Thom's got a nice short write-up over at Sansmirror.com.
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Michael T.: "Interesting report. What would be additionally interesting, but probably much harder to obtain, would be the gross margins of the three types of camera systems listed? While volumes are down, revenue from compacts and DSLRs are almost identical and mirrorless trail in both categories. Gross margin contribution to the manufacturers are as important as revenue in making future product roadmap decisions."
Eamon Hickey replies to Michael: "Those figures are not publicly available, as you guessed. The only information I've ever seen on that topic—and I've kept an eye out, as a journalist writing partly about digital photography—comes from Japanese equities analysts, who have occasionally given their estimates. Their estimates would be fairly educated guesses.
"A few years ago, they were estimating DSLR gross profit margins—for Canon and Nikon—in the 20–30% range (Nikon on the lower end, Canon on the upper.) That's pretty good for electronics manufacturing. No other DSLR businesses have been profitable, in the opinion of those same sources, but the good potential—realized, so far, only by Canon and Nikon—is why there's been such persistent effort by some companies (Sony, Olympus, Pentax, Samsung et. al.) to stay in that game.
"For many years analyst and observer consensus has been that point-and-shoot digital cameras are marginally profitable at best for a few companies—less than 10% gross margins—and break-even or loss-making for many. This impression is well supported by general statements in many companies' annual reports over the years.
"I've never seen profit margin estimates for CSC (mirrorless cameras), but, in theory, they should be similar in potential to DSLRs, if and when companies can get their act together from beginning to end of the process.
"Bottom line: there is good money to be made on higher end consumer cameras (i.e. interchangeable-lens models), but it ain't shootin' fish in a barrel. So far in the digital era, only two companies have really managed it.
UPDATE from Eamon: "Addendum to my comment: The proper term for what I was describing above—and what I think Michael T. was wondering about—is 'operating margin.' Should have been clearer about that."
Rob: "The biggest surprise to me is the sluggish sales of mirrorless cameras. One would think from reading TOP that everyone and his uncle is using them, but TOP's readers and contributors are obviously not representative of the general public. There is no denying that the ubiquitous cell phone cameras have dampened the fires of camera lust for many people, which is just fine, as long as manufacturers continue to innovate and produce desirable cameras for enthusiasts and professionals."
Mike replies: Your "as long as" sometimes terrifies me, if I remember to think of it. We're fine as long as we keep paying for it, but if the day comes when demand grows sour....
The broader public has always helped pay for the equipment and materials—and the development of same—used by more serious photographers. The trend of the public using whatever little quickie cams come in their smart phones worries me, I have to say. Just imagine the digital camera market becoming as stuck as the film camera market is now. What would we all do then? We're completely at the mercy of the manufacturers...we just don't know it yet.
Ed (not in reply to Mike, although it seems that way): "That is good news. The best news would be if no camera ever was produced any more (and that is me the concerned environmentalist talking :-)). I'm in the business of making pictures, not sponsoring camera manufacturers with my purchases (and that is me the photographer speaking). That why my new OM-D had 17,000 shots on it when I bought it secondhand from someone who couldn't live without a D800 (that is me the consumerism critic speaking).
"In short, I blame part of the slow acceptance of Micro 4/3 on the behaviour of Panasonic and Olympus. Every two years a new top-of-the-line model, every eight months a new compact, and depreciation rates accordingly. Like throwing money into a well. A most unfortunate route pionered by Saint Steve and the iCrap universe (that is me the Apple/Microsoft/Adobe hater and Open Source lover).
"My OM-D will be used till it croaks (which should be about eight years from now I hope) and then I'll probably buy a low-milage secondhand 'new' one. And don't get me wrong. It's a great camera, but that is just the reason of my critique.
"My [Nikon] F3 was top of the line from 1981 till 1988 and cost me about 2,000 dollars in today's money. But I use it to the day...write off 2013/1981=32 years. 2000/32 = 62 dollars a year. My GF1 I bought in 2010 and was obsolete in 2011 when the GX1 saw the light of day. Now I can (and will sell) it for about 150 dollars. Paid $450 for it. 450 minus 150 = 300 ergo 100 dollars a year. And the GF1 is not a top-of-the-line camera.
"Now I wouldn't trade in my digital camera for the world. But generation times need to get longer. That has two advantages. Products can be better developed before they hit the market. Development costs will drop considerably, and cameramakers will have more time to profit from the fruits of thier development departments. Consumers will have more price stability and can enjoy their cameras a bit longer before the next new hype comes along, fired by the Internet hype machine.
"And maybe, maybe someone can think of the possibility of a Micro 4/3 camera, using a global shutter, and with a Foveon sensor coupled to a bellows and with full front and back movements."
Mike adds: And it scares me that too many people might one day think like Ed (I think that day is starting to arrive now). While Ed's actions make perfect sense for an individual, if every serious photographer adopted a similar strategy it would be a disaster for the camera industry as a whole. An industry which, you'll note, Ed essentially doesn't contribute to at all. And what would he do if there were no early-adopters, upgraders, downsizers, and multiple-camera buyers funding the development of cameras such as his OM-D?