Canon Predicts a Bleak Future for Consumer Digital Cameras

Canon Predicts a Bleak Future for Consumer Digital Cameras

While camera technology is continuing to evolve at breakneck speeds, that doesn't necessarily mean the demand for them is keeping pace. Canon's president seems to think that the future is quite bleak.

Canon President Fujio Mitarai mentioned this in an interview with Nikkei, in which he noted that the company's camera sales volumes have steadily decreased the last few years and that mirrorless units are taking the place of DSLRs, not augmenting their numbers. He predicted that the market will continue to decrease from its current level of about 10 million annual units to a baseline of 5 to 6 million in the next two years (representing advanced amateurs and professionals for whom smartphones have not taken over primary roles). As such, the company will refocus a lot of its efforts toward its corporate customers and industrial areas. 

It's not particularly surprising news given how far smartphones have advanced and how they've taken over primary shooting duties for a large portion of consumers. Nonetheless, once the market reaches bottom, it'll be interesting to see who is left and how companies approach the smaller available sales volumes. Thankfully for photographers, despite the shrinking market, companies are still pushing ahead with technological development. 

Log in or register to post comments

29 Comments

Ed Sanford's picture

I made this point in an article last week. If you go to page 20 of Canon's annual report: https://cweb.canon.jp/eng/ir/library/pdf/2016/annualreport-2016.pdf you will find that 50% of their revenues comes from Business Lines, 22% IT Solutions, 4% Industrial/Medical with just 24% from imaging systems. The imaging systems business is shrinking and new technology like mirrorless is only cannibalizing existing products. It appears that they will invest enough in imaging to slow the falling volume. However, they are hedging bets in the other lines of business to keep the company viable. Sony is very strong outside of the camera business with smartphones, TV, movies, music and semiconductor. I haven't done as much research on Nikon, but what is troubling is that it seems to be more reliant on Imaging product revenues than either Canon or Sony. I'll let someone else research that.

Consider what most people have always used. They don't care or use the higher end equipment. They used Brownies, then Instamatics, and now cell phones.

They use the least expensive, least complex, easiest cameras they can, as they're generally interested in selfies (goes way back, not a recent development) and snapshots.

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

It's actually the same for Nikon. Only 50% of their revenue (or profit? i know vastly different thing but i dont have the annual report handy) comes from cameras. The rest is healthcare, precision equipment and such.

Although their overall numbers are a lot lower than Canon or Sonys.

David Penner's picture

Yes their camera sales are going down. That is their problem not an industry problem. People are buying other brands.

Ed Sanford's picture

All camera sales are down not just Canon. They are shifting to other lines of business. Their imaging business is only 24% of sales.

Ryan Mense's picture

Canon: Stagnates for years
Also Canon: Guess no one wants to buy cameras!

Ryan Mense's picture

Very informative, Mr. Blow.

It's from your own website's posting. Read it or at other sites. To say that no one wants to but Canon camera is simply an ignorant statement.

Ryan Mense's picture

I didn't say no one wants to buy Canon cameras. I said cameras. My post was a humorous quip pointing out that Canon — the most influential camera company — has not contributed any technological advancement in cameras for years to help differentiate them from the smartphone takeover, leading to what this article is talking about: 50% decrease in camera units shipped over the next two years.

OK, I misinterpreted your comment. The 50% drop is an astonishing number. Sony who's been pushing the tech envelope apparently has not stop the hemorrhaging either. I think the main problem is that we're lazy and those smart phones are just too convenient.

I think they need to rethink the cameras. There is such a big push for videos that they should center on adding high end video to the new cameras. 8k Video, remote Bluetooth mics and control. Advanced stabilization. Ultra close ups. Built in image stacking. They all need to connect by an app to a smartphone or tablet. They have to give customers what they can’t get on a smartphone.

David Pavlich's picture

If people are happy with the limitations of phone cameras, they will almost never buy a real camera. And if you want all that stuff in a real camera, how much are you willing to pay for it?

They don't know what limitations are as long as Apple's marketing team keeps telling them they can do amazing pics on a phone. (while usually using a pic from a dslr as a phone pic in the ad.)

David Pavlich's picture

I do my best to show them what can be done with a real camera, but most only care about the fact that the phone fits in a pocket or purse. Convenience is a powerful motivator, for sure.

It is a question of the camera companies survival. They have to add features or die. And it has to be a price customer will buy. None of them should be making new mounts with the mirrorless cameras either, or at least have an adapter for all their DSLR lenses.

Jan Kruize's picture

I think the most newcomers are in the sony field. An agressive campaign and big sensors made them think theyre great photographers. A big disillusion is going on the next years. Canon and nikon will stay in the field...... the rest will disappear.....

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

"While camera technology is continuing to evolve at breakneck speeds,"

Is it though? Considering the new mirrorless cameras offer basically no progress in image quality compared to the last years of DSLRs.

