Nikon has announced the closure of its Jiangsu, China, digital camera factory in the wake of the ever-greater competition from smartphones. The compact camera market has been decimated from its peak ten years ago, before the launch of the iPhone, and Nikon projects a further 28 percent fall in sales of its low-end models in the year to March 2018.
Smartphone cameras are now so good that there is little sense in carrying a separate compact camera. The sensor size in the best smartphones is now similar to that of the traditional compact camera and the phone software enhancements, including narrow depth-of-field simulation, have overtaken the competition. The cheap point and shoot is now virtually redundant and will gradually disappear.
The fundamental reason for the decline, though, is the convenience of being able to take compelling photographs with the thin phone that you always have in your pocket. For years photographers have clichéd that the best camera is the one in your pocket. Now it is true; it’s in the pocket but isn’t a camera at all. It’s a phone.
The camera industry shouldn’t be too despondent. Smartphones are having a remarkably beneficial effect on camera buying choice. The world of photography is growing as almost everyone with a smartphone begins to explore possibilities, from selfies to some really sophisticated work. Apple has been at great pains to show how its iPhones can produce stunning results, even using pictures in poster advertising. All this raises awareness in photography. While this has been bad news for the cheaper end of the market, premium brands such as Fuji, Sony, Canon, Nikon, Olympus and Panasonic are benefiting.
The smartphone camera flatters to deceive. It is much easier to get ostensibly perfect photographs from a modern phone than it was from the compact point-and-shoot in its heyday. Buoyed with this new enthusiasm for photography, many millions of phone owners throughout the world are prompted to look a little further — perhaps in the direction of one of today’s range of high-end compacts with larger sensors. It’s a clear step up and I believe that this new enthusiasm will work up from the bottom of the market — from the DSLR starter kit or a one-inch sensor compact — to full-frame and, even, medium-format digital photography. The prospects for the new mirrorless cameras have never been rosier. Fuji, Sony and others are leading the way, while a micro four-thirds system is also making strong inroads.
News of contraction in the compact camera market is thus not to be seen as the death-knell for the traditional camera. Instead, it is a symbol of a re-awakening in interest in photography, something we should all welcome. There’s life in the old dog yet.