Smartphones and the Collapse of the Point-and-Shoot Camera

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Image copyright Beth Van Trees

More pictures are being taken and shared online right now than at any other point in history, which is directly related to the fact that more people than ever have access to high-quality digital cameras in their smartphones. Today there are billions of photos stored online, and this number is growing rapidly. This trend lays the groundwork for substantial growth related to the photography industry, and there are currently major shifts and transformations taking place within the space. One of the most notable trends is that consumers are putting an old, familiar friend — the point-and-shoot camera — down to rest and starting to pay attention to a relatively new breed of camera: The compact digital SLR.

Current Trends in the Market

As smartphone cameras have matured rapidly in quality, they have quickly started replacing other cameras altogether. According to an article in TechRadar, compact camera sales fell by 30 percent in 2011, and it has been predicted that global compact camera sales will fall at least another four percent this year to 115.2 million units by market researcher HIS. On the flip side, the sales of digital SLR cameras saw growth of nearly 30 percent in 2011, according to research by GfK. But this is another trend that we can expect to quickly shift because as the quality of digital cameras has improved rapidly, consumers themselves are still discovering what qualities are truly important to them.

Consumer Behavior

Having high-quality cameras built into most phones means that photography has suddenly become more accessible to everyone, which can account for people’s newfound love for photography and the uptick in sales of high-end cameras. Technology has also made it possible for people to take beautiful images using these expensive cameras without ever learning any of the technical knowledge behind what they’re doing. A recent survey by Sony found that two out of three people with a digital SLR rarely or have never taken their camera out of auto mode. The same survey also found that some people think of these digital SLR cameras as a status symbol, though many now consider the camera to be bulky and complicated after purchasing it. So while the SLR camera market has been enjoying a surge in sales recently, we can expect that many of the people who bought these cameras may not again.

Advancements in Technology

Overall we can expect consumers to become less and less interested in features that not long ago mattered tremendously — like megapixels — because technology in this area is starting to plateau. This means that selling points that the camera industry has relied on to impress consumers are starting to become irrelevant. Full-frame sensors are quickly becoming the standard, so it’s predicted that we will soon consider aspect ratios a confusing thing of the past. The amount of megapixels offered in a cameras today exceeds the realistic needs of consumers. Most digital SLRs are currently featuring around 20 megapixels, so a rise in this number isn’t going to be much of a selling point, especially considering you can make an 11 inch by 14 inch print from a picture taken with an iPhone4. All this means that the features that were once hot selling points for these cameras manufacturers have hit their ceiling.

Camera parts are not only becoming higher quality, they are also becoming smaller. This is why high-quality cameras in phones are becoming the industry standard. In addition to having great cameras on their smartphones, the photography apps available today make it easier than ever for consumers to create beautiful, professional-looking photos, which is the root of the major changes in the camera marketplace.

We can thank these recent developments in technology for helping a new breed of camera emerge: The compact digital SLR. Companies have been focusing intently on creating these high-quality cameras that give people the ability to take great photos in an easy-to-use format. These cameras give people the best of both worlds because they have the ease of use and portability of a point-and-shoot camera, with much of the quality of their more expensive relatives. That this segment of the market is gaining traction among consumers is good news for camera companies, and could just be what keeps them profitable.

The Death of the Point-and-Shoot Camera

We can expect this extreme shifting in the camera market to settle in the coming years. Regardless of whether the general population loses interest in high-end SLRs, these cameras will continue to be made for professionals, hobbyists and people who want this particular status symbol. So while it will not disappear completely, the current sales trend will reverse and this segment of the market will slow down substantially as consumers begin to notice compact digital SLR cameras. Meanwhile, camera technology will continue to improve, which will benefit this emerging market and the effort to give everyone with a phone a great camera.

Whether or not smartphone cameras and other cameras on the market can live in harmony will depend on consumers. If people feel that their camera phone gives them everything they need, they are unlikely to purchase another device. We can expect cameras in smartphones to continue to improve, and these advancements will cause the death of the point-and-shoot camera. The reality is that it’s imperative for camera manufacturers to find a true game-changer in the market that will capture the attention of the masses. While the compact digital SLR signals that the camera industry is listening to what consumers desire, a development that is more exciting is what it really needs to energize its consumer base. This could come in the form of teaming up directly with the smartphone industry, or something truly exciting that is impossible to predict.

Tekin Tatar is the CEO and co-founder of BeFunky. Prior to starting BeFunky in 2007, Tekin wore many hats as the Business Development Manager of McCann Relationship Marketing Turkey, a leading multinational company focusing on digital brand management. He has an MBA from Sabanci University.


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