Megapixel Smartphones Pose a Threat to the Traditional Digital Camera Market

Eve Padula
Jul 24, 2012

For as long as mobile phones have included embedded cameras, digital camera vendors have been wondering when—or even if—these handsets would begin to impact traditional digital still camera usage. Until recently, camera phones largely had a complementary effect on digital cameras. Mobile handsets were great for spontaneous photo capture because they were typically carried at all times, but the resulting images were generally low-quality. Meanwhile, digital cameras offered features that were far superior to those of camera phones, including high resolution, optical zoom, and quick shutter speeds. Traditional digital cameras were therefore the go-to devices for milestone events, special occasions, and vacations.

According to InfoTrends’ ongoing research on the mobile imaging market, smartphone adoption is currently exploding. Although less than 4% of respondents to our 2008 mobile imaging end-user survey were smartphone owners, this share had jumped to nearly 46% by 2012.

Figure 1: Share of Smartphone Users, 2008-2012

Some of today’s smartphones have resolutions in excess of 12 MP, and many also offer improved zoom and built-in editing capabilities. Although smartphones are still no match for traditional digital cameras in terms of photo capture, the market seems to be reaching a tipping point. Today’s smartphones are now capable of capturing photos that will be more than adequate for casual photographers, and this seems to be making all the difference.

InfoTrends has just published its 2012 Spotlight on Smartphones report, which provides a special data cut of its mobile imaging research to provide a closer look at the smartphone market. Survey participants who owned a smartphone as well as a digital camera were asked which device they used most often for taking photos. For everyday photo capture, smartphones were the most popular choice by an overwhelming margin (70%). Although digital point & shoot cameras were most commonly used for special occasions (43%), nearly 32% of respondents relied on their smartphones even when photographing special occasions.

InfoTrends is also seeing a rise in a new breed of consumers—individuals who own smartphones but DO NOT own digital still cameras. According to InfoTrends’ research, over 19% of smartphone users don’t own digital cameras and rely on their handsets for photo capture. These respondents are most commonly:

  • Young. Nearly 33% of respondents who own smartphones but not digital cameras are under the age of 25.
  • Male. Nearly 54% of respondents who rely on their handsets for photo capture are male.
  • Tech-Savvy. Nearly 40% of these individuals categorized themselves as Early Adopters of technology, while only about 12% were Late Adopters.

Some of these individuals might never purchase digital cameras because their photography needs are being fulfilled by smartphones. Based on the youth of these respondents, however, it is also possible that some have not purchased digital cameras yet because of their lower incomes—many individuals in the under 25 age demographic will still be in school or just starting out in the workforce. InfoTrends will continue to track these individuals to determine if their photography habits change as they get older. In any case, it does appear that smartphones are beginning to have a negative effect on traditional digital still cameras.

To learn more about our 2012 Spotlight on Smartphones report, please contact Matt O’Keefe at Matthew_OKeefe@infotrends.com or (781) 616-2115.

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