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?

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Usnea Lebendig

Usnea Lebendig is a travel and landscape photographer who loves trekking in the wilderness, exploring other cultures, and using photography for social activism.

19 Comments

  1. Vimal Parmar on December 15, 2019 at 2:00 am

    One is capture and the other is viewing. Since most of day-to-day viewing has moved to smartphones, the requirement of a high-end sensor for capture, is no more essential. Coupled with the fact that smartphones are now offering truly amazing results with megapixels that easily provides good quality prints.
    DSLRs will never make a comeback. Mirrorless will grow but only marginally. Smartphones will eventually eat into the mirrorless market. People want convenience. They do not want to lug extra equipment.
    As far as the small segment of pro photographers are concerned, they will continue to invest in cameras and lenses as they need to provide visually superior quality of images than the amateur photographer. Smartphones are yet to provide such images.
    Going a bit away from the subject, i see print growing once again. Though the traction is slow, the opportunity is immense. Photo books, wedding albums, calendars, greeting cards and several customised products.

    • TQ on January 30, 2020 at 6:04 pm

      Greeting card market is dying, too easy to just send a text from your smart phone or send an electronic card by text or email. Print will never return in large numbers, too wasteful , bad for the environment, and expensive. 35mm film processing is not going to return in any meaningful numbers except for maybe a few companies like Fuji. Too bad because I really enjoyed spending time developing pictures and will never get rid of my AE-1 and Canon T-90.
      That said I am shocked at just how good of a picture I can get out of my Apple 11 Pro phone.

  2. Cristian on September 26, 2019 at 10:59 pm

    I have seen a lot of people return to film photography.
    Fujifilm instax sold 8.5 million last year and accounts for a large part of Fuji’s profit
    I guess if these companies would still manufacture a film camera and market it as a clockwork gears vintage item, but new and reliable would sell some more.
    At the processing lab where i develop film, 4 years ago there was almost nobody in sight, now i need to wait for weeks to get the films.
    Smartphones will replace digital except projects that require ultra high quality. I allready shoot landscapes with my smartphone, and use prime 50 lenses for street and portrait photography

  3. Andy on September 23, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    The bottom line is that sales soared unnaturally from about 40 million (around 2002) to 121 million (around 2010). This was due to the change from film to digital and the ability to view and share images quickly. This was an attractive advancement for all of us. Once the smartphone came along, and the need for Point&Shoot cameras decreased, the sales dropped off sharply headed towards the “pre-digital” sales numbers. This indicates that the majority of cameras sold during that period were PS. Notice how the current sales is near the sales that were seen before digital technology began to take hold. This can be seen as a correction to the unnatural increase in sales in the preceding years (due to technology change). However, SLR sales have declined much slower. Which simply means that the PS cameras are being replaced with smartphones, but SLR sales have not suffered as much. I believe that the slight decline in SLR sales during this same period is due to the current technologies being adequate for many of our needs these days… less need for upgrade. But it looks as tho the SLR sales have seen very little change in last few years. So, in short, the camera market has seen an extraordinary change in the past 2 decades, but seems to be leveling back out to more natural levels now.

    • Mark Condon on September 24, 2019 at 5:39 am

      Interesting! Thanks for the comment, Andy.

  4. Andy on September 23, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    I believe the idea of pro gear prices going up significantly goes against one simple fact… supply and demand.

    Demand:

    There are only a handful of industries that I know of that currently would warrant/require a pro photographer…
    Documentary/War, Legal/Law Enforcement, Modeling/Fashion

    There are a few industries that currently would be better off using a pro, but could move (or is moving) to amateurs in the near future…
    Science/Astro, Sports, Architectural/RealEstate, Aerial, Food/Product/Still, Fineart, Ad/Lifestyle, Other commercial/On-Demand

    And there are demands that are increasingly being filled by amateurs using minimal equipment…
    Stock (Landscape/Cityscape, Street, Abstract, Travel, Wildlife, Macro, Underwater, etc), Events (Wedding, News/Journalism, Concert, etc), People/Pets (Portraits, Candid, Family).

    Supply:

    The demand for better technology is decreasing because we are keeping what we currently have. The leap in technology advancement has slowed in recent years or we are satisfied with the

    technology we currently own. So without a reason to upgrade, we have no reason to buy the next body or lens.

    As amateurs, we also have an over-saturation of images available for viewing on social media. This ability to view others work reduces our craving for creating content ourselves. We are

    seeing the best of the best images as we scroll thru our social media feed. This will either prompt us to try to do better with our own imagery or lose interest in the image making process

    all together since we may feel inadequate to out-do the ‘competition’. As long as we satisfy our brain’s craving for ‘viewing the ultimate image’ (by viewing other posts online), why go to

    the trouble of trying to create it ourselves? The only other reason would be the attention we get from others that tell us what a great job we’ve done. This “attention” from others is also

    declining in our on-line world, since there is always a better image for others to “show love to”. So unless you can create images that would top the “the best of the best of the best”, then

    the only person loving your images will be yourself. Is this motivation enough to buy the next gadget?

    As interest and demand decreases by current gear owners (there is a lot of great used gear out there, and much of it holds its value for now), many of us will sell our gear (on ebay, etc),

    which will increase supply and reduce prices that brands can sell their equipment for. This will require brands to reduce overhead (cutting jobs and real estate footprint).

    The only thing that will help is better technology and the demand for that technology. There are many parts of the current technology that is adequate (including sensor resolution). However,

    I know of one change that brands could make that would catapult their current market share. I’m not going to say what this change is (here), but it’s a goldmine for the first one who

    implements it. Why they have not done it yet, is a huge oversight.

    Andy

    • TQ on January 30, 2020 at 6:27 pm

      Wow, sorry but I disagree with just about everything you said. If you don’t evolve you will just be left behind. Technology will continue to improve, just look at Moore’s law and computers. I have never felt my pictures were as you say “inadequate”. And the demand for new technology is declining and technology improvements slowing? You are clearing uninformed or living in a bubble. Technology innovations are why The photography industry is changing, not people’s apathy to technology change. Companies that don’t evolve will find themselves relegated to the dustbin such as Kodak and Polaroid.

    • Tq on January 30, 2020 at 6:32 pm

      One change? You mean put a phone on their camera, LOL

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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

    Thanks for providing such a great post.

  8. 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!

  9. 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 ;-)

    • TQ on January 30, 2020 at 6:40 pm

      Quite the opposite, camera phones can take great photos even better than DSLR’s ten years ago. Barrier to entry in this great hobby or profession is low now. Besides, it has always been the skill not the equipment that makes a true professional photographer.

  10. 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.

      • Constantine Manos on December 28, 2019 at 11:21 am

        The current DSLR cameras still made by Canon and Nikon will become the most worthless pile of junk in a few years. There will never be a Renaissance for this in-between film and digital abomination as there is for old film cameras now.
        They’re like buildings that require air conditioners in the windows versus new ones with central air 1

        The Sony/Minolta synergy (and money) gave way to the first real end to end digital interchangeable still camera. It took Sony knocking Nikon into the #3 spot to wake up Canon and Nikon to the fact that mirrorless is just an inconvenient way to describe a true digital camera.
        You can’t shrink glass and a sensor needs physical area to absorb enough light to write a quality image. If print makes a comeback (and in the growing diy economy) the value of better quality images will increase.

        Prediction, Sony still cameras will join Sony video as the #1 manufacturer in both categories by 2021.

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