1, according to Mr. Ellmann. He said the Kodak pictures have better color balance and color fidelity, better contrast, and less grain than the Fuji pictures.

Kodak's HR disc film, the forerunner of the new product, has competed for sales with Fuji's disc film.

A Consumer Reports magazine review of the original Kodak disc film last November had also been seen as slowing sales. ''The fussier you are about your snapshots, the less you're apt to like disc prints,'' the magazine said.

At the time, Kodak said the comparison wasn't fair, because it didn't allow for the higher percentage of good pictures that the disc system made possible.

While the company will be shipping fresh supplies of the new film for the Christmas season, disc camera shipments are another story. Many retailers were reportedly left with large stocks of unsold Kodak disc cameras on their shelves after the 1982 Christmas season. So even if retail sales increase, retailers might not order more disc cameras than last year.

''This year retail sales of disc cameras will be higher,'' Kodak chairman Chandler said. ''Factory shipments, of course, will be lower.''

Stanley W. Morten, another Wertheim analyst, said Kodak originally expected to sell 12 million disc cameras this year, compared with 8.2 million sold in the less than eight months it was available in 1982. Now Kodak expects to sell fewer than 8.2 million this year, Mr. Morten said.

Considering the state of the economy, Kodak's director of public information, Henry J. Kaska, said, ''We're satisfied with disc-film sales.''

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