So-called “point-and-shoot” cameras were for a long time the bread and butter of the camera industry. Cheap to manufacture, camera companies could turn out millions of small cameras with a different model for every price point. Yearly megapixel jumps and size reductions helped fuel consumer demand for ever newer cameras, while true innovation was rare to find. A relatively poor build quality and almost no resale value (compared to SLR cameras) meant that point-and-shoot owners were forced to upgrade to new models, rather than repair their camera when something broke. Camera manufacturers would have been happy to let this cycle continue indefinitely, but unfortunately for them another industry stepped in and began stealing market share: mobile phones.
Camera phones have gotten so good that most consumers assume they are just as well not to carry an actual camera on them. After all, in today’s society a cellphone is a requisite personal accessory, not an optional one, so as long as you have to carry one on you, better that it serve multiple functions. And for as long as camera makers have pushed smallness as a marketing point, who is to argue with the consumer who has chosen the camera with the ultimate smallness: one that only exists as a function of a more important device?
In my opinion, camera phones are actually one of the best things to happen to the photo industry. The ability to immediately share photos as they are taken has put photography at the center of our social lives, with more people taking pictures, viewing pictures, and thinking about pictures than ever before. And people are learning how to shoot without zooming, concentrating on framing and composition. Say what you will about the prevalence of Instagram photos and whether that is good or bad for the art of photography, but one thing’s for sure: nothing motivates a company to innovate like a little fear of losing market share. Over the past couple of years, we have seen a rise of a new style of advanced point-and-shoot cameras, a movement spearheaded by the return of Canon’s S series with the S90. Two generations later, Canon’s powerful but compact S100 is a top seller, while their new G1 X serves up a DSLR-sized sensor in a much smaller body. Other manufacturers have also brought in significant offerings of their own: Panasonic with their LX line, which just announced the LX7 featuring an f/1.4 lens; Fujifilm with the stellar X10, offering users the type of manual control usually reserved for SLRs; and perhaps the most interesting, Sony’s 20-megapixel RX100, with the same 1” sensor size as found in the NIkon 1 system cameras (themselves a viable alternative to the traditional point-and-shoot). You’ll notice that most of these cameras have an “X” in their name, which lets you know how awesome they are, because X is clearly the coolest letter in the english alphabet. That was a joke.
All of these cameras are designed to do one thing: give photographers great image quality with functionality simply not possible on a camera phone or point-and-shoot. Manufacturers are recognizing people’s readiness to move on and break the cycle of cheap, replaceable cameras. Sure, you will pay more for one of these new advanced compacts, but you will also get more. Much more. Fast lenses, larger sensors, RAW files, and manual exposure controls are no longer features left for professionals. Compared to standard point-and-shoots, these cameras are also built to last, meaning if you do decide to upgrade in a couple of years, at least you’ll be able to find a buyer willing to take your old camera off your hands. In short, manufacturers are now making better cameras for consumers, with improvements that are far more important than megapixel jumps and size reductions. So while many people may be thinking they don’t need a compact camera because they have a cellphone, keep in mind that for the first time in history there are tools at your disposal to give you professional results at consumer prices. Never has it been easier to take your photography further, and, ironically, we have the mobile phone industry to thank for that. So keep your cellphone in your pocket, but keep a real camera in your backpack for the memories that are worth more than a Twitter mention.
Daven Mathies is a sales associate at Pro Photo Supply.
You can reach him for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also owns 4sight Photography with fellow photographer Corey Bennet. Their work can be seen at www.4sightphoto.com.