Over the past year, companies such as Nokia and Samsung have started launching smartphones whose most compelling features are their cameras—the latest offering from Samsung, the Galaxy S4 Zoom, which launches on 15 July for Rs.29,900, is mostly a Galaxy S4 Mini with a 16 MP camera.
Globally, this has hurt camera manufacturers, with the compact camera being replaced by the all-purpose smartphone. Yet Hiroshi Takashina, managing director, Nikon India, says DSLRs are picking up in popularity, and India at least still has a market for entry-level digital cameras.
In the last two months, both Nikon and Canon have released over a dozen new models, and certain features in these releases give us an inkling of what to expect from the digital cameras to come.
For one thing, we should expect cameras to move away from digital zoom, and support greater amounts of optical zoom at lower prices. This will lead to better image quality for close-ups, something smarpthones (which still rely mostly on digital zoom) can’t compete on. That’s why most new digital cameras have more optical zoom, even at lower prices.
Canon’s new PowerShot A2600 has a 16 MP sensor, and 5x optical zoom. This is better even than the cameras on high-end phones costing over Rs.40,000; the A2600 is available for Rs.8,995. The PowerShot A2600 has a sleek design that is only a little bigger than most phones, but if you don’t mind something bulkier, then there’s the Nikon Coolpix L820.
Available for Rs.12,537, this camera won’t fit in your pocket, but it’s still a basic point-and-shoot that’s easy to use and comes at an entry-level price. What really sets it apart is the large lens, with an up to 30x optical zoom, perfect for nature photography where you can’t always get close to your subject.
Smartphones are pushing digital camera makers to drastically improve their products. “What’s really happened is that the consumption of photography as an activity has changed,” says Alok Bharadwaj, executive vice-president, Canon India. This is because people are increasingly sharing photographs on social networks.
“Smartphones let you capture a moment for sharing, not for yourself. A digital camera is required for when you want to enjoy the process of taking the photograph,” he adds. New digital cameras, however, are also adding the ability to share pictures.
Canon’s PowerShot A3500 IS comes with Wi-Fi support, so you can take a printout or send a picture to your phone or laptop for sharing when you’re on the same Wi-Fi network, instead of having to take the memory card out of the camera and then save the images manually. The A3500 IS also has a 16 MP sensor, and is available for Rs.9,995.
The Nikon Coolpix S6500 is another good option—at Rs.11,950, you get a nice-looking camera with 12x optical zoom and a 16 MP sensor. The camera performs well in low light as well, and also allows you to touch up pictures on the camera before sharing them using the Wi-Fi feature.
The Coolpix AW110, meanwhile, is waterproof, shockproof and dust-resistant. The camera comes with a built-in altimeter, GPS and hydro-barometer. If you’re likely to get off the beaten track, then this is a good camera to pick, and the Wi-Fi feature makes it easy to share those moments with friends as well.
“With social being the buzzword, all cameras should possess capabilities and features that enable users to transfer and upload images instantly,” says Takashina.
“Not only do cameras give better image quality, but they are becoming lighter and more pocketable. Smartphone cameras helped the segment grow by getting customers interested in photography, people who want a better experience upgrade to a camera,” adds Takashina.
Bharadwaj agrees, adding that while compact camera sales for Canon in India have dropped by 30%, models with high optical zoom, good low-light performance and good video recording have shown rising sales figures. “DSLRs have really grown, up from 220,000 units last year to a predicted 250,000 units this year,” he says. “We have a camera with 50x zoom which used to be a niche but today it’s extremely in demand. Another area that is making people prefer digital cameras is the speed of the camera—how quickly it is able to focus.”
Companies like Sony and Samsung too are making waves with new cameras. Samsung, for example, launched a compact camera with 26x optical zoom last week in the US. The Samsung WB110 has a 20.2MP sensor as well. Tadato Kimura, head, marketing, Sony India, says there has been a progressive movement to the DSLR market, and Sony plans to focus more on this category.
Over the next couple of years, digital cameras will become lighter, easier to carry, focus faster, and zoom further than anything we’re seeing right now—all part of an attempt to stay relevant in a quickly changing market. One of the first new products to meet these criteria is the Nikon Coolpix A.
"The next wave of digital cameras will focus faster, zoom further, be lighter and more pocketable too"
The Coolpix A looks like an ordinary point-and-shoot camera, not much bigger than your phone—until you switch it on. The lens extends to give you the equivalent of a 28mm lens in the 35mm format, and the DX-format 16.2 MP CMOS sensor used is the same as the one Nikon uses in its DSLRs. So you’re able to take high-quality pictures, and slip it into your pocket when you’re done. At Rs.54,950, it’s still a very expensive camera but in time, say camera manufacturers, these features will become the norm.
The coming months will decide who will capture more moments in this battle. And it will all depend on you.