Digital camera market booms at Comdex

There are more than 40 digital camera vendors in the worldwide market today, according to an analyst with IDC, but you can expect that number to grow to more than 60 next year with a slew of new entrants from Taiwan. All sources at last week's Comdex show indicated that the digital camera market is booming. Japan leads in the digital camera market in usage, where early adopters have claimed 60% of the world market last year and this year, say's IDC's Ron Tussy. Casio's market lead from 1996 shrunk this year, with Olympus and Sony gaining ground.

There are more than 40 digital camera vendors in the worldwide market today, according to an analyst with IDC, but you can expect that number to grow to more than 60 next year with a slew of new entrants from Taiwan.

All sources at last week's Comdex show indicated that the digital camera market is booming. Several vendors announced new devices or showed off recently announced products.

Japan leads in the digital camera market in usage, where early adopters have claimed 60% of the world market last year and this year, said Ron Tussy, digital cameras and scanners program manager at IDC. Casio's market lead from 1996 shrunk this year, with Olympus and Sony gaining ground.

The entire "image capture" market - including scanners and digital cameras - will burst from 3 million units in 1996 to more than 26 million in 2001, at an annual growth rate of 55 percent, according to Kristy Holch, principal with InfoTrends Research Group Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri.

"That's not an aggressive prediction," Holch told a group at Comdex. "It's completely realistic." The digital camera segment in North America will grow annually at 103 percent until 2001, she added.

IDC expects the high-quality segment of the digital camera market to grow the most from last year until 2001, increasing 194 percent in units shipped and 123 percent in revenue by 2001. Basic "point-and-shoot" cameras will bring in the most money this year, however, taking 45 percent of the market and 44 percent of the market's total revenue.

The "film" or storage media for cameras continues to come in a variety of shapes and sizes with Toshiba Corp.'s SmartMedia, Sandisk Corp.'s CompactFlash, Intel Corp.'s Minicard, Iomega Corp.'s new Clik drive and a new product expected from Sony Corp. next year. Meanwhile, PCMCIA is gone for good as an important storage mechanism for digital cameras. [See, "New Iomega Disks Offer 40M Bytes for Mobile Devices, Cameras," Nov. 13. ]

Clik may be too large to become popular for camera storage, Tussy noted, however. "The jury is out as to whether the vendors will do this," he said.

Overall, the digital camera market is lucrative enough for even chip-vendor Intel to have entered, with its recent introduction of a digital-camera reference design product. The kit includes hardware, software, documentation, and suggested manufacturing procedures and is aimed at speeding the availability of low-cost still/video digital cameras. [See, "Intel Offers Digital PC Camera Spec," Nov. 6. ]

"The stage is set in 1998 for PC camera adoption," Peter Green, general manager at Intel's Digital Peripherals division, in Chandler, Arizona, told Comdex attendees. Today, a total of some 67 billions photos are taken worldwide every year, representing a huge market potential for digital camera vendors. "If we want to move this market forward, I believe we need to position cameras in the PC."

Price continues to be the most important feature for consumers when making a purchase decision, Tussy said, with 69 percent of home users in a recent survey of 3,500 users saying that price is the key feature they consider when buying a digital camera.

Business users on the other hand, are much more concerned with quality, with 61 percent of medium to large businesses saying that image quality is the top feature they consider when buying a digital camera, Tussy added.

At Comdex, users had their pick of a variety of new devices, as several vendors announced and demonstrated new products here.

-- The Agfa division of Bayer Corp. announced the ePhoto 780, a low-cost point-and-shoot camera with a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels. The camera, due to ship in January, stores from 8 to 96 images, depending on the image quality selected. The estimated street price of US$499 includes Agfa PhotoWise for accessing, managing and enhancing photos and MetaCreations Inc.'s Kai's Photo Soap SE. The camera will sell outside the U.S. for $599. The ePhoto 780 has four flash modes and will work with Macintosh computers and PCs. Agfa, based in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.agfa.com/.

-- Ricoh Corp. announced the RDC-300Z, a consumer camera features a zoom lens, self-timer, a sleep mode to conserve battery life, and adjustments to improve picture quality in different lighting conditions. Photos are stored on a removable 2M-byte card in JPEG format and can be taken at three quality levels of 12 to 49 images with a 640-by-480-pixel resolution. The new RDC-300Z lists for US$599 and is due to ship in next year's first quarter. Based in West Caldwell, New Jersey, Ricoh's consumer products group can be reached on the World Wide Web at http://www.ricoh-usa.com/.

-- Vivitar Corp. upgraded its ViviCam 3000 and announced the new ViviCam 3100 for PC users at the show here, with both cameras currently shipping and offering 1,000-by-800 pixel resolution. The 3000 has an improved fixed-focus lens and now supports additional graphics formats (including BMP, TIFF, and JPEG). The camera now comes with PhotoVista software and is selling for $599. The new $599 ViviCam 3100 offers can store up to 30 images in a removable PC memory card. An optional 4M-byte PCMCIA flash memory card stores up to 80 additional images. Vivitar is based in Newbury Park, California, and can be reached at +1-805-495-5086 or on the Web at http://www.vivitarcorp.com/.

-- Samsung Opto-Electronics America Inc. announced the SSC-41ON Digital Still Camera with a resolution of 768 by 494 pixels and a 1.8-inch LCD monitor. The camera has a 4M-byte memory card for storing 60 to 120 images at three resolution levels. Pricing was not available for the camera, which is shipping now. Samsung can be reached in Secaucus, New Jersey at +1 201-902-0347 or on the Web at http://www.simplyamazing.com/.

-- Philips Consumer Electronics Co. (a division of Philips Electronics North America Corp.), launched its Philips Electronic Still Picture (ESP) Digital Camera System, a bundle that includes integrates Philips' PSP2 digital camera and its VCP1 Color Printer, at $429 each. Philips expects the bundle to be popular with real estate, medical insurance, security and law enforcement professionals who need to capture, process and store images quickly. The VCP1 printer connects directly to the PSP2 camera (and other Philips cameras) for immediate output, but also can connect to a PC or Macintosh computer for manipulation or storage.

The VCP1 is a dye-sublimation printer that produces 4-by-6 inch photos in 80 seconds when connected to the PSP2 and in 120 seconds when connected to a computer. The PSP2 offers 640-by-480 pixel resolution, and both it and the printer are available now. Philips, based in Eindhoven, Netherlands, can be contacted at +31-40-79-1111. More information about Philips Consumer Electronics Co. and its digital cameras can be found on the Web at http://www.digitalcamera.philips.com/.

-- For digital camera storage, Lexar Media Corp. announced a new generation of CompactFlash memory cards with improved sustained write times. The cards are available in sizes of 4, 8, 12, 16, 24, and 32M bytes and have achieved sustained write speeds of up to 750K bytes per second, Lexar said. Based in Fremont, California, Lexar can be reached at +1-510-413-3400.

SanDisk, with headquarters in Sunnyvale, California, can be reached via the Web at http://www.sandisk.com/. Sony, based in San Jose, California, can be reached at +1-888-315-7669, or http://www.sony.com/. Iomega, based in Roy, Utah, can be reached at +1-801-778-1000 or http://www.iomega.com/. InfoTrends can be reached at +1-816-931-4900 and http://www.infotrends-rgi.com/. IDC, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, can be reached at +1-508-872-8200 or at http://www.idcresearch.com/.

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