Camera sales to fall by half? Huh, don’t bet on it…

by Dave Etchells

posted Sunday, March 3, 2019 at 7:30 AM EDT


Canon's legendary Chairman Fujio Mitarai went on record recently, saying that he expected interchangeable-lens camera sales to fall by half over the next two years. As a result, he would be prioritizing Canon's R&D efforts on the industrial and medical sectors.

Attendance at this year's CP+ show in Japan was up compared to last year. While Sunday's attendance numbers aren't yet known at the time of publishing, each prior day of the show this year has exceeded last year's attendance. On Thursday, the show saw around 13,000 visitors, up from 12,600 in 2018. Similarly, Friday experienced nearly 18,000 guests compared to ~17,500. Saturday, the most popular day of the show, the 2019 attendance climbed close to 24,000 people, whereas it was only ~22,300 the year before.

Of course, this immediately sent the industry into a tizzy, ourselves included.

Seriously, sales to fall by half?

Honestly, that just seems absurd, especially given the renaissance we've seen over the last 12 months. With new platforms launched by Canon themselves (the EOS-R series, now with two bodies and a number of lenses), the Nikon Z series, the new L-mount alliance, with cameras coming from Panasonic, Sigma and Leica themselves, and with exciting models like the Fuji X-T3 and Fuji's forthcoming 100 megapixel medium-format monster, on top of all the advancements that Sony has been making, it seems beyond absurd to think that the ILC market is going to shrink by half in just a couple of years.

While the stars of the show were major products from Canon, Nikon, Panasonic and Sony, we saw a lot of activity around many smaller booths as well. The overall energy was just very high, across the board.

I have the utmost respect for Mitari-san; I referred to him as legendary above, and it's an accurate label. The story of how he led Canon to be the global powerhouse it is today is one of the most remarkable corporate turnarounds I've ever read about. It wasn't just a flash in the pan, either, but a process that unfolded over a 20-year time frame.


He's seriously out to lunch on this one, what can he be thinking?

If I were a betting man (and he were too ;-), I'd be willing to put a lot of money on that prediction being wildly inaccurate. Even if you view this year's CP+ attendance as a temporary blip, caused by the launch of no less than three entirely new camera platforms within just a few months of each other, there's no way we're going to see anything even close to Mitarai's prediction. (Readers, feel free to come back two years from now and roast me if I'm wrong on this ;-)

People line up to try out the new Lumix S1R and S1 cameras at Panasonic's booth. Although this crowd shot isn't that jam-packed, this was taken just a very short while after the show floor opened to the public. There's already a line. In fact, we were told by a Panasonic representative that at one point during the show, the S1R/S1 Touch-And-Try wait times were averaging between 60-90 minutes!

We were frankly amazed by the lines of people waiting to try out Panasonic's new S1 and S1R full frame bodies, but perhaps even more so by the similarly long lines to play with Sony's new 135mm f/1.8 G Master lens. Not to disparage lenses in general or that one in particular (which does indeed seem to be pretty amazing; read Jaron Schneider's hands-on review of it) but honestly, people standing in line for 30-45 minutes, just to try a lens?!

In a similar situation to Panasonic's booth, Sony experienced its fair share of crowds and excitement. Here, again shortly after the show floor opened to the public, the Touch-And-Try station for the Sony 135mm f/1.8 G Master lens was already experiencing a 30 minute wait time.
A show attendee tries the new Sony 135mm f/1.8 G Master lens.

In our executive interviews, most execs seemed to agree with us. They pretty much all projected a worst case of 20-25% reduction in camera unit sales, but that seemed to be a worst-case consensus and some (Toshi Iida from Fujifilm in particular) felt that we might even see a small increase in sales over the next period of time.

There's no objective measurement for "energy" or "excitement", but we felt a noticeably different vibe in the crowd this year. It was great to be here to see it!

Our crystal ball had to go back to the shop for periodic maintenance, but we couldn't disagree more with Mitarai's pessimistic projection. When you look at the unbelievable array of technology that's available, there's never been a better time to be a photographer, in the history of the world!