Amrita Mohanty, 16, from left, Marta Williams, 16,
and Michelle Mao, 15, take a Snapchat "selfie"
while having coffee at the Steepery Tea Bar in
Woodbury, Minn., Dec. 12, 2013.
a modern paradox: People are taking more photographs
than ever before, nearly 400 billion this year, yet
sales of cameras are shrinking.
global shipments of digital cameras have fallen 30
percent this year, according to Christopher Chute,
research director of worldwide digital imaging at IDC, a
market intelligence firm. Camera stores are closing, and
those that remain are emphasizing customer service or
high-end products as they fight to stay relevant.
especially shocking because this was a market that until
recently was growing by double digits," he said.
"This is the beginning of the collapse for
the obvious reason for the decline? The ubiquitous
smartphone ó a combination mobile phone, personal
computer, data storage unit and camera, small enough to
fit in a pocket. Nearly 60 percent of U.S. homes now
have one, compared with 70 percent of homes that own
more than one camera, according to The NPD Group.
while digital camera sales fell by nearly a third this
year, smartphone sales are expected to rise more than 32
Brady of Castle Rock Township, Minn., recently purchased
Nokiaís new Lumia 1020 smartphone with a camera that
sports 41 megapixels. She uses it for shots of her
artwork to put on Etsy.com but also for nature pics
during a recent family vacation to the Black Hills.
print quite often, and they donít look pixelated,"
a culture shift that many believe started with the
release of Appleís iPhone 4 and 4S in 2010-2011, the
first smartphones to have a backlit-illuminated sensor
to produce brighter pictures with accurate colors to
rival the quality of a decent point-and-shoot.
sales of point-and-shoots have dropped the most, sales
of single lens reflex cameras also have started to
decline, although not as much. Sales through October
were down 8 percent this year, said Ben Arnold, industry
analyst at The NPD Group in Virginia.
manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon, whose stocks have
lost more than half their value since the iPhone was
introduced in 2007, tried to stop the free fall this
holiday season with aggressive markdowns. The lower
prices were expected to increase sales nearly 10
percent, Arnold said, but sales on digital single-lens
reflex cameras increased only 1 percent compared to last
sales of the new highly touted mirrorless cameras, which
were expected to see 15 to 20 percent growth on Black
Friday weekend, fell 1.5 percent.
many in the camera industry were hoping that consumers
would continue to buy traditional cameras for lasting,
better-quality pictures, Chute said thatís not
happening. Consumers donít care as much about image
quality as they do the software that allows them
unlimited, immediate sharing on social networks such as
Facebook and Instagram, mobile image editing and
manipulation, and cloud-based backup. "Image
quality is now second to connectivity to Web services
like Facebook," he said.
Minnesota specialty retailer, National Camera Exchange,
isnít ready to accept that. Itís pouring talent and
resources into enlightening customers about what theyíre
missing by using only a smartphone. When National Camera
Exchange President Jon Liss shows young parents
close-ups taken with an SLR of a friendís daughter
swinging the bat during a T-ball game, they ask how he
did it. "They donít know that these cameras are
better," he said.
smartphone camera technology continues to improve.
34, said sheís never going back to a traditional
camera. She recently took a picture of her son caroling
at a nursing home from 40 feet away. "I leaned in,
zoomed in, took the shot, edited it, and I was
done," she said. "I didnít have to watch the
rest through a little lens. I could actually enjoy the
show," she said.
said that even if she went on the trip of a lifetime and
got to see every church in Italy, sheíd pack her
smartphone, not a standard camera. "I love my Nokia,"
kind of customer worries retailers. At National Camera,
a nearly 100-year-old company with five locations in
Minnesotaís Twin Cities, 2013 has been the first year
that sales of point-and-shoot cameras were down
significantly, Liss said.
point-and-shoot sales were down about 22 percent, which
is about half of the national decline of 40
percent," he said. He attributes the decline to
smartphones and Amazon.com Inc.
company is focusing on customer service and education to
keep customers rolling in, said Adam Prybelski, National
Cameraís omnichannel sales manager. The number of
customers enrolling for classes on basic studio
lighting, digital SLR, sports photography and
portrait-taking is up 30 percent in 2013.
long-term strategy is teaching people what their camera
can do for them, whether itís an iPhone or
point-and-shoot," he said. The retailer doesnít
yet offer classes on how to take better photos with a
smartphone, but theyíre considering it.
teaching customers about the features and benefits of
their cameras, National Camera hopes to make its
customers aware that photos taken from 50 feet away or
more at sporting events, dance recitals and vacations
can be much more vibrant with a regular camera.
they also want to make the pitch that their expertise
trumps buying cameras, accessories and processing online
or at big-box retailers that sell electronics. "And
we price-match, too," Liss said.
though overall camera sales are declining, analysts arenít
expecting big-box retailers to shutter their
photographic departments yet. Instead, theyíre
shrinking the number of camera options, even in
accessories, said Brian Yarbrough, a retail analyst at
Edward Jones. Retailers are de-emphasizing camera
departments by putting them in less-desirable parts of
the store and putting the spotlight on
higher-profit-margin items such as smartphones and
camera businesses are feeling the shift as well. Repair
shops are disappearing, and those still hanging on are
seeing a drop in business. Low-end point-and-shoots arenít
cost-effective for repair, and some manufacturers wonít
provide parts to independent shops so they can keep
repairs in-house, said Gus Gulbranson of Northwest
Camera and Video Repair in Lindstrom, Minn.
overall business has been decreasing for the past two
years. "With the decrease in sales from phones, Iím
not expecting that to get much better," he said.
one bright spot for Gulbranson and National Camera is in
higher-end cameras. Both have seen an uptick in selling
or repairing expensive SLRs. One of Nationalís most
popular sellers is the pocket-size Sony RX100
point-and-shoot for $600.
camera retailers have seen less effect. West Photo in
Minneapolis, for example, caters mostly to the
professional photographer. "Point-and-shoots were
never a strong category for us, but it has tapered
off," said President Jim Hosfield.
overall revenue for the year is about even compared with
2012, which was a strong year. Heís not losing sleep
over the smartphone affecting his business, but heís
not ignoring it, either. "Iím incorporating some
smartphone accessories," he said.
are predicting that traditional cameras will go the way
of the eight-track tape, but higher-quality
point-and-shoot and SLR cameras will become more of a
niche business for hard-core enthusiasts. Retailers are
hoping that some customers will still want a piece of
hardware to record memorable events.
Engelbert Lane of St. Paul, Minn., said that she loves
her cellphone pictures but there are times when
something nicer is better. "I want a better camera
for family gatherings," she said. "As people
get older, I want a guarantee of a good shot."
said that to stay relevant for more customers, todayís
camera manufacturers will have to understand the
importance of mobility. "They have had
opportunities in the past decade, and they havenít
used them. Their obituary is being written."