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IDC Says Image-Capture Market Is Strong

The total market for image-capture devices — which encompasses camera-phones as well as digital still and film cameras — is on track for strong growth through 2007, according to a new report from the industry research firm IDC.

The market is expected to grow an average of 7 percent a year, reaching a total of 715 million units in 2007. Of these image-capture devices, digital cameras and camera-equipped cellphones will eventually win the day against analog rivals (accounting for 371 million units vs. 346 million analog units), led principally by cellphone sales.

IDC predicted that global shipments of point-and-shoot digital still cameras will out-ship point-and-shoot film cameras in 2005 (45.4 million digital cameras vs. 47.4 million film cameras). In the United States, that is expected to occur this year, according to industry analysts.

Over the next five years, one-time-use (OTU) camera shipments will decline as well due to the “ubiquity and increased convenience that the mobile camera phone will bring to consumers.” IDC predicts camera phone shipments will grow roughly equal to declining OTU camera shipments in 2007.

“This is good news for the photography industry,” IDC’s report said. “Digital is not simply displacing film, it is enhancing the entire capture device market.”

The report, “How Digital Cameras Will Replace Film Cameras” also takes aim at some of the digital imaging industry’s articles of faith, assailing the assumption that quality, measured in pixels, is a key market driver.

“Digital camera vendors have always focused on comparing the output to traditional film prints,” the company said in a statement. “It has been assumed by the industry that the digital camera will appeal to users if it can provide the same print quality that film cameras do. That has proven to be a flawed assumption.”

Citing data from its end-user surveys, IDC said that since the primary use of digital images is for e-mailing (where image quality is not a concern) the issue of print quality is a red herring. According to IDC, three quarters of digital camera users print only one-third of their images.

“It has become clear that for consumers, digital cameras are used for image sharing, not printing,” the report noted.

This contention is disputed by InfoTrend’s Kerry Flatley, who asserted that today’s printing habits are a snapshot of early adopter activity, and not how the mass market will behave (see story, p. 34).

How to account for the digital camera’s success if not for image quality? IDC chalked it up to “fortuitous timing.”

The digital camera landed on the market when “fun photography, nifty gadgetry, a rudimentary understanding of how to use the Internet as a social device, and high levels of disposable income,” were at the ready, IDC said.

“If the $1,000 megapixel cameras introduced in 1999 were instead brought to market in 2001, the market would still be as small a niche as the PDA market,” the report noted.