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 cameras but by another device, smartphone or tablet. So little wonder we see the chart below of annual digital camera production from the main Japanese companies as collated by CIPA Japan.

digital camera production 1999 to date - promuser

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 camera 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?

Monthly Unit Production by Camera Type

monthly digital camera production units 2013 to 2017 with 12 month moving average - proMuser

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 been maintained at a higher than usual level up to February 2016 to make up for some of last years lost production. This has led to an apparent levelling out of production over the last few months.

Looking closer at the 12 month moving average we can see a reasonably smooth decent 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 Feb 2017, overall production trend has flattened out and that is at least a positive in an otherwise gloomy picture. Will this continue through the spring and summer months? or will production continue to slide to new lows?

Monthly Production Total Value by Camera Type

monthly digital camera production value 2013 to 2017 with 12 month moving average - proMuser

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 Feb 2017, total market value of both Compact and Mirrorless are trending up, whilst DSLRs are flat. The next few months will determine if this is the bottom or just a pause before a further decent.

Monthly Production Average Unit Value by Camera Type

monthly digital camera production average unit value 2013 to 2017 with 12 month moving average - proMuser

Average camera value has been trending up for most of the last few years. These monthly values fluctuate erratically but the 12 month moving average gives a clear indication of the rising value of cameras. 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.

As of Feb 2017, average prices of all camera types, Compact, Mirrorless and DSLRs are all flat. Again this may be partly due to the value of the ¥en, but this is what the Japanese camera makers get in return for their efforts.

Conclusions

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 are 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.

I see little enthusiasm for high priced Compact cameras and I still see this sector as vulnerable to contraction. We will need to see a few more months of data before we can conclude which way the market is going.