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Compact market softens but interchangeables solid

According to US figures from NDP senior analyst, Liz Cutting, the proportion of pictures captured on smartphones increased dramatically between 2010 and 2011, with a closely aligned drop in the proportion taken by cameras (‘dedicated capture devices’ in the current parlance.)

(In the unfortunate absence of any market research available to the broader Australian industry, Photo Counter is using these US findings as a reasonable indicator of concurrent local developments.) 

In an interview with 6Sight’s Paul Worthington, available as a DIMAcast, Ms Cutting (pictured right) outlined a ‘glass half full’ scenario for the photo industry where ‘you have to find your opportunities’.

In broad terms, the proportion of pictures taken with smartphones grew from 17 to 27 percent from 2010 to 2011, while pictures taken with cameras fell from 52 percent to 44 percent. This is an unwelcome milestone – the first time that cameras would not have been responsible for the majority of captured images.

– She emphasised these changing ratios had to be considered in the context of a society where more pictures were being taken than ever before.

Cameras and smartphones combined only accounted for 71 percent of pictures captured, with the remaining 29 percent coming from devices like ordinary camphones, webcams and even tablet devices.

Interchangeables going well

Interchangeables are the growth segment in camera sales

But the story is nowhere as bleak as these ‘top-line’ figures might indicate, with a notable spike in sales of detachable lens cameras in 2011 – DSLRs and the new wave of mirrorless interchangeables or ‘Compact System Cameras’.

‘If I look at trends between 2010 and 2011, overall traditional compact cameras were down 19 percent in units and dollars in 2011. Detachable lens cameras – despite supply problems [due to the Japanese erthquake and Thai floods] saw an increase of 13 percent in units and 9 percent in dollar terms,’ said Ms Cutting.

If this trend holds for the A/NZ market, it delivers opportunities – particularly for more specialised retailers – in both the higher margins interchangeables deliver, and in the accessories which accompany them at time of sale and after the initial sale. (And hey, who knows, the buyers might even get around to making the odd print at some stage!)

Ms Cutting also noted that the category of ‘superzooms’ – compacts with optical zooms of 10x or more, actually increased between 2010 and 2011.

Overall however, she conceded that by mid-2010 NPD was beginning to see the compact camera market ‘soften a bit’ with a correlating rise in smartphones, tied to an increase in social networking.

A different perspective from Australia, from Panasonic’s group marketing manager, Alistair Robins talking to media last week, was that smartphones actually led to camera purchase:

‘We’ve always thought that the more people out taking photos, the better it is for an industry as a whole,’ he said.

‘This is because as people become more demanding of their photos, they will look to purchase a camera that will deliver the results they are after.’

He noted that data from the US and Japan indicated half the people who only use smartphones are going to buy a camera in the next 12 months.

Pictures for networking Vs pictures as memories

Ms Cutting made an important distinction in the purposes to which people are putting their captured images, which might help retailers make sense (and provide hope!) in a dynamic market driven by changing social habits:

‘Photos are such a big part of the way we communicate now,’ she said. ‘It’s almost like they’ve become words, and it’s become a habit to constantly communicate, and if we can’t do it with photos when we want to, I think it’s a frustration.’

So the ‘constant immediate communication’ segment of picture-taking activity is all about smartphones and probably offers less opportunity to the photo retailer.

However, as people always have their phones with them, a system which easily or even automatically transferred images to a smartphone for sharing from a dedicated camera could provide a shot in the arm for camera makers and retailers.

While image sharing is a challenge for the camera, the action is, as has always been the case, the memory making segment:

‘Where are the memories made? They are much more likely to be made using higher end cameras,’ said Ms Cutting.

This part of the market is ‘not being cannibalized by the smartphone’.

So as well as measuring the number of pictures captured, we have to find a way to define the number of memories captured within that top-line measure, Ms Cutting argued.

‘Number of memories captured relates to number of pictures printed,’ she said.

Related articles: See CIPA tips surge in camera and lens sales and Huge potential for photo retailers in 2012 





One Comment

  1. brian kearney brian kearney February 24, 2012

    As a baby boomer who travels annually, I am always surprised by the number of serious SLR users I meet.. Thank you for your clarity regarding pictures for sharing, memories for printing. Think you are on to it.

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