Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Report Claims Lowest Sales Ever on DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras in 2016

I first read this piece from LensVid — no byline — nearly two weeks ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since:

We shall start in the top left and the amount of cameras produced worldwide. 2010 was the top year ever for the camera industry with 121 million cameras that were produced, since than we have seen a steady decline with a huge drop in 2013 to only 61 million cameras – basically half, and in 2015 we saw another (almost) halving to only 35 million cameras and the most recent number from 2016 brings another huge drop to only 23 million cameras or 35% drop – year-to-year – twice as much as what happened the year before.

Their analysis is generally what you might expect: smartphones have effectively killed the compact point-and-shoot camera, and mirrorless cameras are having a mixed reception. But these are the two bullet points that have had me thinking about this piece:

The DSLR market is shrinking – this was to be expected but it is not because of the rise of mirrorless. Why this is happening is probably a combination of reasons – at the entry level some people who might have considered buying a DSLR a few years back just settle for their smartphone camera which is better than ever and will soon improve even further with dual cameras, smart zoom technologies and more advanced features. At the mid to high end segments – there just isn’t enough innovation to justify replacing gear as often as it used to be and on the more positive side – cameras are quite reliable and replacing a working camera for a new one which doesn’t offer significantly more, just doesn’t make sense to many users.

I remember the days of DSLRs making huge leaps in sensor quality and megapixel count with every iteration. Features like HD video recording made each new generation that much more significant. But now, virtually all of the photographers I know have been comfortable with whatever camera they bought five-to-eight years ago, or even longer.

The biggest innovations of the past few years have been to commoditize higher-end sensors. The Fujifilm GFX 50S and Pentax GFX 645Z have brought medium format sensors to a high-end DSLR price point, while cameras from Canon, Nikon, and even Sony have brought down the price of entry for a full-frame DSLR. I hope this trend continues, because there’s an appreciable difference — even for non-professionals — between the APS-C sensors of consumer DSLRs and full-frame sensors.

Cameras are for older people – you can’t see this in the numbers but we clearly see this all around us – aside from the professional segment – dedicated cameras do not interest the younger generation. The people who are still interested in photography are typically around the ages of 40-60 or more – the same people who maybe shot with analog cameras as youngsters and now have the time and money to invest in photography as a hobby – their children and grandchildren are far less interested in cameras and prefer to use their smartphones.

If they’re going to make their point based on anecdotal evidence, I’ll make my counterpoint based on the same: I’ve seen loads of younger people carrying their DSLRs everywhere. A Canon Rebel is standard fare amongst YouTube vloggers and the skateboarders near where I live. Whenever I head near a retail strip or a mall, I see groups of teenagers that have cameras slung over their shoulders.

If anything, my bet is that it’s actually a more middle-aged demographic that has become disinterested in buying cameras: they’re less interested in video capabilities and experimentation. For many of them, a smartphone’s camera is fine for basic documentation.