Reports of the Digital Camera's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

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There's still a market for hand-held digital, non-smartphone, cameras, even with apps like Instagram to make photos "look cool" and attachments that can turn a smartphone into a fully-functioning professional digital camera. Those factors have decreased the popularity of Canon Powershot-type devices, but it has also allowed another digital camera category to flourish: The low-end of high-end camera business is "booming" per The Wall Street Journal's Daisuke Wakabayashi. Cheaper versions of the digital SLR subset, which have capabilities a smartphone could never attain but run in the $500 to thousands of dollar range, these mirrorless SLRs have doubled in sales over the last year, as compact camera sales continue to decline. Just as we were ready to eulogize the death of another technology by smartphone, camera makers have found a way to stay alive.

For a couple of years now, we've heard that the digital point and shoot is on the decline. Use of smartphones as a go-to camera has grown, with recent NDP stats finding 44 percent of all photos are taken on fancy phones, with general use up to 27 percent from 17 percent last year. The way people share photos has changed, with the Internet and smartphone apps acting as the medium for sharing. Facebook sees 100 million photo uploads daily, from all sorts of photo-taking implements, but seeing the value in the mobile-camera market, spent $1 billion dollars for the free Instagram app, which gets over 5 million new shared images each day. The iPhone 4 tops Flickr's popularity charts, beating a bunch of more standard Canon and Nikon models. And, with the iPhone 4S camera's 8 megapixel lens, who needs anything better? Instagram (or Hipstamatic, or whatever app you like) will make photos look more professional or hipper right then and there, sans the editing it might take to doctor a digital camera photo. Plus, having a camera smartphone combo, makes the sharing process direct, eliminating steps between shooting and sharing.

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But, even with the professional attachments for smartphones, like fish-eye and telephoto lenses, which The New York Times's Nick Bilton taught us about a few months ago, the camera-phone camera can't do it all, leaving a hole in the camera market for this latest niche. These cameras have all the capabilities of an SLR, "large sensors and interchangeable lenses that produce high-quality images," explains Wakabayashi. But, sans the mirror-based viewfinder, which we find in its competitors, the image is digitized, creating a much more compact (and cheaper!) version of a fancy-digital camera. Users get the same quality as the cheapest DSLRs, without the price. "While the quality of mirrorless cameras can be close to that of low-end SLR cameras, premium model SLRs still offer greater photo quality because they have larger image sensors and have features that are important to professional photographers," he writes. "For most amateurs, however, mirrorless models are sophisticated enough." These range in the $300 to $1700 range, says Wakabashi.

Unlike a Powershot, or other standard compact digital camera, these gadgets aren't trying to compete for the daily Instagram or Facebook upload. Instead, they're gunning for the SLR market, which the smartphone hasn't dented as badly as the point and shoot space. For someone looking to take real-quality photos, a camera-phone will never cut it. While other digital camera sales have declined 28 percent, the SLR market  is projected to grow 18 percent with sales of these mirrorless types projected to increase 60 percent. For the pseudo-serious photographer out there, Instagram will never suffice. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.