As mobile manufacturers chip away at sales of traditional photographic equipment a seachange can be identified with higher-end, more expensive models becoming more popular. But companies have those customers in their sights, too.
Mobile phone makers dial into camera trade
When it comes to capturing spontaneous moments in life, PK Gulati whips out a fast-shooting camera - attached to his smartphone.
Last month, he started snapping again when he visited Portugal with his family.
"A few shots on my cell phone [were taken] because my kids were making fun of the food they were eating that I quickly caught on camera," says Mr Gulati, who is the president of Optimistix Ventures in Dubai, which provides sales support to technology companies within the Middle East, Africa and India.
Whether it is the latest Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, people are capturing their precious moments by turning off their traditional cameras and powering up their mobiles. In the United States, the share of consumers who now take pictures on their smartphones grew to 27 per cent last year, up from 17 per cent in 2010. Meanwhile, the share of cameras has dropped during the same period, declining from 52 per cent to 44 per cent last year, according to the latest Imaging Confluence Study from the market research company NPD Group, which was released in December.
The market is also changing in the Emirates, says Julien Pascual, the chief executive of EmiratesAvenue.com, a tech retailer in the UAE.
People here almost never print photos, he says, which is why smartphones with cameras of about eight megapixels are popular.
"If it's to put [pictures] on a website or Facebook, this is enough and more convenient than having to carry a camera, then transfer it manually on your computer," says Mr Pascual.
But electronics makers are not taking any chances. Having caught on to the camera-phone trend, mobile manufacturers are increasingly releasing models that boost their ability to take sharper snaps.
Sony has the Xperia S smartphone that includes a high-end image sensor, high-definition camera and video recording capability, as well as a so-called 3D sweep panorama feature. It costs about Dh2,099 (US$571).
"Cameras are actually becoming an essential component of smartphones, not only for photography purposes but also for social network communications and video calling," says Spyridon Gousetis, the director of marketing for Sony Mobile Communications in the Middle East & Africa.
"When it comes to photography, consumers are looking for a smartphone with camera capabilities of capturing moments on the go."
Nokia introduced its first camera-phone in 2001, the 7650, which hosted a paltry 0.3 megapixel sensor. This year, the struggling Finnish phone-maker rolled out the Nokia 808 PureView, a Dh2,149 smartphone that features a whopping 41 megapixel sensor and Carl Zeiss optics.
"We have clearly indicated that imaging will play a big part of our future portfolio with more PureView technologies to be introduced in upcoming devices," says Tom Farrell, the vice president of Nokia Middle East. "Continuous innovation within the realm of mobile imaging is something which Nokia is focusing on."
Yet some consumers say they cannot always rely on smartphones to take the kind of pictures they want.
Like the many enthusiast photographers these days who are travelling abroad to escape summer heat or "staycationing" in the Emirates during Ramadan, Mr Gulati also totes a chunkier, heavier, digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera to capture more professional-looking pictures.
"Most of my holiday photography, such as landscapes, would be on my DSLR," he says.
Technology analysts point out smartphones are "good enough" to take pictures most of the time, particularly spontaneous moments.
"But for important events, single-purpose cameras or camcorders are still largely the device of choice," says Liz Cutting, the executive director and senior imaging analyst at NPD Group.
Its research shows lower-end point-and-shoot cameras have been the hardest-hit by sales of smartphones.
The point-and-shoot camera segment, in terms of unit sales in the US, fell 17 per cent in the first 11 month of last year compared with the same period in 2010. Yet the decline has not spread to every segment of the camera market.
More professional and expensive models have increased in sales. Detachable-lens cameras that sell for an average of $863 rose 12 per cent during the same period.
And camera makers are not giving up the market to smartphones yet.
Last month, Panasonic announced it was introducing the Lumix DMC-FT4 to the Emirates. The souped-up camera is "specially geared for active outdoor use". It has a waterproof, shockproof and freeze-proof design, not to mention a dust-proof feature to help with those desert safari pictures.
Similar technologies can be found on 15 new models Nikon announced last month for the region, called the Coolpix Summer Series.
While these cannot make phone calls, the devices are being pitched as the perfect travel companions, "whether your adventure requires a camera that is waterproof and rugged, high-performance or simply ultra-stylish," says Takashi Yoshida, the managing director of Nikon Middle East.
So, time to snap to it then.
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