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What Happened to the Photography Industry in 2017?


This will be our fifth year where we have been monitoring the photography industry here on LensVid, and after almost an entire decade of decline almost through the entire market, something seems to change.

As we have done each time before, we have updated our camera industry infographics to include the information CIPA – the camera and Image Products Association recently published about the camera industry in 2017.

We shall start at the top left and the number of cameras of all types produced worldwide. 2010 was the top year ever for the camera industry with 121 million cameras that were produced, since than we have seen a steady decline with a huge drop in 2013 to only 61 million cameras – basically half, and in 2015 we saw another (almost) halving to only 35 million cameras followed by another huge drop to only 23 million (35% drop – year-to-year). Finally, in 2017 we see our first increase this decade with 25 million units. This is barely over 8% increase, but at least the number stopped dropping.

When comparing the number of non-interchangeable (i.e. compact) cameras with that of interchangeable cameras (i.e. both DSLR and mirrorless) cameras we see something interesting. For the first time since 2009, we see an increase in compact cameras, from the lowest point this decade in 2016 with only 12 million units, to 13.3 million in 2017 – a 7% increase. The total number of interchangeable lens cameras also increased from 11.3 million in 2016 to 11.7 million units in 2017 – a modest increase of just over 3%.

This means that despite some predictions (including ours by the way), the compact camera market in 2017 is still (a bit) larger than that of the interchangeable lens cameras.

When looking more closely at interchangeable lens cameras, we can see that for the first time ever things are starting to change. While in 2016 we had 8.2 million DSLRs manufactured, in 2017 this number shrank to only 7.5 million, while mirrorless cameras rose to an all-time high – 4.1 million cameras – a 32% increase compared to 2016.

Looking at the bigger picture we can see that compact cameras gained an extra 1.6 percent of the total market, DSLR went down by about 4% and mirrorless cameras grew by over 3% in the past year.

As for lenses, the market almost didn’t change in 2017 and we have seen a very minimal increase since 2016 from 19 million units to 19.4 million lenses or about 2% increase.

Looking at the data by region it seems that that the camera market in the Americas grew the most in 2017 by about 5% compared to 2016 while the Japanese market didn’t change at all. The lens market in Asia grew in 2017 by 3%, while Europe and Japan actually saw 2% and 6% decrease respectively.

The camera industry statistics – 2017 – what changed? (click to enlarge)

Camera industry 2017

So what can we conclude from all of this?

Last year we predicted that it is likely that in 2017 we will see the global camera market go below 20 million units. We were wrong. Instead, the market jumped to 25 million units which means that we still have something to learn about the fundamental changes that the market is going through.

Beyond that, it is also unclear why the compact camera market saw an increase in 2017 or what cameras were mainly responsible for this surprising boost.

What we would be willing to risk speculating about is the DSLR vs. mirrorless part of the market. So far the DSLR segment of the market has been in a steady decline for at least six years. The mirrorless segment, on the other hand, was more or less stagnant but had a big increase of over 32% in 2017.  Even if we won’t see another huge increase in 2018 (and this actually might happen with the possible release of pro mirrorless models by both Canon and Nikon this year), the ratio of mirrorless to DSLR cameras out of the total interchangeable lens cameras, is going to increase and might be getting very close to a tie by the end of this decade.

This is as far as we are willing to speculate at this stage. What do you think? will we see ANOTHER  industry player leaving the business? will DSLR cameras make a comeback? and why did compact camera sales increased in 2017? make sure to let us know in the comments below.

A look back at our previous reports on the camera industry:

You can check out more LensVid exclusive articles and reviews on the following link.

  • Ralph the Bus Driver

    So why the constant, steady decline in camera sales? Cell phones. Extremely portable, usually in your pocket, and improving with every new edition.

    DSLR sales are stagnant because the market is saturated. Manufacturers are up-selling their customers instead of attracting new shooters. Not since image stabilization has there been any innovation in the photography field. All improvements have been on existing technology.

  • Mark Ellsworth

    Why the continuing drop with DSLR sales? Camera buyers have learned that high-performance sensor technology is not limited to cameras with optical viewfinders. Those who would not get caught dead without a full frame sensor have options, and the crop-sensor region is chock full of excellent, conveniently-sized, lenses. The question of whether to have a very high ISO camera and a high ISO camera is occasionally abandoned by choosing two cameras, wherein, the shooter learns that the big camera always stays home. Why the uptick in the fixed-lens segment? The illusion of the blessed phone-size imager is busted. Realistically, enthusiasm for less-bad, sub-half-inch sensors does not make them perform as well as one-inch sensors, and further, the upmarket fixed-lens compacts have long zoom or fast-aperture lenses not available at all in the phone segment. They have controls and, often, viewfinders ne’er to be seen below. The take-home is, the quantities of “keepers” skyrocket. Turns out, the multi-purpose phone is not so entirely satisfying, compared in all ways to a dedicated camera.

  • We don’t really have all the answers (there was a question mark at the end of this video for a reason). Our thoughts are that the DSLR market is still in decline since the camera market as a whole has been in a huge decline over the past several years – 2017 was the first year of minor increases – our guess is that some people that held back on replacing their gear (D800/D810 users for example) finally went ahead and got new cameras, but mostly it has been a lot of mirrorless cameras (Sony and some Panasonic with a few other brands doing more or less O.K.). Many people see no future in DSLRs any more and our looking for the next thing (are mirrorless actually better at this point – good question – but it is more a matter of marketing and perception than actual capabilities of the cameras).

    As for why did the “compact” camera sales increase – that is really beyond us – our only guess is that there was a specific camera that sold really really well (one of the new large sensor Canon’s maybe? otherwise we really have no clue what happened…

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