I asked you to name the largest camera lens manufacturer in the world what
would your answer be? Canon? Not a bad choice. The Japanese company has been
making cameras since 1933 and specialises in cameras; photocopiers and
printers. Nikon? Now part of the Mitsubishi Group, Nikon has a proud reputation
that goes back almost a century to its start in 1917. When you see a
professional photographer, they typically have a Nikon or Canon in their hand.
What about Fujifilm or Olympus or possibly even Sony?

a dinner party, without someone spoiling the fun and googling the actual data,
you could mount an argument for any of these brands. They are all synonymous
with cameras and the brands are instantly recognisable.

world has changed though. We used to have products that performed a specific
role but now we have a merging of products to bring us many products in one. We
used to have cars with satellite navigation and separate still cameras and
video cameras and a little address book we kept beside the phone or in our top
pocket and…the list goes on with products that have now been merged into one
device that we currently call the smartphone.

2004 Nokia introduced the 7610 and the world of camera manufacturers started to
change forever. It was the first megapixel camera and introduced the world to
the concept of reasonable quality cameras in phones. It was only a short period
of time before Nokia became the number one manufacturer of camera lenses in the
world. It was a great trivia question as most people would naturally put
forward a traditional camera manufacturer rather than a mobile phone
manufacturer but given that Nokia, at their peak (in 2008) sold 472 million
phones in a year, it is easy to see that the number of camera lenses produced
would have surpassed traditional camera manufacturers.

answer the first question I posed, with sales of 320.2 million mobile phone
units last year, Samsung would currently be ranked as the top camera lens manufacturer.
When you consider that many of these phones actually have two cameras, the
number of actual lenses produced is incredible. Apple would be ranked number
two with 225.8 million units last year. Their latest offering actually has 3
cameras so, by virtue of actual lenses, they may soon rival Samsung.

you consider the likes of Canon and Nikon sell in the vicinity of eight to
twelve million units each year, the number of lenses they produce pales into
insignificance against the phone manufacturers. I accept the argument that I am
sure is forming in your head right now that the cameras on smartphones are not
as good as traditional cameras and you can achieve a lot more with a
traditional camera but the point is that most people don’t care.

is one manufacturer who has done an excellent job of bringing their camera
technology to their smartphone range. Sony have always had a reputation for
excellence in their products and their cameras were well regarded. At 23
megapixels, the Sony smartphones have the highest megapixel count of any of the
smartphone manufactures. By comparison, Samsung has one model at 16 megapixels and
Apple has 12 megapixels in their latest offering. If you ask any camera expert,
they will tell you that there is so much more to the quality of a photo than
the megapixels – and I agree – the point is that consumers don’t care. If they
can have the convenience of one device in their pocket that will take good
pictures and perform the variety of other functions possible with a smartphone
– even though other devices may do it slightly better – convenience wins out.

real challenge for camera manufacturers – both existing and wannabes – is to
produce a new product so outstanding that it drives consumers back to the
individual market. Maybe GoPro has already achieved that in the active camera
market. Most people don’t want to risk their expensive smartphone while trying
to take photos skiing or riding mountain bikes – so instead they risk their
expensive GoPro while doing the same activities. The difference is that the
GoPro is built for that treatment. New visionaries are keen to join the fray as
well. A new manufacturer, Light, has introduced a new camera to rival the
traditional cameras in quality. Their first product is still only at prototype
stage but orders have already closed for this year.

the product is good enough, there is still a segment there for it.

hope is that these various manufacturers continue to innovate and try and
create new segments. What that means for all of us is competition which will
deliver better products at better prices. It’s hard to argue with that!

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