The truth that is becoming increasingly clear is that photography is no longer confined to cameras. We've talked about the emergence of camera phones in our PMA summaries in each of the past two years. Now the technologies that have grown out of ever smaller digital cameras and into camera phones are popping up in unexpected areas. In addition to digital SLRs, digital zoom cameras, and point and shoot digital cameras; you can find cameras in phones, PDAs, binoculars and even in wrist watches (hello Dick Tracy).
That doesn't even begin to touch on digital video which has crossed the photographic boundary as well. Most of today's digital cameras offer at least some rudimentary video capability and digital video cameras offer some still photo capability. And digital video is showing up in unexpected places as cameras get smaller. Web cams are the most obvious example, but look for these small video cameras to show up in more and more places - including your regular telephone and even your cell phone in the near future.
Wireless technologies are also a big buzz. Examples include: wireless studio flash systems that eliminate all those troublesome cords. The ability to shoot un-tethered with your digital SLR at surprising distances - images magically appearing on your laptop or on a network in real time. The ability to transmit those images from your laptop directly to your office using your cell phone and the Internet. The ability to shoot with a cameraphone or point and shoot camera and have the images read wirelessly at a photo kiosk, your prints appearing in minutes - and these are just a few examples.
And yet among all this technology film cameras still have an amazingly strong market share.
Photokina is geared toward people in the industry. Photo Plus is geared toward the consumer. Together they present a roadmap toward the future of the industry - and a fuzzy map it is...
George Jetson, Your Cell Phone has Arrived
The numbers are impressive by anyone's yardstick. An estimated 100 million cameraphones will be sold in 2004, up from 70 million in 2003. Resolutions on these phones are no longer a joke either. New models are offering resolutions that rival point and shoot digitals, and that's exactly how these phones are being used.
If you're in your 40's or older you've probably missed this trend. But the 35 and under crowd are NEVER without their cell phones. Individual ring tones tell them who's calling before they answer the phone and the cameras in the phones capture moments the way previous generations captured those moments with Polaroids and disposable cameras. Those images can then be sent from phone to phone, sent over the internet, or printed via photo kiosks where they become "real" photos. Quality isn't the big issue. These folks aren't photographers. It's about "did you see what Ashley did?". And the images themselves have no more permanence than the moment.
So how big is this trend? In camera crazed Japan 90% of all cell phones sold are camera phones. So it's no surprise that new cell phone technologies were prominently displayed at a photography show.
New phones include such "camera" features as bright, large format LCD displays, high capacity memory cards, high-res image capture chips, higher quality optical lenses with optical zoom capability, flash and optimized image processing software. Even cellular video phones!
The challenge facing the industry is to convince consumers that they need to print more of the images that they now consider disposable. The real money in photography has always been in selling "consumables" - film, paper, etc. So look for ad campaigns stressing the need to print images to save the moment forever. How big a market is consumables? Try an estimated half billion dollars in 2005.
Big Prints, UV Resistant Inks and Higher Print Speeds
Inkjets are hardly newcomers to the digital photography scene. The news here is speed, reliability and cost.
New inks, both dye and pigment based, are more resistant than ever to UV fading. This is good news for the home based photographer making prints for their own use or for gallery sale. But it's also good news for local camera shops and printers who've been increasingly squeezed over the past few years. New media and improved large format printers allow these shops to print on a wide variety of media that includes traditional photo printing, sign printing and even the printing of wall and floor coverings.
And while new lines of revenue are a Godsend for pro shops industry insiders tell us that they're continually surprised by how many pros and pro-sumers are buying large format machines for their personal use.
This is driven by a number of factors including price, print durability, the low cost of increasingly powerful computers and the variety of software that allows those willing to climb the learning curve to produce output that rivals or exceeds what they can get from pro shops.
Bigger and Better Screens
LCD screens are much easier on your eyes than CRT monitors. Working in front of one for even a few minutes can be an eye opener (no pun intended). But problems with brightness and color reproduction ruled these monitors out for serious photographers and graphic artists. Now plasma screens, OLEDS (organic light emitting diodes), and improvements to standard LCD monitors are addressing these problems and producing screens that meet then needs of all but the most demanding users. Price is an issue with these technologies, but prices continue to drop and today's high-end monitors are a pre-cursor to what will be on all of our desks in the near future.
Film's Not Dead - It's Doing Quite Well
New products get all the press and all the attention. That's just the way it is. The corollary to that is digital is new and film isn't - so digital is gets all the attention. But the reality is that film is still doing quite well in terms of market share. Now I wouldn't expect film to start making significant gains against digital anytime soon, but there is news on the film front.
Canon and Nikon each have new film cameras and Minolta announced two new film cameras at PMA back in February. Fuji tells us that while consumer film sales continue to slide against consumer digital camera sales, pro film sales are actually up significantly in 2004!
Why pay attention to film at all? Because what you're not reading in most magazines is that if you look outside of gadget crazy Japan you find that film cameras still account for half of all new camera sales worldwide (film 49%, digital 51%).
Just look at the charts below that show market share in terms of units sold. It's quite an eye opener. So while digital continues to make inroads film is hardly dead and no camera maker can ignore half the marketplace. One other important fact that is not immediately obvious from the numbers is the skew from consumer to amateur and pro-sumer camera sales. There are a LOT more point and shoot cameras sold than SLRs, which target higher end buyers. If that fact is taken into consideration it would seem that in the SLR marketplace film cameras are outselling digital by a wide margin - though we were unable to get firm figures.
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