Visual Margins

With the peak Christmas trading season just around the corner, Ben Furfie sit down with the AV channel to get a snap shot of the market...
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With Christmas rapidly approaching, it's almost time to break out those now aging camcorders and cameras, some of which may not have seen the light of day since last yuletide. Of course, many have seen better times. With that in mind, there is likely to be a raft of consumers looking to upgrade their current models.

However, with the rise of eight megapixel videocamera phones, it is no longer as simple as reeling off the numbers when it comes to selling cameras. With stills, the upward pressure of increasingly capable mobile phones is putting a squeeze on the market, according to Olypmus' Jérôme Demaré. "Increasingly the stills market is having to differentiate itself from camera phones by showing the customer that it is a desirable alternative with longer lenses, better quality and more features."

However, Demaré is seeing something that could change the market fundamentally: "The compact market is reaching a plateau in terms of volume in the UK. DSLRs are getting smaller and easier to use and are already starting to compete with the highend of the compact market."

He also says the constant intrusion of DSLRs into the compact market is having an effect upon the bridge market: "It needs to differentiate itself from the compact and DSLR markets on either side, so new developments are constantly needed."

He isn't the only person to see this happening. Divisional director at AV distributor Midwich Darren Lewitt says that as the price of cameras have fallen across the board, there has been a fundemental shift in demand for different models. "The ASP of digital cameras is getting lower and we have noticed that more consumers are opting for SLR models."

When asked what retailers can do to capitalise on the stills market, Demaré explains: "I think the main advice I would give is to train your staff. The choice out there is growing by the day and customers can get confused as to what is actually available to them. Staff need to get trained by the manufacturers to ensure that they understand fully the products they are selling."

When it comes to the video market though, there are a whole different set of pressures having an effect. One of the biggest is the downward price trend, perpetuated by the likes of the Flip. "Pricing is a key trend," explains business unit manager for smartphones, PC options, peripherals and services at Toshiba UK, Graeme Simons. "Both high definition and standard definition models are available for way under £200 and that's attracting a whole new class of impulse/fun users."

There is also the battle between high and standard definitions, and this one – along with the format wars in particular – is likely to define the landscape for the next decade. "Toshiba has moved its entire camcorder range over to high definition, with no plans to launch any more standard definition products."

Simons says that the drive to high definition has been thanks in part to the penetration of high definition TV. He also believes that a combination of cheaper products and the increasing accessibility of easy to use video editing programs will usher in a new age of people getting into recording their memories on video.

"Last year, high definition accounted for one in ten of all the camcorders we sold. This year it is one in five," explains Lewitt. However, he warns that despite the push to high definition, few people are actually using it in that mode. "Many products are able to record in either standard definition or high definition and so, whilst the majority of consumers are buying high definition capable equipment, only around 40 per cent of video is actually edited in high definition – depending on the application.

Simons disagrees, suggesting the price fall will encourage people to experiment and adopt the technology wholesale. "We're finding big increases in sales volume from customers that want high definition digital video cameras at aggressive pricing, but do not want to make that much of a compromise on the features. In the coming years, that will result in mainstream 1080p DV cameras for under £200 and an increase in PC-based home movie editing and production without specialist software or hardware."

Lewitt, however, sees the market going in a different direction: "We expect non-tape camcorders to be the biggest development, particularly at the top end but also to a lesser extent at the bottom end of the market. I expect any new products that are released for the lower end of the market to be increasingly flexible, recording in both standard definition and high definition. If they can't record on non-tape then an optional attachment should allow them to do this. High definition models will gain market share but DVD and MiniDV models will continue to see market share decline."

However, when it comes to video, the image is only half of the story as Sennheiser UK's John Willett explains: "We've always been aware that quality pictures at a reasonable price often comes at the expense of the quality of the supplied audio chain. It's very common to find that users, once they get used to the camera, are soon looking to upgrade their sound equipment with an aftermarket microphone and perhaps a set of quality headphones for monitoring the audio."

Willett is surprised at the level of demand for audio products, even from enthusiasts. "I often receive requests from video clubs to give talks about sound as many of their members are getting great pictures that are let down by the audio. I've given talks at a few clubs around the country and I'm always impressed about how keen people are to improve the quality of their audio.

"For retailers I would advise stocking the full range of Sennheiser after-market microphones and allied accessories. At the very least they should find out what is available so they can properly advise their customers and order the products that are right for the job.

Product Focus

Digital Video Cameras

Entry Level
Flip

The camcorder that brought click and shoot filming to the masses. Its smaller cousin the Flip Mino has also just launched in the UK.

