Looking at a variety of economic indicators, it’s been a rough 6 months for manufacturers of consumer image capture products.
GoPro, once the darling of investors, has seen it’s stock valuation drop by close to 90%, largely due to poor sales of it’s latest generation Hero4 camera line.
Sales of Apple’s iPhone6, a device that’s more camera than smartphone, have tapered off, causing a ripple effect in Sony’s production of CMOS image sensors.
While drones are looking like the next ‘cool’ tech toy, concerns about privacy, safety and government regulation are limiting their market acceptance.
These trends may be an indicator that a majority of consumers are either happy with their current image capture devices and don’t see the need to upgrade, or that the additional features in new cameras (Wide Dynamic Range, low-light capability, etc.) don’t justify their price tag. Or maybe the thrill of being able to share pictures of crazy stunts, stupid pet tricks, or the meal you’re about to have is beginning to wear thin.
Whatever the reason, cameras are no longer the techie add-on feature that helps sell smartphones, but instead have become a commodity that is taken for granted – like memory chips.
So what can 21st century camera manufacturers do to bring the excitement back? Here are some suggestions:
- Diversify. (I’m talking to you, GoPro.) It’s not enough to to make a small camera with a fixed focus lens that sells for $400. While the Hero cameras are a good start, they still address a relatively small niche of the photographic universe. Where are the upscale Heros with auto-focus / telephoto / large format lenses? And why can’t iPhone cameras be detachable?
- Innovate. It’s somewhat ironic that GoPro relies on rolling shutter image sensors from Sony / Aptina-On for sports action cameras. It’s well known that global shutter image sensors are much better at capturing fast motion. Why can’t GoPro take a play from the RED Digital Cinema playbook and make their own proprietary global shutter image sensor? Why can’t Apple do the same? There’s a good reason that Canon is a leader in camera technology. They have owned their own image sensor design for almost 20 years.
- Communicate. Now that we have entered the era of computational photography and the Internet of Things, it’s time for cameras to talk to each other, and not just for gen-locking. Imagine the possibilities if every iPhone/ Hero at a public event shared images to the cloud to create a massive VR image of the event from multiple points of view?
I, for one, see the current market situation for cameras as a relatively minor bump in the road on the way to a very exciting future for imaging and photography. I’d love to hear from others who may agree or not.