First Quarter 2019 CIPA Data

According to first quarter 2019 CIPA data (shipments), the camera market has started the year under pressure… which is a bad sign for the industry.

Let’s have a quick look at various segments of the camera market during the first quarter of 2019. All “% down” numbers are compared to the same quarter in 2018.

Interchangeable Lenses
Total market
3,074,104… down 25.8%
Full frame and larger lenses
1,122,052… down 10.6%
Less than full frame size lenses
1,952,062… down 32.4%

Estimated size of interchangeable lens market in 2019 if the current trend continues: 13,373,592.

This would make the 2019 interchangeable lens market less than 1/2 of the size of the 2012 market when the shipments of interchangeable lenses peaked at about 30 million units.

Digital Cameras
Total market
3,198,421… down 26.4%
Built-in lens cameras
1,471,442… down 23.1%
Interchangeable lens cameras
1,726,979… down 29.4%
DSLR cameras
972,015… down 39.4%
Mirrorless cameras
754,964… down 10.2%

2019 Camera Market Size Estimates
Estimated size of the digital camera market if the current first quarter 2019 trend continues:
Total digital market: 14,256,754.

This is about the same level as 1979-1980 film camera market, and about the same size as the digital camera market in 2001. It should be noted that in 2001 film camera shipments were about three times larger than digital cameras.

Here are some estimates of the size of the 2019 camera market by segment, assuming that the current shipment trends continue:
Built-in lens cameras: 6,662,288
Interchangeable lens cameras: 7,596,417
DSLR: 4,012,325
Mirrorless: 3,716,641

Based on the current downward trends of various camera segments during the first quarter 2019 it appears likely that the shipments of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras could overtake DSLRs in 2020.

As we all know there are significant changes currently happening with many manufacturers putting an emphasis on full frame mirrorless cameras. This is causing a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace. It is understandable that many buyers may be taking a wait and see attitude.

As the digital camera market continues to be squeezed on the bottom end by cellphones we will likely see continued erosion of digital camera volumes. It is not too difficult to envision many entry level cameras being discontinued, including lower end DSLRs.

I also think it is very likely that we will see ongoing per unit price hikes on digital cameras. Manufacturers will have little choice but to attempt to get larger per unit margins as they sell fewer units, in order to remain profitable.

It is also likely that we will see fewer models offered, and the time frame between model introductions increase. Manufacturers will not have the volumes and profits needed to sustain current research and development budgets.

For many photographers some tough decisions may lay ahead in terms of how long to keep their current gear, and if they do buy new gear, where to put their money.

It’s may view that there isn’t much point investing in equipment that only offers incremental increases in specifications without any real expansion in functionality. I’d suggest examining your photography needs carefully, then investing in new equipment that allows you to shoot in different ways than you have in the past. This expanded functionality can add new tools to your creative expression.

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8 thoughts on “First Quarter 2019 CIPA Data”

  1. Hi Tom
    I am not surprised: As long as the steps from generation to generation were relatively large, bodies sold well. Better than in film times (Generations followed say every 7-8 years and steps like automatic exposure or AF were well apart.). From such perspective we are coming back to „natural“, long run quantities. Not scientific, of course, and leaving out e.g. smartphones (vs Kodak boxes?), but I think seen in longer time perspective: Why talk about decline? Maybe it is just return to normal from overheated period?
    Regarding prices: Today we can buy topmodelsvery cheaply, a correction must come. Do you remember the prices of D3 or F6 etc (inflation accounted)? They were much higher than today. No surprise here, pure economics ofmarkets and scale.
    And yes, this leaves us with those tough decisions. We donot know how quick the corrections will happen – will already the next update be prohibitive expensive (= buy now) or not (= wait). Right now I ordered a couple of batteries for V3 and J5 (Who knows how long it will be possible) and am pondering a FF body. But which one – D850 or Z7? I am slowly approaching my seventies, so is this generation all I will ever need or not?

    1. Hi Robert,

      It would seem that you and I are of the same vintage! I can still remember buying my first interchangeable lens film camera… a Nikkormat in 1974. I think I paid about $265 for it… which is probably about $1,300 to $1,500 today. So cameras have not gone up wildly in price given inflation and the capabilities that are now included in most cameras.

      Back in 1974 the only people who owned interchangeable lens cameras were professional photographers, folks who needed them for work (I was in the newspaper business back then), or enthusiast amateurs who had the money to invest in gear. I think you are right that the industry is likely moving back towards the volumes that were common in the 1970s and early 1980’s as the ‘new normal’.

