Sentimental Sunday: Extra Credit Question, (Retro Edition)!

Class, which of you can identify the object pictured below?

wheel

Bonus points to anyone who actually owns one of these. For more clues, click onward.

Here is one more hint:

envelope

Yes, it is a set of film negatives!

Maybe some of you were thinking it was a rather strangely designed roulette wheel, and maybe some others thought it was more pharmaceutical in nature. No judgment here.

I mean, many of you were likely not born during the time this Kodak system was in use. This is a surviving example of Kodak disc film, which was unveiled in 1982 and discontinued in 1999. Those dates give an overinflated idea of the disc-camera era. In reality, the cameras were discontinued by 1989; Kodak just continued making the film for the diehards that were left. And I was not one of them, even though the example above is from my own files.

I’m racking my brain to remember why I thought my Disc 4000 was a good idea to begin with. Maybe I liked the streamlined look of the camera, which was a bit thinner and less boxy than the Instamatics that had predominated. Or maybe it was the easy-loading disc film — plop a cartridge in and go. But the resulting photos were … not great. According to a report in Photographic Age, it was not just me:

Prints from the negatives were not very sharp … . This was mainly due to the negative size, which was slightly less than that of 110 size. Even 4×6 prints were pretty soft and no one would ever think to have an 8×10 made, but many brave souls did anyway.

If you are a vintage-camera nerd, scroll down at that second link for a great account from a commenter who says he worked on the development of the Disc 4000, which included a then-revolutionary self-rewind feature (maybe that’s why I wanted one?). He concurs that the Disc camera was probably doomed to fuzzy-print failure because the negatives were “just too small.” (Edited to add: This wheel is TINY: 2.5 inches in diameter. For more on the camera’s brief history, click here.)

Brief as the disc fling was, it left behind a sizable population of orphaned negative wheels. And if you stumble upon some of them, you might decide the family-history factor justifies getting them developed, fuzzy images be damned. A few labs such as Kansas-based Dwayne’s Photo say they still handle disc film, and maybe if you’re very lucky, you still have an old-style photo-and-camera shop near you with someone who might be able to advise. (Here’s a discussion of the pros and cons of sending disc film out to be processed.)

I found my disc negatives while going through a box of old photos and was happy to see I have only a few of them — I think I stopped horsing around and moved on to 35mm formats fairly quickly.

But it was a nice (although fuzzy) detour down memory lane.

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