The zooming rise of digital

Each year increasing numbers of consumers are ditching their 35mms for digital models, but thanks to support from a surprising corner – the disposable camera – the old technology looks here to say.

Dixons’ decision to stop selling 35mm film cameras is proof of the popularity of digital cameras. The variety of models available and their relative ease of use have helped fuel this aspect of the digital revolution. And the scene is set for further growth as ownership of digital cameras proliferates.

Research by TGI charts the rise in popularity of digital cameras, and while amateur photography may have emerged from the darkroom, it is not all doom and gloom for film.

From the mid-1980s to 2002, the majority of people in the UK used film cameras. However, in the past three years, the percentage of people using film cameras has declined with increasing rapidity. In 2001, 75 per cent of UK adults said they used a film camera; the following year this had fallen to 71 per cent, then to 64 per cent by 2004 and this year it has fallen to 58 per cent.

This is indicative of the demise of traditional cameras, but it is premature to sound the death-knell of all non-digital varieties. TGI data shows that one type of film camera continues to go from strength to strength – the disposable.

Research shows that those consumers who have bought a camera “in the past 12 months”, which is neither digital nor disposable, has dropped from seven per cent of adults in 2002, to three per cent in 2005. Conversely, in 1998, three per cent of adults claimed to have bought a disposable camera in the past 12 months, by 2001 this had risen to five per cent, then eight per cent in 2003 and nine per cent (4.4 million adults) in 2005.

But even this progress cannot match the explosion in ownership of digital cameras. Today, 31 per cent of UK adults possess a digital camera and the rate of digital take-up grows faster each year. In 2001, two per cent of adults had bought one in the past 12 months; in 2003 the figure was five per cent; last year it was eight per cent and today it is 12 per cent and is likely to increase further next year.

Demographically, there are telling differences between owners of a digital camera and the rest of the population. In 2000, just three per cent of adults were early adopters: those people who owned a digital camera well before they became popular and who helped to turn it into a mass-market product. These early adopters were 23 per cent more likely than the average adult to be aged under 25. They were also 30 per cent more likely to be in full-time work, 50 per cent more likely to be in the AB social grades and over twice as likely to have a personal income of &£30,000 or more.

TGI’s analysis of the attitudinal profile of digital camera owners in 2000 reveals that this group had a keen interest in innovation. For instance, they were 55 per cent more likely to agree they “love to buy new gadgets and appliances”.

In terms of the media that current digital camera-owning adults are more likely to consume than the average adult, it is skewed towards new media. TGI research shows they are over two-and-a-half times more likely to use the internet. They are also 46 per cent more likely to have satellite television and 26 per cent more likely to be heavy consumers of outdoor advertising.

Due to the high cost of digital cameras, it might be expected that most consumers would buy models at the cheaper end of the price range. But TGI data shows that only half of all those who have bought a digital camera in the past 12 months spent less than &£200 on it. In fact, 17 per cent spent more than &£350 and 366,000 recent buyers (six per cent) spent &£500 or more.

As for current buyers of disposable cameras, in terms of media consumption, these people are 64 per cent more likely to be in the top fifth of the population for weight of cinema consumption. They are also 38 per cent more likely to be in the top fifth for magazine consumption and 27 per cent more likely to be in the top fifth for outdoor media consumption.

The potential for growth in the digital camera market is huge. While the digital camera is well established as a mainstream product, adult ownership is still only 31 per cent, so there is a big opportunity to market to the remaining 69 per cent of adults. The growth in popularity of digital cameras will result in the decline of most types of traditional film camera, but demand for disposable cameras, due to their convenience, will continue to increase.

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