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The Lost Instant Camera: Kodak's CHAMP Kodamatic

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.

Photo by emperornorton

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.

Photo by emperornorton

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.

written by emperornorton

13 comments

  1. superlighter

    superlighter

    great article and stunning images!

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  2. mapix

    mapix

    thanks for the article! seems to cast poor light on polaroid...

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  3. clickiemcpete

    clickiemcpete

    Cool writeup and pics! Speaking of casting poor light, Kodak was the biggest and baddest patent wielding and prosecuting monster of all time. They are probably one of the most unpleasant companies in that regard so having Polaroid stick it them at their own game is poetic justice. I just read a biography of George Eastman and the man pretty much invented the modern corporate monster model. From the beginning Kodak has been all about procuring and using patents at any cost to corner the market and drive out competition so I don't feel sorry for them.

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  4. bloomchen

    bloomchen

    very interesting article!

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  5. meliijoy

    meliijoy

    Nice article! I found a print like the ones in your gallery in a stack of my mom's old photos, and I could never figure out which camera it came from because the Kodak label stumped me. Now I know :)

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  6. emperornorton

    emperornorton

    @mapix @clickiemcpete I think the court's decision was the right one, but all the same, I feel the loss of the camera. Feelings such as mine held by others led to the class-action lawsuit that secured the replacement of the camera, but it just wasn't the same.

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  7. emperornorton

    emperornorton

    @meliijoy It might also have been a Trimprint, another popular instant camera that Kodak produced.

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  8. clownshoes

    clownshoes

    Awesome!

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  9. arurin

    arurin

    Interesting...

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  10. ihave2pillows

    ihave2pillows

    Let's hope that film photography will stick around for a little longer :)

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  11. weedos

    weedos

    Great Article!!

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  12. gaz2112

    gaz2112

    You could load a single sheet of 600 Spectra film in your Kodak
    if you have an empty cartridge. Dial two steps to brighten for correct exposure.
    Put the sheet back in the Polaroid cartridge to eject/develop (in the dark).
    Check if the camera responds to light changes with longer/shorter exposure.
    Kodak cameras use Batteries.

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  13. gaz2112

    gaz2112

    there is a similar topic www.flickr.com/group(…)6784429235/

    over 2 years ago · report as spam