It might come as a surprise to those who regularly pay close attention to the digital camera market, but the point-and-shoot market appears to be dying. Is this potential death something we as consumers should mourn or welcome?
Before we get to whether or not we should care, let’s look at the situation, shall we? We used to see a sort of three-level hierarchy when it came to the digital camera market, at least here in the United States. At the very bottom, we’d see point-and-shoot cameras, the very simple, often low quality camera that your grandmother, technologically illiterate uncle or younger sibling might carry in a bag or backpack to take random snapshots with.
The next on the ladder was generally reserved for entry-level DSLR cameras. These are the $500-800 basic cameras for those who are starting to really explore photography, as well as that douche trying to look artsy and deep at the Starbucks.
At the very top you’d see your high-end, pro-grade DSLRs, the marvels of digital imaging technology that are usually priced upwards of $2,000, pack big image sensors for better image quality and professional-grade video capabilities. These would be your Nikon D800, your Canon 1D X and the like. They’re essentially cameras for people who have made photography their business, or, conversely, spoiled rich kids who have money to burn and want to look good taking spectacularly high-resolution mirror pictures for their Facebook page.
Recently we’ve been seeing a change in this now decade-old hierarchy. One can easily see a trend among the big camera manufacturers in which they have been moving away from the once mighty point-and-shoot market and focusing more on the mid-range and high-end. The former behemoth Kodak not only filed for bankruptcy, but also completely discontinued their line of consumer cameras. Compound this with the recent success of the mirrorless camera lines currently offered by Nikon and Sony, as well as the recent patent filing by Canon suggesting plans for a mirrorless line of their own and you can see how the landscape is changing even further.
The most common and logical theory to the sharp drop in popularity of the point-and-shoot is attributed to the rise in popularity and wide availability of smartphones with comparable (or often times better) cameras. In short: why would you carry around a dedicated, relatively bulky device just to take pictures with, when the pictures you can take with your iPhone 4S, Galaxy S or what have you are not only just as good or better than the dedicated camera, but can be instantly uploaded to Facebook or Twitter with relative ease. The answer is simple: you wouldn’t. I know I don’t, nor do any of the people I regularly associate with, and you shouldn’t.
Several camera manufacturers have caught on to this and tried to remedy the situation, however. Most notable of which is Polaroid, who not long ago announced an Android-based, WiFi-enabled camera that can upload all of your pictures. It seems too little, too late, though, as the camera looks and operates exactly like an Android phone with a big lens attached and lacking any cellular network connectivity.
The new structure appears to have smartphones at the bottom, mirrorless cameras and mid-range DSLRs mingling together on the second tier, and your high-end DSLRs at their rightful place at the top. Frankly, it’s a structure I don’t mind one bit.
I for one welcome this change. As a photographer and overall admirer of good-looking images, I don’t mourn the fall of a class of products that produced what were, for the most part, bad pictures, and you shouldn’t, either.