Bad Old Days: Kodak Disc 4000 Camera


Kodak's Disc 4000 camera, developed in response to the popularity of other cartridge film formats like 110, used a disc with 15 8x10mm negatives arrayed in a circle.

Most all of the Disc cameras were fitted with a plastic aspheric lens that was protected by a sliding cover. Prints from the negatives were not very sharp, even with the aspheric lens design. This was mainly due to the negative size, which was slightly less than that of 110 size. Even 4x6 prints were pretty soft and no one would ever think to have an 8x10 made, but many brave souls did anyway.

Surprisingly, the Disc Film was produced until 1998, even though the camera saw an end to production in 1989. Kodak was also using the introduction of APS format to help ease customers dissatisfaction of the end of Disc film. Of course I really doubt very many people were still using the Disc camera by then.

Kodak Disc 4000 [Photographic Age] (Thanks, Tommy!)

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  1. I remember these, and I remember the crap quality of the pictures it took. Was there any supposed advantage to doing it this way over traditional 35mm or even 110? It was probably just a marketing hack’s big concept: “Hey, it’s the mid-80’s; everything’s going disc!” Nobody knew or had the heart to tell him those discs usually involved digital media.

  2. I had a disc camera when I was in high school. What a piece of junk! Not only was the photo quality poor, the thing actually stopped working out of the blue and had to be sent back to Kodak for repairs.

    I can’t remember why I thought it was worth buying…knowing the film was so small…maybe because you could save time on “winding” it between shots?

    Some time later, I got a Minolta X370 35mm SLR and never had any reason to break out the disc camera again.

  3. My sister had a disc camera. I was about 8 years old, and wasn’t allowed anything fancier than a 110. I remember being crazy jealous of her, I thought the disc camera was awesomely sleek and futuristic. Even then I was clearly a nerd.
    @David Bruce Murray – my sister also moved on to a Minolta SLR, which was promptly stolen on a trip to France.

  4. In the late 80’s I went on a vacation to Orlando and my Grandma loaned me her disc camera for the trip. While it’s true that the pictures were crap, it’s worth mentioning that it took everything Shamu could throw at it during multiple sittings in the “Splash Zone” at Sea World. Crappy? Yes. But also quite water resistant.

  5. Man I remember the pictures from these cameras were always so crappy and grainy.
    Towards the end they were giving the cameras away just to sell the heavily discounted film.

  6. Man…seeing this thing really brings back some warm and fuzzies (feelings…though the photos were fuzzy, too). I used one of these for a whole summer while visiting relatives on the East Coast when I was about 10. The pictures I took with it probably were pretty crappy, but they included shots of my very first plane trip and my very first visit to a real actual beach. Mostly, I felt like I was using a piece of the future – easy loading, easy shooting, slimline form factor. Looking at it now, I realize I should have tried to load those negatives into a ViewMaster…

  7. Surprisingly, the Disc Film was produced until 1998, even though the camera saw an end to production in 1989.

    I had been told that Kodak used to make at least one batch of film for every format it had ever sold, every year. It may be that 1998 was the last year film for the Brownie camera was produced, too…

  8. I still have mine and all sorts of silly attachments (telephoto, wideangle, etc). I have stacks and stacks of really bad photos. The thing was so cool. It fit in your pocket easily. I loved the thing until my Dad gave me his SLR and instructions on how to use it. Now I miss Kodachrome.

  9. I have the disks for one of these lying around, although I’m not sure if I still have the camera. I think I persuaded my Mum or Dad to buy the camera when they were cheap (they were maybe £10 when a decent 110 was £15). The pictures were inevitably crappy, but I wonder if that wasn’t the fault of the developing system. The disks had to be sent away as most photo developers didn’t have the hardware to handle them, and for the ones that did it was an automated black box process which didn’t have any option for correction except the ability to put quality stickers on the finished pics.
    I don’t think the disk was equated with digital media: if my leaky memory serves they came out in about 1978 or ’79, maybe even before, when the CD was merely a fevered dream in the minds of a few backroom boys in Apeldoorn. The driving idea was to make changing film simpler, and as far as Kodak was concerned, the 110’s snap-in cartridge was Not Invented Here, so they had to do something different.
    That the disks remained in production for so long is interesting: I suppose that if the cameras are still out there they had to be supported: I know that Kodak still make dwindling amounts of 8mm cine film and I seem to recall that they stopped making black and white film a few years ago, which was probably a bigger mistake.

  10. We used to break open the unused film carts and then use the negative wheel as chinese throwing stars.

    early 3 r application; the cut marks from these looked better than the pictures they took.

  11. It seems that every new film format was another attempt by the camera companies to charge customers more for less actual film. This is the turd-in-a-can ideal of consumer capitalism writ large.

  12. ACB is onto something.

    The Kodak Disk camera was an attempt to recapture an earlier era of profits for the company. By locking in the media format to their hardware Kodak hoped to get extravagant $$$ for a new generation of consumers.

    They still lusted for the Brownie.

    Kodak is a great story of how not to run a company.

    – ex Rochester NY kid.

  13. One major largely unknown cool use of the disc camera is that the slide film works in a viewmaster just take 2 images and insert in viewmaster reel…

  14. I worked on this camera in 1981-82. I built custom test equipment for the production lines in 81, and worked on circuit board manufacturing engineering in 82. Until early ’82, even people like me who were working on The Project (as it was known) didn’t know what the product was. It was top-secret.

    The word around the office (once it was released) was that the Disc camera was an attempt at continuing the miniaturization of 126 and then 110, which were both slam-dunk successes. EK was also reacting to a recent beating they’d taken in the marketplace. Just before Christmas in 1977 (I think it was), Vivitar released a low-end consumer camera (126 or 110–not sure) with an electronic flash. The ad campaign featured a side-by-side comparison of photos of a little girl bouncing on a bid. The Vivitar electronic flash froze her in midair, while the Kodak electrochemical flashcube (remember how those smelled, oldtimers?) produced a blur. Vivitar really ate Kodak’s lunch that holiday season in camera sales.

    So Kodak wanted to hit a third home run creating a camera with a smaller form factor, adding electronic flash, and making it electrically self-winding. It really was an innovative product in the consumer market at that time. The higher-end model even had an integrated LCD clock with alarm (this was a *really* cool feature back then.) And the industrial design was good for that time, too: it looks quite a bit like one of today’s digitals.

    But it didn’t pan out. The existing silver halide film grain size wasn’t up to producing a reasonable image from a negative of that dimension. So Kodak developed a much finer-grained technology (“T-grain”) that made disc pictures, well… almost as good as 110 if the lighting was right. T-grain greatly improved all of Kodak’s other consumer film, which gave them an edge over Fuji (the scary Japanese competitor) but unfortunately, Disc image quality never rose much above “doesn’t always suck”. The damn negative was just too small. Plus, those discs were expensive and had fewer exposures than 126 or 110. It was really easy to burn a lot of film with them, something I’m sure Kodak initially thought was a good thing.

    My guess, though, is that competitors provided more value for less money, and the product strategists at Kodak swinging for that third homer in the end just swatted it into the stands.

    Kodak spent big, big money on Disc. I’m sure they lost millions. They lost more millions on other things: photocopiers (they initially had far and away the best image quality, and sold a lot of high-end business copiers, but eventually that ended), a huge microfilm storage and retrieval system, instant cameras, again the best film technology, but they had to get out of that business after Polaroid won a patent lawsuit against them. And endless cancelled R&D products that their engineers knew how to build but marketers couldn’t figure out how to sell.

    Despite the bungling management, the ill-advised attempts at diversification outside of their core competencies, and the long, slow, and then recently more precipitous slide they’ve gone through, Kodak is a great, great company to work for. It’s a shame they have gone from world leader in photography to just an also-ran. Kodak was working on digital photography and imaging in the mid-1980’s, but others got to market faster than they.

    Kodak has been a great American success story, and deserves to be remembered for better than failed products like the Disc. Thanks for stimulating old memories.

  15. Gilbert Anonymous, whose logins have NEVER worked!!!

    I had a disk camera back in 1982 when I visited the ghost town of Bodie. If I’d had b/w film the pix would’ve looked like old-timey photos, what with the fuzziness and all. An earlier poster said the cameras were fairly waterproof. Not so mine. My water bottle leaked in the backpack I was wearing and got my camera wet. I heard a hiss and a bang as my disk camera blew up. Nice engineering Kodak!!!

  16. #15 Thank you. That was a great insight into the history of a camera I once owned and loved as a boy.

  17. I work in a large photolab and remember seeing these well into the new millenium.

    I think we developed the last ones somwhere in 2005.

    We still occasionally get these but they get sent back to the customer because we no longer have working equipement to process these.

  18. I have one that I kept for sentimental reasons. It was a Christmas gift from my parents (an Open ME First Tag). It’s only been used a few times but I wasn’t THAT unhappy with the photos it made. It was fine for quick grabs of pets and kids. Mine is in mint conditon and I remember using it right up until the mid 90s when it became impossible to get film discs for it. I still have a quantity of the undeveloped discs.

  19. Wow. I glad to find this photo of that old camera.. I don’t rememeber what happened to mine. Interesting… maybe it’s gone or something. I will never know.

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