BCN Retail's sales data is a staple of the photographic industry for providing an indicator of the level of sales across the sector. It's now been 10 years since they began reporting on DSLR and MILC sales, so what does the data show, are their any strong trends, and can it help us understand the future?
BCN Retail are a retail analyst that collects sales (both online and in-store) data across a range of high tech industries, including cameras. Whilst the granular level analysis requires a subscription, they regularly release sales data summaries and have annual awards for the top three performers — in terms of sales — across each of the product categories. For the camera category, the DSLR, MILC, and integrated sub-categories are the most relevant, although there are also video camera and action camera sub-categories too.
Before going any further, it's important to highlight the elephant in the room: they only represent Japanese sales and only for retailers that report back to BCN. That is nowhere near equivalent to global sales and is heavily biased toward the Japanese sector with BCN data representing some 40-60% of domestic sales. It's worth highlighting the importance of the domestic market to Japanese manufacturers and represents about 15% of total shipments; ultimately, how well they sell in their home turf impacts their global performance.
So let's look back at 10 years of sales BCN award data, shown as market share. Note that in each year BCN report the top three manufacturers for the previous year, with no correction for inflation. So what does the data show?
Integrated Camera Sales
In 2010 the single most important market for manufacturers was the integrated camera and in this context it's worth reviewing this in conjunction with the CIPA shipment data. At some 108M units and 1139B Yen (about $113B) the sector was huge and, as the graph below shows, Canon, Casio, Nikon, and Sony all had relatively equal proportions. Yes, you heard that right, Casio was a big player in the integrated camera market and made substantial profits on the back of it. However by 2018, when Casio exited the market, it had imploded to 8.6M units worth around 159B Yen. The other success stories, in terms of market share, are Nikon and particularly Canon.
DSLR Camera Sales
On face value there is not too much to say about the market share of DSLRs with Canon increasing its proportion at the expense of Nikon. Sony is nowhere to be seen in the DSLR stakes, with Ricoh (and the Pentax brand) coming in a distant third. DSLR shipments actually peaked at 16.2M in 2012, with their shipment value exceeding integrated cameras by 2013 at 556B Yen. However this is on the back of declining sales, down to just 4.4M and 144B Yen in 2019.
MILC Camera Sales
This is one messy chart! In fact the early years are nonsense simply because sales volumes would have been small. CIPA didn't start recording shipments until 2012 which they reported at 4M. There were year-on-year declines until 2016, then a 30% rise in shipments in 2017. This is critical as it was the only camera sector reporting a rise and was also the year that MILC shipments had a greater value than DSLRs. The early years are no surprise as they reflect the original MILC innovators in the form of Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony. The juggernaut that is Canon eventually picked up momentum by 2016 with its EOS-M line before the arrival of the EOS-R in 2018. Perhaps more notable is the absence of Fuji and Nikon. A recent Nikkei report on camera shipments places Fuji third behind Sony and Canon, which suggest that Fuji is performing better in foreign markets. It also shows the strength of Olympus as a brand and its ability to continue selling products in the home market.
The BCN Award data provide us with a small glimpse in to the camera market, with the caveats highlighted above. They are just a part of the drip feed of information that helps us understand things a little more. Alongside the CIPA shipment data they can add some more flesh to our skeletal understanding. So what are the three big takeaways from this? Firstly, the integrated camera market is still important, generating substantial revenues. OK, it falls behind DSLRs and mirrorless but if you can minimize development and manufacturing costs, pushing high tier products then its viable. Canon's runaway success has been at the expense of Nikon, whilst Sony successfully pushes products such as the RX100.
Secondly, DSLRs are utterly dominated by the big two. This is no surprise but the severe reduction in shipments down to 4.4M units by 2019 saw a 50% reduction in value from 2018 to 2019. This is a sector in significant decline, although Ricoh is clearly generating enough "loyalty" sales which allows Pentax to rumble along.
Finally, MILCs are financially the future for camera manufacturers. They generate more revenue and will probably sell more units than DSLRs in 2020. The future of the sector is overshadowed by Canon which has managed to capture significant market share in a relatively short space of time, along with Sony who have been consistent in increasing their market share. The losers are Olympus and Panasonic with a likely shift (in units) away from micro four thirds. Nikon and Fuji are notable by their absence. As highlighted above, Fuji jas been successful in maintaining a loyal customer base that is perhaps more significant abroad. Nikon's cancellation of the 1 system, along with relatively low shipments of Z cameras suggests it is underperforming.
As we start to close-out 2020, it is anyone's guess as to what 2021 holds. Sales data will reflect both an ability of manufacturers to bring products to market, as much as customers to spend their income. This complexity is layered on top of a sector that is rapidly shifting away from DSLRs to MILCs. However it seems like that both MILC income and units sold will outstrip DSLRs for the first time. With COVID exacerbating the decline in income from camera sales, emphasis will be placed upon market share which is why there is a rush from Nikon, Canon, and Sony to fill out their camera and lens ranges.