Samsung's Galaxy Camera offers 3G, 4G and Wifi connectivity and is powered by the latest version of Android, making it a truly connected camera.
The popularity of smartphones is threatening the compact camera market, forcing traditional camera makers to adapt their products in a bid to stay relevant. Olivier Laurent speaks with Canon, Nikon and Samsung about their strategies
A few years ago, the Nikon and Canon brands used to dominate the charts on Flickr's Camera Finder, which tracks the most-used cameras on the image-sharing website. But since the release of Apple's iPhone, as well as many other smartphones by the likes of HTC and Samsung, camera phones have taken over. Last month, the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 were ahead of Canon's EOS 5D Mark II and 550D, with compact cameras failing to appear in the top 10 of the most-used cameras on Flickr.
In the UK alone, the number of fixed-lens cameras sold dropped to 4.6 million from June 2011 to May 2012, down from 5.2 million the previous year, according to analyst GfK, with Olympus openly admitting that smartphones were now competing with compact cameras. "Due to the increasing popularity of smartphones equipped with high-spec digital camera functions, more and more products are competing with low-cost compact digital cameras," Olympus spokeswoman Ayako Nagami told Amateur Photographer earlier this year. "This trend, which is not unique to our company, applies throughout the market."
The rising popularity of smartphones is now forcing traditional camera manufacturers to reassess their strategies by offering devices that can, for example, connect to the internet easily. Nikon, for example, released the S800c, a compact camera powered by Google's Android system, which allows users to download applications that can help email and share images on social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr. "There is an expectation to have your computers, tablets and laptop devices all talking together," says Jeremy Gilbert, group marketing manager at Nikon UK. "The future for technology is connectivity - this camera is all about improving connectivity between smart devices, taking quality images and sharing them instantly across devices and social media platforms. The S800c will appeal to people looking to upgrade to a camera from a smartphone and are used to all the mobile capabilities of a smartphone, plus they will be used to using apps."
Of course, when speaking to BJP, both Nikon and Canon denied that their markets are suffering from smartphones' popularity. "Cameras and smartphones have different capabilities and therefore, ultimately, different audiences," says Gilbert. "Cameras are aimed at people who essentially want better-quality images and want to record special moments, whereas smartphones are used to capture day-to-day ‘post-it' images, rather than being relied upon to capture big life events."
For Steve Marshall, a product marketing director at Canon Europe, the issue is not as simplistic as saying the compact camera market is dying. "The fact that consumers are using smartphones to take pictures is really good, because it gets consumers interested in taking photos," he tells BJP. "There's been an explosion in the number of images posted on social networking sites over the past few years. The fact that people like to take and share photos is good for a camera manufacturer because, at some point, people will want more than what a camera phone can offer. It's a good opportunity for us."
These past few years, Canon has been paying particular attention to how people are using images, says Marshall, and "we're making sure our products can be integrated in these activities". The firm's solution has been to add Wifi capabilities to some of its products. The Canon IXUS 510 HS, for example, uses Wifi to connect to an Android or iOS applications that can then be used to transfer images online. "Wifi is the simplest way to get images from a camera to a smartphone and to Facebook or any other social networking site," says Marshall. "We're doing it the way we think is best at the moment. We're seeing very early stages of development in regards to how images are utilised from a phone manufacturer or camera manufacturer's point of view. To be honest, I don't know where this is going to end, but I think cameras have a history of delivering results."
The iPhone's camera isn't perfect, but, for many users, it's good enough to replace their compact cameras.
Samsung is taking a different approach altogether, embracing its expertise both in the camera and phone markets. The result is the Samsung Galaxy Camera, which shares the same 4.8-inch HD Super Clear LCD touchscreen as the Galaxy S III phone's, and features a 21× optical zoom lens, as well as 3G, 4G and Wifi connectivity.
"We all love to take pictures," says Stephen Taylor, vice president of Samsung Brand Europe. "Consumers are looking for high-quality images and the power to share what [they] create seamlessly. We're combining smartphone features you can't find on cameras, with camera features you can't find on smartphones." For Samsung's president of IT and mobile communications, JK Shin, the camera is the result of communication becoming more visual, with more people editing and sharing moments with images - via Instagram, for example, with which Samsung is closely working to create a more integrated version of the photo-sharing application for the Galaxy Camera.
