There has been a lot of concern about the future of cameras over the past number of years. As photographers monitor CIPA statistics and the financial performance of various brands, it can be difficult to remain optimistic about the future of cameras. This article looks at various categories of photography and where cameras are best positioned for the future.
One place to start is to look at some common market segments and assess how cameras are positioned in these areas.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
The above graphic does some rudimentary segmentation of various categories of photography. The basic quadrants are defined by Indoor versus Outdoor, and Moving Subjects versus Static Subjects. This graphic does not pretend to cover all genres of photography… only some of the most common ones.
The first thing that we can contemplate is where smartphones are being used to meet the photographic needs of the majority of consumers. Categories like Travel and Family immediately come to mind. Given the convenience of smartphones and some of the computational photography technology that is being deployed, it is difficult for dedicated cameras to compete in large portions of these two subject areas.
Let’s investigate some of the other subject categories.
Product & Fashion
This is a small, specialized field served by professional photographers who possess unique expertise. Their camera equipment tends to be skewed towards full frame and larger sensor camera formats to provide clients with highly detailed images. There are occasions where specialized features such as Live Composite may come into play based on the personal style and artistic leanings of a photographer.
This type of photography is often done indoors in studios. Depending on the product or fashion, some outdoor photography is done, most often under controlled conditions. There is little risk of smartphone intrusion in this category.
As noted earlier, smartphones are favoured by the vast majority of consumers when they travel. On our recent trips to Ireland and Italy we seldom saw anyone capturing images with a dedicated camera.
Many airlines are putting size and weight restrictions in place for carry-on luggage. These limitations make it increasingly difficult for people to travel with dedicated cameras. Especially larger, heavier equipment. One of the reasons that my wife and I decided to keep our discontinued Nikon 1 kit was its small size/weight and its photographic flexibility provided for travel photography.
Cameras that will be able to compete in the travel category will likely be smaller, lighter gear that also has additional functionality such as weatherproofing, GPS image labelling, as well as lens selection. When more extreme travel is involved build quality will be a more significant camera purchase criteria. Having said that, for most consumers their cell phones are all that they want or need. I don’t see the future of cameras being positively impacted by travel photography.
Photographers who are planning to make good sized enlargements of their images will favour dedicated cameras. Whether they choose full frame, or even larger sensor cameras, will depend on their image quality requirements.
Depending on the shooting style of a photographer some features such as IBIS performance, weatherproofing, and high resolution options may come into play with cameras built around smaller sensors.
In general, I think landscape photography is an area where cameras have a good position.
Portrait / Family / Wedding
This is an overall ‘people oriented’ subject category. The need to capture casual images of people will most commonly be met by smartphones. Higher quality imagery is still skewed towards dedicated cameras. This is especially true when larger sized prints are produced or when shooting under lower light conditions.
On a personal basis I am skeptical that advancements in eye and face recogition will increase the purchase of dedicated cameras. This type of technology is already incorporated in many smartphones. Improving this capability with dedicated cameras strikes me more as a defensive move in terms of product development.
Further advancements with computational photography features in smartphones such as synthetic depth-of-field technology, will likely put more downward pressure on camera sales. For most consumers, their need for photographs of people are best met with smartphones. I don’t see the general category of ‘people photography’ as being one that will help camera sales in the years ahead.
When out with my gear doing macro photography I observe many people with their smartphones capturing images of butterflies, blossoms and other subject matter. So, there is a significant amount of interest in this subject matter.
The challenge for camera companies to to make equipment that is sufficiently small, light and easy-to-use to move people away from their smartphones. In this regard, I think the current emphasis on full frame gear is counterproductive for this particular market segment in terms of a growth strategy. If camera makers want to bring new users into dedicated cameras they need small, light, easy-to-use equipment.
Bridge cameras with macro capability are one potential solution. Bringing improved IBIS performance and features like in-camera focus stacking and handheld high resolution photography could also help bring new users to dedicated cameras.
Flower & Garden / Flower
When I’ve been out in public garden venues I do see a few more people with dedicated cameras. They tend to be folks who have a passion for flowers and want better quality images. If allowed, many will use tripods for their photography.
While there is a lot of photography of flowers and gardens being done with smartphones, dedicated cameras are decently positioned in this category. Especially interchangeable lens cameras that provide more creative control, and those with articulating rear screens.
