Canon Benefits From the Death of the DSLR

Notwithstanding problems with ramping back up production to pre-COVID levels, manufacturers have been generally optimistic about the emerging camera market as consumers start spending money that has been hoarded over periods of lockdown. Canon looks set to be the big beneficiary, but what about the other manufacturers?

Last year, 2020, was a year to forget for camera manufacturers as shipments of cameras (as recorded by CIPA) imploded from a record low of 15.2 million units in 2019 to a barely believable 8.9 million units. It's not so much the fact that shipments nearly halved, but rather that 10 years previously, camera shipments peaked at an incredible 121 million units. Of course, that isn't an entirely fair comparison, as compact cameras made up some 90% of those shipments; the margin was slim, but spread across a large number of units meant manufacturers made a very healthy profit. The camera world has changed significantly since 2010 with compact cameras now accounting for just 39% of units shipped. Perhaps of more interest to enthusiasts is the dramatic decline in shipments of DSLRs at the expense of increasing mirrorless units. Crucially, 2020 was the first year where more mirrorless cameras were shipped than DSLR. So, how is 2021 shaping up?

If there was a phrase to sum things up then it would be: "not good, but not disastrous." Looking at the monthly CIPA shipments to date (below), 2021 is significantly up on 2020, having reached parity in February. However, that is against a backdrop of a stop in manufacturing as COVID hit. Looking at 2019 is a better comparison, and shipments are down 40%, a significant drop; it is worth noting that we are not back at 2019 production levels yet, though. That said, by May in 2019, shipments were valued at ¥170 billion on a total year's value of ¥587 billion; 2021 is currently sitting at ¥134 billion, a 21% drop. This proportionately smaller reduction reflects three factors: a shift in production away from compact cameras, which now make up only 35% of shipments, the increasing price of cameras, and a shift toward more expensive models.

Perhaps of more interest is the split between DSLRs and mirrorless. Canon and Nikon have the former market sewn up, with Pentax desperately clinging on to whatever is leftover. The latter, however, is a complete free-for-all, as manufacturers battle to establish themselves in this emerging market. Of the 2.3 million interchangeable lens cameras shipped this year, 1.3 million were mirrorless (and 1 million DSLR)  meaning that they make up 56% of the market. This compares to 2019 where 3.2 million units had shipped by this point, with 1.4 million mirrorless (and 1.8 million DSLR) making up 43% of the market.

Let those numbers sink in, then read this: mirrorless models make up 71% by value. And even though mirrorless shipments were down by 100,000 units, the value actually rose by 9%. There are some huge takeaways from (nearly) the first half of the year. Firstly, the value and shipments of DSLRs continue to implode. Not only are they shipping in significantly smaller numbers, but they are worth much less than the mirrorless market. DSLRs are rapidly becoming a small (but still important) camera segment. Secondly, ILCs share an increasing proportion of total camera shipments as manufacturers ramp down compact production. Thirdly, mirrorless models are now the single most important segment by volume and value. In fact, they make up 59% of the value of all camera production. The short story is that manufacturers have shifted production to mirrorless, and consumers are buying them. Quite where the balance between consumers wanting them and manufacturers wanting to produce their lies remains to be seen. If you are a camera manufacturer not making mirrorless cameras, then you are in a rapidly contracting market. Pentax, take note.

Canon Shines in the Mirrorless Market

previously commented on 2020 sales figures and how these align with CIPA shipment figures. Canon was the best performing manufacturer last year. However, we are now halfway through the year. So, how are sales looking? There is limited evidence on this front; however, Nikon Rumors recently reported BCN sales data. As a reminder, BCN Retail reports online and in-store sales data for Japan and is believed to represent some 40-60% of domestic Japanese sales, with Japan accounting for about 15% of worldwide shipments.

In terms of mirrorless sales, Canon is closing the gap on Sony at about 28% and 32% respectively. The big loser has been OM Digital, dropping from over 25% to less than 15% of sales. This has now started to recover, and the brief bump for Fuji sales above 20% appears to be reversing. BCN doesn't report on sales below 10%, and so, Nikon is excluded, a worrying sign. When you switch to all ILC sales figures, Nikon pops back into contention (on the back of those declining DSLR sales) but at a worryingly low 10.9%, beaten by OM Digital at 11.3%, with Sony (25.8%), and Canon (36.8%) leading the pack. In fact, Canon has had an exemplary start to the year at the expense of almost everyone else but particularly Nikon. In short, while DSLR sales continue to drop, Canon is shifting plenty of mirrorless cameras, something which Nikon is struggling to do.

As expected, 2021 is proving to be a pivotal year for manufacturers for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the DSLR is dead in terms of significant revenue and profit generation. Less than a third comes from DSLRs, and that figure is dropping with each month. In the same way that compact cameras serve a niche, so does the DSLR. The sooner that it becomes a small-scale, low overhead concern, the better for manufacturers. Secondly, rolling out a full suite of mirrorless models while at the same time filling out APS-C and full frame lens lineups is critical. This is where revenue is coming from.

