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Digital Camera Market Morphing Into Something New

Given people are taking more photos than ever, camera manufacturers should be jumping for joy. The only problem is the vast majority are shot on smartphones, not traditional point-and-shoots, mirrorless models or DSLRs. But that doesn’t mean the camera industry is dead or dying — it’s consolidating with fewer models and morphing into something new with a strong emphasis on enthusiasts and higher-end customers. You can see these changes here at CES.

The digital camera market peaked in 2009 at 35 million units and has dropped to sales of an estimated 4 million point-and-shoots and 2 million interchangeable lens cameras annually, per industry sources. This mix has remained fairly consistent for the last few years and past is prolog for 2017. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to find the cause of this decline — just look in your pocket and you’ll find a camera/camcorder that posts images to a vast number of social media sites; it also makes phone calls and texts, too.

Although the smartphone market is slowing from its previous white-hot growth, close to 200 million will be sold this year according to the Consumer Technology Association. And to stimulate sales and keep consumers chasing new technology many makers like Apple and Google are stressing the photographic capabilities of their phones. Late last year, Apple introduced the iPhone 7 Plus smartphone with two 12-megapixel sensors, two lenses (28mm f/1.8 and 56mm f/2.8) with a 2x optical zoom. The phone also has optical image stabilization, phase detection autofocus and captures 4K videos, all serious photographic features. The competing Google Pixel XL has a slightly larger 12.3-megapixel sensor, a single f/2.0 lens, electronic image stabilization and phase detect/laser AF. It too takes 4K videos. Although this pair is among the smartphone photographic leaders, competitors such as Samsung, LG, Motorola and others aren’t too far behind. Clearly these capabilities have clobbered the point-and-shoot market.

Given this reality, traditional camera makers are focusing on products with features no smartphone can match, such as much larger image sensors, higher-quality optical zooms and other specs that appeal to enthusiasts. Canon, the world’s largest camera seller, is unveiling one camera at CES that confirms this ongoing trend—it’s expensive, fully-featured and targeted to serious shutterbugs.

The new PowerShot G9 X Mark II has a 1-inch 20.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, f/2-f/4.9 3x zoom (equivalent to 28-84mm) and a 3-inch touch panel LCD. Along with built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity capabilities it also has a Bluetooth Smart feature for pairing with compatible smartphones, in-camera RAW conversion and improved Time-Lapse Movie Mode with Program Shift, allowing for exposure adjustments between shots. No price was given but the current year-old G9X is $429. Canon is also introducing the PowerShot G7 X Mark II Video creator kit for video bloggers. The kit includes a PowerShot G7 X Mark II camera, an extra Canon NB-13L battery pack, 32GB SanDisk SD card and a Manfrotto tripod. Canon will also introduce printers at the show and three traditional camcorders.

Nikon will introduce the D5600, a new mid-range DSLR, at CES. The camera was released outside the U.S. late in 2016 and now will be sold here. It features a 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor, a 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen LCD monitor and has a top ISO of 25,600. With its Expeed 4 processor it captures 5 frames per second. It also features Snapbridge (Wi-Fi/ Bluetooth/NFC) connectivity to pair with smartphones and tablets. Prices will be officially announced at the show but the European MSRP was around $999 with a kit lens. The company also made major announcements in 2016 with the D500 and D5 DSLRs on display at the company booth.

Many Nikon fans are anxiously awaiting word on the DL series of compacts—announced with great fanfare last CES—but have not seen the light of day due to technical issues. The company is not expected to make any announcements regarding these cameras here.

One reason there are so few camera introductions at CES is timing. Many companies made major announcements at the Photokina trade show in Germany last September with the products shipping in November and December. The CP+ Camera and Photo Imaging Show in Japan starts Feb. 23, and camera brands like to introduce new models in their home country; expect more announcements at that time from some of the firms that will not have a big presence in Las Vegas. Pentax is supposed to introduce a new DSLR there and its current models, such as the full-frame K-1, will be on display at parent company Ricoh’s booth.

Panasonic is introducing the Lumix GH5 at the show, the flagship model of its mirrorless line-up. It features a new 20.3-megapixel Digital Live MOS Sensor without Low Pass filter and the new Venus Engine processor. The Micro Four Thirds GH5 records 4K 60p/50p Ultra HD video without a time limit for the first time as a digital single lens mirrorless camera. The camera can record/output video in 4:2:2/10-bit for even more faithful color reproduction, per the company. The 5-axis Dual I.S. 2 has a new gyro-sensor, the O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer, 2-axis) and B.I.S. (Body Image Stabilizer, 5-axis) that helps eliminate blur.