There are numerous indoor floral venues, many of which have somewhat difficult lighting conditions…. which tends to favour decidated cameras.
Many people are quite passionate about flowers and gardens. This passion may help maintain dedicated camera use in this category.
Exterior and interior architectural photography is another subject area where I tend to see a bit more use of dedicated cameras. There are people who capture architectural images while on vacation. I tend to lump those photographers into the ‘travel’ category.
In my experience people who pursue architectural photography tend to be more exacting and detail oriented than many other photographers. Many are willing to invest in quality lenses and higher end camera bodies. My impression is that architectural photography is a fairly small niche, but one that is best served with dedicated cameras. This subject category is one that will likely be stable in terms of camera use.
Birds / Nature (Static)
Outdoor photography of static birds and nature is heavily skewed to dedicated cameras. Since photographers cannot control the movements of their subjects, camera provide the flexibility required for this subject category.
Generally speaking, I think there is a growing interest in nature, green technologies, and environmental sustainability around the globe. This is a subject category that could be supportive in terms of increasing the use of dedicated cameras.
Camera manufacturers will need to develop cost affordable products with sufficient reach to bring new users into the dedicated camera market.
Zoo / Captive Environment
Compared to unrestricted natural settings, there is a significantly higher use of smartphones at zoos and in other captive environments. There also is a good number of dedicated camera users in these facilities. As such I think this subject category represents a potential growth opportunity for dedicated cameras.
The manufacturers would need to actively market to this niche by educating consumers on the advantages provided by dedicated cameras including image quality, reach and lower light performance.
A turning point with this subject category would be helping consumers transition from a passing or modest interest in nature photography into something more serious.
Birds-in-flight / Nature (Moving)
This is one subject category that has very little threat from smartphones. It represents one of the best growth opportunities for camera manufacturers for both cameras and lens.
Bringing more cost affordable, as well as higher end telephoto lenses, to this market segment should help fuel sales growth. The increasing interest in nature, green technologies, and environmental sustainability mentioned earlier, all contribute to the growth potential of this subject category.
It is also an area where the camera companies can bring innovative technologies such as Pro Capture, enhanced subject tracking, and subject recognition to their products. These technologies would make it easier for consumers to successfully photography wild, moving subjects.
More baby boomers reach retirement age every year. This brings potentially new prospects to the camera market as these newly minted retirees have the time, and potentially some hobby dollars to invest in camera gear. As photographers age, the need for smaller, lighter camera gear will also increase.
On a personal basis I have virtually no interest in following interpersonal sports such as hockey, baseball, soccer, football, tennis, cricket and other similar activities. Many other people are huge fans and dedicate a good amount of their time to watching sports in both outdoor and indoor venues.
This subject category is well suited to dedicated camera use. Unfortunately many venues do not allow, or restrict, the use of cameras. Potential growth in this segment, at least at the consumer level, is held back because of the policies of various venues. Developing small, lighweight cameras with good reach and continous auto-focus capabilities may be one way to build some inroads into the segment.
Concerts & Performances
This is another subject category that could represent good potential for dedicated camera use. Unfortunately many concert venues have very restrictive polices about camera use. Performers also have their own concerns in terms of the potential theft of their intellectual property. Other than making small camera bodies with good reach and low light performance that would pass current camera size restrictions, there isn’t a readily available solution.
Motorsports & Aircraft
Like bird/nature photography, this is another subject area that draws a high density of dedicated camera users. Bringing new technologies like Intelligent Subject Tracking, improved auto-focusing performance, and cost affordable telephoto lenses to the market can help grow the use of dedicated cameras. This is also an area where smartphones are at a disadvantage.
The camera industry are in for more years of challenge, especially as various economies struggle to regain their momentum. Luxury goods like cameras will likely lag other product segments in terms of making a sales come-back.
There are some growth opportunities for camera manufacturers, mainly with moving subjects in outdoor settings where smartphones are at a disadvantage. The future of cameras may have nothing to do with sensor size but rather focusing on attitudinal shifts in society towards green technologies, environmental sustainability, and ultimately an increased interest in nature. Developing products for existing users at the professional and enthusiast levels may help near term sales and profitability, but it may not be sufficient to bring new users into the camera market. Without new users, the camera market will continue to erode over time.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Most images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Some of the photographs displayed are jpegs produced in camera.
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