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The days of the point-and-shoot camera may be numbered, if usage metrics are an indication.  (Source: Geekologie)

The iPhone 4 is leading the smart phone push to ditch the dedicated camera. It will soon be the most used camera device on Flickr.  (Source: Flickr)
Flickr use of point and shoot designs is plunging while iPhone images are soaring

Cisco Systems Inc.'s (CSCO) sudden decision to kill its "Flip" line of cameras and digital camcorders surprised many.

But a report from TechCrunch's MC Siegler puts the news in an interesting context.  He points to data from image-sharing site, Flickr, offering the surprising conclusion that point-and-shoot cameras appear to be dying breed, while smartphones -- particularly the iPhone -- are taking over.

Flickr, a property of Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO), is a good barometer for the imaging industry, thanks to its tremendous popularity (some sources call it the world's largest imaging sharing site).  According to Flickr, usage of the most popular point and shoot cameras -- the Canon PowerShot series -- has plunged.

Meanwhile the iPhone 4 has exploded onto the camera scene, surpassing the PowerShot family in number of photos uploaded.   According to Flickr, the most single most popular digital camera -- the Nikon D90 single-lens reflex camera -- will soon be passed by the surging iPhone 4.

Surprisingly, Android users don't seem to be as on board the trend to ditch the point-and-shoot for the smart phone.  The only Android cameraphone to crack the top five was the HTC EVO 4G from 
Taiwanese gadget maker HTC Corp. (2498).  It remains in a virtual tie with the iPod Touch, behind the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and iPhone 4.

While imaging on smartphones, including the iPhone has dramatically improved, it still lags a bit behind leading point and shoot models.  But the gap isn't as big as one might think.  

The Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS, the most popular point-and-shoot according to Flickr, packs an 8 megapixel image sensor.  Many Android smartphones include 8 MP cameras, and even the iPhone 4 -- a bit dated in hardware at this point -- offers a 5 MP camera.  Of course, the resolution only tells part of the story.  The physical size of the image sensor on point-and-shoot cameras tends to be larger than in cameraphone modules, meaning their images will be better at the same resolution.

Still, the superior imaging point-and-shoots appear to be dying due to their lack of connectivity.  Smartphones can take a shot and instantly upload it to the cloud from virtually any moderately populated location across the country.  That ability appears to be making the iPhone the new leader in the world of digital imaging.

Android is drastically outselling the iPhone, which makes the iPhone's lead in imaging all the more impressive.  Having extensively used both the iPhone 4 and the 8 MP HTC EVO 4G, it's not surprising that the iPhone 4 is a bit ahead.  

While the EVO clearly has the edge in resolution, we find the iPhone snaps photos a bit faster and has a bit better image processing software.  As a result, images from the two phones tend to be roughly comparable, in our experience.  However, the iPhone 4's associated software is a bit easier to use than the Android "Froyo" 2.2/HTC Sense combination on the EVO.

That said, despite Apple's early lead, expect Android smartphone imaging to pick up soon as well, given its massive sales.

All that bodes very poorly for traditional camera companies like Eastman Kodak Comp. (EK), Canon Electronics Inc. (CAOEF), and Nikon Corp. (NINOF).  Having survived the painful transition from film to digital, they now face yet another round of minimization, this time at the hands of cameraphones.  When the dust settles it would be unsurprising if many of these companies only survive as SLR makers, as cameraphones grow to match the capabilities of today's point-and-shoots.

                                                             



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RE: Title is VERY misleading
By MrTeal on 4/18/2011 12:36:37 PM , Rating: 1
I see DSLRs moving more towards the EVIL cameras. Really, the entire mirror system really isn't needed anymore. If you remove the mirror, you can put the sensor much closer to the flange. Smaller flange focal distances mean smaller lenses for the same focal length/aperture, on top of the fact that the camera body is so much thinner. It's a win/win, and the only thing you give up is the optical viewfinder that can either be replaced with an electronic version, or ditched altogether for live preview.


RE: Title is VERY misleading
By repatch on 4/18/2011 12:51:22 PM , Rating: 3
I have to disagree. The fact that SLRs have remained can't be chance. I've used cameras with EVF, they are HORRIBLE. Focusing with them is very difficult, never mind how much they blind you when it's dark. They are COMPLETELY useless when it's really dark, and on top of all that, they are power hogs in the worst way.

