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11/8/2013
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Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales

Smartphones with powerful cameras have begun to take a toll on sales of expensive, dSLR cameras. But are they really good enough to replace them for most users?

Smartphone makers such as HTC, Nokia and Samsung have made it a point to build powerful cameras into their mobile devices. Many of today's leading smartphones offer not only high megapixel counts, but astounding software that lets them shoot in a wide variety of different modes. The appeal of camera-equipped smartphones has led to a decline in point-and-shoot camera sales for some time. Now it appears that these uber-devices are impacting sales of high-end, professional cameras, too.

Research firm IDC predicts that shipments of what it calls "interchangeable-lens cameras" (or dSLRs) will drop 9.1% from 19.1 million last year to 17.4 million this year. At the same time, Canon and Nikon, the leading dSLR makers, have been forced to lower forecasts for the year. Further, Tamron, a third-party maker of lenses, saw shipments slump by as much as 22% during the first three quarters, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"We are seeing tough figures at the moment, but I don't think this will last forever,'' said Nikon Chief Financial Officer Junichi Itoh. "There still is potential demand, and I think China is the key."

Tamron knows it is in trouble. "Smartphones pose a threat not just to compact cameras but entry-level dSLRs as well," said general manager Tsugio Tsuchiya. Nikon and counterpart Canon blamed the slower shipments on a weak global economy, but that's not the only factor at play.

In July, Nokia announced the Lumia 1020, a smartphone that boasts a 41-megapixel PureView camera. The camera features lossless zoom and controls that often match those of dSLRs when it comes to adjusting the behavior of the camera. Nokia has made no secret of the fact that it wants its powerful smartphone cameras to set Lumia-branded smartphones apart from the competition.

Last month, Apple introduced the iPhone 5s with an 8-megapixel camera. Apple took pains to improve the camera with a wider aperture and more sensitive sensor. The same is true of the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4, LG G2 and other top smartphones. Many of these device manufacturers pitch their phones as replacements for stand-alone cameras.

The phone makers aren't alone. The app economy has risen to support smartphone-based imaging. Consider Yahoo's Flickr. It has revised both its Android and iOS apps in the past 12 months and offers customers 1 TB of online storage for free. Then there are apps such as Instagram that make editing and sharing picture fun and social. Social networking sites, including Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, all place a premium on posts that include images. All three have worked hard to make it easy to share images online from smartphones. Combine good cameras with appealing software and the easy portability of smartphones, and you have a recipe for disaster as far as dSLR makers are concerned.

Canon doesn't quite see it that way. "Taking photos with smartphones and editing them with apps is like cooking with cheap ingredients and a lot of artificial flavoring," said Canon spokesman Takafumi Hongo to The Journal. "Using interchangeable cameras is like slow food cooked with natural, genuine ingredients."

If there's one thing people like to do with their images, it is to share them. With dSLRs, this often involves removing a memory card, putting it into a computer, downloading the images and then sorting through them before posting them online. The immediacy offered by smartphones is compelling.

There's no question that dSLRs and other stand-alone cameras often produce better results than smartphones in the long run. Professionals will likely always use heavy-duty imaging gear when on the job, and prosumers are likely to prefer dSLRs to their smartphones for advanced hobby use. The general population, however, may find that smartphones fulfill their imaging needs.

An old saying goes, "the best camera is the one you have with you." For an increasing number of smartphones buyers, that will always be their mobile device.

What do you think? Have you given up on advanced cameras, or do you find them preferable to smartphones?

