Total digital camera unit shipments drop to 1990s levels for first time

Has the digital camera market finally bottomed out?

Or will retailers like Amazon start to turn their back on cameras altogether?

In terms of the number of units going out to stores each year, digital cameras are now shipping in lower volumes than in the year 2000.

The chart above shows the decline until 2019 before the pandemic, reflecting the failure of management at Canon, Nikon, Sony and others.

However the latest 2020 figures show a further decrease from 14.86 million shipments to just 8.8 million which brings us under the tally for the year 2000, 20 years ago.

Much higher prices now compensate for the loss in volume (as I look into here), as we the customers and our wallets know only too well. Companies have placed their hopes in products like the Sony Alpha 1, Canon EOS R5 and the Fuji GFX series, but professional users and enthusiasts have all without many exceptions been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic. I also have somewhat of a gut feeling there is a global economic catastrophe soon and during that, sales of expensive $6000 cameras will flop.

Although the decrease in unit shipments is not the same as a decrease in profits or total sales volume, it does show the extent to which the market has had to adjust…

We are all familiar with charts like these:

But rarely see one looking back more than 3 years.

What happens if we stack all the charts and look back to 2012?

Here we get the impression by month of just how dramatic the reduction in unit volume is for the digital camera market year on year.

(Please excuse the rough looking photoshop, had to transform top half to keep the scale the same).

The only year better than the previous year was 2017.

In 2020 between 369k to 1.134 million cameras shipped per month. Most of them will be destined for enthusiasts and professionals at high prices.

8.8 million is still a lot of cameras, especially if many of them are as expensive as an EOS R5 (with a huge profit margin too). My question is this – can this lower volume support camera companies long-term (even through a global downturn with so many artists going out of business) and will sub-$2000 cameras become a thing of the past entirely from the likes of Sony, Fuji and Canon, in turn harming interest from enthusiasts?

The market under $1500 is already quite boring for enthusiasts with not many new releases, and interesting cameras like the Panasonic GH5 or Fuji X-T4 have long since departed for higher land closer to $2000.

Will prices have to keep on rising to sustain the ongoing failure in management of companies like Canon and Nikon?

Will $6000 cameras be the norm in a few years?

The answer I think is yes, unfortunately. And I don’t even think a lot of the enthusiast camera market is safe from smartphones. They are next.

Will professionals be the last ones standing? Probably yes. And sadly after the pandemic, a lot less of them will still be in business.

With fewer people buying and only very expensive cameras holding up the bottom line, I foresee trouble in the camera market.

My hope is that I am wrong.