Camera, Camcorder or Cameraphone?

Camera, Camcorder or Cameraphone?

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Next time you’re out at some public event, take a quick look around whenever that magic moment occurs and everyone wants to record it for posterity. Is it a camcorder or camera most are using for home movies? Or a cameraphone?

Odds are it’s a mixed bag, as consumers resort to whatever device best matches their preference and lifestyle as their all-in-one imaging solution. Some still pull out the digital camera for stills, the camcorder for video, but the demand is obviously there for one handy device, which can address all their image capture needs. And it can only grow.

Cameras, camera brands and camera dealers could be the big winners here, at least over the next few years. There’s tens of millions of second time buyers who will be back in the camera market for a newer, improved version of the camera they bought just a couple of years ago. One of those advances is the improved video record capabilities of newer cameras, at 30 frames per second, good enough for most consumers.

Multifaceted Appeal

“With growing consumer interest in being able to capture both high quality stills and TV quality video while on the go, the portability, form factor advantage and declining cost of memory for still cameras have all played an important role in meeting consumers’ expectations,” observes Richard Ford, SPG Manager for digital capture and devices, Americas Region, Eastman Kodak.

He also points out Kodak was among the first to equip cameras with the ability to capture 30 frames per second TV-quality MPEG-4 video and audio files, a move based on consumer market research.

At Canon U.S.A., Chuck Westfall, director of media and customer relationship for the Camera Marketing Group reports his company is also seeing increased interest in the video function of PowerShot type cameras, as well as in camcorders which can capture stills. “Here you have a device which can do double duty, and record to a memory card,” he says of the digital cameras. “What we are noticing is that the still cameras are more than adequate for the tasks,” of how some are starting to use video, online and inside their computers.

Kanika Ferrell, marketing manager for Texas Instruments’ digital camera solutions and a board member of the Consumer Electronics Association’s Digital Imaging Division suggests many consumers will find the latest digital still cameras good enough for their video needs, as well. Her division at TI develops the processors and software which empower many cameras, based in part, on market research of what consumers want from their cameras.

“Their (consumers’) measure of quality is ‘Is it as good as what I am used to or is it better,’” she says. “Cameras which can record VGA quality video at 30 frames per second may have crossed that quality threshold.”

Nevertheless, she’s not seen research to suggest the camera, camcorder or cameraphone has yet emerged as the preferred all-in-one image capture device. “The market is still pretty separate,” she says. “People seem to be satisfied with what they are getting out of their primary device.”

The Early Edge?

But as consumers start thinking in terms of a multifunction imaging device, the digital camera with video may have the initial edge over the camcorder and cameraphone. With the cameraphone it’s a quality issue; units that rival still cameras for capturing photos and video have been slow to arrive in the American market.

Considered against camcorders, the camera’s advantage may be in what at first seems an obvious weakness of its record functions: the limited record capacities of digital flash media, as little as eight minutes of top quality video on a 1GB flash card.

How can that be a strength? Well, as legions of amateur video camcorder owners can attest, the seemingly unlimited record times of videotape translates into hours of recording which never gets a look after the event. It’s just too tedious, even painful, to sort through lengthy videotapes to view a few magic moments. Consequently, there’s hours, even days worth of video home moviwes, sitting on most camcorder owners’ shelves.

But think back, if you’re old enough, to the days of 8mm home movie making. The time constraints of film made it such a precious commodity that home moviemakers carefully budgeted their record time, capturing only those scenes and events they knew they wanted. When they pulled the projector they wanted to see all three minutes worth of each reel.

Jump forward 25 years and the same idea—shorter clips—also plays to the current need to work with and share home video on the computer. Most computer systems now come bundled with movie editing software which makes it easy to turn an amateur film into a professional looking production with soundtrack, and all kinds of special effects. It’s also easy to save those short clips as a Quicktime movie or MPEG video for sharing by e-mail or posting to a site like YouTube. It’s just easier to work with the shorter clips digital still cameras can now capture.

But so far, the case for the digital camera as THE dual still/video solution is based more on observation and speculation than any clear entrenched trend. There are technology issues: most cameras only offer digital in their video mode. Delivering optical zoom without the noise of the lens being recorded, and image stabilization for better videos will facilitate acceptance and are already available in a few models. As they become standard features in affordable cameras, and record times of flash media improve, these could be important selling points to second and third generation camera buyers.

Casually Aware

So far, though, dealers report there’s more casual interest than real excitement about the video record features of the latest cameras. At Cal’s Cameras and Video in Costa, Mesa, Calif., sales associate Jeff Koskela says he’s seen “marginal interest in getting a camera for video, or a video camcorder for still images…right now it’s still staying quite segmented between the two.”

