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Wednesday, 24 February 2021


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The traditional camera industry is being killed by two fatal blows:
#1 - Entry of digital photography overtaking film.
#2 - Handphone cameras.
Those are my 02 cents take on its demise.

From CIPA's historical numbers (found here), 1998 was the last year of film-only cameras, and it was also the high-water mark of film cameras sold: 36M cameras, along with 6.5M lenses (which wasn't the high to that point, but pretty close to it).

2020 saw 8.7M cameras total and (coincidence?) 8.7M lenses sold.

The lens numbers would seem to indicate that, even with the bottom dropping out, more ILC camers are being sold today than at film's highest point (my understanding is that the average number of lenses per camera sold has not varied significantly over the years).

What makes the numbers look so bad is the total collapse of non-ILC cameras. There were a lot of those sold in 1998, there were a lot of those sold in 2010, and there are almost none sold (outside of a phone) now.

I'm 57. All the cameras I will ever need have already been made.

Cell phones are the point and shoot cameras of the 21st century, so we don't need point and shoots as a distinct segment anymore. And while there may have been (I'm sure there were) some art photographers who used point-and-shoot camera in the 80s and 90s, just as David Hockney famously used consumer Polaroid cameras, most serious art, pro and news photographers did not, because they were too limited. So, I think we're going back to the pre-2000-like photo environment where serious photographers use professional cameras, and people taking family snapshots (and a few odd professionals and art photographers) use cell phones. The big bump that camera companies enjoyed in the first part of this century was mostly a sales illusion caused by enormous jumps in quality of digital cameras in that time period. I don't know how many cameras I bought between 2004 (Nikon D2 for me) and 2015, but I bet it was ten or twelve, at least. Probably a new camera every year, or more than one. So many I can't even remember them all. Since 2015, for me, the number is three (two GX8s and a Nikon Z6) and I still have and use all three with nothing on the horizon that will cause me to seriously upgrade, unless I back up the Nikon. I believe that there will always be enough enthusiasts to support three or four camera manufacturers, but the companies will be smaller, tighter, the new releases will be fewer. And that's fine.

Sadly, I'm pretty sure the R&D to produce the cameras and lenses I (think I) need will be amortized across fewer unit sales. Meaning I pay more money. Can't find any convincing way to describe this as "unjust" or anything though. I'm just not doing what average people are doing, and things have changed so the cheap commodity devices, like phones, handle what most people need quite well, so they're not helping subsidize the specialist products.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. There's no future for camera manufacturers that don't embrace incorporating smartphone photography features into their products. Especially true with respect to internet connectivity features.

If you count cell phones as cameras, then camera sales are the best they have ever been, and at good profit margins. Photography has never be as democratic nor as widespread.

Not to toot your own horn for you - but given this state of affairs now is the time for a major camera company to different itself and make a well sorted, and not too expensive, B&W only sensor camera. It’s not like cellphones are bragging about their camera’s B&W capabilities, right? And it’s obvious that cell phone cameras are mostly responsible for the decline in camera sales. Why not a B&W only digital TLR? I fear the camera manufacturers marketing gurus do not employ, nor listen to “old dawg photogs” . Sad really, this state of affairs.

Smart phones should not be counted in CIPA numbers, because they are not cameras. They are a new category, that even the sci-fi authors didn't see coming. What they saw was flying cars 8-) They did not see pocketable computers as the future.

The smart phone is the future. They are now teaching coding in grade school. I find this very exciting. Soon if there isn't an app for that the children will write their own—how cool is that.

Photography is in good shape. David Hume Kennerly is correct, camera doesn't matter. What does matter you learn in art classes.

I think you really have to count smart phones because it is what lots and lots of people use as their only device to take pictures and video.
Photography is not going away but the tools are changing.
As you point out, from a historical perspective , a lot of 'non- phone cameras' are being sold-- just no where near the numbers during the big switch from film to digital.
The technology in the latest iPhone cameras is quite astonishing.
So like it or not, Olympus will not be alone in closing its doors. We should enjoy the great diversity in available cameras and lenses we still have. The other issue of course is that from a historical perspective, any camera we have bought in the last 5 years is astonishingly good so few of us feel like we really NEED a more capable camera.

I’m not sure, Mike, why you keep saying “we lost Olympus”. Do you care so much about the names in the upper echelons of management and corporate self-identities? As far as I can tell, the gear is still being made, the factories are still running, the R&D is still happening.... the whole product process is still churning.

