It’s a modern paradox: People are taking more photographs than ever before, nearly 400 billion this year, yet sales of cameras are shrinking.
Overall, global shipments of digital cameras have fallen 30 percent this year, according to Christopher Chute, research director of worldwide digital imaging at IDC, a market intelligence firm. Camera stores are closing, and those that remain are emphasizing customer service or high-end products as they fight to stay relevant.
“It’s especially shocking because this was a market that until recently was growing by double digits,” he said. “This is the beginning of the collapse for cameras.”
And the obvious reason for the decline? The ubiquitous smartphone. Nearly 60 percent of U.S. homes now have one, compared with 70 percent of homes that own more than one camera, according to The NPD Group.
But while digital camera sales fell by nearly a third this year, smartphone sales are expected to rise more than 32 percent.
Amanda Brady of Castle Rock Township, Minn., recently purchased Nokia’s new Lumia 1020 smartphone with a camera that sports 41 megapixels. “We print quite often, and they don’t look pixelated,” she said.
It’s a culture shift that many believe started with the release of Apple’s iPhone 4 and 4S in 2010-2011, the first smartphones to have a backlit-illuminated sensor to produce brighter pictures with accurate colors to rival the quality of a decent point-and-shoot.
While sales of point-and-shoots have dropped the most, sales of single lens reflex cameras also have started to decline, although not as much. Sales through October were down 8 percent this year, said Ben Arnold, industry analyst at The NPD Group in Virginia.
Camera manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon, whose stocks have lost more than half their value since the iPhone was introduced in 2007, tried to stop the free fall this holiday season with aggressive markdowns.
The lower prices were expected to increase sales nearly 10 percent, Arnold said, but sales on digital single-lens reflex cameras increased only 1 percent compared to last year.
Connectivity trumps quality
While many in the camera industry were hoping that consumers would continue to buy traditional cameras for lasting, better-quality pictures, Chute said that’s not happening. Consumers don’t care as much about image quality as they do the software that allows them unlimited, immediate sharing on social networks, mobile image editing and manipulation, and cloud-based backup.
And, smartphone camera technology continues to improve.
Brady, 34, said she’s never going back to a traditional camera. She recently took a picture of her son caroling at a nursing home from 40 feet away. “I leaned in, zoomed in, took the shot, edited it and I was done,” she said. “I could actually enjoy the show.”