Canon Is Resurgent and Sony Is Declining in Japan, But Does It Matter?

Canon Is Resurgent and Sony Is Declining in Japan, But Does It Matter?

Photo Rumors recently covered the latest BCN report on the state of the mirrorless market in Japan, which showed a resurgent Canon growing at the expense of Sony, with Nikon trailing a distant third. However, the report only outlines what is happening in the Japanese camera market and only for current sales. How important is the Japanese market?

BCN sales data is a staple of market reporting, as it is one of the few long-term reports with which we can have a stab at understanding the camera industry. I've commented on some of the trends that the annual BCN Sales Awards show, and one of the big benefits is that BCN reports on actual sales, allowing subscribers to drill down and see the volumes of individual cameras that customers are actually buying. This highlights one of the key points of the latest report: it is highly time-sensitive, and the releases of Canon's R5 and R6 are undoubtedly causing a bump in numbers. Meanwhile, Sony has only released the lone a7C and Nikon the Z5, while Sigma's brief flirtation with third place is over. Perhaps then, the interim reports go hand in hand with the annual awards allowing people to see how individual brands are performing in the long-term, while also evaluating the short-term trends of individual models. In short, we can see the ebb and flow of product releases and the impact they have on long-term sales. For example, it's clear that Sony still dominates sales even without bringing out new models in the way Nikon and Canon have.

Japanese Shipments

At this point, it's pertinent to reiterate that the data only represents Japanese sales and then only for retailers that report back to BCN; this represents about 50% of domestic sales. The key question is this: how important is the Japanese market?

In one sense, the answer is that it is a critical marker because Japan represents — at least for the volume of Japanese camera manufacturers — their domestic market. Businesses are usually strongest in their home territory, and so, there are kudos and prestige in selling well here. Being seen to be top at home carries significant weight, along with the general mantra that you need to do well at home if you are to do well abroad.

However, a quantitative approach to assessing market importance is to understand how much it contributes to total sales and so, ultimately, income. We know that the BCN data represents about 50% of Japanese sales, but how much of global sales do these represent? At this point, we can turn to the CIPA shipment data, which records product shipments and include all the main Japanese manufacturers. CIPA records global shipments by month, then reports year-end results; however, they also record the total number of Japanese shipments, which allows a much better understanding of the importance of this territory to manufacturers.

The graph above shows the proportion of global shipments that go to Japan, broken down by DSLR, integrated camera, and MILC product categories. There are some key trends that are worth highlighting. Firstly, the above chart shows a steady decline in DSLR shipments from ~20% down to 6.5%, with MILCs peaking at around 25% just after records started in 2014 before dropping to about 15% currently. Integrated cameras started at a middling 20%, dropping to 8% by 2011 before rising to nearly 25% currently.

In order to better understand these figures, they need to be viewed within the context of total global shipments; remember that camera shipments peaked in 2010 at 120M units, where 108M of those were made up of integrated cameras. The reason for the drop in the Japanese proportion is that there was a massive increase in global shipments, which watered down the share that went to Japan; however, it is a significant product category for the country. Meanwhile, the whole camera market imploded, and by 2019, only 15M units shipped; it's important to remember that integrated cameras still made up the single biggest share at 6.5M units. Meanwhile, MILCs started from a low base in 2012 and by 2019, were shipping nearly 4M units. In stark comparison, DSLRs dropped from a high of 16M in 2012, down to just 4.5M units last year.

Interestingly then, Japanese consumers make up a significant proportion of the integrated camera market, and it is clearly the sector that is of most significance. That said, of the three markets, integrated cameras are the smallest by value, and that is before you factor in lens sales. Without seeing a breakdown by the model, it is difficult to know which cameras are selling well, but it is possible that high-end models such as Sony's RX100 are increasingly making up these sales. Canon dominates integrated cameras in Japan, which is clearly good for the bottom line. It's also equally clear that DSLRs are a dying segment in Japan, which is not good news for Pentax, as it fixates on a DSLR-only strategy. That said, there are clearly plenty of DSLRs still selling, albeit in a declining market, so these must be selling much better in other territories. This is critical for the likes of Pentax and Nikon (and still important for Canon) and may see them develop stronger marketing and support strategies in North America and Europe. MILCs appear to be holding ground and possibly expanding at the expense of DSLRs, so what happens in Japan is perhaps a litmus test for global performance. However, that still leaves some 85% of shipments going to foreign territories; Europe, North America, and Asia are critical sales areas each with their own idiosyncrasies. It seems likely that MILCs will outship DSLRs in 2020 and quite possibly outship integrated cameras in 2021.

In short, BCN's interim report on MILC sales is interesting and gives a little insight into how well individual models are selling in Japan; however, it will be the end-of-year results from Nikon, Canon, and Sony that will give a better picture as to how well they have fared in what is a very difficult market. What is certain is that the transition to MILC is now happening rapidly with consumers delivering their verdict via the cash register.

Lead image courtesy of Mediamodifier via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.

Mike Smith's picture

Mike Smith is a professional wedding and portrait photographer and writer based in London, UK.

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As you observed, market share is less important than the fact that the market continues to shrink.

Retired Japanese make up a huge part of the market for cameras in Japan. Go to any park or temple and youʻre bound to find more than a few oyaji or obachan with big cameras. It doesn't surprise me at all that MILC is gaining in popularity here simply because they are usually lighter and smaller. My father-in-law, who is a retired Japanese, gave up his heavy d850 and got a more manageable Olympus mirrorless setup.

Doesn't matter, just have fun with your gear. Choose the best one for you, in your budget. It's not that hard to choose between R5 and R6 though.