Leo’s Eye: Cheaper, better―for now

By Leonard Goh (freelance writer/Singapore)

Compact cameras are ridiculously affordable these days, but why, and what’s the consequences?

Just the other day, I was in an electronic store looking for a printer and I walked past the camera counter. As usual, the galore of cameras lined the shelves with prices in front. One particular camera caught my attention.

It was the Canon IXUS 180, and the price and feature list stopped me in my tracks. At S$199, the compact was loaded with functions: 10x optical zoom, 20-megapixel sensor, with Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity options all packed into a small body.

Imaging insiders will know that compact camera sales have dipped since smartphones with cameras came onto the market a few years ago. But at S$199, the IXUS is an absolute steal.

Just a few years ago when I was writing for another tech publication, compact cameras below S$250 were usually fairly average, with 3x optical zoom, low-resolution 2.5-inch LCD and probably sport an 8-megapixel sensor. But in less than a decade, this has all changed.

The challenge posed by smartphones with cameras to compact shooters had seen its winner (smartphones). Camera makers had wound down their compact lineups to focus on interchangeable lens offerings. The remaining compacts, in order to remain competitive on the market, had to distinguish themselves with larger sensors, faster lenses that smartphones with cameras lacked. Hence, compacts such as the Sony RX100 series fill the niche. As for other run-of-the-mills pocket cameras like the IXUS mentioned, they not only had to have longer zoom range, high pixel count and multiple connectivity options, but also a low price point to address consumers looking for a cheap-enough camera that does what their smartphones can’t.

Will the price dip further? I’m not too sure, really. At S$199, it’s super affordable. Any lower, camera makers may have to struggle to make a few pennies from it. And the question then would be, is it worthwhile to make them still?

Leonard Goh

Leonard is an advocate of photography in Singapore and also an educator in this field. He has served as senior writer for the now-defunct CNET Asia, before moving on to working for various camera companies in the business development and marketing capacities. He is also a co-founder of Platform, a not-for-profit photography initiative in Singapore which also published Twentyfifteen, a collection of 20 books to commemorate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee (SG50).

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