Improving Smartphone Cameras Cast Doubts On Future Of High-End Cameras

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redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

The improving quality of cameras and editing software available on smartphones could lead have a significant negative impact on high-end digital camera sales, research firm IDC reported late last week.
According to Juro Osawa of the Wall Street Journal, the group expects shipments of interchangeable-lens cameras – including the digital single-lens reflex (dSLR) camera preferred by professional photographers and dedicated amateurs – to drop from 19.1 million units last year to 17.4 million units this year. That would be a decline of 9.1 percent.
“During the past few weeks, Canon and Nikon – two of the world’s biggest makers of high-end cameras – both lowered their forecasts for sales in the fiscal year ending in March,” Osawa added. Likewise, lens manufacturer Tamron was forced to lower its profit outlook after reportedly selling 22 percent fewer interchangeable lenses during the first three quarters of 2013 than it did during the same period last year.
The three firms are citing the weak state of the global economy and inventory build-ups as reasons for the declining figures. “We are seeing tough figures at the moment, but I don’t think this will last forever,” Nikon Chief Financial Officer Junichi Itoh told Osawa. On the other hand, Tamron executive Tsugio Tsuchiya acknowledged that improving smartphone cameras “pose a threat not just to compact cameras but entry-level dSLRs as well.”
Nokia’s Lumia 1020, announced in July, sports a 41-megapixel PureView camera with lossless zoom and controls equal to those of many dSLRs, according to Information Week’s Eric Zeman. Apple followed that by including an eight-megapixel camera with its iPhone 5S, which was released last month. That camera includes a wider aperture and a more sensitive sensor, he noted, and many of the top-line smartphones from HTC, Samsung and LG are equipped with similar features.
“The phone makers aren’t alone. The app economy has risen to support smartphone-based imaging,” Zeman explained. “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 pictures 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,” the Information Week reporter added. “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.”
The preferences of picture-takers are also playing a role in the shift away from dedicated cameras and towards smartphones, according to Osawa. As an example, he cites Hong Kong artist and graphic designer Lie Fhung. Fhung, who purchased a Canon dSLR camera five years ago, now finds herself primarily using an iPhone to capture images, using the device’s photo-editing apps to alter the images, then posting them directly to Instagram.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” Osawa said. “Camera makers have argued that although smartphones and mobile devices have decimated sales of cheap, compact cameras, premium products shouldn’t be affected, since they offer a level of control and picture quality that a smartphone’s tiny lens and sensor can’t replicate.”
However, Canon spokesman Takafumi Hongo doesn’t believe that smartphone picture-taking is comparable to photography using high-end cameras. “Taking photos with smartphones and editing them with apps is like cooking with cheap ingredients and a lot of artificial flavoring,” Hongo told the Wall Street Journal. “Using interchangeable cameras is like slow food cooked with natural, genuine ingredients.’”