At one of the Santa Fe branches of the three-store Camera and Darkroom chain in New Mexico, however, saleswoman Elena Gomez reports she’s been fielding a lot of queries about the video capture features of some of the latest cameras. “It seems to be especially popular among younger people,” she reports. “It’s not necessarily what sells them on any particular camera, but they want to make sure it will record video with sound before they buy.”

She reasons the younger set is looking for an easy answer to posting short video clips to sites like YouTube, while other buyers consider shorter video segments captured by still cameras more practical. “I think a lot of people are starting to realize they don’t want to sit through half an hour of video just for the two minutes they actually want to see,” she suggests.

But at Galloway Camera in Terre Haute, IN, clerk Brad Cress says what little interest he’s seen in hybrids products has come from shoppers who want to capture the occasional still from a camcorder. “The problem is the stills are not that incredibly good coming off a video camcorder, so they realize it’s best to get a camcorder for video and a digital camera for stills.”

Leaving the Camcorder Behind

Then there’s consumers like Jim Medrano to consider. The married father of two in New York City was an avid user of both camcorder and camera to chronicle family and travels. Christmas 2003 they bought their third digital camera, a Canon S400.

At the time the camera’s limited video record functions just seemed an extra feature. “Once I started using it, I thought ‘This is good,’” he says. “It’s nice to have the higher quality of a camcorder, but the tradeoff is just carrying one thing, and that’s a real benefit.”

So, he started experimenting with the digital camera for both stills and videos. As soon as he filled a card, he would upload both into iView MediaPro software running on an iMac. “It’s easier to click and watch the clip on the monitor than plug in a tape and try to find what I want to see,” he says. “I learned to be more conservative and conscious of time when recording video.”

Summer of 2005 was a turning point. The family planned a memory-making trip to Disneyland. They upgraded to Canon’s S500 which captures video at 30 frames per second and left their camcorder at home, for good. That decision lightened their load, without sacrificing video, and introduced savings. “Once you’ve made the initial investment in the camera and memory cards, there’s nothing else to buy whether you’re shooting photos or video,” he says.

Seeding a Trend?

Are consumers like him an anomaly, or the early adopters and innovators seeding a trend imaging specialists can capitalize on this year? Some consumers are getting double duty out of their cameras. It’s too early to tell if the masses will follow that lead, without an aggressive promotion of this option.

“I think there’s some who do believe the softness in camcorder sales is due in part to the video capture features on some of the still cameras,” comments Gary Pageau, PMA’s Group Executive, Content Development and Strategic Initiatives in its market research division. “But I still think most people are buying a camera or a camcorder for its primary purpose. The fact that a digital camera can also record video is just a bonus feature…but some people may be starting to pay more attention to it.”

Ford at Eastman Kodak notes household penetration of digital still cameras has reached 68 percent, compared with 19 percent for digital camcorders, creating a strong pool of step-up buyers. “In the market for a new digital camera in 2007, second time buyers will place more importance on image quality and resolution, ease of use, zoom, display (LCD) size, shorter auto-focus and click-to-capture times, battery life and video capture capabilities,” he predicts.

Enhanced video capture could be one of the features that convinces camera owners it’s time for that next new camera. “Canon will be putting emphasis on video as well as other functions to give our customers better pictures,” says Westfall at Canon. “Anyone in the market today is going to find a lot more camera for less money.”

Make the Case

This could be the best year to get customers to start thinking about the camera as a viable all-in-one imaging solution. Ask them if they have a lot of video they’ve never watched, what kind of move software they have on their computers. Introduce them to the practicality of shorter clips, and how easily they can be moved from camera to the computer or over the Internet.

While serious videographers will always demand a camcorder, the mass market battle between imaging devices could one day be between the still camera and cameraphone. “The jury is out,” says Ferrell at Texas Instruments. “Research doesn’t show that the consumer is shifting to a specific device for these (still image and video) needs. It does show that for consumers owning both cameras and cameraphones, the camera is still winning out as the primary image capturing device.”

A change could be in the wind, however. This fall Medrano tried another approach leaving his camera at home for a short trip, toying with the cameraphone as his sole image capture device. He was less satisfied with the quality than the convenience of carrying one less piece of equipment. “It would be really nice to have one device that truly does it all,“ he says.

Camera dealers have an opportunity to convince consumers the latest cameras are just what they need for all their imaging needs. The digital print market has already shown how tough it can be to reclaim business once consumers are left with the opportunity to explore new technologies and develop new imaging habits. Some kind of multifunction imaging device is on the horizon. This may be the best year to convince them it should be a digital camera.

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