I don’t get it. The new owners (who cares if they are the same owners as own that endoscope company?) say there will be a new pro body coming out this year, and sales of the expensive 150-400 PRO lens are triple what anyone expected. Acting like they are already gone is a bit like succumbing to the ‘industry watch’ malaise that you caution against.

Please — at least give them the courtesy and minimal respect of discussing them like they exist.


I completely "get" David Hume Kennerly's remark to you, and why he said it. However, all cameras were and are not created equal, and I"ll bet Kennerly was not shooting the White house with a consumer grade SLR.

The real question is, as a photographer (as opposed to a camera manufacturer), are things worse than they were in 2010? Do things look to be bad going forward?

In both cases, the answer seems to be a resounding "no." Just the opposite--things are wonderful.

Though I've watched the crashing and burning of the camera industry over the years, my options as a photographer have only gotten better. I have n amazing mirrorless camera (Fuji XT3) with lenses better than anything I've ever owned. I have a Fuji GFX 100s on preorder which promises to be the digital camera I've been waiting for all these years. In terms of gear, there has been little in the past decade quite so exciting to me.

And the goodness just isn't in digital. If you shoot film you have many emulsions to choose from, interesting and oddball brands that didn't exist years ago plus most of the big players are still there. You can buy view cameras *new*, although the post-digital peak seems to have been reached. The used market will serve in this case for a century to come.

And of course, phones, as you mentioned. Not only are they getting better but they are about to force the introduction of computational methods into mainstream cameras. Your new digital camera will never be the same with that magic inside.

Gear-wise, from a photographer's point of view, these are exciting times.

It occurs to me that these numbers also follow a half-dozen or so years of technological sufficiency for general photography. There was a time when most of us, up- and down-market, anticipated steady progress in noise suppression, or low-light sensitivity, or responsiveness, or dynamic range, etc. These days, there seem to be more and more of us who feel that our cameras are not what's limiting what we can achieve (not even the camera in our phone, often).

I wonder how you might interpret the CIPA numbers from around the year 1900? Would there be concern that the rise of roll film and the "Brownie" were going to be the death of photography? I think photography handled that upheaval pretty well.

"It doesn't matter," but it sure is fun fretting about it.


Inexpensive Digital B&W? There are iPhone apps for that already. This is the one I use, <$1.00.

December 13, 2019 11:59:39am. Newport Beach, California.
Blackie Camera app. Straight out of iPhone, no curves or other processing applied.
4.25mm, f/1.8, 1/3,788
Reduced from 4032 × 3024 to 400x300 using Affinity Photo.

c.d.embrey, above, writes that even the sci-fi authors didn't see smartphone cameras coming. Maybe not but Edwin Land did in 1970, see https://youtu.be/zbmq9R0dtVg at 12:24 mins.

I’ve probably posted this before but I make no apologies, I think it’s wonderful and bears repeating :).

The sales of used film photo cameras is booming, the used camera shop I frequently check is selling Hasselblad, Leica, Nikon, Olympus and Canon film cameras like hot buns. Maybe these people buying film cameras find comfort in the nostalgia of shooting and developing film.

I still have all my film photography equipment - OM-1 + lenses, film and paper developing things, enlarger etc. but will not go back to using all this because digital photography has helped me to improve my images technically and aesthetically.

No more waiting for days or weeks before you can see what you produced, no more fiddling in a dark room with the smell of chemicals.

> ... we lost Olympus ...

We didn't.

[We did. Olympus sold its camera division and got out of the camera business. What you're saying is that the division might go on in some form under its new owners. As far as I know that might still be possible; I'm not up on the latest public developments. --Mike]

We are replacing our cameras more often now since they are electronic instead of mechanical devices.

Mike, I think you've covered my thoughts about this very well. I would add that you also gave some additional "leavening" with some granularity about the raw statistics and what is contained therein, which the article only did in passing. The lens stats don't bother me at all---if you own a well performing lens, are you really going to go out and replace it regularly? And the same thing is true of bodies now. They are so good, once you get a good one it's hard to justify getting a new one w/o truly compelling need---which hobbyists frankly don't have.

I'm shooting professionally with a camera that is now 7 y.o., and it still mops the floor with the gear my museum owns. My backup camera, now 4 years old, also does the same except in video.

