The Kodak Disc camera debuted in 1982, but couldn’t live up to its promise. Here’s the story.

Vintage Kodak Disc camera film cartridge

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The Kodak Disc camera was introduced with great fanfare in 1982. The new cameras were lightweight, foolproof (with auto-exposure and built-in flash), affordable, and used a brand new kind of film cartridge.

As you can see in the images below, this was film mounted on a disc — which looked a lot like one of the old View-Master reels — rather than the traditional type of film that was spooled in a cartridge and returned as negatives in strips.

Kodak Disc camera reels - Including some made by Fuji
Photo by Michel Bussieres |

As simple and convenient as using the camera was, there were quality issues that came along with using a negative that was just 8mm x 10.5mm in size.

Making matters worse, in order to get the best quality print from disc film reels, print processors would have to upgrade to some specialty equipment… and many chose not to make that investment, instead using the same machines that printed from other types of film.

As a result, pictures too often ended up being grainy, having poor color or a lack of definition — all of which led to the Disc’s quick demise. Production on Kodak’s Disc camera stopped in 1988, although the company continued to manufacture the film for another decade.

Kodak Disc camera introduction - Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester New York - February 4 1982

Kodak debuts the new Disc camera (1982)

By Lou Jacobs Jr, Los Angeles Times (California) July 25, 1982

Can you remember your first camera with a drop-in film cartridge in 126 or 110 size? Some of these were “Instamatics,” a Kodak trade name that the company is supplanting with its innovative disc cameras and film.

Disc photography is unique: You still drop the film in and snap the camera shut, but many features are new or operate more automatically than before.

While current 110-size cameras are lightweight, their long, slim shape is more conducive to a purse than a jacket pocket. Disc cameras fit many pocket shapes because they are only about 4-3/4 inches long, 3 inches high and 7/8 inch thick. They weigh an average of six to seven ounces and look like no other camera you’ve seen.

Kodak designed this new generation of snapshot cameras around a disc of film with 15 small film frames radiating from a hub. Each time you press the shutter button of a disc camera, a tiny motor rotates the disc and advances the film to the next frame.

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Disc camera - Unused film cartridge and developed film reel
Not a roll of film but a film disc — so thin there’s room in the camera for a cluster of electronics.

You could shoot sequential action outdoors as though you had an expensive motorized 35mm model. This means that you can keep your eye at the finder, watching expressions, without being distracted to pause and advance the film manually.

The new 15-shot disc film is called Kodacolor HR (for high resolution), and has a speed of 200 compared to the current Kodacolor II’s speed of 100. Because disc film negatives are so small, Kodak has given the new HR film improved sharpness and minimized the grain to accommodate normal enlargements. HR film can be over or underexposed several stops and still produce acceptable prints.

ALSO SEE: Vintage Instamatic cameras: The boxy, iconic cameras pretty much everyone had in the 60s & 70s

To encourage anyone who prefers what Kodak calls “decision-free photography,” disc cameras are fully-automated.

Exposure is automatic, the camera flash turns itself on when sensors indicate the light level needs a boost, and the batteries to power these operations are made of long-life lithium guaranteed to work for five years or 2,000 exposures. That’s an average of 26 discs a year. You can shoot a flash picture every other second, because the amazing little built-in unit recycles in 1-1/3 seconds.

Just for its revolutionary disc system, Kodak came up with a new fixed-focus lens made of glass. The lens has a 12.5mm focal length and a maximum opening of f/2.8, which makes it about four times faster than the lens in an average 110-size camera.

Such a short focal length gives you sharp focus from about four feet to infinity, and two Disc models offer a slide-over close-up lens so you can shoot from 18 inches to four feet. Reports indicate the disc camera lens is sharp, which is required when you enlarge a negative 15 times or more to make an average print.

The Kodak Disc camera debuted in 1982, but couldn't live up to its promise
Vintage Disc camera, film and negative envelope – Photoby Joost J Bakker

At present, there are three disc camera models with the following features:

Model 4000. This is the basic disc camera with f/2.8 lens, built-in auto-flash, motorized film advance, and sliding cover over lens and viewfinder. The suggested list price is $67.95.

Model 6000. It has all the features of the 4000 plus a hinged cover over the front and a closeup accessory lens that slides over the viewfinder. You can slide the closeup lens back to do normal photography, or it will return to its regular position when the camera cover is closed. The suggested list price is $89.95.

Model 8000. Here’s the deluxe disc camera with all the features of the 6000 plus a self-timer, a rapid sequence film winder (three frames per second in the non-flash mode), and a digital alarm clock In the back. The 8000’s front is gold-toned, and its list price is $142.95.

Vintage 110 cameras: The pocket cameras with small film cartridges that made photography incredibly easy

Disc Cameras are guaranteed for five years, which indicates the thoroughness behind their research and manufacturing.

You can carry these cameras anywhere. Handle a disc camera and ask to see sample disc prints. If you can’t beat the revolution, you may eventually join it.


Disc camera lineup from 1982
Disc camera lineup from 1982

Kodak introduces Disc photography (1982)

A whole new way to make pictures. It’s the brand new system that really simplifies picture-taking. And it took a new kind of film to make disc photography possible. A totally different film. The heart of Kodak’s new disc camera.

Imagine. A disc of high- quality Kodak color film so thin-Kodak could build all the disc camera’s advanced electronics around it. Yet the camera is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

A camera that looks as unique as it really is. Now. Just slip the handy film disc into the camera. Press a single button. And start picturing a brand-new world of photography, in full-size pictures.