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M1ch43L
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M1ch43L,
User Rank: Strategist
11/9/2013 | 3:57:58 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
It's true the point and shoot segment is being over taken by the smartphone. In the dSLR space I see the crop sensor camera market being over taken by less expensive full frame cameras. I suspect the first sub $1K full frame Canon or Nikon dSLR is a only couple of years away. At that point the crop sensor cameras are toast. I suspect Canon and Nikon will also make a push toward large format cameras for their professional segment.
Te PuW492
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Te PuW492,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2013 | 4:01:40 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
Yes I am rethinking my whole set of equipment philosophy. 4 years ago I bought a set of the Nikon D300, with the battery pack [motodrive] add on and dedicated flash, slave special lenses etc. In the last two years I have done some research into the CMOS vision chips technology for other technology reasons and I am seeing that the Chinese/Taiwanese have taken over the vision technology industry through the CMOS and cellphone camera modules. The Japanese major brands have continued with the small-kettle, vertically integrated approach so that their chips are very expensive and not as rapidly developing as the CMOS people. The Chinese companies have used their low-cost mass printing CMOS production facilities to advance into larger 10cm x 10 cm vision chips as well as R&D into miniature lenses and software so that the camera moduls they offer to the cellphone industry are getting better and better. Many of the smaller Japanese camera brands have no choice but to buy their core components from the Chinese sources. Look at the expansion niches. They are being taken over by the Chinese as well. These are the scientific vision niche, large format camera niche, and the automated TV factory quality control systems that check for defects in large screen TV factories that require precision quick automated computer controlled systems to detect faults of each pixel. Other vision-assisted intelligent production line controls are also being affected by ultimately the cost of the CMOS chips.
anon7927105084
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anon7927105084,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2013 | 4:05:29 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
the issue is that the camera phones are more than adequate for the snapshots most folks mistake for photography. the interweb is awash with trompe l'oeil snapshots passing for photographs. However - so what? For the most part none of these folks are going to try and make photography their profession. They are satisfied, their friends and family are satisfied...it's a win-win. In the meantime, the "high end dSLR' market can revert back to what it used to be, and one might find a decent camera store again. instead of the "buy this expensive snapshot camera' store. as a photographer I, for one, will be very happy.
putkowski
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putkowski,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2013 | 4:39:26 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
I was years ahead of the iPhone with my Nokia N95 and have since moved to the Nexus 4. During the N95's tenure I used it for pictures even though i had a Canon DSLR.

Even with the improvements in phones, I have taken to carrying a Sony RX100 everywhere I go, just as I used to be a camera geek in high school and college.It provides unbelievable results for it's size. It is truly an amazing machine, not to mention the pictures are staggeringly better than any phone's.
YaarovS134
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YaarovS134,
User Rank: Strategist
11/9/2013 | 4:52:18 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
I think phone cameras are toys no matter what they offer today. Years from now, people who take pictures with phone camera will regret for using it as some convenience because they can't go back in time to snap that same precious moment.
I also think the weight of the DSLR is the major problem therefore it is the mirrorless camera that's killing the DSLR. However, it does not matter what kills what, beside a smartphone, a self-fulfilled person must own at least one DSLR, a fast lens, one mirrorless camera, one point and shoot, one superzoom camera and one wireless remote shutter, and all those cameras must have full HD video support. If the budget allows, buy more than one brand of each type. It will be like dating many persons on different days of the week.
TyroneJ
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TyroneJ,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2013 | 5:37:38 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
"But are they really good enough to replace them for most users?"

Most cell phone users are idiots who just need snapshots, so the answer is "yes".
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/9/2013 | 5:56:09 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
I think your comments are quite fair, though I think crop cameras have at least a few more years of value for some users--e.g. if you're a semi-serious sports or wildlife photographer, a prosumer APS-C sensor paired with a long lens will give you better image quality than a full frame camera with a long lens, unless you're willing to shell out $7k-$15k for the highest-quality professional telephoto lenses.

If you stick a $700 200mm f/2.8 prime on a 5D Mark III for example, the aperture and focal length are exactly as listed. But if you put the same lens on a 7D, you get a 320mm field of view with brightness that's similar to what f/4 would be on full frame-- that is, you gain about 60% more reach but lose around a stop of light, assuming you're using each camera in the same position. To get a 300mm f/4 full frame field of view, though, you'd have to pay closer to $1200 for the lens, or use a converter on your 200mm prime, which yields poorer image quality (and auto-focus) than using the crop. As the focal length increases, the cost differential between a true full frame telephoto and a crop-enabled telephoto becomes even more extreme.

So for certain users, the buying proposition includes more than whether the camera sensor is good enough; it also includes TCO for lenses, accessories and so on. Crop cameras still have value there, at least until lenses like the 200-400mm f/4 drop in cost by 50%.