My upgrade path has become very narrow now. I'll undoubtedly have one more at least, but I'm a long way from itchy about it. A totally different situation than 11 years ago.

I see a huge upside: 97% of fixed-lens camera sales are gone, but they've been replaced with a much larger number of smartphone cameras.
Should we pine for the days of near-disposable digicams that would stop working after 18 months? How about the demise of the 110 blister-pack camera sold at the supermarket checkout? I'm not. I certainly don't miss having to save-up my allowance for weeks to get a cartridge if 110 or 126 film processed.
Kids growing-up today have access to great photography equipment, and you can bet that this will lead to a generation of great photographers, all over the world. That can't be a bad thing.

Photography is doomed. That's why I bought a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

I suspect that the smaller formats may become extinct as smartphone cameras not only get better, but get more diverse with multi-lens offerings like extra wide and portrait/telephoto lenses. Perhaps the only "dedicated" cameras to be sold will be those purchased by enthusiasts or professionals wanting APC or FF sensors, or medium format. If you count smartphone picture taking with the easy digital processing afforded by either the phones software or iPad/laptops, there are probably more people actively involved in photography today than ever before.

I still think that Craig Mod got it right in "Cameras, Goodbye: Photography in the age of the iPhone", followed a month later by "Software is the Future of Photography". (Dec 2013, Jan 2014)

"The shift to a smartphone for photography scares me because I love the boxes. Love their purpose. Their simplicity. So dearly love knowing I’ve captured all that detail. Love their constraints and all the potential packed within them. But in the end, for me, photography has never been about a box. The box was always a means...There’s another side to this conversation that tends to get overlooked. The most transformative side. It’s the side of accessibility and of giving voice to those hitherto voiceless. For, if you peek into any emerging world - India, Africa, South East Asia - you realize many have never known a camera, and never will. But increasingly they will grow up with a pretty good lens in their phone, and an even better one in just a few years to come...Software ate the camera, but freed the photograph.... Cameras, goodbye - sure. But, photography, hello - you haven't been this exciting in years."

Only real complaint from this end is the still-horrific ergonomics of dealing with a super-slippery, gripless, expensive plastic slab, compared to a single-purpose dedicated picture-taking tool actually designed to be held.

The drop is disappointing, but not surprising. With people taking fewer vacations, it's harder to justify a new camera. The postponement of the Olympics was another big blow. Most of the remaining trips are to see family and friends, where a cell phone camera works just fine.

So, there may be some recovery as people get out more, but the higher prices due to reduced volume will prevent sales from making a full recovery.

Now is the time to cherish your local camera store, if you still have one. Inevitably, they will be further decimated.

I agree with several commentators above: the camera business is anything but shrinking. There are orders of magnitude more cameras being sold today then at the height of the digital boom 10 years ago. And all of them are being carried around by their owners every day (“the best camera is the one you have with you”), rather than gathering dust between vacations and birthday parties. More pictures are probably being taken each year than the number of film frames that Kodak produced in its life.

What is suffering are the traditional camera manufacturers who relied on selling inexpensive cameras to the mass consumers, and subsidized the enthusiast and professional markets with the earnings. What may suffer - it’s not clear yet - are enthusiasts who like the camera hobby, which will become even more expensive in future years. Professionals are unlikely to suffer from decline traditional camera sales, as they care much more about the output than the tools. And make no mistake, the tools in smartphones will continue to improve from the already high level of today.

When Leica sold its camera division and got out of the camera business things worked out just fine. Won’t go into the whole corporate history, it’s just too wild ( yes, pun intended )

How is this move different than the move from large format cameras to 35mm cameras circa 90 years ago? I suppose the large format shootrrs had the same complaints and concerns about up-and-coming technology.

I have to laugh as my smartphone is, for me in rough order of importance: a medicine reminder, a message and email system, a social media reader, a calendar manager, a camera, an on-the-go mapping/traffic device, a tool to broadcast to my big-screen TV, and, rarely, a telephone. From one point of view, it’s a camera that does a bunch of other, useful things. I used the camera in a personal project to capture the construction of the new building over 18 months, with none of the photos in that project from a DSLR. It’s a multi-purpose device and not a single-tasker like my DSLR and new mirrorless cameras.

If cameras go away, I guess I will finally have to learn how to draw. Not a bad option.