Choosing between EVF and live preview I'd choose live preview every time. The choice between SLR and live preview I'd choose SLR every time. Don't get me wrong, I love having the live preview option on my SLR, it has been very useful for those rare times, but by far using the SLR viewfinder is the most powerful tool for me.

TTYL


RE: Title is VERY misleading
By omnicronx on 4/18/2011 1:00:20 PM , Rating: 2
I would tend to disagree too.. Point and shoot cameras also generally have a sensor area that covers ~3% of a full frame sensor found in high end DSLR's.. Even the best point and shoots are only around 5-6%. For comparison, low end DSLR's are around 40% at the lowest. (and by full frame, I mean compared to 35MM film)

There is a reason why SLR's are still in use, especially by professionals. There is absolutely NO comparison between the two.

Point and shoots may be light, fast and can zoom in and out far distances with a single lens, but they are not even on the same playing field as most low end SLR's let alone high end..


RE: Title is VERY misleading
By MrTeal on 4/18/2011 1:24:07 PM , Rating: 2
You're confusing an EVIL camera with a P&S. There's no reason why an APS-C or full-frame sensor can't be put into a camera without a mirror. Instead of the mirror diverting the light up to an optical viewfinder and then flipping out of the way when you want to expose an image, you remove the mirror and have the sensor act as both the capture device and viewfinder. Cameras like the NX10 have APS-C sensors, interchangeable lenses and no mirror.

To repatch, there's going to be some cases where standard DSLRs would be superior to mirrorless ones. I didn't mean that DSLRs would disappear, especially in the pro space. For most people though, a small APS-C EVIL camera with a pancake lens gives you most of the performance of a DSLR in a package that's much more portable. I can see many of the people who buy the D5100 or T3i moving towards these kinds of cameras.


RE: Title is VERY misleading
By SPOOFE on 4/19/2011 7:26:19 PM , Rating: 2
You're right about putting a big sensor in a mirrorless body (look at the Sony Nex series, as well).

The problem with big sensors, however, is that using them continuously (for Live View or recording video or what-have-you) causes a lot of heat to build up in the sensor, which in turn can result in higher noise levels. And if you're using it on a hot day, it will just plain shut off.

Further, removing the mirror box and prism means you need to find some other method of phase-detect autofocus, versus contrast-detect. Phase-detect has an advantage in speed, because it can tell if it needs to focus closer or further away to lock on the subject; contrast-detection just kinda guesses, which means focus will tend to "wander" more.

I'm sure there are ways around this - Nikon, for instance, is looking to imbed "phase-detection" pixels within the actual imaging sensor - but for the foreseeable future, the mirror box is absolutely essential for the blazing fast focus and shutter responses that DSLR's provide.

Everything after that is just a matter of developing a solid ecosystem for an EVIL camera; getting enough lenses, flash units, and the like to really give a user options.


RE: Title is VERY misleading
By Solandri on 4/18/2011 1:36:53 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Really, the entire mirror system really isn't needed anymore. If you remove the mirror, you can put the sensor much closer to the flange. Smaller flange focal distances mean smaller lenses for the same focal length/aperture, on top of the fact that the camera body is so much thinner.

This is only true for lenses whose focal length is shorter than the registration distance (the distance from sensor to roughly the optical center of the lens). i.e. Only wide-angle lenses.

A wide-angle on an SLR has to be a retrofocus design. Basically a wide-angle lens mounted in front of a tele-expander which makes the wide-angle look like it's further away (think of looking through binoculars backwards), then projects that image onto the sensor. Hence "retro" focus. With a rangefinder or point and shoot, the registration distance is short enough that you don't need the tele-expander, and so the wide-angle lens is smaller overall.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ang%C3%A9nieux_retrof...

The registration distance on most DSLRs is 30-45mm, so any lenses with a shorter focal length than that are bigger (and more expensive) than if you could shorten the registration distance. But any lenses with a longer focal length (i.e. all normal and telephoto lenses) are unaffected and are exactly the same size they'd be whether you got rid of the mirror box or not.

Most DSLR users bought the system for the telephoto lenses (there are no telephotos for camera phones, and the telephoto point and shoots are usually f/5.6 or higher, making for very dim, blurry, and noisy pictures). So DSLRs really have very little to gain by getting rid of the mirror box assembly. Faster shooting speed is about all I can think of, and you can accomplish that if one of the DSLR manufacturers were smart enough to just lock the mirror in the up position if you put it in high-speed shooting mode, just like they do for video. Having the mirror is the best of both worlds - you get an optical viewfinder when you want to shoot by eye, and if you want shoot using the LCD preview you just lock up the mirror and switch the camera to LCD preview mode. Why would you want to limit the camera to only LCD preview mode?


