Digital cameras have it rough these days.  Statistics being released from numerous industry sources are continually quantifying the decline in digital camera sales and shipments over the past years, which at this point has become very real to many photographic industry players.  Competition in the marketplace from devices like smartphones, coupled with shifting consumer habits, have forced longtime players in the camera market to reevaluate their stances and product lineups in a frantic effort to “innovate or die.”  With CIPA (Camera & Imaging Products Association) reporting a 60% drop in fixed-lens camera shipments in 2013 compared to 2010, it is safe to say that this innovation has not come easily to companies deeply entrenched in the way things used to be.

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But what shape is the camera industry really in, and how has that shape changed over these years?  While CIPA’s report tracks shipments of digital cameras worldwide, gap intelligence specializes in tracking the retail presence of digital cameras.  Despite these differences, a similar picture of the camera market is painted, and although the industry is indeed declining compared to recent years, gap intelligence retail data shows that it has arrived to much the same point that it was in 2010.

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Using gap intelligence historical data to look at trended retail data for digital cameras from 2010 to 2014 shows us that there were 634 total placements in retail pre-Spring reset 2010 and 633 total retail placements at that exact same time in 2014.  This decline of one camera is a far cry from the dramatic doom-and-gloom headlines seen recently, but this view admittedly does negate the positive growth achieved by the camera industry between these two points in time.  Now essentially back to square one with a similar retail presence, the digital camera world is a very different place these days than it was four years ago.

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In the good ol’ days (read 2010), basic compact and ultra-compact cameras ruled the world of retail with a combined presence of 76%.  Camera-makers could count on shoppers purchasing these camera-types because of a need to capture pictures.  An ultra-compact camera was the primary way that most people, regardless if they were passionate about photography or not, would snap a photo, and camera purchases came largely from necessity rather than excitement.  It is these same reluctant shoppers that now reach for a smartphone to fill that need, resulting in the steep reductions of ultra-compact and compact segments, which combine to only a 53% presence on today’s retail shelf.

Amid the waning popularity of basic point-and-shoots something interesting has happened.  Chains once fearful of higher price tags are now pumping advanced camera models onto their shelves in an effort to showcase items capable of things beyond just snapshots, which has caused a tremendous rise in the average selling price of a camera from $302 in 2010 to $456 in 2014.  Interchangeable lens camera types now make up 31% of the retail shelf compared to just 16% four years ago, and megazoom bridge models have doubled in presence from 8% to 16% as smartphone-snappers realize they are missing zoom on their vacations, and in everyday life.

With that, it is evident that photography is not going to vanish anytime soon, neither in art form nor in hobby, but is instead going through a rough cycle brought on by the historical comfort that vendors once had.  As current estimates point to over 380 billion photos being snapped annually, it seems our passion for photography is stronger than ever, which is the shining light that our smartphone obsession has provided.  Interestingly, this statistic breaks down to more pictures being captured on a daily basis than were taken during the combined 100 years following the invention of photography.

So as it seems, we do not really hate photography as much as camera industry numbers allude to.  If anything, the market was not providing enough of what was truly needed, allowing smartphones to pick-off the low-hanging fruit of basic compacts, and foster growth of REAL cameras.  Now manufacturers are making formidable strides to make these advanced models fit in with our connected lifestyles, but until that perfect sweet spot is found, the camera market may have more dismal numbers to report.