What Happened to the Photography Industry in 2016?

This is the fourth year where we have been monitoring the photography industry here on LensVid. Before we get into the real numbers we want to share with you our experience during last year’s Photokina event (check out our extensive coverage here). This was the third Photokina show that we have been to and it was very different from the ones in 2010 and 2012. It wasn’t just the general atmosphere, the show was not just smaller with far fewer products and companies presenting – there were also far, far fewer people on the show-floor during the expo. Actually at times it looked as if some of the booths were almost empty especially, the ones of some of the major manufacturers (the Fujifilm booth on the other hand was always packed which is something that we remember clearly).

Now this was only our subjective impression, however as we shall see in a moment this impression of ours seems to be backed by some hard data from the industry as a whole in 2016.

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 2016 (see cameras here, lenses here; do note that the CIPA numbers in this table come from the data members of CIPA transfer to the organisation – these members are comprised for the most part of Japanese manufacturers).

Our 2016 infographic looking into the camera industry


We shall start in the top left and the amount of cameras 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 and the most recent number from 2016 brings another huge drop to only 23 million cameras or 35% drop – year-to-year – twice as much as what happened the year before.

We will talk about the reasons behind all this later on, but let’s look at some more numbers first. If in 2015 the camera market was comprised of 22 million non interchangeable or basically compact cameras and 14 million cameras that can change lenses, in 2016 the compact camera market was almost sliced in half to only 12 million but the interchangeable camera market also took a beating with a drop to 11 million.

If you think that this only happens with DSLRs while mirrorless are on the rise – think again. In 2016 we saw a giant 17% drop in DSLR production but we also seen a 4% drop in mirrorless. In terms of lenses manufactured worldwide we also see a big drop in 2016 – from 21.5 million to only 19 million – the lowest number since 2009 and a 12% drop from the year before.

We also have some numbers in our infographics information on shipment of cameras to different regions of the world which you can look at if you are interested in this sort of data but to be honest it is just bad across the board.

One trend which is clear – as the camera market shrink again and again DSLRs and mirrorless cameras take a larger share and in 2016 these cameras almost reach 50% of the total market and it is very likely that this year will be the first year in recent history when interchangeable lens cameras will sells more than compact cameras.

So what do all these numbers really mean for the photography industry and to us as photographers? Here are a few points to think about:

  • Smartphones killed the compact camera market – from over 100 million compact cameras sold in 2010 we will most likely see under 10 million sold in 2017. Just for reference, in 2016 the global sales of smart phones reached 1.5 billion units, an increase of 5 percent from 2015.
  • Mirrorless are not fulfilling their promise – mirrorless are making lots of noise in the photo industry but looking at the numbers they have been more or less stagnant for the past 3 years at around 3 million cameras per year – far from impressive numbers.
  • The DSLR market is shrinking – this was to be expected but it is not because of the rise of  mirrorless. Why this is happening is probably a combination of reasons – at the entry level some people who might have considered buying a DSLR a few years back just settle for their smartphone camera which is better than ever and will soon improve even further with dual cameras, smart zoom technologies and more advanced features. At the mid to high end segments – there just isn’t enough innovation to justify replacing gear as often as it used to be and on the more positive side – cameras are quite reliable and replacing a working camera for a new one which doesn’t offer significantly more, just doesn’t make sense to many users.
  • Cameras are for older people – you can’t see this in the numbers but we clearly see this all around us – aside from the professional segment – dedicated cameras do not interest the younger generation. The people who are still interested in photography are typically around the ages of 40-60 or more – the same people who maybe shot with analog cameras as youngsters and now have the time and money to invest in photography as a hobby – their children and grandchildren are far less interested in cameras and prefer to use their smartphones.

So what this all means for the future?

On our previous report on the camera industry we were a bit over optimistic and suggested that in 2016 we will at least see a small increase in DSLR and mirrorless sales – this obviously did not happen. Instead we just see the market shrink more and more.

So this time around we will be more cautious and say this:

  • In 2017 we can safely predict that the entire global market for cameras will drop below 20 million cameras (or 1/6 of what it was in 2010).
  • Over the next couple of years camera manufacturers will continue to cut jobs – just like Nikon recently did after their announcement on major financial loses.
  • We will also see less innovation as less and less free money will be available for R&D.
  • The professional segment will get much more attention and camera and gear prices will increase (as production costs will rise due to the decreased production levels).
  • Can all the existing camera manufacturers survive this change in the market? so far most of them did, barely. However given the fact that this market will likely never return to the levels that we have seen in the beginning or even in the middle of the decade – we will not find it surprising at all if one or more of the main manufacturers will not be with us before the end of this decade (very much like Samsung disappeared from the market just a couple years back).

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

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