Do Canon's Layoffs and Service Center Closure Signal a Retreat From Photography?

Do Canon's Layoffs and Service Center Closure Signal a Retreat From Photography?

A recent round of layoffs at Canon’s USA headquarters in Melville and the closing of a major service center in New Jersey can’t mean good things for the company’s future in photography.

This is not to say that Canon’s going out of business. It is to say that in the years to come, photography may not be the core business of the company anymore. Most of the layoffs from a few weeks ago affected people in the company’s camera division, people with years of photographic know-how and knowledge of both EOS still and cinema cameras. The service center in Jamesburg, New Jersey provided quick service and easy access to repairs for a lot of photographers in the New York City area. Having to ship a camera for service where a customer could drive it before means longer wait times and generally worse service.

If one were to read the tea leaves, it seems like Canon is making a serious play to enter the realm of medical devices, hoping to apply its imaging prowess to a new area, though even here, there have been some strange developments. Canon founded Canon BioMedical in 2015, only to shut it down in 2019 because they acquired Toshiba Medical Systems in 2016 (Now Canon Medical Systems). This created redundancies across its company, and it seems like Canon is still trying to figure it out. This is not unlike the path Olympus has taken, with its focus on medical devices in addition to its photographic tools. This series of moves would suggest that this is the case.

Though the Canon name would live on this way, it would certainly be very different from what it is primarily known for today, which is photography. However, anything that makes the company profitable could at least keep the camera side going, a la Olympus, but it’s hard to see the commitment to cameras when many of the layoffs directly affect camera division employees and camera service/repairs for customers.

Canon's competitor across the street, Nikon, laid off a number of professional reps as well in recent weeks, though the company isn't as well-positioned in the medical fields to make a similar transition, if it needed it. It's why the success of the company's Z-series mirrorless cameras are all the more important for the company's continued survival.

The other potential path for Canon is to accept that the company will not be as large as it once was. Nikon has always been the much smaller competitor to Canon, but has always kept a foothold in photography in the hearts and minds of photographers. Canon already has a lot of hearts and minds, and so it may not need to keep the floor space at HQ dedicated to it. It's highly unlikely, and the company will likely not shrink without a fight, but it's also a possibility.

If the two biggest camera manufacturers are struggling in this way, what do you think the future holds for Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras? Sound off in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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With sales down buy your camera now because it may not be there in the future

Recently Canon opened a new facility in Burbank. Also, their new service facility in Costa Mesa is a lot larger than their previous service center in Irvine. They are just making business adjustments. I think a 0.3% reduction in personnel at one facility does not mean the sky is falling.

However, the space in Burbank is dedicated to video/cinema, not still. They closed their wonderful Hollywood location, which catered to both still and video. Can't drop off repairs in Burbank, must ship.

You can absolutely drop off repairs in Burbank. I just dropped off several items last week, and got to walk around the lovely office there! Very personal service, awesome dedication, and free to drop off of course. I highly recommend it!

I also think that the improvement in overnight shipping and logistics makes the cost of a lot of centers seem like less of a good business decision. one on each coast plus a mobile one that goes to major events should be enough.

Damn. They are closing their Jamesburg repair center? That's where I go to do all my canon repairs especially since it was only 30 minutes away from my work.

Never had that problem with

Not yet anyway. ;)

I wonder if the last five years of them releasing dud after dud while every other brand moves ahead has anything to do with it.

Only photographers think Canon is a camera company.

According to their annual report, Canon generates almost twice as much revenue in its Office division (those huge office copiers and other business machines) than it does with its Imaging division.

And the Imaging division isn't just cameras. It includes all their inkjet printers, among other things.

Producing cameras stopped being Canon's core business more than 50 years ago. Canon is the number 3 patent holder in the U.S., behind IBM and Samsung, so they're doing a lot more than making cameras.

Canon could stop selling DSLRs and mirrorless cameras altogether and Canon the company will still exist and employ many, many people. I'm not dismissing the layoffs in any way. Just making a few points to add some perspective.

I switched from Canon to Fuji a couple of years ago, but if I were still a Canon shooter, I wouldn't be worried at all. Canon's not going anywhere and neither is its camera operation.

I was going to say that I think Canon's laser printer business has been huge for them, and I don't think Canon would bee where they are today without it.

You made that point very well. Thanks for going to the annual report and getting the facts. I have been saying the same thing for a long time. The real point is that, from a consumer standpoint, smartphones are supplanting cameras as we've known them. The market for professional and serious amateur photography cannot sustain a company like Canon. This was also true of Kodak who still does a substantial amount of film business with artists of all kind. Consumer sales is 2/3rds of the GDP. When a company loses consumers, it's devastating.

To add to your accurate article Lenzy, Canon and Nikon have the same business model. They get the majority of their revenue from outside the photography market. They stay in the personal camera market for name recognition only.

Same with Fuji. All their money comes from cosmetics and healthcare. I'm glad they make cameras, but they're sure not doing it for the money.

Although I left Canon a few years back, the company still makes op not cameras and especially lenses. This move sounds like more of an adjustment. Plus, the service centers may not have all been fully utilized. I would not read too much into it. Like someone said above, with overnight shipping so cheap, why not utilize your work force the most efficient way possible.

Canon is a Japanese multinational with close to 200,000 employees worldwide and net sales of $35 billion (2018).
I don’t think the closure of a services center in Jamesburg and some layoffs in the US will have much effect on the future of Canon. Photography is only a small part of Canon.
Imaging systems is about a quarter of the company and cameras and lenses are only 60% of that, so photo and video together are about 15% of the company.
Photography isn’t Canons core business.

