Digital camera sales continued to decline in 2015

I had a few minutes today to go on the CIPA website to take a look at the state of the camera market. Not surprisingly the overall numbers show that digital camera sales continued to decline in 2015.

This is the first of a small series of short articles that look at various statistical aspects of the digital camera market.

Note: click on graphics to enlarge.

When looking at specific markets I think it is always a good thing to go back in time, especially when a major technological change has happened within a market, to understand fundamentals. For the camera market that technological shift happened with the introduction of the digital camera in 1999.

film camera sales 1965-2008

Prior to the introduction of digital technology the worldwide film camera market peaked in 1997 with the sale of 36.671 million units. By 2008 the film camera market was dead as there was a rapid change-over in consumer buying behaviour.

digital camera sales 1999-2015

Digital technology opened up photography to a vast number of new users and sales of digital cameras surged and reached their peak in 2010 when 121.463 million units were sold worldwide.

As we all know it wasn’t too long before cellphone manufacturers began to incorporate cameras into their products with Samsung being the first company to introduce this capability in June 2000 in the South Korean market. The first cellphone with a camera was sold in the United States in November 2002. Consumers loved the concept and sales began to explode. By the end of 2003 over 80 million units had been sold worldwide.

Successive rounds of improvement with sensors and features in camera phones occurred and soon consumers began to eschew their point-and-shoot digital cameras, favouring the all-in-one convenience of their cellphones. Since 2011 the global sales of cellphones has reached into the hundreds of millions annually.

total camera sales 1965-2015

This helped contribute to a precipitous drop in overall digital camera sales. So where was the camera market at the end of 2015? Just below where the film camera market previously peaked in 1997 with 35.395 million digital cameras sold in 2015.

Early data for the first couple of months of 2016 point to continued decline in digital camera sales, although the rate of decline appears to be slowing.

One quite interesting sidebar to all of this has been the growth of the interchangeable lens market. Back in the film camera days the camera lens market peaked in 1990 when 6.74 million lenses were sold. Another spike occurred in 1998 with the sale of 6.466 million lenses.

interchangeable lens sales 1965-2015

The advent of digital cameras meant that many consumers had to switch over to digital lenses. Sales ramped up dramatically from 2005 through to 2012 with lens sales growing from 7.053 million units in 2005 to 30.372 million units in 2012. Since that time lens sales have been in decline with 21.658 million units sold in 2015. The rate of decline has slowed with about a 5% volume drop between 2014 and 2015.

The good news for camera and lens manufacturers is that the size of the worldwide lens market even at 2015 levels is still more than triple the size it was back in the film days when it peaked at 6.74 million units in 1990.

This has a rather obvious strategic implication for camera makers -that being that interchangeable lens cameras represent a significant cross-selling opportunity. As such they constitute a higher growth potential portion of the market than do fixed lens cameras.

No one can predict with certainty where the sales of digital cameras will eventually settle. My best guess looking at historical camera sales volumes is that we will see some additional erosion…with the market potentially levelling out in the 25 million to 30 million unit range by 2020.

Next article in the series: Digital camera market winners and losers

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5 thoughts on “Digital camera sales continued to decline in 2015”

  1. It’s a mature market with essentially mature products.

    Camera manufacturers need to release products with innovative mass market appeal. Not iterative product upgrades.

    Between austerity, having a camera that is ‘good enough’ and realising that your not really going to ‘make a fortune out of taking pictures’ anymore, is it any wonder sales are down?

    People are changing where they are spending disposable income, at the moment it is not in the camera manufacturers favour.

  2. While many people may use phones, iPads, and other such devices to take pics and video, I can never see them replacing all camera sales. The capacity of such devices is still not good enough to use effectively for sports, birding, and other types of photography, nor do I expect that those types of devices ever will be.

    I have shared some of my photos (taken with DSLRs) with other people, and I have had some people share their camera photos with me. When viewed on a small device, their photos were fine. However, when viewed on a decent sized monitor, they were typically garbage.

    To a degree the DSLR market has reached a saturation point. Older cameras still make decent pictures. Not everybody needs to shoot at ISO 51,200 or higher, or at 10 FPS, or buffer 50+ shots, etc. Also, when new models are introduced, the people who want the new gear will flood the used market with older, but still viable, cameras. Savvy consumers who wait for such opportunities can then pick up good used cameras for low prices, instead of spending top dollar for new.

    In addition, poor economic conditions will always affect sales.

    Just my 2 cents worth on this article.

    1. Hi William,
      Thanks for sharing your perspectives and adding to the discussion! I agree that the camera market is not going to die because of phones, iPads etc. As you point out there are a number of photography genres that are best served by cameras for many years to come…as will the needs of folks who want better image quality.

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