Mobile phone camera technology is actually evolving at "breakneck speeds" and therefor stealing the average Joe who doesnt feel like spending thousands and carrying heavy equipment as consumer

Tore Hansen's picture

There are nothing new as long as they don't get why smartphones works better, social media is big and this is what are growing extreme these days.

Then using a camera AND a smartphone does not make much sense, it's literally unusable in real life. Put a 4G into the camera and a Android interface.

And in case the old joke who needs to call from the camera sounds funny - it's so old that they sold twice as many cameras first time I heard it...

Mike Gillin's picture

Is it really a bleak future, or just not the future they want? We all know that P&S is a dead market since cell phone cameras became better. Currently, cell phones (which you are paying a good amount for one way or another) are "good enough" for a lot of people. Why would the average consumer look elsewhere?

As for the more prosumer market, I think we are seeing things plateau a bit. Unless you are releasing something exponentially better in some way, why would folks spend the money? I think in a lot of ways the DSLR market is hitting that mature point, where no one is looking for big changes year after year.

In some ways I'm remind of learning on a film camera, the Pentax k1000. By the time I used one, they had been in production for 15 years. It wasn't the fanciest, or have all the bells and whistles, but it was solid. I kind of view some of the dslrs of the past few years the same way. They are solid. They work. I don't need to run out for a new bell or whistle... not yet anyway.

imagecolorado's picture

I seriously doubt that cameras will go extinct. The idea for the camera manufacturers is to dazzle you with the latest/greatest flashy-beepy stuff. So to string it out, we now have the proclamations that mirrorless is going to be the future. Everyone get in line. I have no real interest in the companies making photographic equipment nor what their business cycles and predictions are, nor their struggles to convince people that "this" is now better than "that." There have been no really dramatic improvements in digital imaging for the past 10 years, but you can pretend there is by buying into the consumer babble.

Notice how not much is happening with moving beyond the sRGB colorspace. Instead we get the manufactured technical b/s "photographic dynamic range" and all the babbling associated with that. It still has to get squished down to a sRGB color space and reproduced on consumer products that can't move beyond 10 stops of dynamic range on their best day.

When the day comes, I'll buy the new camera that does what I need and it will be out there somewhere.

A+ analysis. A used Canon twhateveri rebel can take 99% of the photos a top of the line medium format camera can take, given lighting is controlled properly, not a lot of retouching is required, and the photo does not need to be enlarged too much. You can buy a working system that does 99%.

The only real difference is ISO performance for bodies, and video features, and the screen on top of the camera.

The only way to get market share is good 4K film for decent price, but Canon and others aren't doing it because it is cannibalistic. They would rather sell the larger cameras for a premium.

Duane Klipping's picture

Cell phones photos are for the selfie generation who want instant gratification. Most people are lazy and don't want to do the work to take really good images. But those of us here know that the end results do not begin to compare. It's apples and oranges.

Print a large image from each and see which is sharper. Need a filter or lens switch good luck with that one. And by filter I mean the one you place on the lens not some damn app that has presets you can't modify.

Not saying phones won't get better over time but until they address sensor size and lens quality they are not even close to each other.

For Canon to make this statement is a self defeatist attitude and they may as well close up shop it the future is so bleak.

I will shoot with a regular camera until I can no longer do so. The rest of the people can continue to take selfies that people scroll by on Instagram or Facebook with out stopping. The rest of us will keep trying to create images that inspire and are works of art that people will stop and look at.

Two different types of markets that I doubt will merge into one product line. In the 60's Polaroid was the cell phone camera of that time and we see where they are today. Fads are fads and come and go with each generation but art stays and future generations will want to see that not a bunch of Polaroid images.

charlie sanders's picture

These “type” of piccy takers I see standing and popping away. Majority rules

Dana Goldstein's picture

The standalone consumer camera is a relic of another era. That camera lives in our phones. Mirrorless is where the innovation and future lie. Canon’s heart obviously is not in it, or it’s R+D would be there, too. The camera side of their business will go the way of Kodak, a state of affairs also once thought impossible.

Tore Hansen's picture

There is not much new about the cameras the last 10 years, DSLR or mirrorless.

As long as the old farts in Japan don't understand WHY smartphones are killing the cameramarked, it might as well die off.

I want a camera where I have a 4G module and a smartphone userinterface IN the camera. I don't want to jerk around with two devices, it takes 3-5 minutes just to get one image out in social media when starting this up, that's why almost none are using it.

Why can't I use one of my many Fn buttons to upload a image straight to Instagram or Facebook?

That's literally a feature that noone is asking for.

Drew Pluta's picture

Headline should read "Canon Predicts a Bleak Future, for for Canon"
100% their own fault.

EL PIC's picture

It should be Bleak !
For years Canon has made minor improvements and pushed the Upgrade marketing.
Now they continue that banner with mirrorless lenes and cameras.
Sell .. Sell .. Sell !

If you market it .. they will buy it .. and swear its an improvent and value added !