Declining MFT/mirrorless camera sales?

Started Jan 1, 2014 | Discussions thread
jalywol Veteran Member • Posts: 9,784
I think you have to look at this from the bottom up...

....rather than the top down?

Photography is a way to record history, for most people. Family history, events, etc. When photographic processes first became available at a price that people could afford, they started having their portraits taken for posterity. Later, when roll film was developed, it meant that smaller cameras could be designed, and more people became able to use the medium. It still was a hobbyist's forte, though, until the first affordable portable cameras (Brownies) were marketed at the turn of the last century. Kodak alone sold over 1,000,000 Brownies in the first five years of production (according to the George Eastman International Museum of Photography and Film)...and the era of the point and shoot had begun.

More adjustable film cameras followed (35mm, twin lens reflex, etc), but those were more enthusiast products, and were not affordable snapshot cameras for the bulk of those wanting to capture everyday images.

Fast forward to the 1960s.....the Instamatics, with their drop-in film cartridges were a giant success. Polaroid marketed the first instant cameras in 1948, but in the 1960s the first affordable Polaroid camera was released (the Swinger) and it was also a giant hit, selling in large quantities to the "average" consumer. Of course, the SLR market was also growing, but the investment to get an SLR with a kit lens was a whole heck of a lot larger than that required for an Instamatic or Swinger....and most people didn't bother. (If I recall, back in 1971 or so, when I desperately coveted a Minolta SRT 101, they went, with the cheapest kit lens, for about $200 (from the lowest priced NYC dealers )....Instamatics ranged from $9.95 to about $30 (unless you wanted to get into the metal-bodied, full rangefinder ones, which were very expensive...but those were more comparable in adjustability and lens quality to a basic SLR, so they would have been considered enthusiast cameras at that point, too).

Fast forward a few years, and compact point and shoot film cameras using 35mm film came on board, and were also very popular; they were cheap, they produced good looking 4x6 or 5x7 prints, and they were very easy to use. SLRs were still being produced and used by the enthusiast community, but that was not who bought most of the cameras out there.

In the 2000's digital technology merged the categories a people could buy a relatively inexpensive point and shoot camera that did not need film, and with which you could have instant access to your images via the rear screen (or quick access if you wanted a hard copy and printed them at home). Everyone who would have bought a Brownie, or an Instamatic, or a Swinger back in the day, now had a different option that combined the best from all three, and at a reasonable price. The era of the digital point and shoot was at hand.

Of course, the enthusiast section of the market was clamoring for the high end digital version of their SLRs at this point, and the camera companies obliged. Pricing, of course, was much higher for the higher level lenses, sensors, bodies, and features, but enthusiasts have always been willing to pay for these features, AND ALWAYS WILL BE. Regular consumers have NEVER seen the point to all of this gear, and are happy to be able to capture an image and share it with their friends and family, in the easiest way possible.....and the gear obsession of the enthusiast is, was, and forever will be a mystery to them.

So, what happened after that? Well, the smartphone and tablet technology appeared, of course. When digital photo technology allowed competent performance in a sufficiently miniaturized size, the smartphones became the current equivalent of the Instamatic AND Polaroid. Ok-to-pretty good IQ, always with you, easy to use, easy to edit, and instantly accessible to show family and friends via the online infrastructure that has arisen in the past few years. As a result, your average Joe (or Jane) with a half-decent smartphone is going to use that for most of their image taking.

Does this mean that the enthusiast market is going to vanish???? Of course not! Just like SLRs and Instamatics coexisted in the 60's and 70's, smartphones and tablets will fill the average user niche, and the enthusiasts will continue using more capable gear for their endeavors.

I actually think part of the problem with the media reports is that there are now SO many cell phones and tablets out there that people who would not have had ANY kind of camera on them before, now have one available, so it looks like everyone is using one of those to the exclusion of anything else. In reality, it would not surprise me if the number of enthusiast cameras was relatively constant in terms of percentages of use if one compared current usage to that of 40 years ago...and perhaps even higher.

In some ways, the smartphone camera may actually prove a blessing in disguise for the enthusiast market....It may very well weed out the lower-end enthusiast cameras, but it will for sure open up the higher end camera market to smartphone users who discover that they really are interested in photography and they can't do what they want to do with the smartphones....the same way that most of us got interested back in the day, after using a basic snapshot cam and realizing there was a lot more potential there to explore......

Now if only the news media would approach their coverage with this in mind, we would not have these remarkably lopsided articles about the demise of the photo industry....


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