What Can Camera Manufacturers Do to Attract Smartphone Users?

What Can Camera Manufacturers Do to Attract Smartphone Users?

The advent of the smartphone camera completely eliminated the point and shoot market save for a few niche exceptions, thereby eliminating a large potential customer base for many manufacturers. What can those manufacturers do to attract smartphone shooters toward dedicated devices?

It is no secret that smartphones utterly decimated the compact camera industry after about 2010, and what was once a very large sector of the photography industry disappeared by about 2016. Now, the camera industry is much more segmented, with the point and shoot replaced by the smartphone, then jumping to entry-level micro four thirds and APS-C DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Is there room to attract smartphone users to dedicated cameras? I think so.

It Will Only Be Some

For sure, there are lots of users for whom their smartphone is all they will ever need or want from a camera, no matter what the industry does to try to attract them. That being said, there are billions of smartphone users across the world, and even if only a small fraction of them are potential dedicated camera customers, that is still a huge market waiting to be tapped. So, let’s talk about that fraction.

They Are Not Going to Buy Professional-Level Cameras

Someone who primarily shoots with their smartphone and holds a slightly above-average interest in photography is not going to drop $5,000 on a professional full frame camera and lens. Any system that entices them from their smartphone needs to be priced reasonably — so reasonably that it can almost be an impulse purchase for someone who thinks they might want to try things out. There are certainly some camera and lens combinations that have begun to flirt with these levels in recent years: Canon and Nikon’s cheaper APS-C DSLRs with kit lenses, and Fuji models like the X-A7 come to mind. The problem is these cameras are not made for and generally not marketed toward beginners with a passing interest waiting to be capitalized upon. Rather, they are essentially lower-specced versions of the companies’ more advanced cameras — simpler, but cut from the same fundamental cloth. This can make these cameras seem a bit impenetrable for the casual user. Sure, they have an auto mode, but they are not particularly inviting.

Make It Inviting

So, what should such a camera have? It should be relatively distinct from a company’s other offerings so as to distinguish it from less inviting options. This could be done in any number of ways: a friendlier, simpler interface, reduced controls, and even (gasp) offering devices in designer colors. Such an interface could be akin to an auto mode on steroids: instead of offering settings followed with a brief explanation, put the effect front and center. For example, when setting aperture, one could show an illustrated depth of field diagram on the rear LCD showing both a horizontal perspective of an animation of the in-focus areas increasing and decreasing as well as a straight-on view showing how a subject is affected, with the actual aperture relegated to the top corner.

Make setting the camera less quantitative and more qualitative. Users don’t need to worry about on-camera controls for more esoteric settings like white balance. Just the most fundamental controls could be offered: shutter speed, aperture, ISO (perhaps labeled as “sensitivity”), a playback and trash button, and a power button. Maybe a drive mode and autofocus mode button. Remember, these users are used to interacting through devices through a touchscreen, and maintaining at least some semblance of that experience can help to attract potential customers. Instead of setting aperture as an abstract f-stop quantity with a dial, imagine if users had the aforementioned graphical interface together with a touchscreen slider. Ease of use is paramount to not discouraging users. This also includes in-camera processing. Professionals love flat raw files for the post-processing flexibility they give, but for a brand new photographer fresh from the world of smartphones, that file would look overwhelming and disappointing. Better to default to purely in-camera processing along with basic controls on the camera or on an accompanying phone app — controls for things like exposure, contrast, and saturation.

Connectivity With Phones

One of the major draws of smartphones cameras is the fact that the photos can be processed and shared on the same device instantly. Personally, I think devices that try to integrate advanced editing and sharing all on the camera are never a success because they can’t compete with smartphone interfaces that have been honed and refined over the course of a decade. Rather, I think the solution here is to create a reliable, easy-to-use wireless interface with a user’s phone. The accompanying app could be something like a stripped-down version of any pick of popular mobile editing apps (Snapseed, for example) and would also allow for straightforward sharing to social channels.

The key is creating a reliable and seamless wireless interface. Every wireless camera interface I have ever tried has been woefully complicated and unreliable — an afterthought behind the marquee features of the body. But for a user in this scenario, that interface is front and center and needs to be simple and strong.

Differentiate Cameras From Phones by Their Advanced Capabilities and Market Properly

As photographers, we certainly understand the benefits of things like larger sensors than the tiny bits of silicon found in phones. That sort of differentiation is rarely clearly delineated by manufacturers, though, and the benefits of more advanced cameras may be lost on potential users. Marketing for such a product should be geared specifically toward that audience, almost divorced entirely from a company’s other products and user base.

