Mirrorless gaining ground, but can success in Asia translate globally?


posted Monday, February 13, 2012 at 3:02 PM EDT

CIPA's logo. Click here to visit the CIPA website!Regular readers will have noticed a flurry of announcements lately, timed to coincide with the start of Japan's flagship imaging show, CP+. The show closed yesterday, but a post from the folks over at Rob Galbraith Digital Photography Insights tipped us off to a goldmine of interesting info released a few days back by the show's host, the Camera & Imaging Products Association.

CIPA is an industry body whose members include all of the biggest names in the camera industry. The organization has just provided its report on 2011 camera sales, as well as a forecast of 2012 sales, broken down by both product type and market region. For the first time, CIPA has also offered separate figures for single-lens reflex and mirrorless cameras, with the latter group also including rangefinder cameras and other modular designs such as the Ricoh GXR, where the lens and sensor are interchanged as a single unit. These figures are only available for the latter half of 2012, but they make for very, very interesting reading.

We've heard from manufacturers for some time that the US and--to a lesser extent--European markets have lagged behind Asia in terms of system camera sales, and the figures show this very clearly. Compact system cameras made up just 16.4% of total interchangeable lens camera shipments in the Americas, from July to December 2011, and Europe was only slightly ahead at 18.7%. In Asia however, CSCs managed 24.7% of total shipments, or almost exactly one system camera sold for every three SLRs. In other markets, CSC sales were slightly higher still, at 26.6% of shipments in the second half of 2011.

It's in Japan, though, where CSC models have really gained widespread acceptance. According to CIPA's figures, mirrorless models comprised fully 46.1% of interchangeable-lens camera shipments in that market during the second half of last year, nearing parity with SLR models in terms of unit sales. Although the market share in terms of value is lower, at 37.7%, it's still a very significant portion of the market.

Japan is often seen as something of a bellwether for technology adoption, and especially consumer electronics. Given that it's only three years since the first compact system camera went on sale, the speed with which mirrorless models have almost caught up with their SLR brethren in Japan is incredible. That bodes very well for their future elsewhere!

CIPA's figures for the whole of 2011, meanwhile, show healthy growth for interchangeable-lens cameras and their lenses, at the expense of fixed-lens camera sales. The market as a whole contracted slightly in 2011, with global unit sales down 4.9% from 2010, in part due to the effects of natural disasters in Japan and Thailand. Globally, sales of fixed-lens cameras fell 8.1% from 2010, but interchangeable-lens camera sales were up 21.8% in the same period, and sales of interchangeable lenses rose by 19.9%. Despite the lingering effects of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2010, unit sales were said to have been higher than 2010 levels from June to September. Widespread flooding in Thailand in November had a significant impact, too, reducing shipments by more than one-third in that month, and by 10% in December. Bearing those events in mind, the slight decline in sales for the year is perhaps not surprising.

Looking forwards, CIPA is forecasting 1.6% growth in unit sales for 2012. Fixed-lens camera shipments are expected to slip again, albeit only by another 0.8%. The growth is expected to come from interchangeable-lens camera sales, which are forecast to rise by another 16.6% in 2012. Lens shipments, says CIPA, should climb by 18.8%.

Separately, CIPA has also issued a white paper outlining its guidelines for implementing printing across wired or wireless networks via TCP/IP. The guidelines are based on CIPA's existing PictBridge (aka Digital Photo Solutions for Imaging Devices) and PTP-IP (Picture Transfer Protocol over TCP/IP networks" standards. CIPA is apparently preparing a certification program for products capable of allowing network printing per the guidelines.