Cameras go pro

In Product News On
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Consumer cameras are moving further towards the pro market, with Compact System Cameras being the big success story of the past year, while the camcorder sector continues to struggle. Libby Plummer reports.

While some consumer electronics remain relatively stagnant, the camera and camcorder sectors have seen plenty of changes over the last year. Sales of Compact System Cameras have flourished while the range of models available rapidly increases, leading to the slowing down of DSLR sales.

The traditional camcorder market hasn’t performed too well, although sales of HD models continue to rise, while smaller pocket-sized camcorders begin to fall off the radar, probably due to improvements in video capture on still cameras and smarpthones.

Compact System Cameras

Just what is it about Compact System Cameras (CSCs) that has proved to be so successful? Fujifilm’s senior business manager for digital products, Theo Georghiades, explains: “CSCs have proved very popular with a wide range of photographers by offering very high picture quality, plus the flexibility of an interchangeable lens system while still being small and light enough to carry around all day. Fujifilm recently launched the X-Pro 1, its first ever CSC, to critical acclaim. The system offers exceptional image quality, a stylish retro design and useful features such as Fuji’s unique hybrid viewfinder”.

The rapid growth of CSCs has even slowed down take-up of DSLRs, a category that has been performing increasingly well over the last few years as more consumers have traded up to a wide selection of entry-level models. According to Barney Sykes, Panasonic’s Lumix G product manager: “The CSC sector is already bigger than DSLR in both Japan and Taiwan and forecasted to be bigger than DSLR globally by 2015.

Along with Fujifilm’s X-Pro 1 CSC, consumers can choose from a rapidly increasing selection including Sony’s NEX-7, the Olympus E-PM1, the Samsung NX200 and the newly launched Panasonic GF5 which includes the world’s fastest autofocus, while the quirky Pentax K-01 offers a distinctive Marc Newson-designed chassis.

Bridging the gap

While not seeing such rapid growth as the CSC sector, bridge and hybrid cameras including Micro Four Thirds models such as the Panasonic GX1, have performed well, thanks to their compact footprint and high-end shooting options. An increasing number of superzooms have also hit the market, offering strong zoom capabilities in a relatively compact camera body, with recent launches including the Olympus SZ-12, the Fujifilm X-S1 and the Nikon Coolpix P150.

Social networking

The influence of social networking has continued into 2012 with photo-sharing sites such as Flickr having a huge impact on the number of photos people take and how they share them. That combined with the success of Facebook, Twitter and picture-based social networking site Pinterest means consumers are looking for good picture quality, shooting flexibility and the ability to upload pictures easily. Many models now have integrated social media compatibility so that consumers can upload their pictures directly.

Going retro

A flurry of smartphone apps that enable users to apply vintage filters to their images has helped to re-ignite sales of film-based cameras such as those offered by analogue specialist Lomography. While this remains a niche market, it has also undoubtedly had an influence on camera design, with the vintage aesthetics being particularly obvious on cameras such as Fuji’s X100 and X10.

Polaroid has also risen from the ashes to bring instant photography into the 21st century. A spokesperson from the iconic brand commented: “Polaroid is such an original product and is still one of a kind so it’s great to see that people are trying to recreate photos with that Polaroid vintage feel. Just as it is in the fashion world, trends come full circle, and people are after a dreamy grainy picture which captures the imagination and immediacy of life.

Polaroid has also moved forward with its products in keeping with the age of digital photography; the Z340 is a digital instant camera which allows users to choose if they print the photo or store it on an SD card for later transfer to a computer. The GL10 is a portable photo printer that connects to any android phone for instant prints on the move. Although the products have evolved, Polaroid’s ethos of sharing photos and memories has not changed and that really appeals to a generation whose images are never let loose from their laptops and mobile phones”.

Camcorders

The camcorder market has changed considerably over the last few years, largely influenced by the inclusion of video capability on still cameras as well as improved video capture on smartphones. However, some experts believe that smartphones can actually have a positive effect, with Fujifilm’s Theo Georghiades explaining: “Many consumers’ introduction to photography will be via camera phones, but this actually benefits the whole market by increasing the overall interest in photography. Many of those consumers will look to replace the camera on their phone with a dedicated product”.

Overall camcorder sales continue to fall although HD-equipped models are still on the rise. So, is there still a place for traditional camcorders? Panasonic’s camcorder product manager Lee Wootton believes so, stating: “The market is growing year-on-year and consumers do have a basic understanding that camcorders deliver the best video quality which is particularly important for special occasions and for hobbyists. HD camcorders have seen strong growth in quantity over the last year, as consumers want to watch back footage on their HDTVs, with our flagship HC-X900 model being a prime example”.

While the traditional camcorder market may be struggling somewhat, it’s clear that the standardisation of HDTV offers some opportunities. But, what about the pocket camcorder market? Does the death of the popular Flip Mino model mean that pocket camcorders are becoming obsolete? Panasonic’s Lee Wootton comments: “ That depends on your definition of pocket camcorders. We have seen a big decline in chocolate bar-style models but the vertical camcorders, known as pistol grip, offer the consumers much more optical technology than a smartphone with lots of features such as optical zoom, full HD video, intelligent auto and some waterproof models”.

One of the few areas of that has seen any growth is 3D. While there are still only a few 3D-capable models available, such as the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 and the JVC GS-TD1, this particular innovation seen substantial sales growth figures for 2011, albeit from a very small base.

Toshiba product manager Paul Hicks commented:  “3D content is still in its relative infancy, but 3D camcorders allow users to easily create and enjoy 3D content at home. For example, our Camileo Z100 model offers a cost-effective 3D camcorder solution, and reinforces Toshiba’s 3D offering with a full complement of devices from creation to editing to playback devices.

An increasing number of rugged, sports-orientated models are designed to be attached to bikes, crash helmets and other sporting equipment such as surfboards in order to capture action footage. Once a specialist product, these are becoming cheaper and more accessible for consumers. Toshiba’s Paul Hicks commented: “Toshiba recently launched the Camileo Clip  – a small and portable, splash-proof, ruggedized, Full HD camcorder that can easily clip onto clothing. The Clip is also perfect for kids with its simple operation and small size. It’s also great for filming outdoor adventures and action sports too – you can mount it to your helmet and film first-person footage of your favourite ski run or mountai
n bike ride”.

Other examples include the GoPro HD Hero 2 which follows on the its successful predecessor, while the Ion Action Pro comes complete with wireless capability and a specially designed app that means you can stream action directly to your mobile device. Sony also introduced its new Bloggie Sport waterproof camcorder in 2012. The action cam sector is certainly one to watch over the coming year.

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