What Happened to the Photo Industry: 2010-2020 – The Big Fall The rise and FALL of the camera industry

Earlier this month, CIPA, the Camera, and Image Products Association released the camera industry statistics for 2020 and this is a great opportunity to publish our extensive decade long look at the camera industry 2010-2020 and see the rise and fall of the digital camera industry and try and predict what will happen next.

background

As we have mentioned, this will be a look at the past 10 years of the camera industry based on the CIPA data (this data originates from the camera manufacturers themselves, just note that some of the non-Japanese manufacturers are not part of CIPA). We will however include some older data as well, as we want to give more context to some of the numbers.

The best way to think about the photo industry in the digital area is to put a dividing line between a period of fast growth and a period of nonstop decline.

Where exactly you draw this line between these two depends on what aspect of the industry you are looking at, but ultimately it is going to be somewhere between 2010 and 2012. More or less any point in time since 2012 has shown a decline in sales of cameras of all types as well as lenses.

Our 2010-2020 Camera Industry infographics

The Rise of the Digital Camera

Let’s start with what might be considered the all-time peak of the camera industry. When it comes to cameras sold globally that happened, as we can see in the graphs, in 2010 with no less than 121 million cameras sold worldwide.

Interestingly this was also over 1/3 the number of smartphones sold that year (296 million smartphones were sold globally in 2010, by the way, today the number is roughly around 1.5 billion units), and probably one of the last times these numbers were even remotely close to one another.

Looking at the interchangeable lens camera market (i.e. DSLRs and mirrorless) we can see that the all-time high came in 2012 with 21 million units out of which just over 16 million units where DSLRs and over 4 million were mirrorless.

Just for comparison, in the same year compact cameras (i.e. cameras with fixed lenses) sold over 79 million worldwide (down from a pick of 108 million in 2010).

When it comes to lenses 2012 was the top year for sales with over 31 million lenses shipping globally. That was close to 1/3’rd the number of total cameras sold that year and 10 million more than the number of interchangeable cameras sold in 2012.

The Fall of the Digital Camera Market

As we have mentioned the fall of the camera industry started somewhere between 2010 and 2012 and really became visible in 2013 when the number of cameras sold dropped to only 61 million units, basically halving the entire industry. Another 3 years forward and we see an even bigger drop by more than half in 2016.

This drop was no debut due to the increased adoption of camera phones which finally achieved reasonable photographic results for the average consumer around that time (think iPhone 5/5S around that time).

For the interchangeable lens cameras and lenses, 2012 was the start of the big fall. A lot of the sales around that time were for entry-level cameras and kit lenses and as time went by the convenience of smartphones seem to overshadow the true image quality benefits those cameras had over smartphones.

The global market for interchangeable lens cameras dropped from 21 million in 2012 to only 13 million in 2015 and again to 8.2 million in 2019, this is more than a 60% decline in sales in 7 years for a market segment that was not that big, to begin with.

Lenses followed a very similar downhill trajectory going from an all-time peak of over 31 million units in 2012 to only 21.5 million in 2015 and to less than 14 million in 2019.

The impact of Covid

CUVID made a huge impact on the industry in 2020. How big? Both in interchangeable lens cameras and in lenses we see over a 36% decrease in sales in a single year, the biggest drop in these two categories for a long time. Compact cameras dropped by almost half (48% to be precise), but that number is not really surprising anymore.

Interestingly we would have expected that in 2020 at least some new users will be buying cameras for use as high-quality webcams for online video conferencing, but this doesn’t seem to be the case, at least not in a way that increases sales dramatically. This is despite the fact that all major camera manufacturers released webcam software for use with their cameras during 2020.

We think that CUVID affected the camera market in more ways than some people might initially consider. Here are some of our thoughts on this – feel free to add your own in the comments:

  • Less work – many professional photographers found themselves struggling to find work in 2020. There were far fewer weddings and events, almost no conferences, expos, sports events, concerts, and activities that required pro photographers. Less income typically means less money to buy new gear.
  • No vacations – with international flights shutting down and very few people traveling abroad for vacations, the need for cameras to document all those amazing moments naturally declines as well.
  • Expensive gear and delays – in 2020 we have seen some pretty impressive new gear like the Canon R5, Sony A7S III, and several powerful video cameras. With that said, prices didn’t go down due to CUVID, and if anything we have seen most new gear announced at similar or higher price points with several products either delayed or in short supply for long periods of time (A7S III stocks for example are still pretty low in some countries).
  • Supply chain problems – this is more of behind the scenes and many manufacturers would not admit it, but those delays and supply issues are at least partially due to some company’s difficulties to keep working under lockdown conditions and shipping issues which also raised costs globally.
  • The psychological factor – in a continuing stressful situation like the one we are in, most people tend to go back to basics. Food, binge-watching Netflix, gaming, and some other mind-numbing activities. Photography might not be very high on the activity list and even if it is, buying a new 8K camera won’t help you if you are stuck at home shooting your cats, well unless you are Philip Bloom of course.

The future of the photo industry

Physicist Niels Bohr was once quoted as saying that predictions are very difficult, especially if those are about the future. This is of course both funny and true, but in our case, even a very short-term prediction is complex because the photo industry is part of the global economy and as such is highly dependent on the way the pandemic will influence the world in 2021.

Even in a very optimistic scenario where the pandemic will be mostly behind us by the end of the year, we can’t see a significant recovery of the market, certainly not to the levels of the 2019 market (which as we have seen were already quite low).

What does this mean for the industry, well, prices will continue to stay high, manufacturers will have less money to spend on R&D, and companies struggling to survive even before the pandemic might not survive or have to sell, just like Olympus did with its Imaging business which is now part of JIP.

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.

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