The western European digital camera market went from strength to strength in 2004, as total shipments across the region reached over 25 million units.
But the strong sales, which represented almost 60 per cent growth compared with 2003, are likely to tail off this year, according to the latest research from IDC.
The analyst firm noted that the market is beginning to show signs of slowing down from the annual growth explosion witnessed since the technology was introduced.
"This first sign of market maturity was seen in the fourth quarter of 2004, when shipment growth slowed to 30 per cent over the third quarter in a period that included the Christmas rush and is the busiest quarter for the market," said Paul Withington, research manager at IDC's European Peripherals Group.
IDC's end user survey showed that purchase considerations such as lens quality and image processing are still taking a back seat to megapixel count.
In response to this, the market has seen an influx of products in the 4-megapixel segment, and a drop in prices as vendors battled for consumers.
According to IDC, the 2004 camera sales boom was accompanied by a dramatic increase in home printing, with the small-format photo printer market showing exceptional growth.
In 2004, over a million new printing devices were destined for consumers' homes in Western Europe, representing a growth rate of over 230 per cent on 2003.
"These devices, specially designed for printing 10x15cm photos, have really captured the imagination of digital camera owners, particularly in the UK," said Withington.
"We saw a number of new products towards the end of the year, proving a popular purchase for Christmas as they give the user access to almost instant photos direct from the camera."
The IDC report found that Canon has held the sales lead in western Europe for three calendar years. Sony maintained its number two position in 2004, and remains the only consumer electronics vendor in the top five.
The vendor has been able to capitalise on its brand in the digital camera market and has attracted consumers to its higher specification ranges in the 4-megapixel and 5-megapixel segments.
Olympus came in third, while Nikon and Fujifilm came in forth and fifth.
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