“The best camera is the one that’s with you”. This phrase, coined by the award-winning photographer Chase Jarvis, probably best describes the impact that smartphone cameras had and still have on the world of photography. The cameras built into our phones may still be inferior to dedicated digital cameras in general and SLR cameras in particular, but they are constantly getting closer and they have the priceless advantage of always being within reach.
When the first touchscreen smartphones made waves in 2007 and 2008, the camera industry was doing very well. In 2008, members of the CIPA, an association of the world’s most renowned camera makers, shipped almost 120 million digital cameras and probably didn’t worry too much about the upcoming competition. Back then, smartphone cameras were no match in terms of image quality and photo apps such as Instagram or Snapchat hadn’t been invented yet.
Less than 10 years later, the situation of the camera industry looks very different. At the same time as smartphones became more and more ubiquitous, the lenses and sensors built into them became ever more powerful. The soon-to-be-released iPhone 7 Plus has two camera lenses, bringing its capabilities even closer to those of sophisticated SLR cameras. As our chart illustrates, the camera industry could be in serious trouble as a consequence. In 2015, CIPA members shipped 35.4 million digital cameras, down more than 70 percent from peak sales in 2010 – the year that Instagram was launched.
This chart shows how many digital cameras the world's largest camera vendors shipped between 2003 and 2016.