A Complete Kit With Two Lenses

Such a kit should have two lenses: a 50mm f/1.8 and some sort of kit super-zoom, like an 18-200mm, and if the 50mm could add 1:2 pseudo-macro capabilities, all the better. A typical 50mm f/1.8 can be had for $60, while Tamron, for example, makes an 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens that currently retails for $199. The combination of these lenses would give users access to both a huge range of focal lengths and to a wide aperture for experimenting with low light and depth of field.

DxO One

The DxO One was a camera that I wish had gained more traction. It was an interesting concept: a camera with a decently sized sensor (1-inch) and a fast prime (32mm f/1.8) that was meant to be plugged into a smartphone for control. I think it failed for several reasons, though. First, it was relatively expensive: its release price was arguably high given the hardware it packed ($599), making it a tough sell. Second, it couldn't connect when the phone was in a case, which undermined the entire idea of a convenient, higher-level camera and lens meant to interface with a smartphone.

Third, I think it was marketed incorrectly. Pros are very picky and discerning when it comes to gear, so such a camera, while portable, didn’t create a significant enough advantage to justify its existence relative to its price. Rather, I think it would have been better suited marketed toward the crowd discussed in this article at a lower price and with a zoom lens. I think the concept was good, but the execution was flawed. Such a device could be an interesting alternative to a cheap standalone camera and could encourage smartphone users to try it out, but it would have to be appropriately made for and marketed toward them.

Conclusion

The smartphone utterly obliterated the point and shoot market, but it also created an inroad for lots of people who might not have tried photography before. There is a potentially huge untapped market of smartphone users who might want to expand their photography experience a bit more, so long as the process of doing so is not overly expensive or complicated.

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44 Comments

barry cash's picture

Leica M w AF top tier want, Fuji. Really low light small camera, Sony may have it coming in a week, Nikon and canon clueless along with Hasselblad,Olympus,Pentax.

Cellphones are point and shoot low light dumb cameras that show great images on the screen, camera mfg don’t get how important the screen is for instant wows.

Tough topic and a far reach for the camera industry it will never be what is was never ever again

David Love's picture

Nothing if people can't tell the difference in quality (and judging by the over softened faces and fake bokeh app pics I've seen they can't.) I'm old enough to have Polaroids of me as a kid, now kids will have some crappy vertical pic that they remember seeing once before their parents hard drive died or their phone fell in the toilet. The days are gone where people really thought about what they took a pic of. Now it's See it, Snap it, Send to the web.

Sam Sims's picture

I took my A7III along when I visited my brother’s family for a lockdown picnic. I had some idea that I’d get them to pose against a suitable background in good light for a few decent pictures. I managed to get them to stand (in direct sunlight) just long enough for one badly composed photo. They are clearly so used to point and click smartphones they weren’t prepared to spend a little time letting me compose a good shot or two. Back in the 1980’s, posing for holiday photos whilst my Dad adjusted his manual film camera was always something we were used to. I guess those days have gone.

John Xantoro's picture

The thing is that to the layman's eye for instance a Google Pixel with HDR+ produces a far better looking picture than a regular MILC jpeg. The software recognizes faces and exposes them, while keeping the highlights in the sky visible.

Yesterday I used my Pixel's night-sight to make a photo of the Neowise comet and everybody was super impressed. Of course it was a shitty photo but who cares, it did the job.

chrisrdi's picture

hahahaha i used to groan so hard when my mom would round me and my sisters up for a family photo lol. We never really got to do family photos all that much. i wish i had understood back then how important those short moments in life were. I was a dumb kid.

Momchil Yordanov's picture

My answer would be "nothing". Once you decide your smartphone images are good enough, you discover the freedom of not carrying a camera, lens(es), strap, spare battery, spare card, charger... For some occasions also filters, a tripod, a specialized bag... I personally shoot often at 100mm and further. No smartphone does that even decently. That's pretty much the only reason I still own an ILC and use it :)

Deleted Account's picture

There's nothing they could, or should, do. They'd have to replicate the perceived benefits of smartphones and they can't without going into the smartphone business. They should accept the diminishing market and gear up, or down as the case may be, to adapt to it.

