Outlook is gloomy for digital camera sales
Gee is not convinced by this strategy. “You can manufacture a camera with a 10x, 20x or 30x optical zoom, but there comes a point, as it did with megapixels, where the top-end technology is more than the average consumer will ever want or need. Ultimately, they are better served by middle-of-the-road equipment or competitive technology such as smartphones.”
Gee believes that integrated digital services, including social connectivity and image-editing features, would be more effective in selling cameras than superzooms, pointing out that the social networking phenomenon has got more people taking photographs than ever before.
He welcomes signs that some manufacturers are taking the synergy seriously. “Samsung is talking about paring down the Android operating system and putting it on a digital camera. It seems like a natural next step,” he says.
The ability to innovate and second-guess changing consumer expectations will be crucial, according to Gee. It may be the key to survival for manufacturers anxious to avoid Kodak’s fate, a firm whose demise can be traced back to its slow adoption of digital technology.
Exactly the opposite is true of Panasonic. The Japanese consumer electronics company only entered the camera market with the onset of digital a decade ago and subsequently launched the Compact System Cameras (CSC) format in 2008. With the notable exception of Canon, most manufacturers have now embraced CSC, which abandons the mirror reflex action technology that is central to the way DSLR cameras capture shots, yet still accommodates interchangeable lenses.
“It’s a system where the sensor and lens have been designed for digital rather than bolting add-ons to a legacy system. We’re bringing out smaller cameras without compromising picture quality that is on a par or better than DSLR,” says Panasonic’s Barney Sykes.
Nikon, Canon and Sony dominate the high-end DSLR segment where the trend has been about making professional-style features and the highest-performance technologies available at increasingly affordable prices.
“We’re still seeing double-digit annual growth in DSLRs,” says Philip Brady, head of Canon Ireland, “and there has been an 80 per cent increase in the number of people buying extra lenses in the last six months.”
He says there is no sign that CSC has had an impact. “The quality isn’t as good as you’d get from a Canon, Nikon or Sony DSLR. I don’t believe it’s been perfected in the models available in the market at the moment and it hasn’t impacted on our DSLR sales.”
Brady puts the growing popularity of DSLRs down to casual snappers graduating into more serious photographers. Gee is not convinced. “It’s wishful thinking. DSLR sales are growing, but is that because they are becoming more popular or because the market is shrinking proportionately? I think it’s the latter,” he says. In the Mintel survey, he points out that only 14 per cent of people bought a digital camera to develop their interest in digital photography.