But low-end DSLRs sales are getting eaten by cell phones, and I think at least some of the big camera manufacturers are going to produce medium format cameras that cost $10,000+ per body-- that is, they're gonna push for the professional, high-margin segment, just as you said. Rumors suggest Canon might purchase Phase One, for instance.

I also think cinema-style cameras (which are a direct byproduct of the popularity of video-enabled DSLRs) give some of them (Canon and Sony for sure, maybe also Panasonic) entirely new ecosystems to work with. Canon's 3-chip professional camcorders were useful for documentaries/news, but the large-sensor C100 and C300 cover not only this niche but also independent films, reality TV, ads, music videos-- pretty much anything that doesn't require native 4K capture, RAW footage acquisition or slow motion. And Canon has only made the C300 and C100 inappropriate for these markets because the company is artificially protecting its top-end C500, which accommodates these remaining customers. Canon's also now selling cinema lenses that are basically the same optical formula as its L-series primes but cost 2-3 times more because they're aimed at motion pictures professionals who are used to - and surprisingly willing - to spend a huge premium for very specific perks. That's relatively little R&D cost for Canon in exchange for entry into a niche but high-yield market that has kept a lot of smaller players afloat for years.

Still, even among "normal users," I defy any soccer mom/dad to find a smartphone or even low-end DSLR that can actually keep up with fast-paced action. If you're telling your kid to stand still and smile, an iPhone or Lumia is just fine. But if your kid is sprinting dow the field, the best live view autofocus in the world still can't track moving objects worth a damn, and I think we're at least a couple years away from that changing. So cameras such as the Canon 70D or 7D or the Nikon D7100 have a consumer market outside of legitimately high-end users. It's a shrinking market, but not one that I see going extinct.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/9/2013 | 6:04:18 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
Yeah, and I think that's how it's going to be for at least a few years. In good light and with a static subject, smartphones will give you 95% of a DSLR's output, but for a fraction of the cost, bulk and inconvenience. But for many other photography scenarios (bad light, moving subjects, etc), the advantages of a "real camera" become apparent.

Smartphones are going to change the way camera companies build their portfolios, but they're several generations of technology away from legitimately replacing even mid-range DSLRs. The people who bought Canon Rebels might be happy with their smartphones, but I think a lot of people who bought into, say, the XXD series (and definitely the XD series) are still going to see their cameras as the "serious tool" and their smartphones as their "fun shapshot tool." These higher-end users still number in the millions, and they're way more likely to buy additional products (lenses, flashes, support rigging, gels, filters and so on) than the people who are dropping their DSLRs in favor of camera phones. So, no, smartphones aren't replacing DSLRs, on the whole. But they're reshaping the market and the usage scenarios.
GalacticCannibal
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GalacticCannibal,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/10/2013 | 2:46:13 AM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
I doubt if the posters here represent the tens millions of people who will own a smart phone and will be totally happy with their pictures as will be their friends Plus the convenience of instant electronic transmissions.
And I have seen some excellent pics taken with smartphones which has made me reconsider buying another Nikon dSLR . My present camera is a D7000 with a three different lens. That new NOKIA smart phone with 41 pixel camera is a killed and so light and easy to use, without the hassle of card removal and uploading to a computer and all that time wasting rubbish.
RevaM020
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RevaM020,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/10/2013 | 3:44:55 AM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
I pretty much gave up on expensive cameras when film went out of production. I am stuck with 3 Canons, billows, Macro lenses, even a Durst darkroom. I bought the very first Canon TLR (the model R2000), and the lenses for that camera were still useful, several generations later, with the AE1, AEB, etc. But time passes one by, and as a non-professional it simply is too expensive to start over with digital equipment, where even the old lenses are useless. Tonight, I took a photo with my latest phone. It took me a couple of minutes to turn the phone on, let it boot up, find the proper icon, and snap the "snapshot"l.. Luckily it was a shot of a grandson, who managed to hold still during that time. It it had been someone getting shot (with a bullet), I would have never gotten it.
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