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The camera and camcorder market has seen mixed fortunes in recent times, although it has fared reasonably well during the recession thanks to a number of factors including the rise in social networking and video sharing. This report will look at the Digital Still Camera (DSC) sector, comprising fixed lens models (compact cameras) and changeable lens models (D-SLR and hybrid models).

GfK’s Matt Gibbs explains: “At the start of 2009, many pundits and analysts were predicting a year of continuing declines for the fixed lens sector, but substantial growth for changeable lens due to the lower penetration. This turned out to be wide of the mark, and whilst over the past 12 months changeable lens volumes declined by slightly less than fixed, by the second half of 2009 fixed was in fact the better performer. In the quarter to January 2010, fixed lens volumes fell by 8%, with changeable lens volumes dropping by over 10%. During October and November this difference was even greater.

“The clearest influence is the loss of any changeable lens models below £350 after the summer. This caused the entry level price to move well above even the highest end fixed lens models. Naturally, consumers therefore spent the same as before, yet opted for a higher end fixed lens model – particularly those around the £250 price point”.

Gibbs goes on to speculate that a decay in entry level pricing for changeable lens may well mean something of a resurgence in new consumers entering this segment resulting in an increase in the sub-£500 bracket this year.

Social networking

As a result of digital cameras displacing 35mm film models as the standard, consumers have changed the way in which they store and share photos. The increasing popularity of social networking websites such as Twitter has increased the frequency with which many people take photos and share them with friends and family online. Stephen Mitchell, general marketing manager at Samsung agrees, commenting: “Consumers are demanding more flexibility when it comes to how, when and where they share their images. Using Bluetooth 2.0 technology, users can wirelessly beam their favourite images to other compatible mobile phone devices and with Wi-Fi technology, users can email photos direct from their camera and upload their photos or videos to selected websites including Facebook, Picasa and YouTube, without needing to connect to a PC”. He goes on to provide the example of Samsung’s DLNA-enabled ST1000 which enables users to wirelessly connect the camera to other compliant devices such as TVs and digital picture frames.

With the growing popularity of photo sharing, has the inclusion of digital still capability on other products, such as camcorders and mobile phones affected camera sales?

Panasonic’s Mark Robinson, Product Manager – Lumix thinks not, stating: “Consumers are still focused on the primary use of their device. For a camera user filming video, the ergonomics of a camera are not suited to long time recording”. Samsung’s Mitchell reiterates this point, explaining: “There is certainly a place in the market for both camcorders and cameras to operate together side by side as consumer demands require different enhanced features in each product sector”.

The camera sector has received a timely boost thanks to the standardisation of high definition, with consumers trading up to the best resolution possible, thus providing another strong opportunity for the sector. Sony’s Rachel Banin comments: “With more and more HDTVs being sold there is an opportunity for retailers to sell DSC and camcorder products that are HD compatible so that consumers can enjoy their footage and images on an HDTV”.

As a result, several camera manufacturers, such as Sony and Samsung now include HD connectivity on many of their products while Panasonic now includes HD movie functionality on its entire new Lumix range.

Bridging the gap

Despite positive predictions for D-SLR cameras during 2009, these products didn’t fare quite as well as expected. However, Sony’s Rachel Banin believes that there is still plenty of potential for this product sector, stating: “With consumers now on their second or even third DSC product they are looking for the next step which is D-SLR. Research suggests that consumers believe that D-SLRs are complicated and bulky. Sony has introduced a range of products that incorporate user-friendly features including help guides to make the experience as easy as possible”.

While Sony is making D-SLR cameras more accessible for consumers, several manufacturers have introduced so-called ‘bridge’ or ‘hybrid’ models. Samsung’s Stephen Mitchell explains the thinking behind the brand’s new NX10 model, commenting: “Samsung has done research around consumer needs and the results from this tell us there are photography needs that are not being met. In the compact market, there is a desire for quality and speed and hybrid cameras offer a larger sensor with a faster shutter speed. Alternatively, there’s a desire from some D-SLR users to have a smaller, more compact model that’s easier to use. Hybrid cameras sit in the middle and meet both of these needs”.