You are quite right, Honderd. If anyone thinks of Canon as mainly being a camera manufacturer, they are sorely mistaken. Cameras are simply not a big part of Canon, Inc. Why some people think of them primarily as a camera manufacturer is beyond my comprehension.

Quote from the author:
What do you think the future holds for Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras?

Well, I think that it has been quite obvious for a few years now that there is no future for DSLR cameras. Canon and Nikon and everybody else will stop manufacturing DSLRs within the next year or three. The future for photography will be in mirrorless offerings. But we already knew this.

I think a better question for you to have asked would have been,
"What do you think the future holds for Canon and Nikon's place in the still photography camera market?"
That would be a little more pertinent than asking about DSLRs, which have been dying anyway.

You got me there. So what do you think the future holds for Canon and Nikon's place in the still photography camera market?

I think that Nikon's place will remain fairly stable; they will downsize as a company because of the continuing worldwide decline in still camera sales. But they've always been a smaller company that is mainly invested in camera manufacturing, and I don't foresee that that will change.

As for Canon, I think that your article foretells of their future in the still photography market. I think that in 15 or 20 years, Canon's presence in the still camera market will be much less significant than it is now. I think that the folks running Canon are no dummies; they see that greater profits and return on investment can be had in medical and industrial imaging, and perhaps in new technologies. They actually aren't relying on camera sales now, as cameras and lenses are a tiny little part of their company. I see cameras and lenses becoming an even tinier part of their company over the nest couple of decades, as your article predicts.

big nothing-burger. Canon sells far fewer film cameras today but that does not mean they are phasing out their still camera division. single lens reflex is simply a viewfinder technology. Electronic viewfinders have improved greatly in the past 10 years and SLR does not have as much performance advantage as they did. Evolving viewfinder tech has nothing to do with the viability of long term camera production nor the still camera market.

Astonishing how much misconceptions fly around, but its probably typical for every period of a major transition. Film to digital was one such transition, with great many classic names departing from photography, and electronics companies replacing them. Foremost Sony and Panasonic. The camera sales soared, because everybody wanted to have a digital camera, till we got the smartphones, and that market vanishes. Thus the camera makers adjust their size, its only prudent. As mentioned here several times, Canon has a large diversified business, like Fuji. Nikon though not so much. Big chunk of their revenue are the cameras, and if you want to "worry" about the future, think of Nikon or Olympus rather. Pentax is a zombie already, a toy division of Ricoh.
The commercial printing, videography, surveillance, medical, automotive, office automation: these are all huge markets. Just look at Agfa and Minolta, how well they operate once they exited the consumer markets. Someone has to make the billions of printed boxes for products, badges, billboards, ads logos, print brochures. The list is long. Do not worry about Canon. They act smart. Not like Kodak: making film to the final and total collapse.

Interesting to read the comments. The question isn't whether Canon will go away. It is what will happen to its photography product lines. If they do dramatically shrink there's no one outside of company headquarters that can't say, "I told you so." Resting on your laurels is a lazy and shortsighted business strategy. Compete, Canon.

The sky is not falling. Consumer point and click cameras is a dead market replaced by smartphones but the image quality of DSLR’s and full frame mirrorless has no competitor and Canon along with Nikon are leaders in that market. If anything advances in DSLR image quality is taking a big chunk out of the digital medium format market. Digital imaging technology is evolving fast and how companies organize to produce new generation digital cameras will evolve as well. The change in retailing from strictly brick and mortar to online will also change how service centers and support is delivered.
Canon and Nikon will still produce still digital cameras. That is not changing.

Sad about layoffs. I watched that humongous HQ building being built over two years. The photo doesn't show the side view. It's BIG.

True that. I pass it every day. The roof top parking lot is the size of a shopping mall!

John, there's something in the Melville water that grows Camera company HQ's.

Canon is the largest camera manufacturer in the world. They aren’t going anywhere in terns of camera R&D in my opinion. Their cameras are very reliable, which may be why they closed a service center.

I will add though that they and others should probably reduce their DSLR product line, with the approaching dominance of mirrorless cameras, especially when it comes to redundant Rebel models.

I think they only need one Rebel, one pro grade 7D, and 5D series DSLR now. All other camera bodies should probably be mirrorless, including a flagship model. Just my opinion.

"Canon is the largest camera manufacturer in the world. They aren’t going anywhere in terns of camera R&D in my opinion."

They used to say shit like that about Kodak...

I am glad I already have a camera, you never know, they may disappear.

I was very sorry to learn about Jamesburg. I'm a CPS member and in a pinch it is great to drive there, leave my gear, and pick it up the next day. Another Canon shooter says they have a location in Lyndhurst, NJ but I haven't been able to independently verify it.

Camera equipment was never at the core of Canon which has long depended on its industrial imaging products division for the lion's share of its sales and profits. The camera group has been useful in promoting the Canon brand to the broader public which has undoubtedly helped with its industrial sales.

has Nikon's Z series really been that successful ?? I've been shooting Nikon for 5 years and I'm still looking at Sonys tech to be actually waiting for Nikon's next-gen mirrorless

Nope. Just cause you decided, you don't go to the movies anymore cause you watch more Netflix, doesn't mean you're broke and have to move out to your mom.
The photography market has decreasing sales and Canon just optimizes their expenditures. That's all there is to it.
Canon is still worldwide market leader, so I doubt they will withdraw from the market anytime soon. Totally bonkers if you believe that cause a service center closed.