Update: October 2017 CIPA data added.-
The October 2017 update will come a disappointment to the camera industry. Normally, October sees a peak in camera production, but this year it has already started to drop from Septembers high. This has to put in doubt the level of shipments through the peak holiday period and may lead to an overall fall in camera shipments for the whole year.
Month on month figures show a weakness in both Compact Camera and Mirrorless Camera units produced, whilst DSLRs have held steady. However, year on year it is a different picture. DSLRs have sunk 20%, Compact cameras 11% but Mirrorless have risen 6% by units. This has given an overall fall of 6% month on month and 11% year on year. So whilst the year has so far been better than 2016, it still looks like we will see a stagnant or shrinking market.
The rise of the digital camera in the 21st century has been a remarkable success. However, as with virtually all technology, something comes along to cause a reversal back towards either the norm or a complete failure. Of course, we are talking about the stand-alone digital camera. The cause of the failure in this regard is the advent of the Smartphone, not photography. Today, something approaching 98% of all photographs taken are not with a stand-alone camera but by another device, smartphone or tablet. So little wonder we see the chart above of the annual digital camera production from the main Japanese companies as collated by CIPA Japan.
Take-up of the digital camera was quite remarkable from 1999 up to the peak of 2010 with just a blip caused by the global financial crisis. A rise of 2,408%. Since then the unit production has fallen back 510% and is still falling. Production in 2016 may have seen a near flatline in figures but for the major earthquake that interrupted production and cost the industry dearly. The question is, when will we see the bottom of the market and the possibility of any growth in this product?
During 2016 many popular cameras were in very short supply. Those buyers who were disappointed with not being able to purchase may well have opted to just use a Smart device and they may not return to the stand-alone camera in the near future. Other issues such as rising prices due to the strength of the ¥en have not helped sales. There are core markets such as the Professional and Enthusiast that will persist. Will the industry simply revert to those markets with niche, high-value products? If so, will the market be large enough to still attract the big corporations like Sony and Panasonic?
Camera production through the years usually follows a regular pattern. Camera production peaks in spring and autumn and is lowest through winter. During 2016 however, the Kumamoto earthquakes caused a major disruption of camera production through the summer months and delayed the peak from the usual October to November. Since then, production has maintained a rise up to Sept 2017 to make up for some of the last years lost production. That has now moved into an upturn, at least for Compact type cameras.
Looking closer at the 12-month moving average we can see a reasonably smooth descent with 2014 and 2016 being weaker than usual. This decline is almost entirely due to the Compact fixed lens type cameras, with a small decline in DSLRs as more Mirrorless cameras are produced.
As of October 2017, overall production trend has started to fall back after a period of sustained growth. Let's hope this is temporary. This, of course, could be just making up for last years production weakness, on the other hand, it could signal the end to the long decline in camera units produced.
The Total market value has suffered a similar fate but with slightly less magnitude due to the biggest collapse being at the cheap end of the market. So as low cost point-and-shoot, the mass market, has been overtaken by other multi-function devices, the stand-alone camera has drifted up in value to be a more expensive product. These values are in ¥en, and so the variable, and sometimes erratic, exchange rate will be responsible for some of the movement we see here.
As of October 2017, the total market value is starting to turn down. Compact cameras are falling, DSLRs are flatlining and Mirrorless are rising. Given these signs, we would have to say the overall market looks to be once more in decline after a promising start to the year.
Average camera values have been trending up for most of the last few years but this year overall they have flatlined. In October we have seen a rise in the average value of all types. This likely due to manufacturers concentrating on higher value cameras and disregarding the lower value models.
These monthly values fluctuate erratically but the 12-month moving average gives a better indication of average cameras value. Some peaks can be directly attributed to the launch of certain models, such as the spike in Mirrorless value in late 2013. This is most likely to be due to the launch of the Sony A7/A7r models. Also, the recent launch of the Sony Alpha A9 can be seen here in the rising value.
The mass market for stand-alone cameras is well and truly over with little signs of any potential future expansion in the overall market. Production of DSLRs is being eroded by better Mirrorless cameras coming through. Enthusiast DSLRs are lower priced than their Mirrorless counterparts and this may help to fend off the Mirrorless charge.
With some good Premium Compact cameras for sale, the Compact is making a return to growth in both numbers and price. The new Canon G1x mkiii being at the top of that list. The overall production figures have started to slip and that is not a good sign for the industry that has suffered such a large decline.
We will not see the full picture until a full 2 years have come and gone from the disruption of production due to the earthquake. However, things are now on a knife edge in the industry. Which direction will 2018 take us?