Listen up camera makers, it's time to move forward

I have just attended my seventh CP+ Camera and Photo Imaging Show, an annual photography trade show held in Yokohama, last week.

The event is organised by the industry trade group Camera and Imaging Products Association, or CIPA.

Into its eighth edition, it is one of the more important trade shows in the industry and attracts almost all major camera makers and photographic-accessory manufacturers.

I started attending CP+ in 2011 (I missed the inaugural show the previous year), when the digital camera market had just started its downward trend.

According to data compiled by CIPA, 121.5 million cameras were shipped worldwide in 2010. In 2011, there was a slight decrease to 115.5 million. But in 2013, the figure had dropped to 62.8 million.

Reporters using their smartphones to take photos of the opening ceremony of CP+ Camera and Photo Imaging Show in Yokohama, Japan, last week. The camera market needs to be revolutionised.
Reporters using their smartphones to take photos of the opening ceremony of CP+ Camera and Photo Imaging Show in Yokohama, Japan, last week. The camera market needs to be revolutionised. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

Last year, only 24.2 million cameras were shipped worldwide, spelling an 80 per cent decrease from its peak in 2010.

Let's face it - the peak of 2010 will probably never come back.

If you look at the camera shipments in the 1980s and 1990s, figures have always hovered between 20 million and 40 million units annually.

From 2000, digital cameras started to come into the fray and the percentage of analogue cameras was reduced significantly. By 2005, the entire camera market was essentially all digital.

Between 2003 and 2010, the growth of digital cameras was phenomenal.

From 43.4 million units in 2003, worldwide shipments grew to 121.5 million units in 2010.

And during its peak year of 2010, over 100 million compact cameras were shipped worldwide.

But, in 2011, Apple released something called the iPhone 4s. This smartphone has an 8-megapixel camera that is capable of capturing some decent shots.

With such a slim device that fits into your pocket and goes wherever you go, and with more smartphone makers joining the fray, the compact-camera market started to lose ground.

Last year, compact cameras accounted for only 52 per cent of the world's camera shipments. And I think the percentage will continue to drop.

Camera makers should not look back at the good old days. The mass market is gone. Expectations need to be re-evaluated.

Talking to representatives of some camera makers at CP+ last week, I got the sense that their minds seem entrenched in the old ways and that they are still thinking of reviving the market.

I think the camera market can no longer be revived. Instead, it needs to be revolutionised.

It needs to go beyond coming up with camera models that are merely incremental upgrades from previous models.

The industry needs to do something radical that will totally change the perception of what a real camera is.

Ricoh is a good example of this. It launched the first consumer-grade 360-degree camera in 2013.

Now, that's an innovation that took its competitors a few years to catch up.

Fujifilm just launched a more-affordable medium-format camera, and it might be the start of another trend.

And I do not understand why camera makers just sit around and let GoPro dominate the market for action cameras. They should have joined the fight earlier.

Of course, I am sure that there will always be people who are looking forward to the next Mark V or Mark X version of a camera.

But, for the camera makers, staying stagnant in the current state of things is the surest way of staying irrelevant.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Listen up camera makers, it's time to move forward'. Print Edition | Subscribe