Eastman Kodak tried to break into the instant camera market. I adored what they produced, but a lawsuit by Polaroid stole the joy of my CHAMP Kodamatic.
For my birthday in 1984, I bought my first instant camera. Polaroid was the monolith in those days. No other company made instant cameras because Edward Land and members of his development team controlled the patents. Kodak — which had manufactured all the instant film for Polaroid between 1963 and 1969 — decided to challenge that hegemony with its own line of instant cameras beginning in 1976. My gift to myself was a $30 Kodak CHAMP Kodamatic (you must always spell the name in uppercase!).
I loved my CHAMP. Some say that taking pictures with a CHAMP was like holding an electric toaster to your face, but I never found it unwieldy. It produced fine images that critics deemed better than the rival SX-70. The one problem that I had was the perennial issue of photographing on cold days. I learned a trick back then which I still use now with my Fuji Instax : simply put the picture into your inside coat or shirt pocket as soon as you take it. The warmth of your body stimulates complete development.
The forests around Durham, North Carolina were my CHAMP’s roving ground. I took pictures of denuded trees and of friends. An album that I found recently contains page after page of pictures of my then girlfriend, my cats, and other people in my life. They remain vivid after nearly 30 years, more than the prints from 35mm negatives that I captured with my Asahi Pentax.
I took my last photo with the camera in June of 1984 at Jamestown, Virginia. The camera went on my shelf, waiting for days when I had the money to buy film.
The camera’s viability ended, however, in September 1985. The United States District Court of Massachusetts ruled that Eastman Kodak had infringed on seven valid patents. An injunction prevented Kodak from manufacturing and distributing instant film and cameras. In January of 1986, Kodak admitted defeat: it would make no more CHAMPs or any other kind of instant camera. Five years later, it paid $925 million in damages to Polaroid.
It also handed out $50 gift certificates to the tens of thousands of CHAMP owners who had lost the pleasure of using their cameras. I dutifully pried the nameplate off mine and sent it in to Kodak for the refund, but I could never find the heart to use it.
Instant photography remained part of my life. I would ultimately buy a Polaroid 600, an Izone, and a Fuji Instax. The first affordable digital camera by Casio was a purchase inspired by my love. But I kept the CHAMP, carefully covered in bubble wrap, with my collection of cameras handed over to me by friends and family.
You can find CHAMPs in thrift shops and online auctions, selling for anywhere from $5 to $15. I must say that they aren’t worth the money because you can’t get film. There is some talk that an older line of Fuji instant film — their Fotorama series — works in the CHAMP, but I have yet to see any results and have read many reports of failure.
I mourn what I have lost.
Here’s a list of instant cameras produced by Kodak. You may also want to read about more details on Kodak’s foray into instant photography.