Sales of digital cameras increasingly sluggish

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

(c) 2013, The Yomiur iShimbun.

TOKYO — Sales of digital cameras have been extremely sluggish, causing many major manufacturers to revise their sales goals for this fiscal year.

In addition to the proliferation of smartphones with built-in high-resolution cameras, the economies of China and other emerging countries are slowing down, shrinking the global market for cameras. Manufacturers are trying to recover through such steps as releasing high-function models of mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras during the year-end shopping season. The market for these products is expected to grow.

Unlike single-lens reflex cameras, mirrorless cameras do not have reflectors that show users what they are photographing through a finder. Mirrorless cameras instead digitally process the subject of a photo through sensors or other devices and then show it on a liquid-crystal display panel.

The lack of reflectors means mirrorless cameras can be lighter and smaller than older models.

Panasonic Corp. developed the first commercial model of a mirrorless digital camera in October 2008.

At a press conference to announce its business results, Toshizo Tanaka, executive vice president of Canon Inc., described the severe environment for digital cameras. "Economic downturns in emerging countries have become more serious then we predicted, and spending for luxury items has been put off," Tanaka said.

Economic downturns have become clear in not only the United States and Europe, but also China and other economies that were expected to grow. As a result, Canon lowered its sales goal for this fiscal year for interchangeable-lens cameras, including mainstream digital single-lens reflex cameras, to 8 million units. This represents a drop of 1.2 million from the company's initial goal.

Nikon Corp. also lowered its sales goal for interchangeable lens cameras by 900,000 units from the initial figure to 6.2 million.

As the Nos. 1 and 2 manufacturers of digital single-lens reflex cameras, Canon and Nikon hold a joint share of more than 90 percent of the global market.

Manufacturers of compact digital cameras have also been forced to lower their sales goals due to poor sales. Competition with smartphones has accelerated price cuts.

According to the Camera & Imaging Products Association, shipments in 2013 of all kinds of digital cameras were predicted to fall 11.3 percent from the previous year to 87 million units.

While the market for digital cameras is increasingly poor, the companies have high hopes for mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras. As commercial use of the products began in 2008, the products are relatively new and international competition has not been so fierce. As a result, manufacturers expect high profit margins.

Unlike compact digital cameras, the companies can profit from the sale of peripheral devices, such as lenses and strobe lights.

Manufacturers of high-function mirrorless models will release many new models in the year-end shopping season. Sony Corp. surprised the industry when it announced a mirrorless camera equipped with a large image sensor used in high-end single-lens reflex models.

Panasonic presented the world's smallest mirrorless camera, and Olympus Corp. stopped development of single-lens reflex cameras and instead released mirrorless models with high resolution.

Nikon will release a new model that resembles the single-lens reflex cameras that used film in the past. By demonstrating the fun of using single-lens reflex cameras, Nikon aims to stimulate demand among amateur photographers.

"The key to the future will likely be how manufacturers can develop products that are clearly differentiated from their rivals' products," said Ichiro Michikoshi, an executive analyst of market research firm BCN Inc.