Strategy Session: Cameras of Convenience

Strategy Session: Cameras of Convenience


  get the sense lately that the premium picture takers used to put on image quality is fading fast. And that’s not good for our industry.

I’m not going to hearken back to the darkroom days, because they are long gone. But there was a time when most people took the time and effort not just to take a snapshot but to create a photograph.

Students learned about exposure systems, and depth of field. Different films were coveted for how they rendered colors. Macro lenses and portrait lenses were treated like pieces of jewelry—and were just as valuable.

For years, we’ve been used to people trading up their cameras so they could create lasting images. Point-and-shoot film cameras were replaced by point-and-shoot digital cameras . . . and the ultimate jump into digital SLRs was not far away.

Now, I fear people are starting to trade down again, as they get more and more comfortable using their cameraphones as their primary imaging device. I was always the naysayer who did not believe that cameraphones were a threat to digital point and shoots and DSLRs. But I’m beginning to understand the trade-offs. Case in point: I was recently on my annual baseball stadium tour with my son, Zach, and I wanted to take a few images and load them onto my Facebook page so my family could follow our trek. So here was my choice.

1. Pull out my digital SLR and take a great image.

2. Pull out my iPhone, take a “fair” image, and load it onto my Facebook page, practically in real time.

Sadly, but conveniently, I chose my iPhone.

Snapshots taken today with cameraphones are no better than the pictures we’ve saved from 40 or 50 years ago, and in some cases much worse. But more and more people are now making their choices based not on the quality of the image but on the speed of the sharing of the image. The dynamics of “why” people take pictures is changing dramatically. It’s no longer necessarily an occasion-based event—birthdays, vacations, reunions—people no longer have to think about whether they should pack their cameras. Their cameraphones are becoming their photographic crutch.

They’re choosing more and more to leave their “quality” cameras home because their iPhones and Androids will do just fine for what they need them to do. Upload.

But as is almost always the case, speed is sacrificing quality. Yes, I can get my picture onto my Facebook page, or sent to my friends phone, but can I print the image? Do I even plan on printing it?

The photo community, both manufacturers and retailers, must realize the world has changed, and the motivation for great pictures isn’t as strong as it once was to a great number of people. We need to address this on many levels.

Camera manufacturers have to realize that the cameraphone’s instant upload ability to Web pages may be a real threat to our camera business. Over 3 billion images are being uploaded to Facebook every month—3 billion! How many of them are being taken with a digital camera versus a cameraphone?

Wi-Fi cameras have been introduced over the years, but they’ve always been clumsy in their approach. The Nikon S610c comes to mind as a bold attempt to bring Wi-Fi to picture taking. However, the technology wasn’t far enough along, so Wi-Fi was abandoned on lower end cameras.

The Samsung CL80, introduced last year, was the first camera I have seen that makes the transfer to Facebook somewhat seamless; while you have to be in a Wi-Fi environment, it is certainly a great leap forward.

Manufacturers must put the pedal to the metal on developing cameras of convenience, because smartphones are now threatening camera sales. And it’s not because they can match the quality of cameras, because in most cases they can’t. Rather, they address a newer generation of photographers that is perfectly satisfied to sacrifice quality for convenience and speed of upload.

Retailers need to understand that, short of going into the phone business, they need to become the champions of photo quality. Photo specialty retailers must advocate to customers that when it comes to memories, quality should trump convenience every time—that leaving their cameras home might be akin to a lost memory.

What are at stake are not only camera sales but also many of the products you sell in your stores. Camera bags. Tripods. Lenses. Paper. Software. Filters. And, of course, printing.

Cameraphones are now a threat, and it’s time for camera manufacturers to build products that deliver high-quality images and answer the call for upload and sharing convenience. And retailers had better take a good look at their marketing plans to make sure that image quality once again becomes foremost in the customers’ minds.