For Samsung, the new hybrid camera - or, as it calls it, the smart camera - isn't just a one-off experiment. According to Samsung's digital imaging sales and marketing vice president, SH Lim, the South Korean company will be monitoring consumer demands closely and could, in future, release new versions of the Galaxy Camera sporting larger sensors. In the meantime, Samsung is busy adding Wifi connectivity to most of its compact and interchangeable lens cameras, with 3G and 4G features added to "premium" models, says Lim. And, he continues, Android could also be added to these cameras, if the demand is there. "Android is the most popular operating system at the moment," he says. "And it would make sense for us to use it in other cameras."
For Canon, however, Android isn't the answer. "We have cameras that work with a really fast operating system that has been developed over so many years," says Richard Trestain, a product specialist team leader in charge of digital compact cameras at Canon Europe. "It allows our cameras to be blistering fast. So, to fill the camera with a complicated alternative system could cause issues, especially when you already have this smartphone in your pocket." And that's at the heart of Canon's solution to compete against smartphones. "I think what's great about our solution is that you already have a smartphone you use and love. You know how to download an app and all we're doing is plugging into that, and the camera continues to focus on the stuff it's good at. As a result, the consumer isn't confused. I think the idea with our solution is that you can say: ‘Don't worry, you're still going to get the same image quality you expect from your camera, but now, that smartphone you had in your pocket, you can utilise it.'"
Nikon is using the Android operating system in its S800c compact camera in a bid to compete against smartphones.
Fujifilm, which did not return BJP's request for a comment, has chosen the same path, earlier this year introducing its Photo Receiver and Camera apps on Android and iOS. The apps can communicate with Fujifilm's Wifi-enabled cameras, such as the FinePix F800EXR, to transfer photos, but also to record the user's current location data by sending the tablet or smartphone's latitude and longitude, and displaying it on the LCD monitor of the camera, according to Fujifilm. "Users can also send that image to their smartphones and tablets to display the location where it was shot on general map applications," it adds. "With a database of approximately one million landmarks worldwide, users can enjoy various functions, such as Landmark Navigator, which acts as a tour guide, displaying the distance from where you are to nearby landmarks (in the direction the camera is facing), and Photo Navigation, which displays the distance from the photographer's present location to the place where a tagged photo was taken."
For Canon, however, new features shouldn't be added just to a smartphone app, with the firm preferring to introduce new features within its operating system. For example, some of its Wifi-enabled cameras offer the option to upload images to Facebook, but, says Trestain, "the image goes through the Canon Image Gateway" before getting to Facebook. "What's good about that," he claims, "is that you can set everything up online in the Canon Image Gateway, so you don't have to mess around with settings on the camera." And that eco-system is set to expand dramatically next year when Canon will officially release a new online environment dubbed Project 1709.
The goal, says Canon, is to allow photographers to store "a lifetime of images" online, which will be accessible from any devices - from computers to smartphones, compact cameras and DSLRs. "Right now, if you decide to store your images in the cloud, who would you trust?" asks Trestain. "There are a lot of cloud storage options, but would you trust your entire image library to these services? People trust Canon. We're not there to mine data. We're here to satisfy photographers' needs."
The service would integrate with social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and allow users to store and monitor any comments made on any of their images irrespective from where they are shown. "You can imagine it as the one place where all of your images will reside," he says. And by tightly integrating the online environment with its cameras, as well as allowing users to browse and manage their image libraries from a smartphone or tablet, Canon hopes it will be able to remain relevant in a changing camera landscape.
But with Apple, Samsung and even Nokia adding new features to their smartphones that typically make their way to traditional cameras - such as 40-megapixel sensors, smart-scene selection and panorama options - camera makers will have to remain vigilant to maintain their market shares.
Most Popular Articles
Updating your subscription status
We have a vacancy for a Key Account Manager working on The British Journal of Photography
Magnet Harlequin, one of the UK's leading Creative Production Agencies is seeking a new Head of Photography.
We have opportunities for two experienced photographic, audio or video technicians.