Cameras: Shipments rising, but prices falling

Digital camera prices are dropping, an analyst firm concludes, and buyers are moving toward one camera per person rather than one per family.

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Stephen Shankland
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BURLINGAME, Calif.--Unexpected growth in the 2007 digital camera market has delayed the day when shipments start shrinking, but plunging prices already are a reality.

So reported Ed Lee, director of InfoTrends, at the analyst firm's Digital Imaging conference here Wednesday. The average digital camera price is projected to slip from $298 in 2006 to $191 in 2011 in North America.

"Price declines are happening much more rapidly than shipments are growing," Lee said. Those price declines, though, "probably are one of the reasons sales are up."

In the compact camera segment, average prices are projected to drop from $262 in 2006 to $163 in 2011. Digital SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras, which offer higher performance and interchangeable lenses but are bulkier and costlier, are projected to drop from $966 to $507 over the same period. "There are a lot more affordable models," Lee said.

InfoTrends had projected sales of digital cameras would peak in 2007 or 2008; it's pushed that back to 2010, Lee said. "We've seen this year a nice resurgence of sales," he said.

One reason: digital cameras are becoming a personal item rather than a family item.

"We're seeing a trend toward one camera, one person," Lee said. "In the past you had film cameras being a household item and everybody shared that camera. But with advent of cell phones and MP3 players, people like to have their own individual products."

The average number of cameras per household in the U.S. rose from 1.4 last year to 1.5 this year, he said.

Among other juicy stats:

• People are taking a lot of photos--up from about 50 billion a year in 2007 to about 60 billion in 2011.

• 2006 was the year the bulk of the digital camera market switched over from first-time buyers to repeat buyers. In 2007, 73 percent were repeat buyers, and in 2011, it should be 97 percent.

• The average number of photos taken per year was 415 for single folks and 514 for people married or living together but with no children. Throw a baby into the mix, though, and the shutters start snapping. Those with a child under age one take 668 photos a year on average.

• There's a correlation between a camera's megapixel count and its price, but it's imperfect, because sales now depend on other factors, too, such as image stabilization, face detection, a larger LCD and a longer zoom range.

"It's not about megapixels anymore. It's about the total package of a camera," Lee said. "In reality, a 6- or 8-megapixel camera is going to meet the needs of most consumers out there today."