      In terms of pondering something after Nikon 1… that is a tough decision for most of us. I doubt that I would go the full frame route again. There are many exciting things happening with photography right now so there are many potentially interesting options.


      1. Hi Tom
        My vintage is 1953. Exceptional vintage in Bordeaux too 😉
        My first interchangeable camera was russian Zenit. I was at the college then and earned the money by delivering newspapers. Lens interchangeable it was, but without a lightmeter. I got one from a photographer my mother knew. Then came Asahi Pentax with the first lightmeter through the lens, but the price… Later – at the end of seventies – at long last I was able to buy Nikkormat FT3, then came FM, etc.
        Darkroom in the bathroom – everybody had to use it before going to bed, after that I and my mother developed films and made enlargements.
        Should you ship your motorcycle to Europe some day, give me I message, we could talk about old times. And of course, about new times too, I enjoy them very much.
        Take care!

        1. Thanks for sharing more of your history with cameras Robert… it is always interesting to read about other people’s journeys! I still have that old Nikkormat camera tucked away in a closet. The light meter hasn’t worked in decades. I don’t know why I’ve kept the Nikkormat all these years… a piece of nostalgia I suppose.

          My love of photography had ebbs and flows during the film days. I never really enjoyed working with film at all… and unlike you I never had my own darkroom. Digital photography has been liberating for me. I’ve never owned a motorcycle… I’d probably be six feet underground now if I had!


          1. I do not have the two first cameras any more, they were part of downpayments on new bodies. But since then I never gave them away. Had always three FM bodies with me for N, N-1 and N+1 developments etc. Never wanted to give up on film, even now am starting to „do“ 4×5. Did not decide on darkroom yet, scanning and digitizing opens more possibilities probably.
            I remember a photograph of an motorcycle here on your site and thought it is yours. Sorry 😉
            My personal „photo-ebb“ was around 2000, at the beginning of the digital era. First digital cameras were expensive as hell and the image quality low. I was pretty deep in my business and suddenly I noticed, the then current generation is not bad at all. I started with Nikon D200, but was always waiting for bigger formats. Now I am there 😀
            You really should come over here, we surely could have a good talk!

            1. Hi Robert,

              I enjoy photographing mechanical objects whether they are industrial machines, cars, motorcycles etc. Sometimes when we travel I’ll spot a motorcycle that could make a great foreground element. You likely spotted a red motorcycle in one of my New Zealand images that worked out quite well as a composition element.

              Given the destinations on our bucket list, and our recent return from Ireland… not much planned for travel to Europe. We have so much yet to see in Canada too!


  2. Tom,

    The trends are kind of expected – with continued contraction of the total dedicated camera market, the sharp decline of DSLRs, et al.

    As a former full-frame camera user who has shifted back to APS-C, I am somewhat disappointed that there seems to be a collusion among the camera manufacturers to pursue full-frame bodies and lenses. Even Sony seems to be giving only a token gesture towards APS-C users with the launch of the A6400. On the other hand, the “open” tech policy of Sony means that third-party lens makers like Sigma can fill in the gaps. I was a loyal Nikon user for 12 or so years but since the Z offerings were too pricey and I don’t really need a full-framer, I figured it was time to shift.

    I think it’s really wise for us to follow your advice — incremental improvements in subsequent camera iterations are not worth investing into, especially for people who derive only a part of their livelihood from photography. Really wise to squeeze the most out of old equipment and gear instead of falling prey to manufacturers’ hype of bells and whistles. Meanwhile, it’s wait-and-see for APS-C users like me.


    1. Hi Oggie,

      I agree that the trends are expected. I’ve had a few articles over the past few years that discussed them. I don’t think there is any collusion between the camera manufacturers re: moving towards full frame mirrorless. I think it is a simple matter of market realities. As volumes shrink, camera makers will all need higher margins per unit to continue to be profitable and survive. Most of them see full frame mirrorless as the most obvious strategy to pursue.

      Investing in new gear is always something that needs to be done with some care and logic. If whatever gear that a photographer is looking at can actually help them create images that were not possible with their current gear, or allows them to do it more efficiently in terms of paid work… then it can make a lot of sense.

      I think most of us don’t really need more pixels or an incrementally better sensor. New and different functionality to unlock more creativity is the key in my mind.


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