Camera sales drop, but photography is here to stay


The camera industry is changing rapidly. Despite claims to the contrary, digital SLRs are on the way out. The switch to mirrorless cameras had winners – Sony, Canon – and losers—Nikon. Historic camera divisions are sold to private equity firms. And, despite all of this, film photography continues to make a comeback.

Things, to say the least, are a little weird, but it’s going to be fine.

It’s already arrived

More than PetaPixelMike Smith just did a very insightful analysis of the ups and downs of the camera industry over the past 45 years. Unit sales peaked in 2010 with over 120 million units shipped, and have since fallen to just 9 million units shipped in 2020. It’s fascinating read and it describes how the camera industry has changed. over the past few decades – and also how she hasn’t.

Smith identifies two huge waves of camera sales:

“The first (analog) consumer boom came in the 1980s, as film cameras could be manufactured at very low cost, with the mass market scale being used to minimize the cost of film, development and production. the impression. The second (digital) boom of the 2000s took advantage of microelectronics, miniaturization, supply chain sourcing, and just-in-time manufacturing.

Not all cameras sold are created equal

However, not all cameras sold were created equal. In both ramps, a huge amount of volume was driven by compact fixed-lens cameras. As Smith explains, the camera industry has a “historical base of approximately 4 million annual shipments” of interchangeable lens cameras. This figure increased during the 2000s and peaked at 20 million in 2013, but the number of annual shipments fell back to around 5 million units, where it was in the 1980s.

While inexpensive consumer DSLRs were undeniably more popular in 2010 than they are today, sales of DSLRs (and mirrorless), overall, have not collapsed as much as the market. global cameras. The vast majority of the 120 million units sold in 2010 were compact cameras which have been overwhelmingly replaced by smartphones. But the market for so-called “good” cameras has just come back to basics.

Even camera makers like Canon are saying this openly. According to Smith, he expects the camera market to be between 5 and 10 million units in the future, with many sales from customers who own cameras upgrading or purchasing new ones. lenses, rather than new customers buying first-time cameras.

Photography becomes both more accessible and more niche

The days of every parent at a soccer game and tourist wandering the city with a DSLR are over. This segment of the market has been captured by smartphones, which keep getting better and better. The number of people taking better photos with less material will continue to increase.

But there are limits to what smartphones can do, no matter how much computer processing they use. The laws of physics place great importance on things such as focal length, aperture and sensor size. As good as portrait modes are, they won’t be able to perfectly replicate the effect of a wide-aperture telephoto lens for a long time.

So, while more and more people enjoy taking pictures every day, there will still be some niche areas of photography where a certain amount of equipment is, if not entirely necessary, appreciated.

And there is a pure hobby aspect to it as well. Just look at the resurgence of analog photography. There is a lot of joy in taking photos with equipment that forces you to slow down and consider every precious frame. Yes, you will be able to take all of your travel photos with your smartphone, but if you’re into photography you might still want to do it with an “old school” camera.

Things will change, and that’s okay

The camera industry will continue to change drastically over the next decade. Some beloved brands won’t make the transition, or at least won’t maintain their place in the market. Other businesses that may not even exist yet will grow in importance. But photography? It’s not going anywhere.


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