It’s no secret the camera industry is highly volatile, but the bigger story lies behind people still buying and using cameras in 2023. Whether you’re a pro or amateur photographer, the landscape is changing rapidly from year to year. As camera manufacturers increasingly prioritize video users, is the market starting to move away from photographers?
Who’s Still Buying Cameras in 2023?
It’s difficult to get reliable insights on the relative market sizes of professional and amateur camera buyers. If we use Zenfolio’s 2023 The State of the Photography Industry report as a guide, 88% of respondents consider themselves professionals in the photography industry, leaving just 12% declaring themselves as hobbyists or students.
I find it hard to believe that’s an accurate representation of the whole market, but insights from Allied Market Research support the theory that most camera buyers are professionals. They also support recent comments from Canon that both pro and amateur markets are growing, although the amateur market is growing faster.
Canon specifically mentions the “advanced amateur segment” as a key target market in 2023 and beyond.
Even more telling are comments from the major camera manufacturers, as published by DPReview. At the 2023 CP+ Expo in Yokohama, Japan, the industry leaders made one thing very clear: camera manufacturers are “laser-focused” on content creators, driving the market forward.
If the decision-makers at Canon, Nikon, etc. are right about this, their primary target market is no longer photographers, amateur or pro. Instead, they’re going after content creators who are mostly interested in video: YouTubers, vloggers, influencers, etc.
Video Driving the Camera Market Forward
If 75% of kids want to be YouTubers when they grow up, camera companies have to the content creator market seriously. The great illusion in this space is that anyone can pick up their phone and start making money from content. Of course, only a fraction will make a serious career out of this and the percentage will get even smaller as more people enter the space, but this doesn’t really matter.
When almost everyone owns a smartphone with an internet connection, the entry barrier couldn’t be much lower. You don’t need to come from a rich family, pay for years of acting school or study medicine for half a decade to enter this space; you don’t even need to be of working age.
In terms of career aspirations, content creator is the new actor, doctor, astronaut – and everything else – all rolled into one, ultra-accessible industry.
For camera manufacturers, their products will be ready for all the aspiring creators who want to step up their production quality. Of course, they’ll still be there for professional photographers, too, but we have to anticipate a change in priorities if their forecasts about the creator market materialize.
Photography as a Niche Within a Niche
In a world where most cameras are smartphones, dedicated cameras are already a niche product. If video is taking the lead, then photography is becoming a niche within a niche, and this raises a lot of questions for stills shooters. Most importantly, how much will cameras and gear, in general, pivot away from the priorities of photographers for the sake of video production?
For example, will the average camera body grow in size to allow for larger batteries, cooling fans, and video accessories? Will lenses get larger and more expensive to reduce focus breathing and other issues that mostly affect videographers? You could argue that this is already happening if you look at the latest mirrorless hybrid models and lens refreshes, especially from Sony and Fujifilm.
Camera equipment is one thing, but what about the photography market itself? Going back to the Zenfolio survey from before, the sentiment among photographers has improved since the peak of the pandemic, but the outlook isn’t great: 39.4% of photographers say business is slower than expected (down from 63.8%).
If the photography market continues to shrink while camera manufacturers profit from content creators, the shift towards video will only accelerate. Photography’s commercial value has plummeted in the digital age, despite a surge in demand for imagery. An online publishing boom didn’t do much to help, either, instead fuelling a market for stock photography.
Now, the digital publishing industry is on its knees and big names are increasingly turning to free, AI-generated visuals to fill space on their pages. At this point, it’s difficult to see the business value of photography increasing in commercial spaces.
Obviously, some types of photography are more susceptible than others. You would hope a genre like wedding photography is more robust than most, but who can guess how long people’s appetite for realism will outlive the fantasy offered by filters, composites, VR, and other technologies?
Let’s face it, reality plays such a small role in people’s projections of their lives now that we can’t overestimate its value. Not to mention the fact that, if everyone’s growing up to be content creators anyway, couples will be shooting and live-streaming their own weddings before too long.
Do Photographers Need to Follow the Market?
If the camera market is moving away from photographers, it would clearly have an impact. At the very least, it would affect the new gear options hitting the market and, by extension, it would probably change our photographic processes, to some extent.
That being said, the bigger issue is the photography industry itself. If the commercial value of photography continues to decline, fewer professionals will be able to rely on it as their sole source of revenue. At this point, pro photographers will either have to follow the market or supplement their income from elsewhere.
If the major camera manufacturers are right, following the market would mean getting more involved in video. We’re already seeing more photographers enter the “creator” space with YouTube channels, and this could become the norm for new people entering the industry.
Of course, the most important thing is that photographers continue to earn a decent living with their craft. That being said, if hoards of photographers follow the market’s move towards video, it would further devalue the pro stills market for camera manufacturers. A self-fulfilling prophecy would vindicate manufacturers’ prioritizing video and, potentially, leave amateur photographers – who don’t have the pressure of monetizing their work – as the last segment representing stills photography.
As long as the photography market remains large enough (pros and amateurs), camera manufacturers won’t be able to ignore it. The risk is that, if enough pro photographers get sucked into the video market, the stills-only market could lose its most valuable customer base.
For a long time, fear was growing that the camera market would shrink to the point that gear would become an expensive, luxury niche. Instead, it seems the camera market is leveling out, and it’s photography that’s becoming the niche, as its commercial value wanes and manufacturers set their sights on a new customer base.