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The History of Kodachrome

By Dillon Wallace

Life doesn’t happen in black and white, and in 1935 Eastman Kodak made sure that we stopped commemorating it as such through drab, colorless film. 

And just like that, Kodachrome – the brand name for color reversal film – was born.
Hailed as one of the first successful color materials, Kodachrome was used for the full gamut of photography – cinematography and still life for both amateurs and professionals – as well as movie making. For the first time, people could actually take a picture of a rainbow and see all the beautiful vivid colors in the print itself. It was a technological triumph similar to how it must have been when the first color TVs were released.


A colorful future

When Kodachrome first launched in 1935 it was first sold as a 16mm movie format. It wasn’t until the following year that it was available in 8mm movie format, and ultimately 35mm and 828 format for still cameras. 


For nearly 20 years, Kodachrome was the go-to color format for film. And because of its complex processing requirements, the film was sold process-paid in the United States until the mid-1950s before a legal ruling prohibited that process moving forward. So what happened to cause Kodachrome to fall from its vibrant perch atop the film market?


A dark decline

As Kodachrome enjoyed it’s reign atop the color film industry, competition would eventually catch up to its success, slowly but surely taking away market share. Other transparency films, like Fujifilm’s Fujichrome and even Kodak’s own Ektachrome hit the market and offered a simpler, quicker and more accessible process. No longer was Kodachrome the hip new kid on the block. 


This eroding market share continued for years before it finally peaked, especially in the 80s and 90s as the quality and affordability of competing films vastly improved. And ultimately, by the time digital photography took off in the early 2000s, Kodachrome, like all film, suffered a decline it simply couldn’t come back from.


A history worth capturing

Up until its discontinuation in 2009, Kodachrome was the oldest selling brand of color film in existence. A remarkable feat that featured 74 years of success in various formats for both still and motion picture cameras. 


In fact, Kodachrome had such an impact on the film industry, that a feature length Netflix movie by the same name came out in 2017. The movie, which featured a star studded cast of Ed Harris, Jason Sudeikis and Elizabeth Olsen, was set in the final days during the admired photo development system, following the journey of a father and son as they hit the road in order to reach the Kansas photo lab before it closed its doors forever. With the release of the Kodachrome movie, many thought that the beloved film might make a resurgence, but that proved to be nothing more than quiet rumors. Or was it? We may never know...


Digitize your Kodachrome copies today!

Kodachrome may or may not ever make an official comeback, but that doesn’t mean your old Kodachrome film and prints have to fall on the wayside. If you’ve got a box of vintage Kodachrome color film at its finest, consider sending it in to us today to digitize those beloved memories


After all, Kodachrome may have been discontinued, but that doesn’t mean your memories have to be, too!

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