2012 has seen an influx of connectivity within the digital camera realm that has never been witnessed in the past. While WiFi-equipped cameras are not a new concept, the transformation of the technology from a top-shelf halo specification to a widely-available feature within the market is more obvious than ever. Connectivity faces a growing level of importance for all camera types given the continual rise in smartphone penetration and social networking.
While smartphones represent the easiest culprit to point a finger at, some of the reasoning behind their popularity as image capture solutions comes largely from their ability to quickly share, a concept fundamental to photography in general. Almost every image snapped throughout the history of photography has been captured with the intent of sharing something with others, whether that be a person, place, emotion, or event. While venues for sharing have shifted over time, Facebook is today’s most popular method of showcasing these memories with its 690 million members and 2.5 billion photos uploaded each month. Past surveys conducted by wireless memory card maker Eye-Fi confirm this deep desire to share, revealing that:
• 58% of camera users share their photos online within 24 hours
• 86% wish they could share new content within 7 days
• 56% desire the ability to share immediately
• 67% view cameras as not having enough built-in sharing capabilities
With the majority of consumer opinions skewed toward a “connected” preference, it’s no wonder that we are seeing not only the quantity of WiFi cameras increasing, but also the presence of the technology spread throughout manufacturers’ portfolios. WiFi began as a niche feature within compacts, but is now spreading to interchangeable lens cameras as Samsung leads the way with three new mirrorless NX-series models, and even Nikon promotes WiFi compatibility for the launch of its latest entry-level DSLR (through accessory module). Almost every major camera manufacturer (noticeably not Olympus or Nikon yet) debuted one, if not multiple, WiFi-equipped compacts this year to introduce connectivity within the price bands that are faced with significant smartphone threat.
While difficult to quantify, basic camera models have indeed suffered the most in the wake of converged devices, due in part to the consumer mentality that “Oh, I have a smartphone, I don’t need a separate camera.” This factor has challenged the digital camera market, although should not be viewed as entirely negative. The people who feel this way are not photographers nor do they care to be. In the past, camera makers could count on these consumers purchasing basic point-and-shoots simply because they were the only available option for a quick snapshot. Since users always have a smartphone at their fingertips, they have become the new ideal for capturing and sharing the spontaneity of life.
For novice shooters, a smartphone image is seen as “good enough”, just as the photo snapped with their old sub-$150 compact was, again reinforcing their “unneeded” mentality toward dedicated cameras. While a general lack of interest in photography fuels this, the wildly popular effects offered by Instagram filters give “vintage” or “artsy” looks to images that prove very rewarding for casual shooters. While mocked for “making bad photos worse”, often times Instagram (or similar) represents the first time that users have seen their own images with this type of “feel” and sharing is at the core of the service. This could ultimately help inspire individuals’ interest in photography beyond iPhoneography and lead to a demand for more advanced gear (mirrorless segment!). With connectivity built into cameras that offer better zooms/optics, photographic control, and even rugged attributes, consumers will continually value the differences offered by the “real” camera.
The ease of which captured content can be posted and shared is fundamental in the development and growth of the “connected” camera market. Cameras are evolving as devices to be viewed as more of a complement to smartphones rather than a combatant, and fitting into an ecosystem of “connected” products. WiFi is no longer just a way for cameras to transfer photos to a PC sans wires, but becoming a more dynamic element of the sharing experience. We see this with companies that have strong smartphone, tablet, and HDTV portfolios leveraging their connected technologies (AllShare, DLNA). These technologies form the ability for cameras to stream live, remotely view stored images, control the settings, post to social networks, and email direct, as well as archiving to PC or cloud-based destinations. Manufacturers are launching their own online services to act as destinations to facilitate this device interconnectivity in the efforts of offering an easy and seamlessness experience. Soon purchasing decisions, both new and repeat, will be made based on the eco system that the desired gadget falls within and the advantages that the product will bring to what they already own, making it critical for strong branding and again ease of use.
As avenues for sharing have changed throughout time, posting a picture onto a Facebook wall today is not that different in concept to what humans of antiquity did on the walls at their disposal. While connectivity within cameras is still growing, the direction taken within the market falls in line with the human desire to share experiences, and looks to be increasingly embraced by both small and large camera formats. Though smartphones are viewed by many as the harbinger of doom for the dedicated camera, teaming up with the very devices that threaten their existence may ultimately become their savior. Fitting connectivity and compatibility into their picture taking advantages will allow cameras to continue to do what they do best as cameras, while smartphones will continue to excel in their strength as connected partners.