A lot of the stuff in the telecommunications and world has not quite worked out the way the experts thought they would.

Phone companies who were supposed to be the kings of the mountain realized too late that they were planting far too many miles of fiber optics, and they would be caught in a vicious pricing squeeze. WorldCom, which owns MCI, is the latest to find themselves facing bankruptcy. The biggest of them all, AOL is headed south big time, with the greatest quarterly loss in business history, and is dragging the once proud Time Warner down with it.

One industry however is booming, and prospects are looking better all the time. Some camera manufacturers such as Canon had record profits last year. Other companies, long famous for their computer and copier products are now salivating as they survey the future for imaging.

The reason is that there has been a little-noticed paradigm shift in who buys cameras and why. Historically, there been two kinds of buyers for these products. The first, and by far the biggest sector was in the consumer market. Millions upon millions of people around the world have some sort of simple camera. Most of them will take the camera out of a drawer on special occasions or on trips, and take a roll of film, which gets sent to the drug store for processing. Unfortunately for film manufacturers less and less of these camera owners buy film. Which is why the Great Yellow Father In Rochester, Eastman Kodak has seen its fortunes decline.

The second group, far smaller, but increasingly profitable is the advanced amateur and professional market. Manufacturers aim their flagship products at them. The differences in prices between the two markets are in terms of thousands of dollars.

If you were to look at the histories of these high-end buyers, you would probably discover a common factor in their development. In most cases, at some point these people got a darkroom outfit, and learned to process and print their own pictures. The smell of Dektol and hypo got into their psyches. They had learned the photographic magic. No runs to the drugstore or photomax for them.

In the 1990s, digital cameras came to the market. Suddenly many of these former film users realized that with the help of their computers, they could in effect, create their own darkrooms. The World Wide Web made it possible to send these photographs to family, friends, and even clients around the world. Personal web sites began to flourish as individuals discovered that they could self-publish their work. As a result, what had previously been a low-priced market sector blew the lid off. Once they could produce their own finished photographs on their desktops, amateurs suddenly became conscious of what higher-priced cameras could accomplish.

At about the same time that digital became available; video began to flex its consumer muscles. Features that had previously only been available on expensive broadcast cameras started to appear in prosumer lines. Just as with stills, the computer now became an edit bay. Workshops have proliferated as the average person began to produce their own simple movies with edits that looked like they were done by network news. As these cameras got into more hands, millions of future Stephen Speilbergs began to produce movies.

The next generation of technology will now start to merge still and video into one camera. Sigma has already introduced the first consumer camera that uses the revolutionary Foveon chip, which is capable of producing high-resolution still and video. Other manufacturers are racing to get into this ball game.

Ten years ago, The New York Times reported that by the turn of the century, the average home would include over $5,000 worth of High Fidelity equipment. At the time, when the average person didn't know a tweeter from a woofer, this idea seemed absurd. Yet today, it would be hard to find a block without a home-theatre. Living rooms have been turned into small Radio City Music Halls. Up until the 90s, the average family had three major expenditures. Their home, their car, and their children's education. Today, audio and video have provided another addition to the family budget.

Camera company executives now understand that photography is about to enter this new holy ground. The big question is how many of them will be able to survive the evolution?

Next month we will take a look at the challenges facing this industry.

Copyright © 2002 The Digital Journalist

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