Another harsh report is out for the major camera manufacturers. BCNretail published its market share data for Japan between April 2018 till 2019. Like CIPA, camera shipment volume numbers are almost universally bad. Fuji is the lone bright spot on volume, enjoying a 19.4% increase year-over-year.

The leaders in Japan haven’t changed much with Canon enjoying a 37.3% market share, Nikon with 26.7%, Sony at 13.1%, Olympus with 6%, and Ricoh at 5.8%.

Now comes the bad news. Shipment volume, except for Fuji, is taking it on the chin. Canon saw sales dip 1.3%, Nikon dropped 15%, Sony saw a decline of 6.6%, and Olympus got hit with a 13.8% sales decline.

Camera Shipment Volume vs Value

Expect to hear a ton about shipment value. It’s obvious the mirrorless camera wars will be won at the top end, and not a race to the bottom with entry-level DSLRs or mirrorless systems. The BCNretail report bears this out with Sony enjoying a bounce of 14.5% in sales value, while companies like Canon and Nikon saw drops of 11.4% and 28.5% respectively.

A quick caveat to the numbers from BCNretail. The report essentially covers the entire year of the Sony a7 III is released, while Nikon and Canon were behind the curve with launches in late 2018. A better read on higher-margin cameras is necessary before we all scream the sky is falling.

Are Smartphones Taking Over?

For the low-end, the answer is yes. People have a decent camera in their pocket, and convincing them to sign on to beginner kits is a tough sell. Either manufacturers need to put more value in the low-end or pull a Sony with the focus on higher margin cameras.

Smartphones are a great real-world example. The high-end mobile market has stagnated with sales dipping for multiple quarters now. Apple and Samsung continue to dominate thanks to the higher margins on more expensive phones.

It’s not an accident both now sell flagship devices north of $1000. The days of people camping out for the latest iPhone are relegated to the history books. Notice the sheer amount of services being offered through iOS and Android. Anything to juice profits.  

What can camera companies do to emulate the continued success of smartphones despite lagging sales? Products at a higher margin with loads of value. If they need a case study of how to do this right, the $2000, Sony a7 III should be a guiding template.

Tons of features and billed as the ‘basic model.’ Brilliant marketing by Sony as the basic model used to be the cheap $400 kit camera you’d pick up at the store. Now it’s $2000, and you have to buy lenses, etc. Another area is continued support. The addition of continuous eye AF and animal AF was a great move from the company and showed it’s willing to support its current base.

Nikon and Canon both had lackluster mirrorless debuts and suffered from a lack of lenses. Expect that to change as new models hit the market and the lens portfolio for the mirrorless mounts expands. Sony went through the same critique, and now they are enjoying the benefits of the tough slog the company endured.

Future of Cameras

With the volume numbers cratering, I’d expect some companies to drop out or look to merge. Both Olympus and Ricoh are in a tough spot which will only squeeze harder as the big three battle it out for supremacy.

Fuji is an interesting outlier here. The company has carved out one hell of a niche in APS-C and medium format. It helps the cameras are fantastic. Rumors have it Sony is preparing to launch a professional style APS-C mirrorless camera, but these same rumors are months old and have gone quiet.

The future for cameras lies in the shipment value. Yes, sales will have downward pressure, but each company can make it up with smart product releases and giving the customers what they want. We can see Sony making up the loss in volume. Canon is nearly there. All eyes will turn to Nikon to see if they can right the ship.

Cameras aren’t dying off, but it’s on the manufacturers to recognize the trend and adapt. The clock is ticking and edging ever closer to midnight.

Gear. TV. Movies. Lifestyle. Photography. Yeah, I’m the type who sees a shiny object and is immediately captivated. Wait... There’s another. You can reach me at marcus@newsledge.com

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