Transitioning from Smartphone to Dedicated Camera

While the camera makers will all nod their head in agreement that smartphones have killed the casual and entry camera market, they all look very confused and answer stupidly when you ask them a simple question: so why would a smartphone user looking to upgrade to a dedicated camera pick your product?

Fact of the matter is, I’m pretty sure that none of the Japanese camera companies know the answer to the question. 

Let’s think of it from the standpoint of that user: they’ve been doing some still and vlog work—they’re a creator!—using their iPhone and now are wondering if there’s more/better they can do. There is, as 12mp stills and even 4K video are fairly low bars to hurdle in reasonable light for any image sensor, but there’s a lot of headroom above that bar now.

Here are some of the problems that user sees in moving from smartphone to camera: moderate increase in quality for massive increase in complexity; workflow breaks; convenience disappears; size and weight dramatically increase. So what’s the real overall gain, and is it even close to worth it?

There’s a curious sub-set in this potential market: the image conscious. Not photographic image, but personal image. For example, influencers love to be seen with a Fujifilm X100V for some reason. To the point where Fujifilm can’t build them fast enough, and new copies constantly sell for as much as a 50% premium on eBay. This is a textbook definition of fad. Fads don’t last. A short term boost in sales is not what the camera companies should be pursuing with the smartphone-to-camera transitioners, but rather a long-term gain that can continue to be built on.

At the moment, I’d say that there’s only a gain worth the frustrations if you’ve truly gone professional. In essence, you outgrew your smartphone. And now the camera companies will punish you for doing so ;~). (Seriously, I’ve been told this by several younger, transitioning, creatives; they feel punished when they want to improve their work.)

For a while the camera companies couldn’t move fast or far enough to get away from the smartphone. “Let’s lock up the current dedicated camera crowd in full frame, preferably high end” seemed to be the mantra. Those folk were already using “sneaker net” in moving files around, so just ignore communicating abilities and convenience. End goal: as many pixels and features and thirst-worthy things as you could cram into a metal frame. And don’t forget to milk the crowd with new lenses to complement their camera transition. 

The result is pretty much as I predicted: unit sales have mostly flat-lined. Will we ever hit 6m ILC units annually again? Seems somewhat unlikely, though Canon seems to think they can peddle popularized plastic to penny-pinchers permanently. R100? Must be someone who can only afford that, right? After all, it’s only 3/4 an iPhone in price. 

What I find lately is that the camera makers are giving marketing lip-service to those smartphone users they want to jump ship to a dedicated camera, but in terms of engineering genuineness, well, not so much. Apparently the salarymen in Japan have only gotten so far as “ah, you desire to hold the camera in front of you pointed at you.” That, however, is only the front end (pardon the pun) of the use pattern for those potential customers. I can think of a ton of things the engineers are getting wrong or ignoring. 

Okay, you won’t let me get away with that previous line without some support. Here’s just one simple thing: on the dedicated cameras you have to pick your filter prior to photographing. This leads to a trial-and-error circle that postpones the moment. Oops, photos are about moments, which often don’t repeat. What if you instead kept both an as-taken JPEG with an embedded raw (the opposite of what cameras currently do)? Why, you could substantially post-filter the JPEG later (and in camera), couldn’t you? Basically the use pattern that many of the younger creatives are currently using.

Again, this is just one of many possible “conveniences” that I see that just don’t exist in the offerings from Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Sony, Things that would make the move from smartphone to camera more attractive, and potentially start to regrow the camera market again. Something’s that necessary before all us old fogeys with those giant neck hangers all die off. 

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