Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Future of Video Cameras

At the pro and prosumer level, I don't know. I don't have any experience in that area, but I would expect them to have their following. People who are really into pictures use DSLRs and I think people who are really into video will want high quality gear.

Consumer video cameras are in for some hurting. The market for them will shrink considerably. Point and shoot cameras will tread deeply into their market.

Consider this: Most video cameras today are tape based. when you are trying to tape your kids entire recital, this is fine, it's nice to get the whole thing in one go. However, few people actually do this, and fewer still actually watch these videos. Most videos are short, no more than a few minutes, and tape can be a real drag since it isn't random access.

More and more they are going to hard disks or flash memory, giving people random access to their clips. This trend will continue.

But let's think here. What other kind of camera uses flash memory, has a nice optical zoom and is taking better and better video as time goes on? That's right, point and shoot cameras. Why take a dedicated still camera AND a dedicated video camera when the still camera can do a decent job at both? The rare times when a dedicated video camera will do better just won't justify their cost, weight, and hassle.

My predictions for the next 5 years:
  • Video cameras will continue to increase in resolution. 1920x1080p full HD will be the standard.
  • Few, if any, will use tape, most will use flash memory (16 or 32 GB cards maybe?) some will use hard disks (large enough to get your whole vacation on, 200+ GB)
  • Their market will be smaller than it is today.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Future of Cameraphones

Cameraphones have a bright future. Pretty much everyone has a phone, almost all of them have a camera already, so even if people don't use them, they will remain a check-off feature that everyone has. Given this, you can't really judge the success of them as a camera just by sales.

The real advantage that they have is that you always have them. You don't have to debate whether or not to take them or make sure you remember to grab it. You just have it.

The downside is the picture quality is fairly poor and I don't see that changing a whole lot. The sensor is just too small, and if you make it bigger, then it and the lens take up more space and add weight, both of which are at a premium on phones.

In the next five years I predict:

  • the pointless megapixel race will continue 2MP now, probably 4 or 5 in five years. Mostly useless over 2MP and totally useless over 3MP, the quality just isn't there, even in bright light.
  • LED flashes: This will help things a little. More and more phones will get white LED flashes on the camera. They will actually help a lot of shots where camera phones are used, a group of friends taking a picture from a few feed away, like at a party or sitting around a table at a restaurant. As a bonus, they can be used as a flashlight.
  • Video: They currently have pathetic video (mine does something like 176x144 at 10 frames a second). This will get better, but who knows how much. I think in 5 years, most phones will be doing 320x240 30fps and high end ones will do 640x480 @ 30fps.
  • Phones with real cameras will remain a small niche. There are a couple of them now, with real flashes and zoom lenses. Here's the problem. The bigger camera parts add weight and bulk, and you have to carry them around all the time, even when you don't need the camera. Better to have a smaller, not as good camera with you all the time for those spur of the moment things and bring a point and shoot when you know there will be photo ops. There are some people who carry a point and shoot everywhere, and a camera like this would be an advantage for them, but I doubt that is a huge market segment.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The future of Point and Shoot Cameras

Point and shoot cameras seem to be in a dismal spot, with cameraphones eating at them from the bottom and digital SLR cameras pushing down on them from the top. However, think that they will have a strong niche for the foreseeable future. Their growth will probably slow, but they are far from extinct.

What's going to save them? Size, picture quality, and video.

Picture quality: Seems like an odd strength, given that it is much worse than a DSLR, but instead compare it to a cameraphone. Cameraphones have tiny sensors and tiny lenses, which means that they only take decent pictures in bright light. P&S cameras, with their larger sensors and better flash can take better pictures. Plus, the more advanced feature like face detection work better when you have more processing power to dedicate to them. And Zoom, how many camera phones have a 3x or 4x optical zoom?

Size: Seems like an odd strength too. They are much bulkier than a camera phone. You actually have to remember to take them with you instead of always having them around. However, compared to a DSLR, they are much, much smaller and lighter. You can put it in your pocket or bag without it being uncomfortable.

Video: Given that we are mostly talking about still cameras, video may seem like an odd strength, but really, it is the point and shoot camera's secret weapon. 5 years ago, they took 320x240 video at 15 frames a second without sound. Now almost all of them take 640x480 video at 30 fps with sound. That means that today's cameras take good enough video that you don't need a video camera for you 30 second to several minute clips. Where will they be in 5 years? Definitely taking HD video, probably at 1920x1080. For short videos they will be perfect. Longer ones will be fine, there will be plenty of flash memory, but I think they will compress things too heavily to do much editing, still, for most people, this will be all they need.