RE: Title is VERY misleading
By MrTeal on 4/18/2011 1:48:18 PM , Rating: 2
You're right on that, but most dSLRs have a flange focal distance around 45mm; Canon is 44, Sony 44.5 and Nikon is 46.5mm. Shorter than that is wide for a 35, but it's in the range of medium for APS-C or u4/3 cameras. A lot of shooting is done under 50mm on those systems, and would benefit from the shorter FFD.


RE: Title is VERY misleading
By Solandri on 4/18/2011 2:08:18 PM , Rating: 2
The actual distance to the flange itself isn't important. What matters is how far forward the bottom of the mirror will move when it flips up. Most SLR wide angles use a recessed rear element which sits closer to the sensor than the flange, but still far enough away that the mirror won't hit it. (Recessed relative to the camera body, not to the lens.) This distance is about 30-35 mm for most full-size sensor cameras (the mirror is slightly larger than the 36x24 mm sensor, and sits a few mm in front of the sensor).

That's what Canon's EF-S and Nikon's AF-S lenses are. They use a recessed design assuming the smaller APS-sized sensor's mirror, thus allowing the glass to sit even closer to the sensor than in a regular SLR lens. If you mount these lenses on a full-size sensor DSLR, the mirror will hit the recessed rear element and either shatter the mirror or the lens element.


RE: Title is VERY misleading
By MrTeal on 4/18/2011 2:17:42 PM , Rating: 2
That's really interesting, I wasn't aware of that. Thanks.
Most of my shooting is done with older manual full frame primes I get dirt cheap on eBay.


RE: Title is VERY misleading
By Gnarr on 4/19/2011 11:21:36 AM , Rating: 2
Or the mirror will just stop.. In fact, it will just stop most of the time. That is if you have modified your EFs lens to be able to fit it on a FF camera.


RE: Title is VERY misleading
By SPOOFE on 4/19/2011 7:32:40 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
That's what Canon's EF-S and Nikon's AF-S lenses are.

In the Nikon world they use the term "DX" to refer to lenses designed solely for the smaller sensor. "AF-S" refers to the presence of a motor in the lens itself, and could be either DX or FX (Nikon's designation for "full frame").

Nikon's cheaper, low-end cameras (exclusively DX, too) can only autofocus with AF-S lenses (they lack in-body focus motors), so that's probably where the connection came from.


RE: Title is VERY misleading
By Johnmcl7 on 4/18/2011 8:38:54 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I see DSLRs moving more towards the EVIL cameras. Really, the entire mirror system really isn't needed anymore. If you remove the mirror, you can put the sensor much closer to the flange. Smaller flange focal distances mean smaller lenses for the same focal length/aperture, on top of the fact that the camera body is so much thinner. It's a win/win, and the only thing you give up is the optical viewfinder that can either be replaced with an electronic version, or ditched altogether for live preview.


While there are advantages to mirrorless cameras, it's most definitely not the case that the mirror isn't needed anymore. I say that as someone who's heavily invested in both micro 4/3 and a Nikon FX setup. The micro 4/3 cameras and lenses give me a very compact walk around setup as I can pack a pair of bodies, a couple of primes, an ultrawide and either a superzoom or telephoto into a small shoulder bag. However there are some limitations the lack of mirror imposes. The first is the slower autofocus, the GH2's autofocus is impressively quick even over the GH1 which was no slouch but because CDAF doesn't show whether the camera is front or back focussed it can't touch a decent SLR particularly in tracking.

On top of the slower AF, there's also the problem with the added shutter lag. An SLR using its OVF simply needs to open then close the shutter which on a decent SLR means an exceptionally quick response to pressing the shutter. Mirrorless cameras however have to hold the shutter open to drive their viewfinder/screen which means when they take the picture they have to close their shutter, reopen it for the actual exposure, close it and then reopen to resume liveview which adds noticeable shutter lag.

Holding the shutter open and keeping the sensor powered up to produce the liveview image drains the battery whereas on an SLR using an OVF is barely using any power as the shutter is closed and the sensor powered down.

I can certainly see the benefits of the mirrorless systems which is why I get a lot of use from them but even the GH2 which is the flagship mirrorless camera is a long way from being able to match the better SLRs.


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