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Polaroid Introduces New Camera, Film

Times Staff Writer

Amid the gyrations of leotard-clad dancers and the clicking of hundreds of free sample cameras, Polaroid threw a $1-million coming-out party Wednesday at the Century Plaza Hotel for its latest invention in instant photography--a camera and accompanying film called the Spectra System.

With the Spectra camera, which will reach stores in May, Polaroid is hoping to refocus consumer attention on instant photography, which faded in recent years as 35-millimeter cameras attracted a growing number of amateur photographers who sought better picture quality than instant cameras could provide.

Spectra “is a major step forward in quality,” rivaling images produced by 35-mm cameras, said I. MacAllister Booth, president of the Cambridge, Mass., company. “It gives us the opportunity to tell the world that instant photography is something special.”

And the world had better listen if Polaroid’s fortunes are to improve further, analysts said. Polaroid sales have bounced between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion during the last eight years while instant camera sales fell to 3.6 million last year from a 9.4-million peak in 1978.

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Spectra “is very important to them,” said Eugene Glazer, an analyst who follows Polaroid for the Dean Witter Reynolds brokerage house. “It’s the main product to keep their earnings rising over the next two years.”

“It’s not going to destroy the whole company if it’s not successful--but first, it’s going to be successful,” said Brenda Lee Landry, an analyst with Morgan Stanley & Co. She estimated that Polaroid will sell nearly 700,000 Spectras this year.

“The question is, how much can we reawaken instant photography?” she said. “I don’t know.”

Booth, in an interview, acknowledged that Spectra is the current focal point for the company.

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“It isn’t something that the total profitability of the company is dependent on” because the company has broadened its business base during the last few years, Booth said. But, he added, “I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that we think it’s very important.”

Spectra is a wedge-shaped camera “in fashionable metallic taupe,” packed with electronic innovations that allow it to make “more than 30 complex electronic decisions within 50 thousandths of a second,” according to Polaroid.

Spectra has sonar autofocus, automatic exposure control, a 12-second self-timer, a built-in programmed flash, automatic picture ejection and film advance, and a panel to override the automatic functions. Spectra carries a suggested list price of $225 but probably will be discounted to $150 or below by dealers, analysts believe.

The Spectra film employs a new chemistry that results in more brilliant colors than previously available through instant photography. The rectangular picture is about 10% bigger than the square picture produced by other Polaroid cameras.

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“The camera definitely is evolutionary, not revolutionary,” Landry said. “The real magic is the new chemistry in the film. . . . The picture is definitely an improvement.”

Polaroid introduced the Spectra with considerable flash and hoopla.

Analysts, media representatives, salespeople and camera dealers were taken through a 30-ton replica of Spectra to see the camera’s inner workings.

In developing Spectra, Polaroid did more market research than for any other product in its history, resulting in such consumer-requested features as a hand strap on the side of the camera and the self-timer, Booth said.

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But the greatest testimony came from Booth’s own consumer research organization--his family. “For the first time in my experience, I received an unqualified enthusiastic response from my family,” he said.


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