For a long time, videos have been heralded as the Next Big Thing, the capture format that was going to replace still photography. 

But technology disruption often progresses more slowly than one might think. Or much faster than one might think. Or ends up stopping dead in its tracks. So where are we at with videos?

Back in 2013, I published a report for the then popular tech publication and market analysis firm, GigaOm, called Action! Roll ‘em: Personal video poised to take off. The report started with this paragraph, which I could still use today: 

To date, personal video hasn’t exploded the way photos have. But, like photos, personal video has the potential to break out from its role as a storehouse for memories of life ’s key moments and become an integral part of consumers’ real-time social sharing habits. 

The report highlighted the potential of solutions for short-form videos, such as Vine and Instagram, and hybrid photo-video solutions, such as Animoto and Magisto, to be the driving force behind the expected growth in consumer video capture, sharing and watching. 

What happened? 

All the major social networks (from Facebook to Snapchat and anything in between) have now embraced video in a big way, to no small extent supported by influencers who promote themselves – and their brand sponsors – through eye-catching video clips. TikTok tops 2 billion downloads with their easy to (re)create music video app. Magisto was acquired last year by Vimeo, reportedly for $200M. Twitter made the biggest mistake in its history by abandoning Vine (Vine’s founders are back at it with Byte, launched earlier this year). Quibi recently launched its smartphone-only equivalent of Netflix for watching short-form videos.

And the list goes on. While there is no shortage of apps and sites to create, edit, watch, share, or comment on videos, is today’s average consumer also on a trajectory to capture more and more video? Or is she more of a happy watcher or sharer of videos created by others – professionals, influencers, and super young consumers?

That question has been nagging me for a while now, in particular, because when I look around or observe younger family members or their friends or their kids, it does seem that when there’s anything interesting going on in their lives their default behavior is still taking photos, possibly in a hybrid format such as Instagram Boomerangs, Apple Live Photos, or animated GIFs (we called this format phodeos in our 2018 report; breaking news announced last week: Facebook is slated to acquire Giphy, see also below). 

For this reason, we added a few video-related questions to a broader survey that we recently conducted among 1,248 US respondents aged 18 years or older who take at least 5 photos a month.

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We found that the median number of smartphone photos taken per month is 25 vs. 4 for videos. This means that half of the respondents take fewer than 4 videos; the other half take more than 4 videos, compared to 25 for photos. 

(The average numbers for both capture formats are naturally higher as, for instance, high-volume photographers might shoot more than 25 photos above the average of 25, but low-volume photographers can’t shoot more than 25 below the average of 25. On average, our respondents take 63 photos vs. 11 videos per month; indicating a discrepancy between photos and videos comparable to what we report for the median numbers).

A few comments to put these differences in perspective:

  • Everything else being equal, there’s a natural reason why one would take more photos than videos: a single video could contain multiple share-worthy moments, which would require numerous separate shots to capture as photos instead. 
  • Also, our survey was among respondents 18 years or older. Had it included teenagers or tweens the number of videos captured might be higher.
  • We also analyzed statistically significant differences among specific respondent segments: Respondents in households with children take on average significantly more photos and videos than those without children. The same is true for respondents under 35 vs. those who are 35 or older. Female respondents take significantly more photos on average per month than males (there are no significant differences for gender in regard to taking videos). 
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While video is not yet a dominant capture format, is it catching up with photos

Our survey indicates that’s not the case. In fact, the numbers show the trend is in the opposite direction: photos are more on the rise than videos. More respondents believe they’re taking more or way more photos now compared to a year ago than they believe is the case for taking videos. 

This is not because taking videos is decreasing – video capture is also on the rise compared to a year ago:

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48% indicated 4 (“more”) or 5 (“way more”) in regard to taking photos, compared to 32% for videos:

Where does this leave us? 

Our survey shows that for now at least, consumers are clearly not substituting taking photos for taking videos. 

But could that change in the future? There are important market and technology drivers that could trigger consumers to take more videos instead of photos. One such market driver is the exploding video watching and (re) sharing of video behavior. While we might not take that many more consumer videos, we certainly watch and (re)share them more than ever on YouTube and a range of social media outlets, including those mentioned earlier. Technology drivers include more and more smartphone cameras capable of capturing 4K at 30 fps or higher, video compression technologies that keep improving, 5G that will make transferring large video files a breeze, and innovative apps that keep making the video editing process easier and more versatile.

