Five Reasons The Camera Lost Its Mojo

In our previous article, we wrote about the decline of the standalone camera, with the focus on the Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera (DSLR) including various easily understood data and graphs to ponder upon. Below the break are two of the prominent graphs available.

DSLR Trends 1
Malaysia’s interest in DSLR and brands like Nikon seems to be on the way down
DSLR Trends 11
Even camera forums and camera shops are not spared

We also wrote about the following as part of our series on the state of cameras and photography trends, which you might want to read through

Has the camera lost its mojo? If we defined camera as standalone ones like the DSLR, point and shoot and the mirrorless, we would say ‘yes’. After all, in our previous article, official figures have shown that the DSLR is indeed rapidly losing popularity. Some would call it a sunset industry, as many camera dealers with their large stores have been forced to downsize to avoid financial instability.

Why has the camera lost its mojo? Why the dramatic drop in popularity in the region? What can camera brands like Canon and Nikon, plus the accessories makers like Lowepro and Manfrotto do about it? Let us look into that below

1) Reasons The Camera Lost Its Mojo : The iPhone 4s

The rise of the iPhone and iPhoneography has been derided by photography enthusiasts and experts as just a gimmick.1 A check on Flickr now shows that the top cameras used to take and upload photos with flickr are smartphones like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy. However, most photographers had derided the use of a smart phone for photos. Andrew Stark, a renown Sydney street and documentary photographer said this back in 2009.

iphone 4s
The iPhone 4s

“If you’re serious about photography I think you carry a camera, the phone smacks of someone with a casual interest in the genre, or someone just looking for a gimmicky context (or an afterthought whilst stuck on hold).”

However, it was not that far back when Kodak made the mistake of considering digital cameras as a gimmick as well. After all, the first few digital cameras were expensive, had low resolution and never seem like they were able to catch up with the image and color quality that film camera exhibited. But it was a great mistake that would haunt them, as Kodak went from technology darlings to technology bankrupts within the decade.

Before we continue, let us look at data from our good friend, Mr. Google Trends again.

DSLR Trends 4
The rise of the iPhone 4s saw the decline of the DSLR. Was it a coincidence or….?

Was it a coincidence that cameras lost its popularity when the iPhone 4s was released? It might seem not, as the iPhone 4s featured much improvements over the previous generations of iPhone smart phones. The iPhone was bent on pushing the boundaries of smart phone photography, as it left Samsung in its trail, while catching up with point and shoot cameras like the high end Olympus XZ-1. Lisa of Camera+, the popular iPhone app gave the iPhone 4s a glowing report as below

‘The iPhone 4S is dramatically clearer and sharper than previous iPhone versions. Using separate focus and exposure in Camera+ on the iPhone 4 & 4S significantly helped create a more balanced exposure. While it’s not nearing the same quality as a professional level dSLR, it is comparable to a top of the line compact camera and even outshines it in some ways.’2

iphone 4s improvements
Notice the clarity and great colour the iPhone 4s brought?

If you study the popularity of the DSLR camera across the region and compare it to the various prominent countries like the United States and United Kingdom, countries like Singapore and Malaysia were much more affected by the iPhone 4s’ launch as compared to the western countries.

Having A DSLR Camera Was Trendy

As such, we believe that the DSLR camera was once an object or symbol of status for the young and trendy. People wanted a camera because it helped take great photos with bokeh, but also because everyone was having one. That was true back in 2011 as people brought their DSLRs around and snapped photos. As more people took photos and uploaded them to Facebook, others followed suit to buy a camera for themselves.

However, the same crowd who picked up the DSLR camera, then went off with the iPhone 4s. With iPhone 4s, they did not have to carry around a heavy camera and expensive lenses, while having a good enough lens for the casual photography. It was easy to conceal and use daily, and finally, it was easy to share the photos socially.

TL;DR, it means that the iPhone fulfilled the need most photographers never knew they had. Convenience and Quality. This brings us to the second reason the camera declined in popularity : Instagram.

2) Reasons The Camera Lost Its Mojo : The Rise Of Instagram

You see, while people loved sharing photos on Facebook, Instagram made sharing photos classy. When Instagram was first launched, it rapidly became popular because it enabled users to easily add beautiful filters (that would have taken some time via photoshop) and share their photos to a group of friends and followers. Many people liked Instagram because it allowed you to take a peek into the lives of others by being their friend, be it a rockstar like U2’s Bono, famous soccer player like Neymar or the bodyguard of the jewellery store in Midvalley.

Instagram brought social sharing of photographs to a new level. It fostered a community of photographers on smartphones.

Instagram also helped foster a community, just like how Flickr did in its original form. People loved participating in liking and commenting other people’s photos, while it helped users track events that were happening via hashtags. And interestingly, all these were exclusively available to the iPhone user back in 2011, back when some were still using the older models which took not-so-good photos.