Bruce Grant's picture

I'm not sure how or why but my wife is constantly frustrated with the depth of field and portrait modes on her iPhone. I've shown he some of my pictures with shallow DOF and she's been blown away. "How did you do that? That's what I wanna do!" So I explain how it's all optical while most phones use software and that's why it doesn't work all the time. She's also been frustrated at the "zoom" on her phone, too. Want a picture of the moon or that bird up in the tree? Not gonna happen with your phone.

So I've been trying to get her to learn with my equipment so she can be less frustrated and get the shots she really wants. Yes, show the advanced shots you can get with an ILC that is not currently possible a with phone.

jay holovacs's picture

Funny thing. When I first started in photography (about 55 years ago) , shallow depth of field was considered an unavoidable DISADVANTAGE of fast lenses (except for 'limited circumstances' when you would possibly want it). The current obsession with blurry backgrounds makes no sense to me. (My phone can fake it, buy why???)

Deleted Account's picture

Horses for courses.

Bruce Grant's picture

I did not know that! It's not likely that shallow DOF will follow fashion and fall out of favor again though. Seems like it's here to stay. I'm guessing you NEVER use the DOF functions on your phone.

Alex Herbert's picture

Could be related to the modern human being's sense of self-importance. Why would anyone want a visually identifiable object in the background, they want the focus squarely on THEM!

Bry B's picture

I pondered for years why Canon & Nikon haven't just partnered with a cellphone manufacturer or just made an android style phone. Another poster wrote nothing will replace the phone. I think that is correct. Any attempt to make a product is just going to be an extra product. A cellphone works so well because it never goes more than 5 feet from the user. So why not make a cellphone? Sony has done this and it's fairly successful. Far more successful then some gopro style knock off camera.
Just replace my cell phone with a camera that is designed for pros.

I would buy it. Although the current offerings are actually very impressive. Canon should have made their cellphone partnership years ago

Bruce Grant's picture

Samsung made an ILC with Android a while back. Data connectivity, WIFI but you couldn't make phone calls with it. Decent specs for the time but it was a flop. Galaxy NX. They also had point and shoots with Android, 21x zoom, WIFI connectivity. Those sold well enough to have a second iteration 2 years later.

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

I think they should leverage the processing power and screen of the smartphone.
Use fast wifi and only put a chip powerful enough for communication, it will take a picture directly to the phone.

A sensor, lens, viewfinder, wifi communication chip. Just that. Photos taken will be processed in the phone. It will be cheaper and more friendly.

JL Williams's picture

I've been using a camera-to-phone workflow for years via WiFi cards and the excellent ShutterSnitch app, so I know all the pain points, and I think you've nailed most of them. The biggest one is the configuration process: it's got to be effortless, and no wireless-enabled camera I've tried has aced that yet.

Another factor you didn't mention: there has to be little or no penalty on phone battery life. Fortunately, the latest Bluetooth implementations should be able to handle that, maintaining a constant link at low energy and firing up a more power-hungry connection only when there's data to send. Still, most camera manufacturers seem to be struggling with wireless, if they're trying at all. (Have you ever noticed that all the Japanese camera companies are crappy at software user experience in general?)

The best thinking on camera/phone symbiosis seems to be coming from the French people behind the crazily overpriced but intriguing Pixii camera, who actually sound like they "get" the concept of phone/camera symbiosis. As they say on their website, "...It's 2020 now. Who seriously needs a fixed function computer and a bad LCD at the back of a camera?"

I suspect that most people who are happy with phone photos will never be candidates for a higher-end phone-friendly camera, just as most box-camera users of the '50s would never have considered buying a Rolleiflex. But I suspect that many people who used to enjoy using a camera would enjoy it again, if it fits smoothly into the phone-centric photography model they've gotten used to.

Ed C's picture

A high functioning connected app that works well that will let the phone computer do what it does best and the camera do what it does best. The app needs trainable voice recognition set modes, aperture, shutter speed, ISO as well as scenario and possibly AI based things like sunrise, sunset, runner, tennis, bird in flight, etc. etc.

I have been using DSLRs and now mirrorless for a a very long time and know my controls very well. I would still save a ton of time with reliable, accurate voice triggering vs. dials, buttons and touch screens.

Greg Silver's picture

Camera manufacturers don't need to attract smartphone users - they need to integrate smartphone features to existing photographers. Things like being able to post to social media or integrate computational photography or allow to 'easily' share photos from your camera. These features would go along way in the camera industry.

