Smartphones May Be Eating Into The DSLR Camera's Market Share

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News Posted: Sun, Nov 10 2013 11:13 AM
It’s an old story in tech that one evolving area of a market cannibalizes another, and it’s possible that’s what’s happening with smartphones and high-end digital camera sales. Citing IDC’s research, the WSJ notes that shipments of DSLR cameras with interchangeable lenses will drop 9.1% to 17.4 million units, down from 19.1 million last year.

One IDC analyst, Christopher Chute, told the WSJ that he’s found that some consumers are eschewing a high-quality camera such as a DSLR and instead spending their dollars on smartphones and tablets.


There’s no doubt that cameras on mobile devices have blasted sales of compact point-and-shoot cameras, but the idea that smartphones (and to a lesser extent, tablets) are killing sales of DSLRs seems odd; the only thing that smartphone cameras and DSLRs have in common is that they both capture images. They’re completely different tools for different occasions and use cases, and although smartphone cameras on higher-end handsets have progressed dramatically in quality over the past few years, they don’t hold a candle to what a DSLR can do in terms of image quality, manual options, and the options afforded by various types of lenses.

Perhaps it’s the fact that for snapshots, smartphone cameras are so convenient, or the fact that you can fiddle with your images on-device using any number of photo editing apps, or just the delightfully convenient ability to upload everything you shoot with your phone directly to photo sharing sites such as Instagram.

Canon store
Credit: Bloomberg News

Canon spokesman Takafumi Hongo put it artfully: "Taking photos with smartphones and editing them with apps is like cooking with cheap ingredients and a lot of artificial flavoring. Using interchangeable cameras is like slow food cooked with natural, genuine ingredients.''

I’d agree with Hongo completely, but he’s overlooking something important: A lot of people are perfectly happy with cheap food, even though the alternative offers better flavor and greater health benefits. The same mindset appears to apply to cameras.

We’re curious: Have any of you held off on buying a DSLR because your smartphone camera suffices for your photography needs?
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Cryoburner replied on Mon, Nov 11 2013 12:41 AM

I suspect there are a fair number of people who bought DSLRs who didn't actually need anything more than a cheap point and shoot, but paid more than necessary just to have the bragging rights of having an expensive camera. They likely mostly just used the automatic modes that are common on recent DSLRs, and didn't actually care about the image quality or features too much. For them, any sufficiently expensive or popular gadget that can take photos will do, and tablets and smartphones can fulfill that need.

Also, buying such devices as tablets can cut into a person's overall tech budget, potentially causing them to put off buying other devices until later. Many DSLR camera owners likely don't feel the need to upgrade their camera every couple years. A lower-end DSLR from a few years ago should still produce excellent images today. This isn't like a decade ago, where the image quality of digital cameras was vastly improving each year. The average non-professional isn't really going to notice much difference in whether their camera has a 12 MP or 18 MP sensor, or whether it has slightly better low-light performance, or can shoot an extra fraction of a frame per second. At least, they won't care enough to justify spending many hundreds of dollars on a new camera. Tablets and smartphones, on the other hand, are still very much in their disposable phase, where the models of today are limited in ways that will make them feel obsolete within a couple years. Most non-professional photographers will be much more interested in spending money on replacing their perceptibly slow tablet or phone than a DSLR that's nearly on par with the current models. It's not so much that those devices are replacing DSLRs though, just that DSLRs have reached a point where many users could go five or more years without feeling the need to upgrade.

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scolaner replied on Mon, Nov 11 2013 10:36 AM

Couldn't agree more. It's actually a sign of technological maturity if people are hanging onto cameras longer and longer. I still have a film SLR that I bought used in high school (which means it's got to be upwards of 15 years old) that works perfectly well. A well-made DSLR with good features and optics should certainly last more than a year or two these days.

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