US camera pioneer Eastman Kodak, which brought photography to the masses over a century ago, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

CEO Antonio Perez said in a statement that Kodak's board and senior management believed the bankruptcy was a necessary step.

"Our goal is to maximise value for stakeholders, including our employees, retirees, creditors, and pension trustees. We are also committed to working with our valued customers," he added.

The company, which dates back more than a hundred years, was a pioneer in popularising photography.

But it has been struggling to keep pace with the digital age and years of poor performance had already forced it to lay off 47,000 employees and close 13 manufacturing plants since 2003.

In its heyday Kodak shares topped $80 in 1996 - just at the outset of the digital photo revolution that eventually replaced the need for consumers to buy Kodak film, once a virtual monopoly in the US market.

The bankruptcy filing places the jobs of Kodak's 19,000 remaining employees in question. At its height in the 1980s, it had 145,000 workers.

Kodak has been loss-making for year and last reported a small net profit in 2007.

Founded in 1892 by inventor George Eastman, Kodak developed handheld "Brownie" cameras that were sold at popular prices and furnished the film that would keep consumers pumping profits into the company for decades. It was also famous for "Kodak Moment", its advertising catchphrase for its film.

Ironically, it pioneered research into digital photography beginning in the mid-1970s. But it was Asian manufacturers that stole a march in that market in the 1990s as Kodak failed to see the need to break from its old business lines.