By Tan Chong Yaw
THE digital camera market has lost its snap.
Gone are the heady days when cameras flew off the shelves. Sales, which soared by 24 per cent in 2007, shrunk to 8 per cent this year, going by figures from IDC.
In fact, the research firm forecasts that 144 million digital cameras will be sold worldwide in 2009 - a mere 1per cent blip over this year.
Camera makers have begun reining in production. Just this month, Canon - the world's largest digital camera maker - shelved plans for a US$196million (S$282 million) factory in Nagasaki. The factory, announced in July, had been slated to open by end 2009.
Christopher Chute, research firm IDC's research manager, predicted during a Web conference earlier this month that the sales of compact cameras will be driven by price.
So expect prices of compact cameras to slide.
However, lower prices alone cannot be a deal maker: Consumers want trail blazers.
This year brought out a few, like Casio's 6-megapixel Exilim EX-F1 prosumer which could snap a phenomenal 60 full-resolution frames per second.
Samsung squeezed a 24mm ultra-wide angle into its petite NV24HD compact. Olympus had its tough, dunkproof compacts.
What will really create buzz would be zippier operations in powering on, autofocus, lens zooming and playback.
And genuine low-light performance. Sure, cameras can boast ISO3200 on the LCD but, in most cases, the picture quality is disgraceful.
Outside of compacts, the DSLRs will fare fairly well, says IDC.
Nikon did a masterstroke with the D3 - its flagship and a stellar low-light star.
Canon's recent EOS 5D Mk II matches the D3's default ISO6400 sensitivity.
Panasonic threw out the DSLR mirror box and the bulky pentaprism - both the mechanical heart of every DSLR - in its G1, a groundbreaking redesign. The result: just about the smallest camera on the market with interchangeable lenses.
Lee Risk, director of research firm GfK Asia, sees the live-view (DSLRs using LCDs to shoot) and dust reduction (cameras which remove the effects of dust bunnies on sensors) as important DSLR functions.
Looking ahead, will the megapixel mania continue? Yes, even though megapixel count is not the crux of a good digital camera. This marketing hook is etched too deeply in the consumer psyche.
This story was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life on 31 December 2008.
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