“Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.” – Ansel Adams, Photographer
We have been carrying around camera-phones for many years, but the poor image quality seen in early iterations impeded their use as a replacement for our digital camera. Today, the image quality on our smartphones is arguably on par with the low-end of the digital camera category, and we find ourselves increasingly reaching for our phone when a photo opportunity arises. The convenience of the smartphone is by far its greatest advantage over the digital camera, but this is not the sole feature driving its popularity as a photo-taking device. It is also the simplified experience that has appealed to consumers; the ability to snap a photo and then instantly share and upload to social networks on a single multi-purpose device.
Consumers’ increasing preference for the smartphone camera experience has hit the low-end of the digital camera industry hard. The effects of this can already be seen amongst younger UK consumers, who are now more likely to own a smartphone than a digital camera*. So far, manufacturers have attempted to respond to the competition by feature matching. For example, over 25% of digital cameras in UK stores now have Wi-Fi1 to facilitate photo sharing, and Samsung’s Galaxy Camera runs the Android operating system on a slim camera body with 21x optical zoom. However, these models may find difficulty attracting consumers for whom the smartphone camera is now good enough.
What about the high-end?
The high-end of the photography industry tells a very different story. Smartphones, which may suffice for everyday snapshots, are unable to compete with the image quality of DSLRs for use at events and special occasions. Thus, sales of high-end cameras have been less affected by the rise of smartphones. Similarly, a new breed of camera gaining traction in the market is the Compact System Camera (CSC). An alternative to traditional DSLRs, they still produce excellent image quality with interchangeable lenses and full manual controls. However, where DSLRs are relatively bulky and seen more as a tool for enthusiasts or professionals, the CSC is compact and stylish; CSC owners in the UK are almost three times as likely to cite the ‘design and appearance’ of the camera as a reason for purchasing compared to DSLR owners*.
Although the CSC market is still in its infancy, it has shown strong growth potential – growing 58.6% in value in Nov 2012 in the UK (year on year) 2. These models are targeted at consumers that want to achieve the image quality of a DSLR without the bulk. However, to maintain this rate of growth, manufacturers will increasingly need to target entry-level consumers as well as those with category experience. For these consumers, detailed technical specifications and performance measures are less likely to resonate. Positioning these devices in a consumer-friendly way whilst also emphasising their superiority over the smartphone will pose an interesting challenge for the market.
A tool for creative expression
Although we witnessed the collapse of the mainstream film photography industry, a small part has survived in the form of creative and experimental analogue photography known as ‘Lomography’3. By shifting the focus from image sharpness and perfection to creative distortion and blur, the analogue camera has found a niche in the market. Similarly, Instagram took the world by storm as a social photography smartphone app that allows users to apply retro, vintage and artistic filters to their images. The platform now has 40 million photos uploaded to it daily from smartphones around the world4.
Consequently, some of the latest CSC models have attempted to tap into this trend by offering artistic filters integrated directly into the camera. It has also inspired the production of ‘toy’ lenses that can be attached to modern cameras to achieve old-camera effects. Accessories like this, coupled with the stylish design of Compact System Cameras, could signify huge growth potential for this category in the realm of artistic photography.
Looking beyond image quality
In the photography industry, ‘image quality’ has to some extent become a hygiene factor and something that no longer differentiates between different camera models. Manufacturers need to find other ways to differentiate from competitors, especially amongst entry-level consumers and the ‘Instagram-generation’. Evaluating some of the recent trends in the photography industry shows that beyond image quality, it is the photo-taking experience that stays with consumers. The anticipation of not knowing how a photo will turn out has allowed film photography to live on, while the simplicity of posting a photo directly onto social networks propelled the popularity of smartphone photography. Manufacturers are responsible for enabling consumers to have these experiences and to facilitate creative expression through use of their products.
As Ansel Adams mused, photography ‘offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution’ and it is only fitting that we use a variety of tools in which to accomplish this. As the industry has proven, as long as a tool offers a differentiated experience it can find a place amongst the plethora of photography devices in the modern world.
*GfK Omnibus Data
1GfK UK, Wi-Fi enabled cameras, Offershare 2012 vs. 2011
2GfK UK, Compact System Cameras, Sales Volume and Value Nov 2012 vs. Nov 2011