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The Quiet Digital Camera Revolution

All of the despair around the state of enterprise-focused information technology has obscured the fact that there are some pockets of strong growth in the broader world of information technology. I recently purchased a Minolta Dimage Xi digital camera and am astounded by the ecosystem that has emerged to support new digital camera customers.

For some reason, the growth of the digital camera ecosystem, which I define as the hardware, software, and services required to support camera enthusiasts moving to digital photography, has gone largely under-reported.

I am impressed by the wide array of products and services that have emerged to help newbies and veterans when it comes to digital cameras. I’ll address each element of the ecosystem in part:

Hardware: Digital cameras are increasing in megapixel count and decreasing in price. The latest generation of cameras are great, with optical zoom, easy camera-to-PC data transfer, and small form factors. With a wide variety of price ranges (2 megapixel cameras can be had for something near the magical $200 price point) and form factors, there is a camera for everyone from the enthusiast to the hobbyist. A recent PC World article also describes a new service in the works that will offer disposable digital cameras.

Software – I don’t want to dwell on the software component as I am 1) not terribly proficient in photo editing packages and 2) think that the software component can take the least amount of credit for driving the adoption of digital cameras. Nonetheless, products from Adobe, Apple, Lifescape (my personal favorite) make managing digital images on one’s computer a breeze.

Services – In my view, it is the emergence of easy-to-use, high-quality consumer services that are really unlocking the power of digital photography when compared to its analog relative. Two key services stand out in my opinion:

Photo Storage & Sharing – One can debate the relative differences between Snapfish, Shutterfly, and Ofoto, but all three of these services provide users with a convenient way to store and share digital photographs.

Photo Finishing & Enhancement – I do not own Photoshop, nor do I consider myself an expert with the package. My hunch is that many other casual to entry-level digital photographers are in a similar position. There is an interesting company called Bellamax that does Photoshop-like photo enhancement for digital photographs.

I can say that my digital camera has had a really profound impact on the way in which I take photos. I take about 4x as many pictures with my new digital camera than I did with its replacement. Because I can see recently-snapped photos on the LCD, I spend less time taking multiple shots of the same scene to make sure that I have a good version. Last, because the camera is so small (the Dimage Xi will fit in a shirt or pants pocket), I take it with me absolutely everywhere.

Somehow the rapid development of the digital photography ecosystem has gone under-reported.