The Smartphone Eats Away at Entry-Level Photo Biz

It’s clear that the entry-level imaging business has been on a decline of late, reminiscent of the film camera business when the age of digital swept in. In particular, point and shoot cameras are becoming of less and less interest to consumers as smartphone cameras continue to improve, and become more logical options for the masses. The numbers paint a pretty clear picture. The Canadian Imaging Trade Association (CITA) reports that point & shoot sales fell 19% from 2011 to 2012, and are expected to drop another 16% this year. The NPD Group states the same figure, finding that digicam sales were down 19% for 2012.

Smartphones are small and light. We carry them with us 24/7. And it’s easy to instantly share a photo through e-mail, instant message, or MMS, post it to a social networking Website, and even tap it to someone else’s phone to share right from the device on which it was captured. How can the standard P&S compete with that?

It’s trying. There’s been a wave of Wi-Fi cameras of late, models with touch screens, and those with SIM cards and mobile operating systems, allowing for the instant sharing to which users have become accustomed. But are consumers buying it (literally) or do they just view the technology as a last-ditch attempt to save the P&S business?

Let me clarify. The photography, and digital imaging business as a whole is certainly here to stay. From the days of the Polaroid, to today’s compact mirrorless cameras, there’s a healthy market of current and aspiring photographers and enthusiasts who scoff at the very idea that a smartphone can take “good enough” photos.

Yes, there’s still a healthy market that sees photography as a hobby and/or profession, and appreciates the beautiful shots that can capture with a sophisticated DSLR, tripod, flash, and a host of manual settings. Instagram, schminstagram. But the lower end of the market, the P&S models, those customers who just wanted something to get photos better than the awful grainy, out of focus shots their smartphone cameras used to take, certainly accounted for a hefty portion of the profits. The numbers don’t lie.

Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen many a distributor, manufacturer, and retailer expand beyond their imaging core to pick up on new trends: fashion accessories, networking gear, and yes, smartphone accessories, to help offset the losses. The latest rumour has Nikon eyeing the smartphone business, though how remains to be seen. (Partnering with a smartphone maker to build the in-phone camera technology for them, perhaps, as Sony’s imaging division has done for ages with its formerly-known-as Sony Ericsson line of smartphones.)

Who can blame them? You need to follow the green if you want to stay in business. If consumers find smartphone cameras to be “good enough,” no matter how much you’d like to will them to tote around a dedicated P&S as well, it just isn’t going to happen.

Does this spell an end to the P&S as we know it? Maybe not. You can find film cameras these days, just as you can still find VHS tapes and vinyl. But the truth is that the smartphone as the camera device is becoming a reality. And those who haven’t yet accepted it need to do so, and roll with the punches if they want to keep pace.