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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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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/11/2013 | 4:23:16 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
"There is no image compression when zooming in."
Great point. Nokia's "reinvented zoom" has uses-- but it's not a true zoom; it's a crop. Different in many ways, including optically.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/11/2013 | 4:20:32 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
It's a good point, and for a ton of pictures, having the iPhone with you is totally adequate. But what if you're at your kid's track meet or soccer game, and all you have is your iPhone? Or what if it gets dark and all you have is a Lumia? If a smartphone gets an awesome action shot, even in good light, it will come down to dumb luck. Good timing helps, but smartphones lack the autofocus tracking, ergonomics, etc. that are necessary to photograph a rapidly-changing scene. And if it's dark, your options get limited pretty quickly-- what is one to do now that screen resolution has become dense enough for all the ugly posterization that you get from boosting shadows to become plainly visible?

Smartphones are great photography tools, and it's interesting that Nokia/Microsoft is supposedly going to make RAW images files accessible on Lumias. But even a step like that will only sort of address the problems with poor light, and it will do nothing for action shots. It's true that smaller cameras are coming, and that they'll be integrated into lots of devices that we carry around all the time. But depending on what you're trying to photograph, sometimes the "camera you have with you" isn't much better than having no camera at all.
Gussy2000
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Gussy2000,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/11/2013 | 1:01:50 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
Slap card in laptop, sync to Google+ using Picasa, edit from my phone when I want. No time wasted. They also make small, portable SD card readers that you can plug a USB to microUSB into and transfer images directly to your phone for sharing while sitting in the park or at the beach.

It's 2013, technology has come a long way.
Gussy2000
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Gussy2000,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/11/2013 | 12:57:15 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
"Mistake for photography" Lol. Exactly!
Gussy2000
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Gussy2000,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/11/2013 | 12:56:19 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
Hongo is 100% correct.

A DSLR is ergonomically designed for image capture. I carry a DSLR with me everywhere I go. I often take images with both the DSLR and my phone. DSLR shots win out EVERY time.

Quality of images aside, the ergonomics of a smartphone SUCK for composition. The lens is always off center making framing a subject a chore. You can't control your depth-of-field and there is no image compression when zooming in. And 41 MP is utter overkill and unnecessary. If megapixels were all that mattered why are the top tier DSLRs all under 20 MP? My camera is only 14 MP and takes phenomenal images.

Halloween night, I was the only parent in the neighborhood with a DSLR. After every mom with an iPhone failed to get a decent shot in the dark of all the kids, they all turned to me to get the shot (which came out just fine, well exposed and sharp).

If smartphones start to eat into DSLR sales directly, it simply means people are settling for images that are merely "good enough".

I would say look at what has taken the "best" images on sites like 500px and 11 out of 10 it will be a DSLR.
PaulM172
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PaulM172,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/11/2013 | 12:28:44 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
Given the wide assortment of functions done well by higher end smartphones it is easy to justify the $500 price. Alas, a $500 or $1000 DSLR only takes pictures.

Still, I think those people willing to part with $500 for a smartphone may also be willing to pay for the higher performance of a moderately priced DSLR. As for the $250 pocket camera, I suspect these will slowly disappear from the store shelves as the smartphones get more and more market penetration. They just don't work much better than the high end smartphones and only take pictures.
PaulM172
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PaulM172,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/11/2013 | 11:57:04 AM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
I have both a smartphone (Galaxy S3) and digital SLR (Nikon D3100) and use both frequently. The smartphone is very nice for quick snap shots. It also serves as a camera when making deposits of small checks to my bank account (the bank doesn't want large check deposits done with smartphones). The DSLR is much more appropriate when I want really nice pictures. It has flawless zoom lenses and vibration reduction which produces consistent clear pictures that are close to properly cropped for distribution.

Perhaps I am one of the prosumers mentioned in the article. Still, I like the benefits of both varieties of camera. I do agree on the notion of using the camera you have with you and that is always the smartphone. It takes a little more effort to use the Nikon, but I am never displeased with the Nikon's results.
Mikado Cat
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Mikado Cat,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/11/2013 | 7:57:13 AM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
I want both, decent camera in my phone, maybe TWO of them in my phone, and something with a LOT more control and flexibility like interchangeable lenses of different qualities and types.

What is holding me back are the proprietary lens mounting systems and prices of associated camera's and accessories. I wonder how many are like me holding off on some "last" DSLR purchase due to the pile older obsolete gear we paid a ton for.
willywailer
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willywailer,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/10/2013 | 3:51:22 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
I think there is a segmented camera market that is no difference than
it has ever been except what has been mentioned a few times here. GǣMy phone
takes pictures that are good enough for social media sites.Gǥ (Think old Kodak
Insta-whatevers.) Not knowing the market research firms methodology leaves some
questions such as how are various markets segments moving. Certainly the very
low end goes away for those that have a good phone camera. The mid market ($250) point and shoots are very good cameras (even have some great optical zooms) and the
high end P&S such as the full frame Sony RX200 is an excellent replacement
for the bulky dSLRs. Another piece that I donGt see mentioned is terrific full
feature editing software such as Lightroom. If you throw 20+megapixcels into
Lightroom you have a great digital zoom and so much editing capability for 8x10
prints. Only, very serious photographers will stay with or need $1,000+
systems. (I come from Nikon 35mm days and moved through many digital cameras
and today use an Elph HD, a Sony RX100 for serious captures and Lightroom.
There are many equal alternatives, this is just what I use today.)
FlowerJ368
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FlowerJ368,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/10/2013 | 1:12:05 PM
re: Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales
Major point missed is availability of the phone versus to the camera. One is always in the pocket and the other is some place in the drawer. Considering that smart phones sub for books, computer, etc the camera is no brainer. Soon enough those phones will look bulky to us and tiny camera will be projecting on any surface we need.
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