Toshiba Camileo Pro HD
Slightly more expensive than the Flip, Toshiba's Camileo Pro HD offers high definition recording at 720p, while remaining small and sleek enough to fit in your customer's pocket.

Mid-range
Sony SR35 30GB

With DV swiftly becoming the preserve of professional camcorders, hard diskbased camcorders have well and truly hit the mainstream. The 30GB SR35 allows for up to 15 hours of recording.

Panasonic H60 60GB
With up to a staggering 54 hours of recording time, the Panasonic H60 is ideal for those with lots to record, but little time – or space – to put it on their PC.

High End
Canon HV30

Seen as the best tape-based model currently on the market, the HV30 is amongst the best camcorders consumers can currently buy. HD recording, CMOS sensor and a 2.7-inch display.

Sony SR12
Offering full 1080p high-def recording on a hard drive camcorder, Sony's SR12 gives users up to a huge amount of features on a consumer camcorder. With up to 48 hours of HD recording.

Prosumer
Sony HVR-Z5E

Sony created the prosumer market back with its VX1000 model. Now, 13 years later, its descendent, the HVR-Z5E is the flagship of Sony's prosumer range. Coming with XLR inputs, 3CMOS and the new 29.5mm wide-angle G Lens that gives the same effect as using 35mm film.

Canon XL2
Alongside Sony's Z1E, Canon's XL2 is a staple amongst prosumers. Thanks to the shoulder mount, it's ideal for applications where the camera will be in use for long periods, as with a multitude of connections including XLR, you can be sure the room for value added selling is immense.

Digital Still Cameras

Compacts
Panasonic DMCFX35
Coming in with a 10.1 megapixel CCD, the DMCFX35 is not only small, it also carries a visual punch, ensuring quality pictures.

Canon PowerShot G9
The PowerShot G9 is as close as you will come to a DSLR in a compact's body. It has a 12.1 megapixel resolution.

Sony DSC W300
Sony is well known for its style and the W300 is no exception. However, the W300 isn't just looks; it comes with a titanium-coating to protect it.

FujiFilm S9600
A 'bridge' camera, the FujiFilm S9600 crosses the gap between the simplicity of a traditional compact and the lens quality of a DSLR.

Sony A200
It might have been surpassed by its older sibling the A350, but Sony's A200 is currently the best value entry level DSLR on the market.

DSLRs
Nikon D40
Now coming to the end of its life, but features some of the best functionality in an entry level DSLR and is backed up by a huge range of lenses.

Nikon D90
Building upon the success of Nikon's advanced amateur D80, the D90 comes with a 12.3 megapixel resolution.

Sony A200
It might have been surpassed by its older sibling the A350, but Sony's A200 is currently the best value entry level DSLR on the market.

Canon EOS 450D
The 450D is currently one of the best value DSLRs available, especially for its feature set. It comes with a 12.2 megapixel resolution.

Olympus E420

The E420 is one of the smallest and lightest DSLRs around, thanks to its fourthirds lens technology. Has a 12.2 megapixel resolution.

Software

Consumer Photography Software
Adobe Photoshop Elements
The consumer version of Adobe's industry standard editing software.

Corel Paintshop Pro
Photoshop's main rival, but is aimed more at photographers.

Professional Photography Solutions
Adobe Photoshop CS3
The industry standard and for good reason. Extremely powerful, but relatively easy to use.

Apple Aperture
Apple took Aperture to the Olympics and soon saw photographers using it over Photoshop.

Consumer Video Products
Adobe Premiere Elements
The consumer version of Adobe's professional NLE editing suite, sometimes bundled with Photoshop.

Sony Vegas MovieStudio
Another powerful NLE suite for intermediate users. Based on Sony's professional program.

Pinnacle Studio 12
Avid's consumer product, Pinnacle is the market leader in entry level video editing.

Corel VideoStudio 11.5

VideoStudio is aimed at the beginner and is a powerful, but easy to learn program.

Roxio Creator
Part of Roxio's Creator suite.

Professional Video Solutions
Adobe Premiere Pro

Third in the professional arena, Premiere is an extremely powerful program, especially when combined with Photoshop.

Apple Final Cut Express
Apple might describe Express as a consumer product but to do so would be an injustice. An incredibly powerful NLE suite.

Apple Final Cut Studio

Number two in the professional market, Apple's FCS is used in several major Hollywood films.

Sony Vegas Pro
Sony's professional offering.

Avid Liquid Pro

The biggest of the big three, Avid is used to edit many of the biggest Hollywood movies, but is available at an indie price.

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