Where does that leave manufacturers? Sony and Canon are both benefiting from the mirrorless pivot and remain highly competitive. Nikon is continuing to produce a range of highly desirable cameras, but for whatever reason, is not selling as many as it needs to; its quarterly report should provide more detail. Olympus has completed its transition to OM Digital in what has been a difficult year that has seen sales drop to low levels. Going forward, it remains to be seen if new management can provide a stable platform for future development. Pentax remains strangely wedded to the DSLR and must surely be cross-subsidized as a loss-making division by Ricoh. Fuji, through all of this, has remained buoyantly successful, quietly filling out its X and GFX lines while also selling an awful lot of Instax cameras and film. Eyes will almost certainly be on Nikon as the camera market continues to evolve.

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22 Comments

Billy Walker's picture

Sad news with Nikon struggling to the extent they are - I've shot Nikon's for decades and have no interest in mirrorless - my lack of interest is based on the fact DSLR's simply fit my hands better; And I don't have big hands - Of course, Nikon likes to shoot itself in the foot continually with poor customer service and video that... well... basically sucks - I've moved into video since the beginning of the pandemic and headed over to the competition for that offering - the competition being Canon - and purchased a C200B from B&H - I've directed a few calls to Canon support and their level of service is far better than Nikon - a week ago I ended up, for the first time in my entire life and I'm 67, dropped my D800E with a 35-70 2.8 lens attached - on a hard cement floor - the base of the lens went into many pieces in many directions and the body itself will no longer work - D850 here I come...

Garrett Stevensen's picture

I noticed that everyone that removes the factory included strap, *ALWAYS* end up dropping their camera(s). I haven't met a person that hasn't dropped their camera - after removing the strap.

I have never owned a camera, that *DIDN'T* have the factory strap left on. Camera manufacturers include the strap for a reason... just saying...

Mike Ditz's picture

One reason the manufacturers give you a strap is that it has their name on it. Like the car dealer and their license plate frame.
I can't recall the last time I used a manuf supplied strap, they are usually kind of cheap.

David Pavlich's picture

First thing I did when I got my 5DIV was to take the Peak Design strap off my 5DIII and put it on the IV. MUCH better than the OEM strap and much more comfortable....and I never dropped my III or IV. ;-)

Garrett Stevensen's picture

Any strap is better than no strap.

George Malczynski's picture

Wild cause the I rarely use straps and I’ve not dropped a camera in 7 years.

Mike Ditz's picture

I recall a time when a strapped camera hit the floor was because the strap was hanging off the edge of the table and the arm of the office chair caught it and flung it to the floor.

Zdenek Malich's picture

Peak design is the only strap I will ever use. I wasn't using any strap for over a decade and never dropped the camera

Jordan Steele's picture

I've owned many different cameras over the last 18 years. And have removed the factory strap on every one of them since 2009...and I've never dropped a camera, even once. I use a wrist strap on all my cameras now.

Robert McCaslan's picture

Removed?

I can't remember that last camera I've strung the OEM strap to. During this period of over 15 years, I've dropped two cameras: a point-and-shoot in 2009 that was strapless (my bad), and my D850 when a poorly designed 500mm pf tripod shoe unintentionally released from my Black Rapid strap. The latter was definitely not the fault of the Black Rapid strap. Moreover, when using a heavy telephoto lens, the OEM strap is useless making the camera kit an unbearable anchor around your neck.

Yes, straps are a must, but I never use the OEM strap carefully preserving it for resale with the camera.

Willy Williams's picture

To me, it's sad that none of the pundits seem inclined to mention the growing line of superb cameras that Panasonic has been producing in their Lumix line-up. For sure, the S1 trio is large, heavy, and Panasonic is extremely slow about producing lenses in their L-mount line-up. Panasonic really needs to get their ducks in a row in the full-frame line-up in that regard. That said, Lumix cameras seem to be well over Nikon and Canon, feature-for-feature, and their firmware menus structure seems less confusing than Nikon or Canon.

Michael Clark's picture

Which menus make more sense is based on what you're already familiar with. Those who shoot Canon think Canon menus make the most sense. Those who shoot Nikon think theirs are the most intuitive menus. Those used to Panasonic like Panasonic menus. Those who shoot Sony know how confusing Sony menus are. LOL.

Timothy Linn's picture

I think many stills shooters are turned off by Panny’s uncompetitive AF. That’s why I pay no attention to them. That and the fact that the only two brands we know will be around a decade from now are Canon and Sony. Very likely Fuji. Nikon? OM? Panny? I hope so—but who knows.