Mike Shwarts's picture

While that would be nice for photographers, it doesn't address the point of the article. How do you get phone users to purchase a dedicated camera to keep dedicated cameras from becoming an expensive niche tool? A company like Olympus might not be selling its imaging branch if it people still bought point and shoots. Those sales supported the more expensive cameras.

Charles Mercier's picture

A lightweight camera with a large touchscreen on the back? The problem really is that smartphone cameras are getting much better. I have an inexpensive, not-new Samsung phone that takes 5mp photos... pretty good.

Terry Poe's picture

OS-powered dedicated photography device with Software Development Kit (SDK) available to third party developers is the key to winning smartphone users
https://marketanalysis.com/digital-camera-market/

Dixon Wilkinson's picture

#1 thing they do is integrate WiFi better, to include immediate uploads to cloud and social media platforms. Maybe even include a LTE e sim chip.

Nitin Chandra's picture

Most smartphone users are never going to print or make out the difference in quality. They all shoot JPGs and point and shoot. It is mostly for social media, not photography.

Mike Shwarts's picture

Pocket-sized compact with 1" sensor like the RX100 or its Canon counterpart. Smartphone users like the ease of carrying a phone, so the dedicated camera should be easy to carry like the RX100. Touch screen. Simple interface. It should, if they want it, be as simple as their phones, but offer more control should they decide to use it. Easy connectivity to a phone and the option of saving pics directly to the phone if the two are connected. The phone app to connect to the camera should have a couple easy to use editing apps bundled with it. Editing apps could be as simple as one touch presets, or they can be like Photoshop Ex.press (more control, but easy to use).

Deleted Account's picture

'What Can Camera Manufacturers Do to Attract Smartphone Users?'

That's easy - outcompete the Instagram world - which is smartphone based, and design a professional grade camera the size of a smartphone!

John Xantoro's picture

Realistically there nothing they can do. Dedicated cameras have three advantages over smartphones that (potentially) matter to amateurs:

1. Better image quality (including "real" dof-effects)
2. Broader range of focal lengths (plus better quality)
3. Handling and control (over aperture and also things like RAW).

If we look at those points:
1 - it's irrelevant already. The image quality an iPhone or Pixel provides is enough for anyone who doesn't print A3+.
2 - yes, that is actually relevant but really only to those with an interest in a specific photographic niche like wildlife. And I assume this niche is tiny and borderline irrelevant.
3 - there are manual apps for smartphones, also smartphones generally have much easier handling for amateurs. RAW is also a niche thing and Pixel phones even have computational RAW.

At the end of the day, smartphones do the main thing you actually want from a camera - take memories - incredibly well and have a number of advantages over dedicated cameras (namely always-with-you and sharing). The only people buying cameras in the future will be professionals and a tiny niche of enthusiasts with specific interest (wildlife, sports). Dedicated cameras for amateurs will be about as relevant as dedicated MP3 players are today.

Robert Edwardes's picture

There isn't anything they can do to get people to move to ILC systems, and thinking they will is how they dig the hole they are in now. They should focus on zoom point and shoots since that is still the one area phones will never touch.

But I don't know any one who doesn't already own a ILC who what's to go out and start a project in terms of composition and editing. For them editing is adding some contrast and saturation and all new phones can do that.

Nikon has started to figure it out with the P950 and P1000 and super zooms are the future for camera companies since they are easy to pick up and can capture shot that no smart phone can, but now their biggest hurtle is the photography community because we will mock point and shoots all day and then wonder why no one is moving away from their smart phone since we make it seem like they have to learn about lens and setting when all they care about is getting a picture to remember a moment.

Euan Gray's picture

"There is a potentially huge untapped market of smartphone users who might want to expand their photography experience a bit more"

Probably not.

It's not as if you cannot buy a point-and-shoot, and they are not necessarily expensive - cheaper than a smartphone.

Back in the day, the purpose of taking a photograph was to print it and display it on the wall, in an album, or some such. Now it is to send it to a social media outfit so your friends can see it on their smartphones. You don't need anything more than a camera phone to do that, and smartphone resolution and image quality are good enough.

The future is likely phones and MILCs, with little or nothing in between.

Kim Ginnerup's picture

I think the biggest problem is the lack of fast picture to social media family and friends. On vacation take a photo or small video sent immediately. Traditional cameras are not good at that.
Size, not much to do about that.
Ease of use. Cameras are difficult.
I do not believe price is a barrier. But you need to know what you pay for. Cameras haven’t done anything to argue their case. It is like they expect people know that they need a camera to take pictures. Which is not the case anymore.

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