Mobile Technology News & Mobile Fun

Your next camera is a smartphone (if it isn’t already)

Earlier this week I sold my Fujifilm FinePix X100, one of the best digital cameras I’ve owned, since buying my first in 1997. I gave up the delightful X100 for two reasons: I needed cash to pay for the Verizon Galaxy Nexus and because the Google phone is digicam enough for me. I’m not alone, based on survey data NPD released today.

NPD reports a 10 point increase in photos taken with smartphones and nearly corresponding number taken with digital cameras — that 17 percent to 27 percent and from 52 percent to 44 percent, respectively, year over year. The data is for the United States. What about the nearly 30 percent remaining? Is film still that popular? I asked NPD. Nope. Camcorders and dumb phones account for the remainder. Well, tell that to Lomography!

“There is no doubt that the smartphone is becoming ‘good enough’ much of the time; but thanks to mobile phones, more pictures are being taken than ever before”, Liz Cutting, NPD executive director, says. “Consumers who use their mobile phones to take pictures and video were more likely to do so instead of their camera when capturing spontaneous moments”.

Photo above, Santa filling his plate at Hometown Buffet, is one of those “spontaneous moments”. I took it December 11, 2010, using iPhone 4. As I’ve oft said, the camera with you is better than none at all. The smartphone camera is more likely to be with me than any other.

Cutting brings up “good enough”, a term analysts like to throw around when comparing products — and rightly so. Often the measure of successful products, particularly when replacing something else, isn’t better or best but good enough. It cuts both ways, when Product B replaces Product A or when Product B meets most peoples’ needs such that they don’t want Product C or D.

Good example of the first scenario: MP3s are inferior to music CDs, because of bitrate and compression. But audio fidelity reached a point where it was good enough for most people and the convenience of downloading right away, instead of going to the store, or choosing singles over full albums made MP3s better in some ways.

That’s where I am today with smartphone versus digital camera. The images produced are good enough, or better, in most situations and other capabilities are better, such as location tagging, ability to set focus by dragging finger across touchscreen and instant upload to photo-sharing or social-networking sites. Photos can be edited on the smartphone, too, making it a portable digital studio. Galaxy Nexus offers instant-shutter response. True, there is no telephoto, large CMOS sensor or advanced features. But I don’t need them most of the time. Probably you don’t either.

Not surprisingly, smartphones are chewing away the low-end of the digital imaging market. Retail unit sales of point-and-shoot cameras fell 17 percent, while revenue sank 18 percent — that’s during the first 11 months of the year. Meanwhile, pocket camcorder sales fell 13 percent in units and 27 percent in revenue. Flash camcorders declined 8 percent and 10 percent, in units and revenue, respectively.

As tidy a size the X00 is, I’m not likely to take it everywhere, while Galaxy Nexus is with most of the time. So I’ve given up digital cameras for now. The smartphone is good enough and surely will get better. It’s the way of innovation. Chris Consumer can produce photos using a camera or smartphone automatically that only pros could do a decade ago. The software processing is that good.

That said, good enough doesn’t mean always enough. “For important events, single-purpose cameras or camcorders are still largely the device of choice”, Cutting says. Sales of cameras with detachable lenses — mirrorless models like Sony’s NEX series or micro-four thirds cameras made by Olympus and Panasonic; or dSLRs like Nikon D90 — rose 12 percent in units and 11 percent in revenue, from January to November. Average selling price: $863. Meanwhile, sales of pocket cameras with long zoom ranges — 10X or more — rose by 16 percent; 10 percent in revenue. ASP: $247.

Is your smartphone camera good enough most of the time? Please link to your best photo taken with a smartphone. If I get enough of them, we’ll put them together into a slideshow. Linking the photo here assumes your permission to use the image solely for the slideshow, if there is one.

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