digitaldingus Article

Declining Camera Sales
The Digital Camera Migration

August 24, 2015


I never really thought too long (or even too hard) about the possibility that such a widely diverse electronic device such as a camera...would begin to see a gradual decline in sales. Once cameras became digital and consumers realized they not only could forfeit their film processing routines and replace them with a nice and clean software program which could do the same and so much more, it was a perfect scenario for well known film camera companies to make a new sector within the electronics industry which introduced compact, inexpensive, and quality images from a relatively small form factor.

Since then, we've seen the big companies such as Canon and Nikon manufacture an almost endless amount of camera models which come and go as fast as a monsoon in Arizona. It's somewhat a shame because these cameras are designed like a clothing line that comes out with something new to wear for every season, with the implication to throw out the "old look" and embrace what's new and trendy.

But phones became the new center of marketing genius. Blackberry phones were the item to get as they had a large screen, and could do much more than just dial a phone number. Now, the once geniuses of their market have fallen prey to their own proprietary mastership, and have now been left in the dust by the competition.

Numbers are in Millions Of Units of Cameras Shipped Worldwide

The Camera Crash

You really don't need much more information than what you see displayed above to tell you what's going on. Camera sales are decreasing across all types. Whether it's a compact camera (Powershot or a Coolpix), or a mid-level DSLR (Rebel or Dxxxx), on up to enthusiast level DSLRs like the D750 and Canon 5D Mark III...and even at the flagship levels (Canon EOS-1D X and Nikon D4) — pick your flavor, the number of units sold overall is decreasing at a serious rate.

In 2008-2009, units shipped dropped about 10%. This could be due to enthusiasts and semi-pros being reluctant to upgrade their equipment at that time, thanks to the housing market crash and overall financial crash. Additionally, we could have had a sell-off of equipment mixed in with it. In 2010, we saw the shipped units recoup what it lost, and adding a little more product, but then from 2011 and on...a steady decline. What signifies a significant electronics sector change (ESC), is a gradual decrease, with no recovery. We have at least 4 years of no sign of recovery, and since we're almost into Q4 2015, I managed to get some CIPA stats for this year so far. You can view them towards the upper-right of the page. Assuming we allow 3 million shipments per month on average (I think this number might be conservative given the last week of investments taking a serious hit), this would be 36 million total units shipped for 2015. Last year was around 43 million units. So, once again, a 17% drop from last year. This would be the 5th year of large decreases.

Considering the rate of decline, by late 2016 we could see levels only seen around the turn of the Millennium.

Is the compact camera the Smartphone Killer? I suppose that wording might be a little dramatic, but I don't think we can overlook what's going on with smartphones and the amazing amount of money being invested there. Smartphones are becoming as powerful as a laptop (even desktop computers), and with disc media becoming more extinct by the day (movie studios and DRM groups love this – I do not), it gives devices such as the smartphone, a lot more leverage to crush its competition – wherever it may be. Without the need for mechanical playing of media and instead, resorting to flash-based memory and storage, smartphones can still retain their small size but continue to offer an increasing amount of processing power.

Smartphone Applications

If there's one thing that's keeping smartphones alive, it would be the thousands of applications which are being written for them. It's fantastic what a typical smartphone can do these days. The applications which run on them can range from the simple task of opening and closing the garage door to actually taking control of your entire home's lighting system, appliances connected to any wireless communication devices, and live viewing of any cameras installed. In addition, more environmental sensors (micro sensors which monitor specific things such as altitude, temperature, barometric readings, infrared, RF, etc.).

Smartphone Users Replacing Photographers?


Smartphones will never replace photographers or photography in general. What we have going on is a formidable section of the camera industry which was never a permanent part of the camera industry to begin with. It was very temporary, and very dynamic. The only reason compact cameras were such a success was due to a period of time when there was a sigh of relief from film cameras and the process of taking one's film cartridges to the local grocery store where you hoped that minimum wage employee was going to take care in processing your images. And then let's take into consideration the amount of time required to complete the process. While we were impressed with "1 Hour" photo turnaround, there were still issues with inconsistent images and we routinely had to send them to a more professional developer (sometimes even offered by the same in-store 1 Hour Photo kiosk). With digital, images could be easily printed on a home printer, often rivaling what was achieved at a typical grocery store photo processing center. And if the user was somewhat familiar with their computer and the camera's software, they could crop images and edit them with ease.

Smartphone Images = Instant Social Media Integration

While it was easy to print photos from home and even share them with close friends and family later on...there wasn't the immediate and instant gratification of sharing an image taken only moments earlier. This is what also began the slow change from people who had a digital compact camera in their pocket who wanted to simply take images and then share their experiences when they got home to download to their computer and email to friends and family. These people were using compact cameras simply because there wasn't a better alternative.