But are these drivers enough to tilt the balance? Will they result in an inevitable move from photo to video capture, similar to how we moved from B&W to color photography, from film to digital photography, or from standalone cameras to smartphone photography? Will still photography at some point become a niche use case and video capture the norm? 

Or will capturing and editing of anything but the shortest form videos always be too time-consuming and/or intrusive? Or is there something inherent to the simplicity and beauty of capturing a single moment through a photo that can never be replaced by a video? 

Maybe – but let’s not assume this too easily! People said similar things about other legacy photography methods they loved: B&W over color photography, film over digital photography, and digital cameras over smartphones. Still, to a large extent these legacy methods have been replaced by more versatile, cheaper, or easier alternatives (with the jury still being out regarding to what degree digital cameras will become niche products). 

Fewer life events are best illustrated by videos than photos. Photo by Bruno Cervera from Pexels

The answer – you guessed it – is that we don’t know yet. But we do know who’ll give the first indication of that answer: teenagers, tweens and possibly even younger kids. When they stop taking photos and it’s all video, we’ll know that we – the older bunch – will follow suit sooner or later. With the Instaxes and Polaroids of the world still going strong, and photos still a major format shared on the Snapchats and Instagrams of the world, we’re not there yet. And maybe we’ll never be.

And a few more things…

Sony. Going hybridSony is announcing a hybrid image sensor/AI chip, the IMX500. Or as Sony calls it, the world’s First Intelligent Vision Sensors with AI Processing Functionality. The benefits? Conceivably, there are many. Instead of capturing the image first and then analyzing it, this hybrid sensor could capture the image the way the AI wants it, for instance by cropping out everything in the photo but the parts it recognizes and has been told to report — only the flowers, but never the stems, if that’s what you want. Or cameras in public places that preemptively blur faces or license plates. Or smart home devices that recognize individuals without ever saving or sending any image data. In addition, Sony is partnering with Microsoft to develop a smart camera managed app powered by Azure Internet of Things (IoT) and cognitive services that it hopes to use alongside the IMX500 sensor to provide new video analytics use cases for enterprise customers. 

Samsung. Going small. What, launching a 50MP sensor when you already have one at 108MP buzzing in the Galaxy S20 UltraSamsung’s ISOCELL GN1 sensor has other tricks up its sleeve: it combines Dual-Pixel autofocus with the company’s Tetracell technology, allowing for increased light sensitivity in low light as well as precise and fast (“DSLR-level”) autofocus performance in all light conditions.

Chatbooks. Security breach. As reported by The Dead Pixels Society, Nate Quigley, CEO of Chatbooks, advised users the company had a security breach on March 26, which the company became aware of on May 5. No credit card information was compromised, but users are requested to change their passwords.

Facebook & Giphy. You can sell yourself too early to Facebook or too lateInstagram did the former (sold for $1B, now worth $100B+); Giphy just did the latter for somewhere between $300M-$400M while its last valuation in 2017 was $600M after it closed a round of $150M. It shows the new reality in startup-funding-exit land?

Apple & NextVR. You can sell yourself too early to Apple or too late. After having raised $115M over the years and having failed to raise a round C last year and consequently laying off 40% of its staff, sports VR technology provider, NextVR is acquired by Apple for $100M. Too late, is the verdict.

Facebook and Instagram. Going grand. What was missing in your life? The ability to buy stuff directly from a business’ Facebook Page or Instagram profile. As of today, you can. But there is more to come. Facebook is also launching what it’s calling a “universal product recognition model” that uses AI to identify consumer goods, from furniture to fast fashion to fast cars. It’s the first step toward a future where the products in every image on its site can be identified and potentially shopped for. “We want to make anything and everything on the platform shoppable, whenever the experience feels right,” Manohar Paluri, head of Applied Computer Vision at Facebook, told The Verge. “It’s a grand vision.” No kidding, that was a real quote. 

DJI. Oops, these pesky patents. A US judge has ruled that DJI violated the patent of Autel Robotics, a smaller drone maker, and he is recommending that most DJI drone models be pulled from store shelves and blocked from being imported. If the judge’s ruling and recommendation are upheld by the full ITC commission, the DJI drones could be kicked out of the US as early as July.

main image: Photo by Terje Sollie from Pexels

Author: Hans Hartman

Hans Hartman is president of Suite 48 Analytics, the leading research and analysis firm for the mobile photography market and organizer of Mobile Visual 1st, a yearly industry conference about mobile photography.

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