The State of the Camera Industry Today

digital camera industry stats
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It’s no secret that the camera industry has been taking some pretty hard knocks over the last decade.

When the first touchscreen smartphones came online in 2007, the camera industry was at the top of its game. Over 100 million new cameras were being sold and with new technology coming out, the prospects were only looking brighter.

Back then, the cameras on smartphones were only in their infancy, and there wasn’t yet any Instagram to speak of. Social media still hadn’t quite come into its own yet either.

Sharp decline of camera shipments

Source: Statista

Just three years later the camera industry would hit its peak, producing over 121 million new cameras. Next, the cameras on smartphones began to improve drastically.

Added to a mushrooming social media demand for instant, raw content about every aspect of our lives, and smartphone sales skyrocketed while “dedicated” camera sales declined.

If you look at the stats, it looks like someone drove a car off a cliff:

How smartphones have affected the camera industry

Source: Statista

By 2018, only 19 million new cameras were shipped. (It’s generally understood that if they’re shipped from the factory, they’re at some point being sold.) That’s an 84% drop from 2010! From the looks of it, the last time sales were this low was back in the mid-1990s!

In fact, there was a 24% decrease in cameras shipped between 2017 and 2018 alone, with no relief in sight.

Sure, there are some exciting new developments in the mirrorless camera department. Sony’s been doing some strong sales, and the last four months of 2018 saw the introduction of the Canon R, the Nikon Z6 and Z7, the Fujifilm GFX50R, and the Fujifilm X-T3.

But so far, this hasn’t really affected the overall market landscape. (Even if it has changed the personal landscapes of those of us who’ve switched to mirrorless over the last couple of years.)

And while the decline of DSLR production continued, dropping 12%, it was nowhere near balanced out by the growth of mirrorless, which only increased by 2%.

Lensvid camera industry info graphic

Source Lensvid

One thing of note though, is that interchangeable lens cameras have outsold non-interchangeable lens cameras for the first time in history – 56% to 44%. On top of that, almost one in five of the interchangeable lens cameras sold during the first half of 2018 was sold body-only.

That’s a pretty significant change. It also makes sense, given that many smartphones cameras now perform about as well as most point-and-shoots.

Another thing of note, is that while the overall sale of cameras went down, their prices increased by about 5%. You’ve probably noticed, but gear is getting much more expensive.

The sad truth is that if the sales of cameras continues to decline, the photography market will become increasingly smaller and more expensive.

To stay competitive, manufacturers need to be able to put money into R&D – they need to continually pump out new and better models – but with less money coming in, they’ll continually resort to raising the prices.

From there it’s a vicious cycle. Higher prices make it harder for us to buy new gear. With fewer people able to buy cameras, the photography market shrinks further and we cede more ground to the smartphone world. And so it goes.

Of course, it’s true that professional shooters will still need to buy professional camera gear, even if the market shrinks for almost everyone else. Still, I don’t think we’ll return to the days where only pros with the big bucks had high-end cameras.

There’s a chance, albeit slight, that the camera industry could make a Tiger Woods-like comeback, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

I think it’s more likely that we’ll continue to see higher prices while a shrinking market causes even the bigger manufacturers to slash their R&D budgets, meaning higher costs with less innovation.

What do you think?

9 Comments

  1. Francesco Nicoletti on July 31, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    At some point , what happened to mechanical watches with the introduction of quartz watches will happen in the camera industry. A lot of makers will collapse as they depended on the point and shoot for cash flow. The low end market will be abandoned altogether. A few camera makers will continue to turn out superb cameras for those that can afford them. At a guess that would be Sony with their mirrorless and Canon with their SLRs for those who value tradition. Maybe Hassablad.

  2. dailyn on May 2, 2019 at 12:09 am

    I just bought a mirrorless for a trekking adventure. I needed something lighter. I do love it but my heart is still with my DSLR.
    I think with the way things are going, I need to make sure I have the best glass NOW!!! All those lenses I’m longing for need to be purchased before those prices increase to unobtainable.

  3. neeta panchal on April 30, 2019 at 10:40 pm

    Thanks for providing such a great post.

  4. Frederic Hore on April 28, 2019 at 2:09 am

    While smartphone photography has become very popular, replacing those boxy point and shoot cameras, they still are limited in what they can do with their fixed lenses. Gimicky digital zooms can only do so much before digital artifacts and soft images become apparent.
    As one who teaches photography workshops to all ages from 16 to 80 year olds at a community center in Montreal, the DSLR and now mirrorless cameras are still very popular. If anything, smartphones may breath new life into the DSLR/mirrorless cam market, as amateur and passionate photographers aspire for better imagery. You certainly can’t stick a 200-500mm zoom on a smartphone for that sharp closeup of a bird or scenic landscape.

    I’ve had many new workshop participants, who started with smartphones, but moved up to interchangeable lens cameras, because they wanted better imagery.

    Smartphones will still dominate the market, but I firmly believe there will remain a place for a mix of DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
    Happy shooting!

    Cheers from Montreal.
    Frederic Hore
    https://www.instagram.com/frederic_hore/

    • Mark Condon on April 28, 2019 at 9:14 am

      Thanks for the long comment as per usual, Frederic :-) Interesting insight from your workshops!

  5. Anwar el ezzi on April 27, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    i think photography will be a hoppy for rich people only and professional photographers will raise their prices . Photography will be a rare profession

    • Mark Condon on April 28, 2019 at 9:16 am

      Even with a cheap camera, you can still have fun with photography, Anwar ;-)

  6. Cliff E McKenzie on April 26, 2019 at 4:41 am

    Usnea, more of a question than a comment. As mirrorless cameras increase with their lighter lens, will not the price of the higher end SLR lens drop? Yes, it would be cheaper to purchase whatever converter so that your lens investment is protected or just use the older lens, but that defeats some of the reasons to upgrade to mirrorless.

    • Usnea Lebendig on April 29, 2019 at 2:59 am

      I’m not sure the price of the higher-end SLR lenses will be able to drop. The manufacturer’s are pretty squeezed right now and don’t have a lot of wiggle room.

      As far as reasons to change to mirrorless, I’m not sure price is the main factor for most folks (except perhaps for full frames). Size, weight, and performance are pretty key factors as well.

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