For a while there it looked like the long-term market potential for the digital single lens reflex camera was going to be dependent solely on the whims of serious photographers. With the explosion of phone cameras and the continued popularity of compact point and shoot digital models, DSLRs seemed destined to end up primarily in the hands of those experts who had no issues with their price, weight and complexity. For the camera savvy, digital photography made sense only if it could be available with multi-lens flexibility.
Except…as we roll into the 2011 camera season, more than four out of 10 of potential digital customers have an SLR on their must-see list, according to the market research department at Canon. InfoTrends says “We are forecasting about 35 percent growth in consumer DSLR market this year.” Other market research firms, like IDC, make similar estimates. IDC expects trends of U.S. shipments of digital SLR cameras this year to grow to over 2.2 million units. Furthermore, by 2011, IDC expects the market to double to over four million units in the United States alone, which is about 36 percent of the total units worldwide.
So, according to industry expert projections the future for DSLRs is bright and could soon become even brighter. Thanks to falling prices, lighter weight and the new user-friendly models coming to market from leaders like Canon, Nikon and Olympus, the DSLR is looking very good to more and more consumers.
Buyers no longer face the daunting prospect of having to spend close to $1,000 for a quality DSLR. Down from $996 in 2006, the average DSLR camera is going out the door for an average price of $775. Better yet, as prices fall, quality and user ease are rising. Widely popular, fast-selling models like the Nikon D90 and Canon Digital Rebel XTi are consistently recipients of positive reviews.
Manufacturers have also responded to research concluding that at this time while consumers are excited about DSLR flexibility and creativity, they want it with point-and-shoot simplicity. Wisely, manufacturers are delivering what their consumers want. Often the solution offered is a DSLR body mated to an all-purpose 10x zoom lens. It's reasonable to expect that as these new DSLR owners become comfortable and proficient with their cameras and recognize the limitations of the 10x zoom, they will soon be back shopping for additional lenses. That's what happened during the heyday of the film SLR, and you can bet it will happen again. In addition, manufacturers can look forward to a meaningful increase in sales of aftermarket products such as camera bags, tripods and filters. As fledgling photographers become more and more adept with their cameras, those useful accessories quickly become must-have necessities, all of which adds to the profitability of the photo category.
Where does the DSLR fit in a market place teeming with millions of phone cameras and the recently introduced tablet cameras? Very nicely, thank you, because the phone and tablet units have, almost overnight, made photography more than a hobby, they've made it part of our lifestyle. It seems that wherever you go someone is snapping a photo and sharing it with friends and family all around the world. Just as the fabled point and shoot film cameras like the Kodak Brownie helped create a market for film SLRs, it stands to reason that once these phone and tablet camera users catch the photography bug, it won't be long before they start looking for cameras that deliver more quality. At the same time, the market for creativity-enhancing accessories such as filters and digital software will also blossom.
We can also project that young technologically adept consumers will soon look beyond their phone and tablet cameras and recognize that DSLR cameras offer exciting new creative opportunities. For these free-spending consumers who download one app after another, the photo is just a starting point, the beginning of an exciting process in which innovative photo processing software and imagination combine, often for spectacular creative results. When these Generation Y consumers realize how much more they can accomplish creatively with a versatile DSLR camera, they will surely add one to their arsenal of hi-tech tools and toys.
Globally, the DSLR is also experiencing solid growth. While U.S. sales are projected by IDC to top 4 million units in 2011, worldwide sales will exceed 11 million units. Encouraged by strong growth in the U.S. and around the world, manufacturers can be expected to continue to compete with each other in the development of even more innovative, versatile, lightweight and cost-effective products for an expanding market of knowledgeable consumers. Here in the U.S. and around the world, the future of the digital imaging market looks healthier and brighter than ever.
Steven Tiffen is President and CEO of The Tiffen Company.