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Mirrorless Cameras Aren't Saving the Photo Industry

This year's sales figures could be the worst since 2005.

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This has been a brutal year for the camera industry. The bottom has finally fallen out of the point-and-shoot market, while even interchangeable lens cameras aren't as popular as they were last year. No matter how you look at the numbers, the camera industry is in dire straits, and several major manufacturers may not survive the fallout.

According to statistics released monthly by the Camera & Imaging Products Association—a group comprised of all major consumer camera manufacturers*—camera makers shipped just 52.9 million units through October of this year, or nearly 40% less than at this point in 2012.

Camera makers shipped just 52.9 million units through October of this year, or nearly 40% less than at this point in 2012.

Most of the decline can be attributed to eroding demand for fixed-lens (aka point-and-shoot) models. CIPA companies shipped around 38 million fixed-lens cameras through October this year. Through the same period in 2010, camera makers shipped 90 million such units.

It's a stunning market correction, driven by the wild popularity of smartphones and tepid adoption rates of so-called mirrorless cameras everywhere except Asia. While interchangeable lens camera shipments had grown over the last few years, even that segment has fallen by around 15% in 2013 compared to 2012. And yet, there are still some market analysts predicting growth for interchangeable lens cameras this year.

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While there's still two months to go, it's looking like yet another year of decline for the camera industry.

According to a report by Futuresource, mirrorless camera shipments are expected to actually grow by around 6% by the end of the year. Unfortunately, that projection seems overly optimistic.

Futuresource's report predicts that the industry will ship around 21 million interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) and 86 million units total by the end of 2013. While it's unclear exactly what data they're working with, that would require the industry to ship around 7 million ILC and 30 million total units in November and December—roughly double what was shipped last year, according to CIPA's numbers.

The truth is that camera shipments have fallen this year in every segment and in every market, except Japan.

The truth is that camera shipments have fallen this year in every segment and in every market, except Japan. In Japan, interchangeable lens camera shipment have actually grown by 28.5% over last year. Unfortunately, Japan is just a small part of the overall camera market, accounting for just 12% of worldwide camera shipments in 2013.

The commonly accepted narrative is that point-and-shoot sales are flatlining while sales of interchangeable lens cameras are picking up the slack, specifically with compact, affordable mirrorless cameras. While the mirrorless market has indeed grown in recent years, it's still small; most of the interchangeable lens market is still dependent on traditional SLR cameras such as those made by Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony.

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Panasonic's excellent GX7 is compact, has a great EVF, and superb image quality, but American and European shoppers still vastly prefer traditional DSLRs.

Companies contributing to CIPA's statistics have shipped 14.1 million interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) so far in 2013, but just 2.5 million of those were mirrorless cameras. Mirrorless cameras have been the most successful in Japan, where they make up 37% of the total ILC market. In Europe and the Americas, mirrorless cameras account for just 10.5% of the market.

While cameras like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Panasonic GX7 are reasonably priced, excellent cameras, there's little marketing push behind them in the U.S. Even market leader Canon has had no luck breaking into the American market with its mirrorless offering. The EOS M was panned upon release, is now available at cut-rate clearance prices, and its successor may never see an official U.S. release.

Whether due to a lack of marketing, consumer education, brand recognition, product placement, or other factors, mirrorless cameras simply haven't caught on with American and European consumers. With every major manufacturer now producing at least one mirrorless model and many cutting back heavily on point-and-shoot production, it's safe to say that the survival of many major camera brands hinges on continued growth of the mirrorless segment.

If 2013 is anything to go by, that may be a recipe for disaster.


*CIPA's numbers don't account for every single manufacturer, but they do account for all of the major consumer camera makers, including Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Ricoh (Pentax), Xacti (Sanyo), Samsung, Casio, Sigma, Seiko Epson, Sony, and Fujifilm.

[All photos: Reviewed.com]

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