German photography trade fair transforms itself into an imaging marketplace | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 26.09.2018
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German photography trade fair transforms itself into an imaging marketplace

What used to be the world's biggest photography trade fair, the Photokina in Cologne, is now home to everything to do with images. The soon-to-be annual event has worked hard to adapt to changing consumer demands.

"Photokina isn't what it used to be," some visitors tell the organizers of the biennial photography trade fair in the western German city of Cologne, which opened again on Wednesday.

But Katharina Hamma, Managing Director of the Kölnmesse exhibition hall, told DW that the cynical comment was actually positive proof that the long-established event is evolving,

The photography event, which was first held in 1950, has long since become a marketplace for all kinds of imaging technology, and its slogan, "Imaging unlimited," sums up its latest strategy.

For many years, Photokina suffered from a decline in exhibitors as the whole photography sector dwindled. A huge effort went into attracting interest from related sectors to expand the trade fair's appeal.

This year, for the first time, Chinese telecommunications and smartphone group Huawei and the German headphone and audio specialist Sennheiser have their own booths.

Huawei has teamed up with Leica, the German high-end camera manufacturer, to convince buyers of its smartphones with even more advanced photo and video quality.

Sennheiser, meanwhile, offers microphone and audio solutions for smartphone videos, for example.

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Targeting younger consumers

Photokina had no option but to shift its focus towards the youth market. Young smartphone users who post photos and videos from anywhere and everywhere are now the big spenders.

Stand-alone digital cameras, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly difficult to sell. Over the past four years, sales have almost halved. Just a decade ago, they were the big hit.

This year, the German photographic industry body PIV expects sales of just 2.35 million cameras, down 12 percent on 2017. For the first time, cameras are set to generate sales of less than a billion euros ($1.17 billion).

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Artificial intelligence means better images

Sales of an old classic, on the other hand, are booming. Some 570,000 instant cameras are to be sold this year. Fair enough, their share of the €20 billion photography market is tiny at just €45 million, but it's still growing.

PIV's CEO Rainer Führes includes all kinds of accessories, including storage media, photo books, camcorders, printers and — even smartphones — to this total figure.

At the other end of the market, smartphones like the Huawei Mate 10 have began using built-in chips that utilize artificial intelligence (AI) to help users take even better photos.

The camera recognizes local landmarks without GPS connections, adds missing image areas, or can sharpen blurred photos.

AI, it seems, is helping to drive improvements in the digital industries as much as it is in the medical and security technology sectors.

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"Smart Imaging" not photography

Führes, who is a full-time manager at Japan's Canon Group, has a future vision of a "smart imaging ecosystem" where artificial intelligence will dominate areas such as photography and videography, autonomous driving and medical diagnostics.

This also includes the booming market for automatic face recognition, whether in smartphones or security technology.

Führes knows what he is talking about. Canon's subsidiary, Axis, led a German government pilot project at Südkreuz in the capital Berlin, where security cameras and AIs were used to capture the faces of S-Bahn commuters and compare them with databases.

This year's Photokina, which has been shortened from six to four days, will continue until September 29. Starting in May next year, the biennial fair will take place every year.

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