My involvement with EDN (as more than just a reader, to clarify) began on January 6, 1997. It’s been a quarter century and a week (but who’s counting?) as I write these words. It’s sometimes fun (for me, at least…again, I’m easily amused) to go back and re-read some of my old stuff and see how technology has evolved over the eons. In addition to assessing how well…and sometimes badly, believe it or not…I was in my past predictions.
I engaged in one of these nostalgia exercises over the weekend, preparing to start working on this particular piece. In December 1997, for example, I assessed the then embryonic digital camera market, predicting (albeit subtly) that film’s time in the limelight was beginning to fade (see “CLICKS ON DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY “). Keep in mind that I had been shooting silver halide photos regularly since I was a kid, and (perhaps most notably) my boss at the time was an avid film photographer. Given that I had been in office for less than a year, my position could were a career-limiting move (just kidding, of course; Greg was cool). As you read it, note the consistent reference to CCDs (CMOS image sensors were still stuck in R&D at the time), as well as the incredibly low-resolution images (compared to modern equivalents) captured by the cameras featured.
By the end of 2003, I had noted (not lacking in smugness, I admit) that the transition from silver halide crystals to pixels was already well underway (see “Pixel Progress: Digital Photography Sticks”), and just 3 years (and a few months) later, I was already offering suggestions on how suppliers of cameras and their component parts could continue to successfully differentiate themselves in the already evolving digital camera market. quickly (see “Imaging beyond the pixels: low-light sensors, low-powered zooms, anti-shake technology and innovative optics improve digital cameras“). And now I’m talking about the demise of the stand-alone camera market – why, and replaced by what?
First of all, I am not suggesting completed evaporation. Professional-grade cameras (still, video, and mirrorless) will stick around for the foreseeable future. But the bulk of the market, measured by volume shipments, tailored to consumers, is already on the way out. Part of this is due to cannibalization; as the previously mentioned word “hybrid” suggests, whereas you’ve historically bought two separate cameras – still and video – you can now get away with just one, which credibly handles both types of media with aplomb.
As another example of cannibalization, mirrorless cameras are gradually replacing DSLR predecessors, as the electronic viewfinders of mirrorless successors become increasingly rich in resolution and accurate color, for example, and their lens suites become more and more complete and of high quality. Canon has already announced the end of its ongoing DSLR development, for example, although Pentax (the base platform for all the ‘glass’ I’ve collected over many decades) thankfully continues to persevere.
Part of this trend is due to the to finish Upgrading: When you already have a camera that captures 16 or 20MP stills and 4K video, what lingering motivation (if any) exists to invest in a successor? And part of it is due to continued evolution of a different kind; as I first explored in a two-part online supplement (see “Imaging Beyond Pixels: Form-Factor Transformations”) to a previously mentioned March 2007 print article (see “Form-Factor Transformations: What About The Camera Phone?”), and further elaborated in a September 2009 blog follow-up (see “The Camera Phone: An Internet Tone Always Available”), the increasingly capable photo and video capture capabilities of smartphones that you already take with you everywhere make stand-alone cameras less and less relevant for the masses.
A recent experience of mine highlighted these trends (and basically motivated this article). My beloved is perpetually challenged when she tries to give me gifts for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, etc., for two basic reasons:
- My product interests are mostly technical, especially now that I’ve acquired enough outdoor gear to last a lifetime (assuming I take good care of it).
- I’m pretty picky about what I buy.
- When I come across something I want, I tend to buy it on my timeline (often immediate) in relation to the practice of self-control until the next opportunity to obtain a gift.
That’s how my wife was missing out on any compelling gift ideas for her spouse when the holiday shopping season kicked off last fall. I’ve owned my current point-and-shoot digital camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 (originally introduced in 2011) since mid-2013, and it was already a factory refurbish when I took it. acquired, so I thought an upgrade might be warranted.
A visit to The wire cutter said that Panasonic’s newer and more advanced multi-generation Lumix DMC-LX10 successor would be a good fit:
And when we found a used one in “excellent” condition at Adorama for $150 off the new price (on sale, even), that sealed the deal. Unfortunately, when it first arrived, it consistently displayed a “System Error (Zoom)” message on the rear LCD when powering on, after which it refused to do anything else (a common problem, it’s ‘recognized).
We returned the Lumix DMC-LX10 for a full refund, and I’m sticking with the older but good Lumix DMC-ZS10 for now. But none of that is what prompted this post. What do is that Panasonic is still selling—and The thread cutter is still the “best in class” recommended – a camera whose introduction dates back to late 2016. If that’s not a sign of a market in which evolution has effectively come to an end, I don’t know not what it is!
With that, I’ll pass the keyboard control on to you so you’ll think about everything I’ve mentioned here (or any other digital camera-related topic, for that matter!) in the comments.
—Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of Edge AI and Vision Alliance, Principal Analyst at BDTI, and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter..