Browsing CanonRumors this morning I ran across some numbers for how well the camera market has been doing. As one can guess it’s shrinking overall because everyone now has a camera in their pocket or purse just about all the time.
This got me thinking about how the markets and companies in it will have to cope. On the one hand, there will always be a market for pro-level cameras. Pictures that you see in magazines and on TV of sports and nature are not well suited to cell phones. (Can you get cool shots regardless, I’m sure you can. I’m just talking about the areas they are well qualified for.)
The market that’s taking the hardest hit, as you might assume, is the small point-and-shoot cameras. This is the segment with which the general cell phone competes with. On the high end with interchangeable lens cameras it’s shrinking as well, but not by as much. (This includes the pro segment with SLRs and mirrorless.)
I’m of several minds on this, though. On the one hand, I see more people in my everyday life walking around with SLRs than I have in the past. I’m attributing this to the effect of getting people into photography from the low end, coming from cell phones. On the other hand, the point-and-shoot market is where much of the money was being made; money that was supporting innovation on the high end.
As the market shrinks, you start getting companies that are tooled for high volume that need to shrink. This is something that most companies aren’t very good at. You also have boutique marques that were never huge that might be able to compete better while the variable costs of production start going up for the rest of the market. As the larger fixed costs of the Canons and Nikons of the world start weighing heavier, lower volume shops like Leica might be in a better position as time passes.
Anytime you have a market shift like this it makes all the players uncomfortable. There will be winners, and there will be losers. My only concern is that we’ll be left with only expensive camera gear and fewer avenues for individuals getting into both the hobby and the profession of photography.
I have little doubt that companies like Leica will be able to weather the storm. Canon, at the moment, is winning market share of a shrinking market; they also have office equipment. Nikon’s share is shrinking, but they have metrology. Both Canon and Nikon have a substantial investment in semiconductors as well. Sony has the rest of the consumer electronics market to support it.