iPhone 4 Surging Towards Top of Flickr Popularity

The iPhone 4 may soon be the number one camera in terms of the percentage of flickr members, according to data on the flickr.com website. Meanwhile, point and shoot cameras are showing a steady decline.

While the Nikon D90 digital SLR remains in the number one spot, in terms of percent of members, the iPhone 4 is climbing fast according to flickr’s ongoing chart.

What’s interesting to note is the Apple iPhone 4, 3GS, and 3G took the first three spots amongst popular smartphones, but when compared to the overall popularity, only the iPhone 4 broke into the top five overall. Canon cameras took slots 3,4 and 5.

This data is rather qualitative. The timeline isn’t marked with dates, and there are often problems with detecting the kind of camera used with a photo is uploaded to flickr. Even so, the iPhone 4 trend is remarkable, as is the complete absence of Android phones.

This data also raises the question about the longevity of stand-alone point and shot cameras, as Ted Landau pointed out last week. That’s an interesting technical issue because good point and shoot cameras typically have beter optics and control over the exposure than smartphones. However, consumers seem steadfast in their determination to let the megapixel count alone be the major selection factor, even though the physical size of those pixels on the better cameras is a strong factor in the quality of the image, especially in low light.

An opposing factor is sheer convenience. Smartphone users have handy access to a device that’s always on and instantly available as a camera. Many people, except for those on vacation, just don’t want to carry a point and shoot camera around.

Fortunately, our smartphone cameras keep getting better and better. Apple added an LED flash in the iPhone 4 — which doubles as a flashlight, and there have been rumors about the iPhone 5 having an 8 megapixel system from Sony. Even so, the rush towards thin phones eliminates the desirable, longer focal lengths. Olympus solves that problem on some cameras by using a prism that redirects the image down the width of the camera to the sensor, but that seems a unlikely option for Apple.

The flickr data suggests a social and technical trend that, for better or worse, predicts big changes in the consumer camera market, driven, again, by Apple.