Until the smartphone came along.

I see now we have some select cameras which have a social media integration included, hoping this will solve the migration of camera users. But it will not. It's a desperate move, and all it does is further create a useless proprietary device which will become extinct because a camera has a finite amount of processing power which simply cannot match a typical smartphone.

Another feature which camera companies seem to not let go of, is video capture. As if taking pictures wasn't good enough, now camera companies have included options in cameras where high definition video can be taken. Of course what they don't tell you, is it will not replace a good and solid video camera which has dedicated circuitry not found in cameras.

Do Photographers Use Smartphones?

It's an obviously loaded question and might seem ridiculous, but of course photographers use both devices, so this shouldn't be an issue, and it certainly is not the problem. What we do have, are those who once used compact cameras for taking pictures, moving to using their smartphones exclusively because the small camera on the phone takes images at a quality which is acceptable (interpreted as rather impressive given the extremely small size of imagers within these extremely thin devices) and has the software applications which connect them instantly to any social media favorite via their preferred wireless communications carrier.

Don't think the following won't happen, but we may have a camera company who will come up with the wild idea of actually offering wireless carrier service capable cameras. I've seen stranger things happen in the electronics industry. Being able to dial a phone number from a camera just might make it to the production lines if we have enough desperation within a marketing meeting room, convincing its company leaders and board members of this amazing new trendy and exciting potential.

Smartphones + Cameras = Photographer's Paradise

Let's get back to the photographer who uses a smartphone. Why haven't we seen a much stronger support for camera communications with the photographer's smartphone? Owning a Nikon D750, I downloaded Nikon's Wi-Fi application on my smartphone (Samsung S4 Mini) and what were the awesome features Nikon created for it?

I can press the shutter button on my smartphone from 10ft away.

That's it.

Not to pick on Nikon, but if I was Nikon, I'd be creating a smartphone application which was MEANT TO BE PAIRED WITH A DSLR camera. Not distancing the two from each other making me want to use one or the other. Adding features such as shutter speed, aperture selection, ISO, and basically everything which was possible ON THE be done ON THE SMARTPHONE. This would be very convenient. Smartphones aren't going away. And certain levels of cameras aren't either, so let's stop the gimmick products and have camera companies invest in more software development for integration of smartphones with their DSLRs. Compact cameras don't have the capabilities of DSLRs, so I wouldn't focus on the compact camera user – after all, they're leaving anyway and aren't a repeat customer.

Concentrate on the users who are sticking around – the DSLR user. The photographer.


The Advantages Of Smartphones:

  • Endless amount of software applications, written mostly by people like you (not the company itself) who want to provide convenience and maybe even productivity of the products you own.
  • Smartphones are so much more than just a camera, and a camera will NEVER be a replacement.
  • Smartphones have a superior communications system, which cameras have yet to realize.

The Advantages Of Cameras:

  • A typical compact camera may have the same features as a smartphone but entry-level DSLRs, Enthusiast DSLRs, and Professional DSLRs will ALWAYS provide better image quality than a smartphone.
  • DSLRs have dedicated lenses, flashes, and other accessories which put the image capturing process into a completely different electronic universe than a smartphone. DSLRs are much more able to acquire details than a smartphone.

In the end, declining sales of cameras is a good thing...but it's a painful reminder. What this hopefully demonstrates to camera companies, is they need to focus more on their loyal consumer who buys much more than just a point-n-clicker, and wants to have a complete photographic system, capable of capturing the best images possible. This consumer is not concerned about uploading an image instantly to their social media page, nor are they concerned with taking a self-image everyday after getting out of the shower.

What I hope will finally happen, is smartphones becoming just as separate from cameras as computers are today, and the electronics industry will focus to improve on smartphones and cameras, instead of attempting to bridge them with marketing gimmicks and wasted product lines which will be trashed within a year (or less).


Digital Still Camera Shipments
2015 (2014)

January: 2,363,912 (2,945,506) | - 19.7%
February: 2,436,324 (2,934,500) | - 17%
March: 2,587,319 (3,339,487) | - 22.5%
April: 3,365,033 (3,875,163) | - 34.6%
May: 3,046,288 (3,478,485) | - 34.8%
June: 3,080,103 (3,328,051) | - 24%
July: NA (NA) | NA%
August: NA (NA) | NA%
September: NA (NA) | NA%
October: NA (NA) | NA%
November: NA (NA) | NA%
December: NA (NA) | NA%

Adverts & Promotions