Rise of the Cameraphone

By Andrew Hudson Published: August 1, 2013 Updated: October 18, 2016

By Andrew Hudson Published: August 1, 2013 Updated: October 18, 2016

Cameraphones may be derided by photo enthusiasts but they are quickly gaining ground in quantity and quality.

In six years (2000–2006), the cameraphone went from non-existent to outselling and film cameras combined. In one month (November 2011), the iPhone 4S went from non-existent to the second-most popular camera on Flickr. Now, in July 2013, there’s a 41 megapixel cameraphone in the U.S. that approaches the quality of a DSLR. There’s no doubt about it, photography is entering the Age of the Cameraphone.

Here is some data on this phenomenon.

The first cameraphone — J-SH04 (2000) made by Sharp for J-Phone in Japan — had a 0.1 megapixel camera

Apple iPhone 4, first cameraphone model to overtake DSLR models in popularity on Flickr, in 2012

Nokia Lumia 1020, first 41MP available in the U.S., July 2013

Timeline of the Cameraphone

1838First known photo of a person
1901First consumer camera: Kodak Brownie
19602.2 billion photographs taken
1979First commercial mobile phone cellular telecoms network, in Tokyo
1981First commercial electronic still camera (Sony Mavica)
1983First U.S. cellular mobile phone service, in Chicago
19894 million mobile phone subscribers in the world
1991Second generation (2G) of mobile phone networks
1999740 million mobile phone subscriptions — one in eight humans had a mobile phone (more mobile phones than personal computers or automobiles)
2000First cameraphone, made by Sharp, distributed by J-Phone in Japan. Resolution of 0.1 megapixels — 300x300 pixels.
2004End of film cameras (according to industry group PMA)
2004Cameraphone sales exceed sales of stand-alone cameras
2006Cameraphone sales exceed sales of stand-alone cameras and film-based cameras combined
2007More than one billion cameraphones in use — a feat which took seven years, in contrast to TV (65 years) and personal computer (33 years)
20094.6 billion mobile phone subscriptions. 2.5 billion cameraphones in use
20092.5 billion cameraphones in use
2011380 billion photos taken in the year; 3.5 trillion photos taken in history
2011Apple iPhone 4 is the most popular camera on Flickr
2013Apple iPhone 5 is the most popular camera on Flickr
Sources: Communities Dominate

Cameraphones crop camera sales

In 2012, started taking a noticeable bite out of the traditional camera market. Canon, Inc. their forecast for camera sales due to the wider use of Apple iPhones et al.

“We lowered our camera sales projection because of slower economic growth and an increasing use of smartphones that’s eroding demand.”
— Toshizo Tanaka, Chief Financial Officer, Canon Inc., Oct 24, 2012.

“[Sales of point-and-shoot cameras] are falling fast — not helped by the rapid rise of the smartphone as the camera of choice for casual snapshooters.”
DPReview, Aug 1, 2013

How much? Here are some numbers:

“Global camera sales are expected to fall 4.3 percent this year to 115.2 million units, according to market researcher IHS. Industrywide camera shipments fell 25 percent in August from a year earlier, according to the Camera & Imaging Products Association in Tokyo. By comparison, global sales of smartphones … rose 32 percent to 146.1 million units in the second quarter, according to market researcher Strategy Analytics.”
— Mariko Yasu, Bloomberg Businessweek, Oct 25, 2012

Cameraphones on Flickr

The world’s most popular website specifically for photo-sharing is a good barometer of camera usage. The story starts heating up around 2007.


The Nokia N95 smartphone was released in 2007 and soon climbed up the Flickr usage charts, with its 5MP camera.


“iPhone kicking butt on Flickr”
Steven Sande, Tuaw, August 11, 2008

Cameraphones became popular on Flickr in 2008, with the introduction of the second generation iPhone, the Apple iPhone 3G, which had a 2MP camera.

Flickr graph of most popular cameraphones, August 2008


“IPhone passes Canon Rebel XTi as most popular camera on Flickr”
Mark Milian, Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2009

By August 2009, all iPhone models combined overtook the Canon Rebel XTi as the most popular camera on Flickr. This included the 3G model from 2008 and the new iPhone 3GS introduced in June 2009 with a 3.2 MP camera.

Flickr graph of most popular cameras, August 2009 (Note, “Apple iPhone”=Apple iPhone 3G and 3GS combined)


“Flickr’s data shows that the most popular camera among its 55 million users is a smartphone, Apple’s iPhone 3G.”
Sam Grobart, The New York Times, Dec 4, 2010


“The iPhone 4 Is Officially the Most Popular Camera on Flickr”
Leslie Horn, PC Mag, June 22, 2011

Around May 2011, a single cameraphone model (Apple iPhone 4) overtook a DSLR (Nikon D90) in popularity for the first time.

Flickr graph of most popular cameras, May 2010 to Apr 2011

“Less than a year after its debut, Apple’s iPhone 4 has topped Flickr’s camera popularity charts, nudging Nikon’s midrange D90 SLR into the second-place spot.”
Stephen Shankland, CNET, Jun 22, 2011

The death of the point-and-shoot camera was heralded.

“It looks like the point-and-shoot camera is quickly heading to the gadget graveyard. May it rest in peace next to your old VCR, Sony Walkman and Atari game console.”
Nick Bilton, The New York Times, April 18, 2011

“Smartphones, not cameras, are becoming the devices that produce the visual record of people’s lives.”
Stephen Shankland, CNET, Jun 22, 2011


In March 2012, a DSLR (Canon EOS 5D Mark II) may have regained the crown…

Flickr graph, Apr 2011 to Mar 2012

…but, if so, the reign was brief.

Flickr numbers from March 2012, via AllThingsD

“We believe that the iPhone is actually becoming the camera of choice for consumers and enthusiasts in developed markets given its ease of use and ability to quickly get photos online.”
— Ben Reitzes, Barclays analyst, March 2012


By 2013, the top three positions were all iPhones (5, 4S, and 4).

Flickr graph, Jun 2012 to Jul 2013

Infographic from 2012:

Infographic by High Table, via VisualNews, June 11, 2012



Next page: Sony α3000: 20MP APS-C SLT

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