Along with daytime soap operas, print magazines, and Compact Discs, digital point-and-shoot cameras—digicams—appear to have passed their peak. According to a recent article by Sam Grobart, unit sales of digicams are down 16% since 2008.
Their sin? They are "single use devices," according to Grobart.
Devices that do only one thing. Like can openers. How quaint. Even a rolling pin has two uses—it can roll out pie crust, and Olive Oyl can use it to brain Popeye when she's sore at him.
All digicams do is take pictures. Well, movies, too, most of 'em—but that only gets them into the rolling-pin category. Call it 1.1-use.
A digicam (this is the Panasonic TS10) is an amazing marvel of technology, but its best attribute—convenience—is fast being superseded
As it was long predicted they would, cellphone cameras have, in the past few years, surpassed the magic quality threshhold—the point at which their quality has become "good enough" for their convenience advantages to engage with a turbocharger kick. Sales of smartphones are soaring. Not just because of their photographic capabilities, of course; but their photographic capabilities are causing more and more people who own them to set aside their fusty old 1.1-use point-and-shoots. (Or leave them at home on the shelf...just as point-and-shoots once caused casual "consumer"-type photographers to leave their SLRs back home in the bag in the closet.)
Sam Grobart says people love the apps, too. I'll take his word for that.
The reported trend accords with my anecdotal experience lately. I can't tell you how many people have told me that their iPhone 4 or other smartphone has become their carry-all-the-time camera. That includes at least two real pros (by "real" I mean people who make all or almost all of their actual livings as photographers, not just those who sell a print once in a while or do a few weddings a year for friends of friends. I'm not a pro, by that measure).
As with CDs, the softening market might only soften so far. Some people like single-use devices—you'll laugh when I tell you about my own newest photographic single-use device, which I'll get around to doing probably within the next few weeks.
And remember, this isn't necessarily bad news for digital imaging. Sales of DSLRs are up, continuing a trend that was only briefly interrupted by the worldwide recession. I foresee a good world, imaging-wise, in the immediate future, in which multi-use devices of ever-improving quality and flexibility take the low end, a thriving market for good-quality 4/3-to-ff-sensor cameras occupies a smaller but vibrantly competitive and healthy middle ground, and a decent handful of quality-above-all cameras like the Leica S2, Pentax 645D, Leaf Aptus II-12, and Hasselblad H4D-40 occupy the Olympian fastnesses at the pinnacle.
That's until the next paradigm shift, at any rate—which is also coming. (We just don't know what that will be yet.)
The point-and-shoot—the camera real photographers loved and hated, loved to hate, and hated to love, but sometimes did. Too early for an R.I.P., but maybe the beginning of the long goodbye.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Paul Van: "I would suggest that the watch business is a good place to look at to get an idea what will happen.
"At one time, everyone had a watch. Then, it seemed to decrease as clocks were available in all cars, microwaves and so on. Then timekeeping became a cell phone function.
"A lot of watch names disappeared, but the market has stabilized. People wear watches, still. If you ever thought photographers or audiophiles were a little obsessed, then check out some of the watch forums! But be careful...like audiophiles and photographers, they welcome you into their world—and you might not leave!"
Featured Comment by D'11: "One another interesting and unintended effect of many smartphones (or at least the iPhone): People of my generation (in their 20s) adjusting to the idea of using a single, fixed-focal lens. The iPhone doesn't have an optical zoom, and people seem to be alright with that. All of a sudden, when I hand people my GF1 + 20mm kit, they seem to be more likely to take a step forward or backward, instead of immediately asking where the zoom button is."
Featured Comment by Jeffrey Goggin: "As yet more proof that cell phone cameras are indeed becoming our future, Dave Wyman is now offering photo tours of Yosemite National Park geared to cell phone users:
Alternative Photography in Yosemite—Thursday through Sunday, November 17–20, 2011
We will test our creative eyes on this unique trip to Yosemite, where there will be one restriction: no DSLRs. A digital point-and-shoot, a cell phone, Holga, Diana, Instamatic, a Rolleiflex or Yashika Mat, a Polaroid or a pinhole camera? Yes.
For a few days, we will remove ourselves from the burden of weight and the burden of technological complexity, and from the belief that weight and complexity are necessary components of meaningful or artistic photography. Includes accommodations, a couple of meals, field locations. Instructors: Chuck Nadeau, Dave Wyman. Cost: $525 (single supplement available).