As demonstrated by the constantly evolving camera sector, consumers are looking beyond features such as Megapixel count for things such as image stabilisation and wireless technology. Samsung also recently introduced the ST550 and ST500 compact cameras, which are the world’s first cameras to feature LCD screens on the front as well as the back.

Last year Sony introduced an innovative and increasingly popular feature called Sweep Panorama that enables the consumer to take a panoramic shot, horizontally or vertically, at the touch of a button, with the camera automatically stitching the shots together. The manufacturer also recently introduced a new technology to its compacts, D-SLRs and Handycam range called Exmor R CMOS sensor. This is designed to create excellent quality images, even in low light conditions.

Camcorders

Overall, sales figures for the camcorder sector are slightly down when compared to the previous year. According to GfK data, sales volume has fallen by 16.4%, while value has dropped by 14.7%. As products continue to move away from tape-based formats to hard disk drives (HDD) and Flash-based systems, there has also been a clear move to high-definition technology. While standard-def camcorders have fallen in terms of both sales volume and value, Full HD camcorders have grown by an impressive 20.1% in sales volume, while sales value increased by 7.3%.

It’s clear that this shift in the market has taken place as a result of hi-def technology rapidly becoming standard. As Sanyo’s UK marketing manager, Dominic Jones, puts it: “We are now in a HD world and products that do not provide HD do not provide the required user experience. Our range of Xacti Dual Cameras is the only range in the UK in which every model offers full 1080i HD”.

Like the camera sector, camcorder design and sales have also been directly influenced by the exponential rise of social media. Toshiba’s Graeme Simons, digital products and services business manager, reiterates this point, commenting: “The growing popularity of video sharing sites like YouTube has made a significant impact on sales and usage of low to mid-priced Flash camcorders. The new pocket Flash camcorders have given impetus to this segment of the market – customers are attracted to their competitive price and sleek design. Smart features like the one-touch YouTube uploading also makes sharing good quality video content easier than ever”.

Sanyo’s Dominic Jones also makes the point that many sites including Facebook, YouTube and MySpace are now HD compatible, boosting HD video use further.

Along with the diminut
ive Xacti VPC-CS1 (see Products to Watch, page 34), Sanyo has also recently introduced the VPC-SH1 which incorporates a powerful 30x advanced zoom.

Sony recently launched the Bloggie HD snap camcorder that can record HD video clips and take 5MP stills and upload them to sites such as YouTube and Flickr at the touch of a button, using the discrete USB arm.

Toshiba’s Camileo Full HD camcorder range comprises the S20, H30 and X100 models. The S20 is the brand’s slimmest Full HD product (see Products to Watch, page 34), while the H30 sports a more traditional barrel design and incorporates a 3in touch screen viewer and takes 10MP still photos. The X100 also offers still photography and a touch screen viewer, along with 10x optical zoom, 10x digital zoom and 4GB of integrated memory.

Panasonic’s latest camcorder models include Viera Link, which means that they can be controlled by a Viera TV remote control when connected by Mini HDMI. All models also have a wide angle lens, along with enhanced iA (intelligent auto) functions.

JVC’s 2010 Everio camcorder line-up offers a broad range of models incorporating HDDs, Flash memory and/or SD cards. The GZ-HM330 is JVC’s first model to use a 30x optical zoom, while the flagship GZ-HM550 includes Bluetooth technology that enables users to remotely operate the camcorder using a smart phone, transfer stills to a phone or tag recordings with GPS data.

Indie opportunites

Almost all of the companies mentioned here, and more besides, offer an extensive selection of marketing material, PoS displays and training opportunities for independent retailers.

The digital imaging sector is particularly important for independent retailers as it provides a strong opportunity to boost profits through add-on sales. The huge range of accessories on offer includes batteries, lenses, tripods, camera straps and cases. What’s more, there is a burgeoning market for more peripheral products such as home photo printers and digital photo frames, providing yet more opportunity for profits in what can be a very lucrative product sector.

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