Outlook is gloomy for digital camera sales
Digital camera sales are declining as more people make do with camera phones, highlighting how convenience has become more important than quality in the social networking age, writes IAN CAMPBELL
YOU DON’T NEED market research to tell you that smartphones are eating into the sales of standalone digital cameras – you only need to look around. Everywhere you go this summer, you will see people choosing to snap pictures with their camera phones rather than lug around a separate device.
According to research firm Mintel, digital cameras sales in the UK have fallen by 29 per cent since 2006, statistics that can easily be extrapolated to Ireland which shares similar market forces. The same survey reveals that some 21 per of all camera and camcorder owners agree that smartphones are a better long-term investment than a dedicated device despite 71 per cent believing that a standalone camera will deliver a better picture.
Not for the first time, convenience is valued more than quality. “We have seen it with portable media players and sat nav systems,” says Sam Gee, technology analyst at Mintel. “Choosing lower quality over convenience might not be a conscious decision, but nine times out of 10 consumers will reach for a smartphone to take a picture.”
Part of the convenience is the ecosystem of web services that have grown up around camera phones, making it easy to share pictures online as well as add glossy effects. In the last year, photo and video apps have taken over from gaming as the most popular downloads, according to Gee. “You can buy an application with 25 filters and 35 frames. In under 2½ minutes, you can take, edit and send a picture,” he says.
Unsurprisingly, camera manufacturers are fighting back with different products pitched at different users. There are “bridge” models starting at about €200 that offer the look and feel of more traditional cameras. Prices have been falling and they seem to be selling steadily despite the impact of camera phones.
Suffering most are compact cameras, their pocket-sized appeal eclipsed by multifunction phones that typically include an eight or 12 megapixel camera. “There is no doubt that smartphones are having an effect,” says Barney Sykes, Panasonic product manager, “but once a consumer tries to print a photo from a smartphone taken in any kind of low-light environment it might lead them into the compact market.”
As well as selling the superior performance of a standalone device, manufacturers have cut prices and extended the features and functionality of compacts, particularly with “superzooms” that are beyond the reach of smartphone ergonomics.