Kodak and its competitors step up photo-market battle

The war to capture the hearts and shutters of the nation's camera buffs is heating up.

* The 3M Company has announced a new, extremely fast film for producing slides.

* Fuji Photo Film has introduced new disk and color print film which it claims ''is equal to or better than'' film produced by Kodak.

* And Eastman Kodak, which has 80 to 85 percent of the color print market, is out to strengthen its position with the introduction Thursday of a new 35-mm film that can be electronically read by a camera to tell the photographer what the film speed is and how many exposures are left.

All of this commotion - which comes just before the industry's trade show in Las Vegas, Nev. - is part of a battle that's brewing by the non-Kodak companies to obtain a larger share of the $10.6 billion market in amateur and professional photography. Raymond S. Cowen, a senior industry analyst at the Value Line Survey, notes, ''Obviously these companies are trying to get a piece of the action - trying to cut into Kodak's market share.'' But he quickly adds, ''Kodak is not going to sit back and let it happen.''

In fact, every five to 10 years Kodak introduces a new product, incorporating new technology, which takes the industry by surprise. Its most recent one was the disk camera, introduced February 1982. The product introduced new technology , and as Eugene Glazer, an analyst with Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., notes, ''it was quite successful.''

This time, however, Kodak has shortened the time span between launching a new camera and bringing out a new film, which it has designated DX. This should also give it a jump on its opposition.

So far there are no cameras that can use the new film. But it will be available this spring, and Mr. Glazer says ''Kodak expects that the world's camera manufacturers, knowing this film is produced by Eastman Kodak, will adapt to it. There is no question there will be cameras using the film.''

Mr. Glazer adds, ''The camera industry, seeing the consumer market slowing down, will be looking for the next potential generation of cameras. Kodak has just given it to them.'' Mr. Glazer views the introduction of the film as a positive step for the company.

Frank Strong, a Kodak vice-president and general manager for consumer and professional finishing markets, says the new film demonstrates that Kodak ''is very aware of its leadership role in photography. We don't just say it, we demonstrate it.''

The new DX film should, in fact, have an appeal to the amateur market, since it will aid in producing better pictures. According to Mr. Strong, some 7 percent of the 35-mm rolls taken with Kodacolor II and Kodacolor 400 - in bright sunlight - are not exposed correctly. He adds, ''This is the easiest situation in which to correctly expose film. It suggests that incorrect exposures in difficult situations may be even greater.''

Furthermore, the new film will cut down on photo finishers' costs, since bar codes on the film will eliminate some of the expense of sorting. The market, Mr. Strong noted in an interview, is large, since nearly 50 percent of all film shot is 35 mm.

The Rochester, N.Y., giant, despite its giant share of the market, is starting to feel the heat. Reginald Duquesnoy, vice-president of Merrill Lynch & Co., estimates that Fuji had $2 billion in worldwide photographic revenues last year, compared with $7.8 billion for Kodak. He notes that Kodak's 1981 sales growth increased only 6 percent, while Fuji's rose 18 percent and Konishiroku, which makes Konica cameras and Konica film, had a 20 percent sales increase.

At the same time, Fuji bought the right to call itself the ''Official Film of the 1984 Olympics.'' It has hired a professional photographer, Walter Iooss, formerly of Sports Illustrated, to shoot pictures of US athletes in training for the Olympics. Fuji expects to capitalize on the favorable image the Olympics gives its sponsors. ''The Olympics is a friendly but competitive event,'' says Bernie K. Yasunaga, executive vice-president of Fuji Photo USA, ''and should help us to communicate with our customers.''

Ironically, Kodak was the first choice of the Olympic Committee. According to the committee organizers, however, Kodak displayed arrogance in haggling over the $4 million price tag, which ultimately doomed the negotiations. The result gave Fuji its chance.

The Olympics will give Fuji a foot in the door that it badly needs. Barry Cohen, manager of Alkit, a New York City camera store that sells a lot of equipment to professionals, says he does not stock Fuji film because of lack of demand. ''We bought 1,000 rolls of Fuji film two years ago,'' he says, ''and it took forever to sell it. We normally sell 1,000 rolls of Kodacolor in a month.''

Because of the difficulty of competing against Kodak, some firms are trying to stake out special niches for themselves. Thus, 3M has a new 1000 ASA slide film geared to the professional and ''serious'' amateur market. A salesman at Alkit says, ''The new film will be a good way to shoot basketball games.''

Moe Nozari, marketing and technical director at 3M, envisions other uses for it, too. ''I think the market for this film is quite large,'' he says, noting, ''It is for anyone who is currently using flash attachments.'' For example, he can envision a place for it in police surveillance, where high-speed, good-quality pictures can help to catch criminals.

Professionals, however, have mixed feelings about using such film. Jim Anderson, a professional based in New York, says the 3M films have a nice ''neutral color.'' But he adds, ''They have a lot of grain. If they can reduce the grain, they have a real winner.''

And, if 3M is successful, there is no doubt that Kodak will be plugging away on market share. Mr. Strong says Kodak is now able to make slide film with an ASA of 1000 but that it produces 1000 ASA only for print film, since that is where the largest market is.

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