I’ve Said it Before, And I’ll Say It Again

If you have been a regular reader, then you know my hobbyhorse: the iPhone is killing the standalone camera. And the latest data released by Camera & Imaging Products Association only reinforces my thesis from a few years ago. Just look at this chart:

Even though we are taking more photos all the time, we are not taking them with standalone cameras. Instead, we are using our smartphones for every kind of photography.

The sharp decline in sales of cameras with built-in lenses (you know, the compact cameras that we would buy in the past for vacation and family photos) speaks to this phenomenon. For selfies, casual photos with friends, snapshots when traveling, and even when taking food photos, I rarely use any camera other than my iPhone. And I am what you might call a camera guy. In the past, I used a Fuji x100F, but I sold it recently when I realized that I wasn’t really using it — though it is a beautiful and remarkable camera. (For my landscape photography, I use a Leica SL, which I love.)

I am not alone. Most of us take photos and share them digitally, and we expect them to be experienced on digital devices — typically smartphones — via Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Sometimes, we might share them on dedicated digital displays (I love my Aura frame), but even those don’t need the spectacular quality provided by standalone cameras.

Apple, Google, Huawei, and Samsung are competing aggressively on the strength of their camera — apart from the Internet, it is the most used feature on a smartphone. They are spending thousands of millions of dollars on software and hardware to improve the photography on their devices. Meanwhile, Nikon and Canon are racking up losses upon losses as camera sales stall. The camera industry is doing its best to paper over its looming doomsday scenario by releasing high-end interchangeable lens cameras that cost as much as a second-hand car. But you can see where this is going.

If you think the situation for standalone cameras is bleak now, just wait until we get to the future! It is pretty obvious the smartphone cameras will improve at a much faster rate than standalone cameras, which are still locked into an older model of product development. Soon, it won’t be surprising to have everyday (not just high-end) phones with three to five lens modules that do everything from wide-angle photography to longer aperture telephotos from a single device. With software improvements coming in thick and fast, I expect this will be the new reality within 24 months.

A letter from Om

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