Picture this: Popular point-and-shoot vintage 35mm cameras like these from the '80s revolutionized amateur photography

The new Kodak disc camera introduction - June 1982 (1)

Zip. Zip. Zip. The disc camera automatically advances the film disc so quickly, you can take picture after picture. With that kind of speed, this camera can catch more of the action shots you may have been missing.

Flash. Flash. Flash. Test the disc camera indoors or out. Any place or any time, where other built-in flash cameras could leave you in the dark. Its computer reads the light. Automatically flashes whenever you need more light. Then it can flash again — in one and a third seconds! Even turns itself off.

Combine all that with the disc camera’s lens and fast disc film — and you’ll know why it captures so many of the moments you may have been missing. It all adds up to a brand-new world of picture-taking ease.

All backed by a full 5-year warranty. Ask your dealer for full details about the Kodak 5-year warranty: If this camera doesn’t work with normal care, return it through a photo dealer for repair without charge.

The new Kodak disc camera introduction - June 1982 (2)

Good times happen fast. This camera won’t lose a second capturing them. (1982)

The Kodak disc cameras automatic film advance means you can actually take a picture, in bright light, as fast as every half second. Yet it’s just one of the ways the disc camera helps you capture the moments you may have been missing.

This camera has a unique built-in flash, too. It can flash then flash again, faster than any other builtin flash camera! Imagine being able to take a flash picture every one and a third seconds! On top of that, its computer reads the light. Automatically flashes when you need more light.

Even the film is unique. A disc of film so thin — Kodak could fit all these electronic features in a camera that fits in the palm of your hand.

The Kodak disc camera. It’s a brand-new world picture-taking.

The new Kodak disc camera introduction - July 1982

Give the Kodak disc camera and watch it light up the holidays. Every one and a third seconds.

The decision-free world of disc photography from Kodak.

The Kodak disc camera - Dec 1982

The famous, fabulous Fotomat drive-up photo stores of the '70s & '80s

Disc 4000 camera TV commercial: “Picture a brand new world”

YouTube video

Vintage Kodak Disc 3100 camera from 1985

Kodak Disc 3100 camera from 1985

Vintage View-Master reels & viewers: See dozens of the classic toys that made color pictures come to life

Kodak shelves Disc camera, maybe for good (1988)

Excerpted from the Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi) Feb 2, 1988

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Eastman Kodak Co. has stopped making the much-ballyhooed disc camera because the style fizzled in the marketplace, but company officials said Monday no decision has been made to eliminate the line.

The company suspended production of the cameras at its Rochester plant in mid-January, said Kodak spokesman Ronald Roberts. It was the first time the disc camera production lines have been shut down since Kodak introduced the camera in 1982.

“We have enough inventory so we’ve suspended production,” Roberts said. “We haven’t stopped for good. At this point, we will simply treat it as a supply and demand situation.”

Vintage Kodak Disc 6000 Camera opened up (1982)
Vintage Kodak Disc 6000 Camera opened up (1982)

… Kodak’s Disc camera, which uses film on a plastic disc that is inserted into the camera, was introduced six years ago as a moderate-priced alternative for the customer who didn’t want to spend a lot of money for a 35mm camera, but wanted something more than the inexpensive 110-format.

It was introduced before the “easy-to-use” 35mm cameras arrived on store shelves. The list price of the basic disc camera is $44. Kodak has sold more than 25 million disc cameras and “certainly does not consider them a failure,” Roberts said Monday.

He said employees who worked on the disc camera production line were being trained to work on other cameras.

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Comments on this story

5 Responses

  1. I remember disc cameras… and how crummy the prints were. The mechanism that advanced the disc often jammed too. What I didn’t realize, though, was how expensive those cameras were! That $142 spent on a “deluxe” model (over $400 in today’s money) could have bought a decent 35mm camera back then. Small wonder that they only lasted a few years.

  2. I had a 4000 disc camera. It was awesome… come to find out it was the people who were developing the film were too cheap to buy right equipment then say they could develop them and gave lousy prints.. I miss my camera. It was awesome.

  3. I have the picture disk negatives. Is there anybody out there that can put the pictures onto a Usb drive for me?

  4. I had a Kodak disc camera in 1982 my daughter was 2… that was the best camera! It had a 4 element lens that took good pictures! I used it so much … took hundreds of pictures for many years … the finish on the button whore out! But the camera never stopped working and I never had to put a battery in it! The film was very easy to use. The best thing was that you could take it out of your pocket in a second and snap a picture much easier faster than a cell phone! Had to stop using it because they stopped making the film! What gave the disc camera a bad name is the knock offs by Japs that only had a one element lens and took graining pictures… the Kodak 4 element lens took good pics!
    The battery lasted forever … it was the first lithium battery!

  5. The Kodak Disc camera was very good … what happened was the imitators put out bad cameras which led to the bad image of disc cameras!
    The Kodak disc camera had a 4-5 element lens! The copy cats had one!
    I feel the Disc camera was better then the camera in my cell phone today in that you could have the camera in your pocket … take it out and just shoot as many pics as you wanted … fast and in focus!
    The quality was good enough for what I needed without the pain of … swiping swiping thinking of where the camera icon is … my big dry hands do not work well with cell phones… they are made for mini moist fingers… I almost never can just swipe once because my dry fingers are not recognized.
    And I had the Disc camera for many years never had to replace or charge the battery!
    It was the knock offs that ruined the disc camera image.

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