Sony Corp. (6758), Canon Corp. (7751) and Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) are making every effort to keep their latest camera models from going the way of the Flip, GPS receivers and other victims of category killing smartphones.
The top camera makers will unveil more than a dozen new models of inexpensive digital cameras at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, offering jazzed up standard features such as water resistant photography and special software to keep squirming children in sharp focus.
The strategy is aimed at reversing a crippling slide in entry level digital cameras, the industry’s largest market segment, and to carve out a profitable niche that can compete effectively against the expanding smartphone market. To combat improved camera technology in smartphones from Apple Inc. (AAPL), Nokia Oyj (NOK1V) and others, manufacturers at the show opening in Las Vegas on Jan. 10 will, among other things, introduce models that beam photos directly to TVs and computers.
“All manufacturers, including Samsung, need to focus on the value proposition of a camera and what differentiates it versus a smartphone,” Reid Sullivan, a senior vice president of Samsung, said in an interview. The Suwon, South Korea-based company will introduce eight models that wirelessly transmit images to other devices.
Sales of digital cameras that fit into consumers’ pockets, called point-and-shoots, have taken a hit as smartphones have become adept at taking high-definition photos and recording videos, said Liz Cutting, an analyst with researcher NPD Group Inc. in Port Washington, New York. Smartphones also make it easy to transfer those shots and videos to sites such as Facebook and Flickr, she said.
“The best device is the one you have in your hands when the moment happens that it’s worth taking a picture,” Cutting said in an interview. Camera makers “need to prove themselves to the consumer and stay up to snuff against a smartphone.”
Through November, 2011 U.S. retail sales of entry-level cameras plummeted 17 percent to 12 million units from 2010, NPD said on Dec. 26, without providing revenue figures. Sales began to slide in 2009 as picture-taking phones improved their auto- focus, zoom and low-light features.
Smartphone makers sold 95 million devices in the U.S. in the same period, research firm Gartner estimates.
U.S. consumers used smartphones to snap 27 percent of their photos last year, up from 17 percent in 2010, according to NPD data through November. The share of photos taken with a point- and-shoot camera fell to 44 percent from 52 percent.
With the rise of applications downloaded directly to smartphones and stored with inexpensive memory, digital voice recorders, portable game players and pocket camcorders similar to Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO)’s discontinued Flip also face possible extinction.
Sony’s newer cameras focus on taking pictures in 3-D and on capturing and downloading “precious moments,” even in extreme conditions such as underwater, Sony Electronics President Phil Molyneux said in an interview.
The Tokyo-based company’s follow-ons to 2011-model cameras such as the $425 Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V and $250 DSC-T55 emphasize taking pictures quickly, with zoom lenses that capture photos at greater distance and with more clarity than phones, Molyneux said.
Canon’s flagship point-and-shoot will be called the PowerShot G1X, and will include the ability to prioritize face detection of children, meaning that even the most fidgety child’s expression will appear in focus, according to Wells Fargo (WFC) Advisors.
Samsung’s DV300F, one of eight models it plans to begin selling by March, will let users upload images and videos directly to online sharing sites, including Facebook, Flickr, Picasa and YouTube, and to wirelessly send images to a computer.
The DV300F, which includes a small screen on the front to let users see self portraits, adds a feature called Motion Photo that lets users eliminate blurry backgrounds when capturing a moving subject in the foreground.
Samsung and other camera makers should market new models to mothers and other people who are more likely to print digital images by adding the ability to upload photos without attaching them to computers, Cutting said. Easy connections for TV viewing would be a plus, too.
“Moms are the most likely group to own and use a point- and-shoot camera because they’re not big techies,” Cutting said.
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