Camera sales are in the Crapper.
By Steve Huff
This week Sony officially announced the A7SIII! Many posted YouTube videos on the A7SIII but not me as I was denied a review unit before launch (but offered the NDA info so I could promote it blind, which I did not do). That’s ok, just the nature of the review game and “the game” that must be played to stay in it. It’s a good thing though as the A7SIII has been overheating in moderate (85 degree+) temps for some reviewers. Here in Phoenix it hit 116 a couple of days ago. Eek!
But I am not here to speak of the A7SIII, only to say that it has been announced and it will sell well, but no where near how these new cameras used to sell. It will sell in less numbers than the a7SII did as the a7SII was released during a time when digital cameras were selling over 100 million units in a year, and Sony was doing over 6 million units in 2015 themselves (In 2019 that dropped to around 2 mil). In fact, 2019 saw a massive decline in camera sales across the board. Massive. In June of 2019? A 70+% drop in cameras shipped compared to June 2018, and this was BEFORE the pandemic! In April 2020? See this report. Basically the digital camera world has seen an 85% decrease in sales since 2010 and I get it and understand why. It’s common sense.
We are seeing more declines in 2020, partly due to the pandemic but in reality, this was coming regardless of wether Covid 19 hit us. The virus just made these drops excel at a faster rate. Yes, it seems that the old glory days for big digital camera sales is over, and the declines will continue regardless of what these companies pump out to try and entice us with.
What will happen in the next few years? We will most likely see fewer bodies being made. We will see price increases across the board (yes, more than we have already seen) as camera companies lower sales expectations. For example, as a whole industry, if camera companies as a whole sell 100 million bodies in a year, and then that drops to 15 million or less the next year or two, they have to raise prices to keep making a profit. This is one reason why prices are being raised on all cameras lately, less demand, less sales, lower profits.
We see the A7SIII and think “$3500 is cheap”! But remember that the A7SII was released at $3000 and many scoffed at the price when it was released. Today we are more used to cameras being expensive, and they are because today digital cameras are in a niche market. In a few years they will be even more expensive and more niche.
Camera sales keep dropping…
Camera sales continue to drop and decline, even for Sony, Canon and Nikon and well, all of them. It’s the times we are in and I think this trend may continue. Phones that can do impressive things with photography and video exists today, and guess what? They are in everyone’s pocket. It’s called convenience. Ease of use. Ease of posting and with seemingly almost most photos being posted to social media day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute… most will AND DO use their phones today over paying thousands for a body that will cost more with lenses, batteries, accessories, etc. Yep, todays photo market? Driven by social media. Times have changed but more are realizing that posting to social media is much easier with a phone and big cameras are not needed for these things. Photography has also become boring these days. Every photo there is to take has been taken as millions of photos are uploaded daily and forgotten about as soon as the “like” is logged. It’s become disposable, the entire industry and photography itself.
A Pandemic hit the world and most of all, hit the USA very hard as I spoke and warned about long ago here on these pages. With so many out of work, there is worry about food and rent MUCH more so than cameras… naturally. The camera industry has become a Niche. What I mean is that dedicated digital cameras today are already within a Niche, they are already there due to smartphones.
The camera world is indeed caving in, and while it will be around for many years to come, eventually it will change further to where we have one or two choices left. Phones and smart devices have already taken over dedicated cameras in use and sales. This trend will continue as phones keep improving what they can do, and they will be getting better and better. Todays phones can take better images than some cameras of just a few years ago, regardless of wether or not they use computational imaging (and they all do). All that matters is the final result to most people. This is why we see Sony having their top camera reviewers review their new phones ; ) They know what is happening and are following the trend to stay in the game.
Look what happened to Vinyl with music. It’s now a Niche and if you want a QUALITY turntable be prepared to spend $5k all the way up to $20k. Heck, there are tables that surpass $100k. New good pressings of vinyl will set one back around $35-$50 each and go up to several hundred dollars. The fewer the sales of a product, the more expensive the product becomes. This is why if you want a Leica M10-R and a 50 1.4 M Summilux you will spend around $15,000 after tax. For IQ that can be matched by a camera and lens that will cost you less than half of that. Back in the M9 days, the IQ was unique and today the M IQ is not really unique compared to the likes of Sony, Canon and others.
What about others?
As for me, I no longer recommend Leica for many reasons (costs have gotten ridiculous, repair wait times are absurd in the USA, and nothing exciting has come from them in a while, IMO). Olympus is sadly leaving us this year, and that one hurt as they were an awesome group of people who made great cameras that were under appreciated. Sony will continue to release models with “the latest and greatest” to make you feel you need them. I think Fuji will continue to innovate and create some truly unique cameras and remain consistent. Nikon….not so sure. Canon will work on the R line as the last DSLR for them has come and gone in the latest 1dX. Sigma? I love the little fp but not sure everyone else did. In the end, not all will survive as there are not enough buying cameras to sustain them all. It’s why you see prices gong up all the time, and this will continue. Tariffs, Lower Sales and Volume mean HIGHER costs for us.
I’ve lost interest in reviewing every product in the photo realm, and the last two years brought the least new reviews from me only because I have not seen many camera items that are exciting, or worth a purchase. Even the new Sony A7SIII doesn’t do it for me as it’s really just a 12MP camera with really great video specs that are overloaded for 85% who will buy it. With a good lens, it will set you back $5-6K and after 6 months, some will be selling off their new cameras when the excitement wears off as the camera market is driven by the hype and excitement factor, and these things wear off quick.
This is a strange year for everyone in many ways but camera sales continue to be in decline because not very many are spending thousands on “another new camera” that really will not improve their skill or the content they create. Tech continues to march on but many argue today that they do not need new cameras every year and most just use their smartphones which they do still upgrade.
So in the future you will still see new photo reviews here but again, only what I feel are good products that are worth a look. You will see new reviews for audio gear and other things I come across that I feel is worthy of talking about. I’m working on my next HiFi review now ; ) I have some things on the way to review in the camera world but will try to focus on unique, bang for the buck, overall quality and ease of use.
Love you all, be well, stay safe!