Picturing a new market

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | Updated: Apr 8 2014, 14:51pm hrs
I own a six-year-old digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) that cost me a year of EMIs to buy. That is still my primary camera, but I am quite comfortable leaving it at home for most occasions, preferring my iPhone 4 to click family pictures instead. A lot of people think this way nowadays, and have almost stopped buying compact cameras that dont do much more than what their phone cameras do.

No wonder then that the entry-level camera market has been shrinking the world over, prompting camera giants like Canon and Nikon to look at other strategies to grow in an increasingly tough market. They need to sell their high-end DSLRs more to stay relevant in these changing times. But, for years, the DSLR was pitched as a camera for the professional photographer, while the companies pushed smaller, easier to use compact cameras for amateur users.

Canon is already bidding adieu to this decades old strategy and has started putting families in the viewfinder. The DSLR is a consumer product and not a professional one. For years we have gone out of the way to pitch these cameras to professionals, says Dr. Alok Bharadwaj, Executive vice-president of Canon India. The company is clearly gunning for the family segment, pitching the DSLR as a complete imaging solution. Bharadwaj agrees the DSLR is a complex product and hence difficult to sell. It has multiple lenses and features It is a bit like a high-end car for many people. It is also expensive. The cheapest DSLR in the market is now priced at Rs 28,995, he says, adding that this is why they are still not big in the consumer segment despite their huge potential.

Canon and Nikon are also banking big on the videography capabilities of their new breed of cameras. All of them can shoot in broadcast quality Full HD resolution, and this extra value for home videos could make it a more interesting proposition for many Indian families, says Bharadwaj.

Just about 3 lakh DSLRs were sold in India in the last fiscal, a growth of around 30%. Canons rival Nikon claims about 51% of the market in DSLRs, a position it has consolidated over the past couple of years. Both companies are confident that the DSLR segment will grow 30% in the coming year.

Nikon does not believe the smartphone has won just as yet. The sensor size of mobile phone cameras is very small. It is, at times, just 1/20th of a regular camera, so the capability is very limited and this shows when you are shooting in low light or fast moving subjects. It also shows when you are trying to print the images, explains Nikon India MD Hiroshi Takashina. He says these users will come back to the regular camera for their photography needs.

But the fact remains that DSLRs are still expensive. Plus, unlike compact cameras, they are not a one-time investment. However, there are clear indicators that India is becoming a mature DSLR market. One of these is the ratio of lenses sold to the number of bodies. Last year this number was 1.5 in India, showing that for each body sold, 1.5 lenses were being bought. In other words, every second DSLR buyer was picking up a second lens. That number has now grown to 1.9, showing that more people are taking photography seriously.

But Canon is not ready to drop prices to lure more buyers. The company will look at offering buyers more value for their money in the form of special lens packages, instead of cutting prices of the models. Holding the price only makes these devices more aspirational, says Bharadwaj. On the other hand, he says the annual growth rate should actually be around 45%.

There is no doubt that DSLRs are becoming popular of late, especially among the youth and women. While Nikon tries to woo new users by offering a very popular guide mode in its entry-level cameras, rival Nikon thinks it has the best camera for women in the 100D, touted as the smallest DSLR ever. With the top-end almost saturated, it will be these new buyers who will push the sales and popularity of the DSLR in India.