Is that why you are advertising that book by Betty Edwards?

I did my part to shore up the industry by buying not one but two new cameras in 2020 -- including an Olympus as a valedictory appreciation for their innovations (live-view, which begat the mirrorless movement; serious IBIS etc.)

>> We did. Olympus sold its camera division and got out of the camera business.

That just means Olympus lost Olympus.

[Yes...the Olympus Corp. that spent, and lost, many billions of dollars on Olympus camera division over a decade or more. That's who lost Olympus. I don't think the new owners of Olympus (the camera division) are going to want to pick right up where Olympus Corp. left off in that respect. --Mike]

"...taking pictures (or capturing images as the same thing is expressed now)."

whatever happened to the word "photographing"?


Just explain to my wife how epson saved leica. She laughed, but found I am serious.

Anyhow from day one leica came along the camera is really tag on others. The film on, well, film industry (and why we have 24x36 when they use 24).

I guess most used camera. But people knew they have to use dslr on those occasion. Or like walk the beach today doing the Japanese cameo shots. ...

It is back to serious people.

And that is good. As long as we have, well, 5m unit, we can still tag along the video, tv and movie industry. Or just do film with wooden camera and chemicals.

It is fine.

Yes, but appreciate the smartphones we now have - the latest Iphone 12 Pro has 12 megapixels with three different camera modules/lenses, a 14mm, 26mm and 50mm equivalent. Separate sensors for each lens (I think). 12 megapixels with Apple Raw. Overall, using the computational photography features, I'd say, pretty close to the resolution of the Canon 5D (I bought about . . . 15 years ago?), especially with the iPhone 26mm lens equivalent, and given the various options for creating bokeh, HDR, etc., on balance a much more versatile camera. Much much better than most compacts ever available. So calling it a smartphone with a camera isn't accurate. It really is a camera, with three prime lenses, all in your pocket all the time, and you don't need to pay for film or processing. It's reduced or eliminated most of the technical challenges of photography and in turn made it easier to focus on substance. . . . I still prefer my Oly EM1 Mark III (with the amazing 12-100mm zoom), or my Sony A7RIVs with various lenses, but I'm starting to take some of my more interesting photos with the iPhone, because it's ALWAYS with me.

What Cecilia said:

If you count cell phones as cameras, then camera sales are the best they have ever been, and at good profit margins. Photography has never be as democratic nor as widespread.

IMO, people want to buy a device that takes photographs, with sufficient image quality, utility and convenience. For enthusiasts and pros that's a dedicated camera but for the rest of the population the camera in a smartphone is just fine.

Look at it this way: if a camera in a smartphone sized case was available in 2000 would people buy it? Sure. In 1980? Sure. In 1960? Sure.

You could argue, the only reason many people bought a dedicated camera in 2000, 1980 or 1960 was because there was no other option.

So many people have decided that the cell phone camera is the way to go for their imaging needs: so why can I NOT buy a decent medium priced digital camera without a million screens I have to go through with features primarily for amateur users?

The last Olympus I bought is so overloaded with screens for amateur settings, and multiple ways to set them, it's virtually unusable!

I could sit down with an engineer and in an hour, flesh out all the features a pro would use on a camera, and identify all the settings that shouldn't be settings, and should be thrown out; and probably argue the rest of the day about how it costs so much to create computer chips for the camera, we might as well put everything in and the kitchen sink because it's only a nickel more, which is such "wrong-headed" thinking!

If Olympus's New "pro" camera they are working on is anything like the Pen-F digital, they can save their money and stop it right now!

I am wondering what are the sales figures for used cameras over the past few years?

You've mentioned that DHK story a few times, so I thought I would comment. Was/is he right? I wasn't there - so I don't know his tone. I have been an assistant to a few photographers who've said similar things - and nearly all of them used high-end gear - with some deliberation rather than casually as implied. If it had been me, I would have answered your question and then said "having the right gear is the easy bit - getting access is the tricky part." There's lots of this about - Brett Weston used to make up the name of a developer when people asked him what he used. I believe Arnie used to tell people he ate crushed walnuts when they asked him his secret.
I get that good photographs aren't all about equipment - but if you are using the wrong stuff (lens, developer - whatever), you aren't going to get much of anything.

On the Olympus topic, here's the latest:

(Not much substance to go on.)

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