What Happened to the Photo Industry: 2020-2021 Camera industry during the pandemic

As we do every year we want to look at what happened to the photo industry based on the most recent CIPA (the Camera, and Image Products Association) numbers published recently.

Last year we covered the entire decade of 2010-2020 and if you are interested in some background on this topic we highly suggest that you watch that video. This time around we want to focus mostly on the past two years and the effects the pandemic had on the industry.

2020 was a traumatic year for the entire world and the photo industry was not free from what happened all around with cameras sales falling over 40% compared to the previous year, going down from 14.8 million units to only 8.7 million, a single-digit number for the first time since the 1970s.

Camera Industry: 2021 vs. 2020

Despite some industries showing a brief recovery during the early months of 2021 and some very exciting camera announcements across the year, the actual camera sales numbers did not reflect any of these occurrences.

In fact, the number of sold cameras in 2021 fell down even more by about 5% to 8.3 million units worldwide.

Cameras sold globally 2007-2021 (CIPA data)


The bulk of this drop was again seen in compact camera sales which have been falling consistently since their all-time peak in 2010. The most recent numbers show only 3 million compact cameras sold in 2021 compared to 3.4 million units in 2020.

Mind you, at their peak, digital compact cameras sold over 108 million units globally but that was well before you could buy a multi-sensor Smartphone with a 100MP main camera with advanced computational features.

You might be asking yourself at this point what happened in the ongoing battle between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. 2020 was the first time ever where the sales of mirrorless cameras surpassed those of DSLRs with 2.9 million mirrorless cameras vs. 2.3 million DSLRs. In 2021 we saw this trend continue with 3.1 million mirrorless cameras sold versus only 2.2 million DSLRs.

2021 did show one positive aspect when it comes to sales when we look at the lens market. For the first time since 2017, we see an increase in the number of lenses sold globally from 8.8 million to 9.8 million.

Lenses sold globally 2007-2021 (CIPA data)


As for the reason for this increase, we can only speculate, but it might have something to do with availability. If getting your hands on a new camera in 2021 was hard, why not spend your money on a lens?

Supply chains, shortages, and prices

Talking about availability, in case you have been hiding in a cave somewhere for the past few months the world has been undergoing a major supply chain disruption the likes of which we haven’t experienced in decades.

While there might be other contributing factors, the pandemic is probably the biggest single reason for the delay in shipments of goods and materials and even more specifically processor shortages which affected countless industries including the photo industry.

Talking about shortages, many new cameras announced in the second half of 2021 were either delayed, like the Nikon Z9 which has now been officially postponed until October 2022 (unless you were one of those lucky ones who was quick enough to get one early), and to some degree, this is true for other brands as well that delayed or had products in short supply.

Price increases are a less talked about aspect of the current situation. While very few manufacturers actually announced increases in pricing for their products in 2021, you can be sure that any new products that will be announced in 2022 will already factor in the spike in the cost of raw materials, shipping, and manufacturing.

Interestingly in 2021, we have already seen about 20% more income going to manufacturers from camera sales. If you consider the aforementioned 5% reduction in overall cameras sales compared to 2020 this means that the average price per camera sold globally increased significantly over the past year.

Looking forward, it is hard to be optimistic for 2022. Talking to people inside the industry we have been told that the shortages and supply issues are expected to continue for at least the first half of the year and even if miraculously the second half will see record sales compared to the previous two years, we are still looking at another very difficult year for the industry.

More articles from this series

We have been covering the photo industry for the past decade or so. Here is a look back at our previous reports on the camera industry that you might want to check out:

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

Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of LensVid.com. He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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