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The changing landscape of camera lens industry; Key opportunities and challenges to watch out for

  • Published Date: June 24, 2021

Innovations and technological advancements are catalysts in the global camera lens market. Unprecedented growth of the smartphone sector and the sheer idea of striving for a picture-perfect finish have become dominant, prompting camera lens suppliers to inject funds into research and innovations. While most professionals prefer mirrorless and DSLR cameras, smartphone cameras are coming with new lens technology such as improved zooming, reduced weight and space to cater to a larger retail consumer base.

Consistent efforts are being put towards advancing camera capabilities for mobile devices. For instance, a group of researchers in Utah have developed a lens of a hundred times lighter as compared to the lenses of iPhone 11. They believe the lens technology will foray into the smartphone landscape in 5 years. Similar developments to enhance product quality while complying with miniaturization trends could foster camera lens industry outlook.

Over the years, zoom lenses and prime lenses have underscored optimization of focal length. The former is versatile and flexible with multiple focal lengths in one lens. Zooms have become a viable choice when travelling or photographing parties and events. Meanwhile, prime lenses are smaller and lightweight. The lenses are preferable for low light and shallow depth-of-field effects.

Global camera lens market size is expected to surpass USD 15 billion by 2027, with a significant traction across consumer electronics applications. Automotive sector also holds a strong potential in terms of camera lens demand, particularly from surround view camera systems and self-drive cars. Advanced driver assistance technologies may depend highly on miniature cameras along with anti-collision sensors.

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Extending the reach of smartphone camera lenses

The use of more lenses is enabling manufacturers to compensate for irregularities such as distortion and chromatic aberration. Companies are gearing to be the trendsetters in the industry, advancing cameras lenses to match large camera sensors. For instance, smartphone giants Samsung Xiaomi have developed and introduced 108MP rear cameras. Smartphone lenses are rendering creative solutions with fisheye and ultra-wide-angle lenses. Niche optics such as telephoto, zoom, fisheye lenses can give run for the money to built-in camera phone hardware.

For instance, Scope Photonics, a Canadian-based company, is creating a lossless zoom for all sorts of photos to enable photographers to capture a zoomed-in close-up image that will consistently sharp. While the technology is being prototyped for medical devices, they contemplate bringing the advanced lenses to smartphone systems in three years, promising notable value addition to the camera lens industry. With plunging price and sizes getting smaller, fisheye lenses have garnered massive attention in the past several years. They provide a massive spherical 180-degree field of view, are lightweight and easy to use. The lenses deliver high-quality landscape and enable capturing a large area of the surrounding space.

Value-based solutions with AI in cameras

The application of artificial intelligence in smartphone cameras has fostered the value proposition to identify landmarks, extract details, improve image processing and de-noise the image. AI has potentially blurred the boundaries between image manipulation, image capture and image enhancement. Companies are striving to develop solutions to achieve a DSLR-like picture quality.

While some cameras come with a fixed lens, professional camera brands such as Sony, Nikon, Canon are focusing on ultra-wide-angle lenses. Ultra-wide-angle lenses have become the cornerstone to shoot landscapes. Nevertheless, smartphone camera lenses have come of age with ultra-wide and telephoto lenses to capture detailed, wide pictures and record videos in 4K resolution.

Digital cameras segment witness disruption

The rise of smartphone photography has had a telling impact on the digital camera industry. The wave of innovations led mobile brands has impacted the demand for entry-level point and shoot cameras among retail consumers and amateurs. While digital camera technology did not take a major stride in 2020, the ensuing period will be nothing short of innovations, especially in mirrorless cameras.

In-body image stabilization (IBIS)—a relatively new technology within cameras—has hit the camera lens market by storm as it aims to stabilize sensors to provide shake-free and stable video footage and sharp still images. Some of the manufacturers such as Canon, Sony and Olympus have included the technology in their models. Telephoto lenses are popular for wildlife and nature imagery. They enable photographers to produce close crops and take better photos at a distance. Notably, super telephoto lenses have gained traction for sports and wildlife photography.

Mirrorless cameras are in the cusp of revolution to provide higher-speed burst modes, considerably strengthening global camera lens market. The camera bodies can be made lighter and smaller vis-à-vis DSLRs. Sports photographers are the major takers of mirrorless cameras as they warrant high-quality zoom lenses. Not to mention, fashion specialists, architectural specialists and commercial photographers count on superior color science, dynamic range and extra resolution.

State-of-the-art mirrorless cameras render sophisticated subject and scene recognition, AF point coverage, face and eye detection for both humans and animals. The sophisticated cameras also provide scores of advanced video features, pixel-shift and better optics. Future camera innovations will potentially be replete with the use of AI and software, underscoring digital camera market trends.

Observing the recent camera launches, one can assimilate that mirrorless cameras are gradually taking a notable share of the DSLR segment. During February 2020, Canon had confirmed the development of the ESO R5 next-gen full-frame mirrorless camera and the new RF series camera lenses. The product promised CMOS sensors, optical and image processing as well as 8K video recording.

Are DSLRs a thing of the past?

DSLRs may be at a saturation point, having already hit the innovation wall for decades. Nikon discontinued its F6, D5 and other Nikkor Ai-S and AF-S DX lenses in October 2020, while Canon stopped the production of film camera—EOS-1v—in 2018. That said, the outlook for DSLR cameras may not be all that bleak. For instance, Nikon rolled out full-fledged FX-format D780 DSLR in January 2020 with features such as autofocus (AF) system. It has high AF precision and easy to use view finder in low light situation. It may help videographers and photographers with higher focus, better accuracy and optimization.

Vlogging camera— a boost for camera lens market

The trend for vlogging cameras is growing at a ginger pace. These cameras are proving to be viable in the long-run as they fall under the gamut of YouTube and other video-based platforms such as TikTok. The rise of vlogging culture has prompted vlogging brands to seize the opportunity in booming markets such as India. For instance, Sony rolled out ZV-1 compact vlogging camera in India in July 2020. They have introduced features such as background defocus, product showcase setting for review videos and directional three-capsule microphone.

Vloggers doing walk-and-talk shots are also showing palpability for the IBIS technology. Companies are launching mirrorless cameras for vlogging with IBIS and greater sensors. Innovations in the camera lens industry will derive from smartphone and mirrorless camera trends. Photo enthusiasts and professionals are likely to zero in on any new technology leap in lens and sensors. Automotive and healthcare applications will also drive camera lens industry developments to a great extent.

Author: Sunil Jha
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