In the late 1990's Kodak again decided to enter the hardware business, this time with a new minilab that would incorporate its newly-developed DLS software. Announcements were already printed for distribution at the PMA 1999 convention but before the ink dried, literally a few days before the show opened, a deal was cut for Noritsu to offer certain models using DLS. Kodak would not have its own lab, after all, but would help in promoting those special Noritsu labs with DLS. These models are still very popular for Noritsu and have been shown in the Kodak booth at PMA since 1999.
The announcement of the inkjet minilab at PMA 2000 was yet another Kodak attempt to sell minilab hardware in the U.S. In all likelihood it will be their last effort as their bond with Noritsu grows ever stronger with the demise of Gretag and the choice of Noritsu for its Qualex OSP activity. Also, Noritsu supplies Kodak branded minilabs for sale throughout the world and, I've been told, is the top-selling brand internationally.
It is apparent that at first blush the trade was calling the DFX a success. Even with its low print output in Version 1.0, there was a general agreement that the print quality was excellent and the equipment easy to learn and easy to use. And they loved the $40,000 price tag. Those dealers who had one were very positive. I'm told of the six New York dealers with trade trial units, five had placed firm orders for production models. It was off to a good start.
What the future held in terms of long term success is anyone's guess. Kodak has pushed innovation before with loud, banging drums, only to have the sound fade out too quickly. Think disk; think APS. Neither of these two was well received by an industry that felt these innovations were forced upon them. The Phogenix DFX, on the other hand, was coming to market without all of the fanfare and was eagerly anticipated by many. It could have been a winner for Kodak, HP and the industry. It is unfortunate that the decision by HP to pull out will not give us the chance to find out.
Might some white knight come along and sweep up the Phogenix program? After all, the hard work has been done. It would seem to me that the logical savior would have been Kodak itself. But since they feel that without the support of HP's technology there is no future for DFX, it's difficult for me to believe that anyone else would have either the technology or funding to pick up the pieces. Even if an Epson, Canon or Xerox were to step up and partner with Kodak it would mean going back to the drawing boards since the HP marking engine was such a critical, and, at first troublesome, component.
The likelihood is that the DFX will be just a footnote in the history of photo. Maybe one of the few produced units will find its rightful place in the Smithsonian. Ptn
Jerry Lansky is president of MiniLab Consultants, Inc.,
P.O. Box 475, Colts Neck, NJ 07722. Tel: (732) 946-8484. E-mail: Jlansky@.att.net