Nevertheless, the popularity of Instagram on the iPhones had a compounding effect on standalone cameras like the DSLR. After all, majority of those who were taking photos with the DSLR were tired of the weight and cumbersomeness of carrying one, the threat of snatch thieves that was on the rise in Malaysia and also the lack of social sharing on the camera.

Instagram fulfilled a need most photographers didn’t know they had. That was why the Instagram + iPhone 4s combination won over DSLR users.

Oh, by the way, was it a coincidence that the rise of Instagram came around the same time as the launch of the iPhone 4s?

DSLR Trends 14
Instagram’s popularity continues to rise while Nikon and the DSLR continues to drop

3) Reasons The Camera Lost Its Mojo : Camera Good Enough

Like what we said in our previous articles, Canon and Nikon were happy to rest their laurels and think that giving photographers minor upgrades on ISO, shutter speed and other features with each new model. In short, they thought photographers as cash cows that they could slowly release features to. After all, for some time photographers were going through cameras like changing a new pair of shoes (on a yearly or bi-yearly basis). Times were good and bound to last, wouldn’t it?

But they misunderstood the market. The reason why photographers were rapidly upgrading their cameras was the fact that the early models of the DSLR released between 2005 till 2011 had low ISO and low performance. By the time the 600D, 5D Mark II and the other cameras of the generation were released in 2011, ISO could easily be bumped up to 6,400 (Nikon) and 12,800 (Canon), with photos taken with the ISO of 3200 being clear.

Cameras also lasted for a long period if properly cared for. Thus, just like the computer and Windows XP, sales plummeted because camera manufacturers did not create a compelling reason for customers to do so. The camera they had, was good enough.


4) Reasons The Camera Lost Its Mojo : Lack Of Innovation

The camera industry stood still even though smart phones were rapidly evolving and replacing standalone gadgets like the voice recorder, mp3 player, note book and others. And for awhile, no one bothered as the smart phone with its tiny sensor could not have held up to the DSLR in terms of image quality. But then it started changing as the iPhone began pushing the boundaries of smart phone cameras as Steve Jobs felt that he wanted to reinvent photography.3

lytro illum 1
The Lytro Ilium is innovative. But Apple with securing the patent for light field cameras for the smart phone, what will Camera Manufacturers do?

Now, if you studied Steve Job’s biography and business decisions, you know that he means business if he said he wanted to reinvent something. It meant that the current market leaders for that product were doing a bad job; that as a consumer, he was frustrated. With the powers that he had (in terms of personnel and finances), he wanted to make a difference. Plus he knew it would be a great market to disrupt.

One good example would be the mp3 player,  once dominated by brands like Creative and Archos, only to be replaced almost overnight by the iPod. Or the Blackberry and Nokia who dominated the phone industry, only to find themselves broke and never regaining the market share lost to the iPhone.

You see, other than the lack of Instagram and social sharing capabilities (We wouldn’t count transferring the photos via bluetooth as social sharing), cameras have an unfriendly hard-coded administration backend even up to today. Compared to the iPhone and then later smart phones with their various App Stores, DSLR and mirrorless cameras are built with slow processors which would not do much, much less run an powerful OS like the iPhone.

For camera manufacturers to gain back the market, they need to think out of the box. Just like how Apple simplified the phone and mp3 player and gain much success, camera manufacturers cannot be satisfied with pushing traditional channels and hope the retailers improve sales. Things like design, ease of use and creating and fulfilling a need, should all be considered as part of the reinvention of cameras.

Camera manufacturers don’t have much time. Unless they change, they could be driven out of business.

ipod evolution
Apple reinvented music players with the iPod. What would they do to reinvent the camera?

5) Reasons The Camera Lost Its Mojo : Rising Debts

The final reason cameras lost its mojo is an external one, in the form of rising debts. Malaysian household debt ratio has climbed to 86.8% of the GDP, driven by loans.4 Financially, the country isn’t doing well with prices of everyday goods, properties, food and petrol rising at 7.9% per annum and squeezing the already thin base of middle class group.5

With Petrol, Palm Oil and Rubber facing a bleak 2015, the economy is bound to get worse. And when that happens, people would cut spending on non-essential items like the camera. While camera manufacturers would not be able to avoid recession and a weakened economy, they could still create a camera that customers want. But for that, they would need to break out of their current mindset.


Unless camera manufacturers like Canon and Nikon plus mirrorless players like Sony, Olympus and Fuji reinvent photography, the market will continue to struggle as a sunset industry. With rumours that the upcoming iPhone 7 would see massive improvements with the built-in camera having light field technology plus other goodies, camera manufacturers need to make it compelling for photographers to want the latest camera again.

What do you think? Do you feel that there are other reasons the camera is rapidly losing popularity? Do share your thoughts below.

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