Staying in the picture
Connectivity has given smartphones a leg-up over dedicated compact cameras. Illustration: Karl Hilzinger.
WHILE you're lying around in the sun contemplating 2013, you might ask yourself: ''Which is wackier? Making a mobile phone look more like a camera or a camera work more like a mobile phone?''
If you prefer to snap with a smartphone - and in particular an iPhone - there are now ways to make your mobile look, feel and work more like a real camera. You can fit it out with an add-on case, such as one sold by Taiwanese company Ozaki.
But why? After all, the attraction of phone photography is it is done with a device that fits in your pocket and can even be used to make phone calls to let mum know you are on the train and when you'll be home.
At the other end of the competition for your toy-buying budget is the camera made to work like a phone. Basic entry-level compact cameras are not selling because phones do the job almost as well. What does a camera in a phone have that our compacts don't? Connectivity.
Every camera maker - some that also make phones - now produces a compact with wi-fi connectivity and an Android OS touchscreen. Built into the system is an array of instant connections to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Instagram and all the rest. Oh dear!
This year could be critical for camera makers. They are being hammered at the low end of the market by phones, which are getting better and which cannot be matched when it comes to ''the best camera is the one that you have with you'' test.
At the top end, the current compact-system cameras and DSLRs are so good, the incentive to upgrade is not strong. Four years ago, a large percentage of digital cameras bought were replacements for disappointing earlier models. Jumping from five megapixels to eight or 10, plus the extra features, persuaded customers that a new camera will make bad pictures good. No one thinks that any more.
The real market depressant is the must-have-toy fad. For a while, it was high-definition TVs. The prices stayed high while demand was strong; now, look - a 105-centimetre set for less than $800. Then it was digital cameras: $2000 for an eight-megapixel DSLR. Now it is phablets and phones - camera prices go down and there are no discounts on phones. Like children in a toy shop, we are all, ''Gimme, gimme, gimme! Nah, already got one of those.''
Advertisements in Livewire show prices dropping to unprecedented lows as the supply and demand equalise. A Canon 5D MkII body for less than $2000 is 50 per cent of the retail price 18 months ago. An entry Nikon DSLR, with lens, for less than $600 - inconceivable. If you've been putting off buying, get into the shops now.