Monday, September 29, 2008

The big crush is coming

Notice that I said "crush", not "crash", although given what's been happening today, we may get one of those as well. No, what I'm talking about is the crushing together of multiple camera product categories. I've recently written about the new Canon 5D Mark II, which is a pro still camera with what appears to be very good HD video capabilities. Earlier, I wrote about the marked improvements in camera phones, and how those phones are making a lot of point & shoot cameras obsolete. I've also written about the growth of the point & shoot YouTube camcorder category, best exemplified by Pure Digital's Flip Video Ultra and Mino under-$200 camcorders.

So here's what I think is going on:
  • Prosumer camcorders are going away, to be replaced by digital SLRs that have HD video capabilities. Why? Interchangeable lenses, for one thing. There's no prosumer camcorder that you can buy today with interchangeable lenses for less than $5,000, but the new Canon 5D Mark II will sell for less than $3,000 without a lens when it ships. The video capabilities on Nikon's new D90 (list price under $1,000) may leave a lot to be desired, but the problem is fixable. Panasonic will be in the market with an AVCHD-compatible version of its new G1, also for around $1,000, early next year. Sony, if it can get over its burning fear of competing with itself, should have a product in the market before too long as well. In short, price and interchangeable lenses will kill the prosumer camcorder as we know it.
  • Camera phones will kill the market for point & shoot cameras. Samsung's new Pixon just hit the market with an 8 megapixel camera (as well as video capabilities), and there are 10 and 12 Megapixel models on their way. I've never been a big fan of camera phones, but both image quality and user interfaces are improving dramatically. Of course, the "hottest" phones, the 3G iPhone and the new G1, both have pretty schlocky cameras. Who cares? They may have a role to play, but for now, people are buying them for their smartphone capabilities, not their cameras.
  • The Flip Video class of point & shoot camcorders will continue to eat everyone's lunch in the under-$1,000 camcorder market, for two reasons: Price and simplicity.
It's interesting that the most aggressive moves have come from Nikon, a company with no camcorder market share to protect, and Pure Digital, a company that made throwaway digital cameras until a couple of years ago. (Not to mention Nokia, a company with no camera business, and Samsung, with a fairly recent entry into the camera market.) When you have no existing market share to protect, you can do radical things that fundamentally change the market. I expect CES next January and NAB next April, as well as the cameras and camcorders that we carry around in the future, to look quite a bit different, thanks to these companies.
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