Lines Blur As Cameras Get Smaller

Alan Bullock
Apr 21, 2015

It’s an interesting time for the photo industry. Cameras continue to get better, faster, less expensive, and, perhaps most significantly, smaller. These devices are taking pictures of everything from scenery to sports, capturing life’s moments from new points of view, from vantage points that were very difficult just a few years ago. InfoTrends calls this point-of-view (POV) imaging, and we recently completed a study of the U.S. market in which we examined three categories of POV cameras:

  • Action cameras are those small, rugged cameras that can be worn or mounted on sporting or other equipment (e.g., surfboards, bicycles, cars, helmets, airplanes, furniture, pets) to capture video or photos. GoPro essentially invented the category and remains firmly on top. Sony and iON are strong but distant competitors, and several other vendors are scrambling for single-digit market shares.
  • Lifelogging cameras are often worn on a lanyard or clipped to the user’s clothing, and automatically capture photos, either continuously or at pre-determined intervals. Narrative and Autographer pioneered this category. Just a couple of weeks after Autographer announced its exit from the market, iON announced the SnapCam, but it has not yet started shipping.
  • Other wearable cameras are usually integrated with or attached to eyeglasses, sports goggles, or helmets. The most famous example is Google Glass, but there are a host of others including Epson Moverio, Sony SmartEyeglass, Vuzix, Liquid Image, and Pivothead. Some include displays that make them ideal for augmented and virtual reality applications such as gaming, training, and remote diagnosis/repair, while others are primarily used for taking photos and video from as close to the user’s point of view as possible.

A broad definition of the term “wearable camera” applies to all of these categories, and for now, the applications are different enough to warrant separate consideration. Even so, the lines are already blurring as lifelogging cameras add video capture and action cameras add interval settings for automatic still photo capture. In fact, nearly 70% of action camera users surveyed for our POV Imaging Study reported that they were taking still photos, and more than half of them were using time lapse or continuous shooting modes. Soon, we expect there will be little, if any, distinction between “action and “lifelogging” cameras–instead of discrete devices, they will be applications enabled by mounts and settings.

Another line that is getting fuzzy is between POV cameras and traditional camcorders. Several users told us that they prefer using their action camera for general purpose video because it is not only smaller, lighter, easier to carry, and can be mounted almost anywhere, but is also rugged enough to take places where they would not risk taking a camcorder. Several preferred an action camera to their smartphone for the same reason, and also because it shoots better quality video. Despite their sensor, lens, and battery life advantages, camcorders will also feel the squeeze as consumers are drawn to POV cameras as a single device that can be used in multiple situations. After all, hand-held and tripod-mount are points of view, too.

InfoTrends’ Opinion
Traditional camera manufacturers have had rugged models in their lineups for years, but GoPro ignited the action camera category with a broad range of relatively inexpensive mounting accessories, a focus on video (vs. still photos), and relentless marketing. As a result, legacy brands like Nikon, Canon, and Fujifilm are left on the sidelines while major CE brands such as Sony and Panasonic face off against GoPro and a number of smaller competitors.

Action cameras are getting most of the attention, and rightly so. InfoTrends projects that worldwide sales will grow at double-digit rates to more than 20 million units in 2019. At the same time, much of the innovation is happening in the other two POV segments. In lifelogging, the key will be intelligent software to help users manage the collection of photos that they will quickly accumulate, automatically identifying the best ones and organizing them by people, places, and things so that they are easily accessible when needed. Other wearable cameras still face some social and fashion challenges, and today’s most compelling applications are in the gaming and enterprise markets. That will change quickly, though, as new vendors enter the market and the technology continues to improve.

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InfoTrends’ U.S. Point-of-View Imaging Study included a web survey of more than 900 POV camera users and nearly 1,300 interested non-owners, as well as in-depth interviews with vendors and users. For more information, please contact Matt O’Keefe (+1 781 616 2100 or matthew.okeefe@infotrends.com).

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