Martin Owen's picture

A short while ago we were told of the death of all photography other than phone cameras. Camera sales were down across the board. After all the point and shoots are being replaced by phone cameras. And who replaces a DSLR every year these days? What to do? Well, for the main manufacturers simple. Either push their new mirror less technology (Sony, Panasonic etc) or introduce new lenses and bodies and start spreading the rumors of discontinuing DSLRs and their associated lenses (Canon, Nikon). Of course the photo pundits are eager jump on the bandwagon too, telling everyone the DSLR is dead and ‘inferior’ to mirrorless (especially the “everyone hates DSLRs and you should too” headline creating teenage bloggers). Hardly surprising then that given the massive PR, that DSLRs are suffering sales loss. I have nothing against mirrorless cameras and may go down that line when my current kit (EOS5D IV and lenses) approaches obsolescence, but my feeling as a serious amateur is that won't be for a while. it’s all about the power of hype.

Jason Pischke's picture

Contributed to that growth with the purchase of a Canon EOS R6 and RF15-35mm f/2.8 this spring, but am kind of shocked at the exclusion of Panasonic. I switched from the Lumix S1 to the Canon R6, but in many way's the Lumix S1 is as good, if not better in terms of image quality. The only thing keeping them from trading massive blows with Sony and Canon is their AF system and lens lineup.

Robert McCaslan's picture

My two main reasons for going mirrorless. If a company is unable to compete with ultra fast and accurate AF and a strong lens lineup, they're simply not in the game.

Lawrence Huber's picture

Canon went 21st century in 1987 with the EF mount. Nikon laughed at Canon changing mount.
Nikon clung to the obsolete F mount way beyond expiration date. Now a large majority of Nikon users are beyond social secirity age and are stuck on DSLRs and the F mount does not transition well to the Z mount with nearly all the F mount lenses ifat all.
The Canon EF mount seamlessly transitions to the RF mount and improves the EF lenses adapted to it.
Also Canon appealed to much younger demographics with their system as a whole while Nikon stuck to pleasing the very old demographics with the obsolete F mount.

Robert McCaslan's picture

I'm not disagreeing with your claims about the relative merits of the mounts, but the best Nikon F-mount lenses are absolutely superb. Moreover, the Nikon holy trinity for Z-mount, 14-24s, 24-70s, and 70-200s are better than their Sony and Canon counterparts, so really, why would one switch to mirrorless and want to continue shooting DLSR lenses? I know, money. Nonetheless, I switched to Canon mirrorless and found the RF offering so much better than my EF offerings that the only EF lenses I still (rarely) use are 24-70, and 100L (I also use the Sigma 35 1.4, which I may never give up). I find my RF 85mm 1.2, 70-200, and 100-500 to be so much better than the EF lenses I sold, that I have little desire to continue using EF lenses.

Rather than the mount and lenses holding Nikon back, it's the mediocre mirrorless bodies. They feel like half-hearted efforts, perhaps designed to protect DSLR offerings. When compared to the superb and still excellent D850 DSLR the Z bodies are an incredible disappointment.

Canon went all in with the R5. It is so much better than any Canon DSLR with 24MP or greater. By contrast, the Z bodies offer no compelling reason to upgrade from the D850. Canon was aided by the so-so modest resolution of the 5DIV camera but still surpassed it by a wide margin. Nikon, by contrast, had a much harder task outdoing the D850 and failed miserably. Perhaps Nikon was trying to protect its DSLR franchise? In any case, the Z9 needs to be a killer camera otherwise we'll continue to watch Nikon fade in the taillights.

Tomash Masojc's picture

Nikon Z bodies are very similar to Sony new bodies :) so where is disappointment?

Tomash Masojc's picture

what Nikon did with F to Z? What is difference with Canon RF? Are you even have used Nikon Z? :D

Tracy Webb's picture

I still rock with the Canon 90D and killer Tamron and Sigma glass and canon too .

Luis Romero's picture

Hemos hablado de todas las grandes ventajas de las cámaras sin espejo pero... Por que la transición de DSLR a sin espejo por parte de profesionales no es necesariamente fluida?

Esto en mi humilde opinión obedece a muchas razones, pero las más importantes son:

1) El alto precio de las cámaras sin espejo del segmento Profesional, estos números no reflejan la gran cantidad de usuarios que para hacer un upgrade optan por cámaras DSLR de gama alta de segunda mano. Estos números si son alucinantes.

2) La legendaria confiabilidad de las DSLR, las cámaras sin espejo aún están en desarroyo por lo cual aún tienen en su gran mayoría algunas deficiencias en comparación a las DSLR. Lo cierto es que esto está cambiando rápidamente pero aún siento que hay un largo camino para que las cámaras sin espejo tengan un reynado definitivo. Las marcas para acelerar este proceso optan por la mala práctica de descontinuar y desacreditar las DSLR para empujarnos a pagar más por menos.