The short history of the Advanced Photo System film camera

Like it or not, the camera phone (opens in new tab) represents the culmination of what the photographic industry had been trying to achieve for the best part of 150 years. It’s a compact device that’s easily carried anywhere and delivers an acceptable result in most situations without requiring anything more than the press of a button. Of course, it helps that you can now essentially run your life with your smartphone, but the photography element was where the compact point-and-shoot camera was always heading… minimum fuss, maximum reward. 

There was a good century of development from rollfilm to ever smaller format films packaged in various cassettes and cartridges – 35mm, 126, 110 and Disc – designed to make for easier handling with fewer mistakes. Each succeeded to some extent, but there was always room for improvement and so, in the early 1990s, work began on the most ambitious cartridge-based film system ever devised – the Advance Photo System.

As ever, the Advanced Photo System was driven by Kodak, which had been at the forefront of popularizing photography since devising the original box camera in the late 1880s. Looming on the horizon was ‘electronic photography’ which had already manifested itself with the still video camera – mostly championed by Sony, but plenty of others dabbled with prototype systems. While the analog approach was inferior to film in many ways, it made the point about potential conveniences, and work was well underway on digital technologies that would better exploit them. 

Canon ELPH (1996). The best-selling APS camera of any type – and by a significant margin too – the ELPH took the size reduction possible with APS to the absolute limit and then wrapped it all up in a smart stainless steel bodyshell. It was called the IXUS in Europe, the name Canon subsequently also adopted for its digital compact cameras.  (Image credit: Canon)

Nevertheless, within the photography industry at least, it was still believed that film was the way ahead, but with a system that also had to deliver more conveniences than 35mm – the small format that had set the benchmark for image quality. So Kodak was joined by Fujifilm, Canon, Nikon and Minolta – a powerful group of leading Japanese photo companies – in the Advanced Photo System which, inevitably, quickly became known simply as ‘APS’. 

If APS had arrived 10 years earlier, it would have been a very different story, but history and technology conspired against a system.

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