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Are digital cameras on an extinction path?

The graphic shows the sales of digital cameras in 2017 (dashed line), 2018 (black line) and first quarte of 2019 (red line), In two years time the sales have almost halved. Source: CIPA

The number of photos taken everyday is mind-boggling. And, to tell the truth, no one knows exactly how many. The info I was able to gather on the web varies widely, from 1 trillion to 15 trillion photos taken in 2018, that means between 2.7 to 41 billion photos every single day. More than that. These figures keep growing year over year, so one would imagine that it has to be a great time for companies selling digital cameras an yet, it is quite the opposite.

The latest data from CIPA, see graph, show that the downward trend of digital cameras sales continues. If we look at sales of 2018 vs 2017 the market lost almost over a fifth and this is what sales in the first quarter of 2019 lost with respect to the first quarter in 2018.

I know that most people would say that the reason is obvious: the ubiquitous presence of the smartphone makes digital cameras unnecessary. Yes, it seems reasonable.

However, I think the reason is more complex. I understand the claim that since we have a smartphone always with us, and it has a camera delivering photos with an acceptable quality why should one use an extra device for taking photos?

The main reason why digital cameras are on an extinction path is, at least to me, the shift from digital photography to computational photography and to the way we use photos. We used to place photos in a shoe box, or in albums, to be seen once in a while and shared to our closest friends. That’s no longer the case. Our photos are now floating in the cyberspace, they are shared with hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, most we have never met. Photos are not longer used to freeze a moment to be re-lived after several years. Photos have become like fleeting words that are sent in the cyberspace.

Like words we like to embellish them with adjectives, sometimes with verbs, the former being the result of computational photography, the latter short clips capturing the action.

The first shift from mechanical photography to digital photography has killed the film. The second shift, to computational photography, is killing the camera. Any ideas on what the third shift will be?



About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.