Point and Shoot Sales Stagnate; DSLR Stays Strong

by Brian Watkins

Boy would I not want to be a manufacturer in the point and shoot camera space these days. It’s similar to the way Garmin GPS sales have taken a hit because, let’s face it, most smartphones do as good a job (or better) at navigating. And what’s more, relying on your smartphone to navigate doesn’t require you to lug around a secondary device and keep it charged or plugged in, nor does it require having to remember to update its maps software.

There was a time when taking pictures with your phone was something of a novelty. You’d do it because it was there and handy, but the photos were pretty lousy. Fast forward a decade and the software behind most camera apps has given your standard point and shoot camera a run for its money.

The last point and shoot I bought was a Nikon Coolpix, which I’d selected for its slim profile and good reviews. It wasn’t a bad camera, but I quickly noticed that its pictures weren’t any clearer than those I could take with my Galaxy Note 5. In fact, my Note seemed to perform better in lower light conditions. What’s more, the HD video on my Note was significantly better than any video the Coolpix could record. The Coolpix’s video, by comparison, was grainy and didn’t capture contrast well.

So I found myself in that moment where I’m carrying around this small camera on hikes, having to remember to charge the batteries before expeditions, and then know that I’m getting inferior video. In the absence of a serious DSLR which is not always practical for casual hikes, why couldn’t I just use my phone? And so I did and have never looked back. The lack of optical zoom is a drawback less often than I’d assumed for casual shots.

I need to stop there and point out that none of this is to say that smartphones are the future of digital photography. There’s a reason, after all, that DSLR sales have remained steady over the years even when point and shoot cameras have become superfluous. Smartphones do not have the lens quality or size, internal mechanics, nor zoom capabilities of a DSLR. When you compare professional shots with something captured on a smartphone, there’s a clear difference in both clarity and color balance (for starters).

However, the degree of quality that is “good enough” for the casual user to snap shots at birthday parties etc. is a place flagship smartphones have reached rather well. The auto focus function handles most of the heavy lifting as lighting and focusing goes, but there are some challenges with automation. To any aspiring photo enthusiast (or “prosumer”) I’d recommend using even an entry level DSLR for material you take seriously. “Auto” settings do a decent job for cameras that need it, particularly smartphones and point and shoots. But the amount of control you have with a DSLR, paired with superior internals, invariably make for eye-catching shots in the hands of a competent user.

Point and shoot cameras might have wi-fi capabilities now, with options to share photos to social channels and geo-tag. But that’s simply old tech playing catch up to be more like a smartphone to justify its existence. For cameras less than $300, what you already have in your pocket is probably just as good. And if you’re spending more than $300 on a camera anyway, you’d probably be better served to budget for an affordable DSLR and skip the higher end point and shoots altogether.