The New York Times reports that Nikon is rolling out a new ad campaign to boost its SLR sales among Generation iPhone. The thinking is that although point-and-shoot cameras will soon be irrelevant, the image quality of SLRs is still far better than that of a smartphone camera, effectively insulating the higher end of the market from extinction.
SLRs are different from standalone GPS units or point-and-shoot cameras is that there is an actual, physical, difference in the product: SLR lenses require certain distances between the layers of glass contained inside, meaning that there are actual, optical reasons that smartphones won’t (yet) rival a Nikon D3000 in image quality. But, for many people, does that difference matter?
Smartphone makers no longer compete over “speeds and feeds.” I haven’t seen references to megahertz or gigabytes in a smartphone ad in quite a while. This is because, for most intents and purposes, smartphones are good enough for what you need them to do, and so the differentiation becomes more about the design and usage of a given phone – metal or plastic, iOS 8 or Android Lollypop – than it is about whose phone has more horsepower than someone else’s.
The same thing goes for pictures. As long as your iPhone is good enough to print a 4×6 – or even, as my uncle did, screen-printed onto a 24×12 – the usefulness of an SLR is suspect. As a longtime photography enthusiast and SLR user, I often find myself leaving my Sony A65 at home, if only out of convenience. My iPhone 5’s camera is good enough for 70% of what I need: tweeting pictures (where the upload size is limited to 3MB anyway), or uploading them to Facebook or Flickr.
Another big barrier in my SLR/iPhone choice is the sharing aspect. Even if I do take my SLR with me on a trip, there is no fast, effective way for me to share or archive my pictures without using my laptop. I could use an EyeFi SD Card, but the idea of paying $80 seems a bit steep. And I’m yet to find a Lightning-SD card reader that would allow me to quickly upload hi-res snaps to Flickr. Some SLRs do have wi-fi built in, but not enough to signal a change in the industry.
To my mind, one of the more interesting developments in SLR-iPhone field are portable lenses like the Sony QX-100, which connect via bluetooth to a smartphone, offering you SLR-quality stills while maintaining some portability. But these porta-lenses are finicky, expensive, and pretty much a niche a product.
I imagine that the next round of smartphones will obviously have better cameras, and that, as importantly, consumers will become more okay with a protruding camera lens. And although I doubt that a smartphone will, in the near future, rival an SLR in image quality, more and more consumers will be more okay with good enough pictures. But let’s hope, for Nikon’s sake, that I’m wrong.