In Smartphone Era, Point-and-Shoots Stay Home
Saturday December 4, 2010
Ariel Dunitz-Johnson, a 30-year-old illustrator in San Francisco, bought a point-and-shoot camera in May. But in July, she bought a smartphone, with a camera built in.
Soon, whenever she wanted to take a picture, she found herself reaching for the smartphone, a Droid Incredible. She barely uses her point-and-shoot, a Panasonic DMC-LX3.
“It’s much easier to share those pictures with my friends,” she explained, through social networks or e-mail. “With my point-and-shoot, I have to plug it into my computer and upload the photos. It’s just a few more steps than I want to take.”
The point-and-shoot camera, which has been a part of American households since 1900, when George Eastman introduced the Kodak Brownie, is endangered. Like other single-use devices — the answering machine, the desktop calculator, the Rolodex — it is being shoved aside by a multipurpose device: the smartphone and its camera, which takes better snapshots with each new model.
Cameras, mostly point-and-shoots, are still found in 82 percent of American households, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. But for many consumers, the point-and-shoot they have now may be the last they ever own as they favor the camera in their smartphone. It’s close at hand whenever a photo opportunity arises, and can be used to instantly e-mail and share pictures. And it has an expanding menu of photo apps, well beyond the landscape and panoramic settings on a point-and-shoot, that can be used to easily manipulate the images.
Point-and-shoots do have certain advantages over smartphone cameras, including features like image stabilization and larger lenses and sensors. That does not matter to consumers like Emily Peterson, a 28-year-old graphic designer who lives in Brooklyn and who bought an iPhone 4 in July. “One day I just thought, ‘Wow, I never have my camera with me, when I used to carry it around all the time,’ ” she said. “It’s just one less thing for me to remember, one less thing to carry.”
Geoffe Haney, a 44-year-old collections manager at a museum in Bay City, Mich., who also owns an iPhone 4, said the device was “my camera first, my phone second.” He added, “I have 40 photo apps on my iPhone — it’s like having 40 different cameras with you all the time.”
The sales figures tell the story. While smartphone sales in the United States continue to skyrocket, unit sales of point-and-shoot cameras fell nearly 16 percent from 2008, according to the market research firm NPD Group. That corresponds to a decline of 24 percent in dollars, to $1.9 billion, from $2.4 billion.
Even when the recession eased over the last year, sales of point-and-shoots fell. At the same time, sales of more powerful cameras like S.L.R.’s, with advanced features like interchangeable lenses and manual settings, have increased, by nearly 29 percent in dollars since 2009, according to NPD.
Analysts say this suggests a split in the market, as casual shooters remain happy with the convenience of their smartphones, and dedicated enthusiasts seek out the more advanced cameras. And they predict that the point-and-shoot market will drop further over all.
“The compact camera market is pretty stagnant,” said Christopher Chute, an analyst at the market researcher IDC. “The ubiquity of a 5- or 10-megapixel camera phone in your pocket is hard to overcome.”
David C. Lee, the senior vice president at Nikon, acknowledged, “The market’s peaked a little.” Still, he said he was not worried. “It’s going to go up and down, but it will stay solid,” he said. Echoing other camera makers, he said the smartphone camera would encourage more picture-taking generally, leading to more demand for traditional cameras.
But the smartphone has proved irresistibly easy to use, especially for people who exchange vast numbers of photos online.
Facebook says that since the site was founded in 2004, its users have uploaded more than 50 billion photos, making that feature one of its most popular. Flickr, the photo-sharing site, says users add more than three million photos to its inventory every day. Yet Flickr’s data shows that the most popular camera among its 55 million users is a smartphone, Apple’s iPhone 3G. Not a single point-and-shoot makes it into its top five. The remaining spots are occupied by S.L.R.’s from Canon and Nikon.
Cameras began showing up in phones almost a decade ago. For much of that time, image quality was akin to grainy shots of U.F.O.’s or Sasquatch. In the last few years, though, more powerful processors and better sensors have improved image quality to levels many consumers find acceptable.
According to a February report from the camera industry group PMA, film cameras were not quite extinct until 2004, when most digital models took pictures with resolutions greater than four megapixels — allowing users to print high-quality images in conventional sizes. The report predicted that camera-phone use would “increase significantly” once those devices achieved a similar resolution.
The iPhone, various Android models and phones on Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 operating system have already crossed that threshold.
Even some professionals are advocates of picture-taking with smartphones.
And while dedicated cameras have long had settings and modes to adjust the quality of the picture taken, smartphones have apps like Hipstamatic, Camera Bag and OldCamera that allow users to apply filters — black and white, sepia, vintage — to images, often just by poking a finger.
“The apps make things look so professional,” said Ms. Peterson, the graphic designer. “I just came back from a trip and my pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge look like a postcard. I don’t think my old camera could even have done something like that.”
Glyn Evans, 42, from Yeovil, England, said, “The apps were a turning point for me.” Mr. Evans, who works in information technology and founded the Web site Iphoneography.com, dedicated to photography taken with Apple’s iPhone, added, “I have a camera, but it’s gathering dust.”
Mark Romanek, director of the coming film “Never Let Me Go” and an avid photographer, has also abandoned his point-and-shoot.
His Web site, markromanek.posterous.com, features his photography, all of which was taken with an iPhone and using camera apps like OldCamera. He likes the “lo-fi” quality to the images, but also likes always having his camera at hand.
“When a camera of this type is always in your pocket,” he wrote via e-mail, “every moment seems like a potential photo-op.”