DSLR vs. mirrorless cameras produced in the past four years (based on CIPA data)

As a part of the discussion in my last post I went to CIPA's website and got the numbers of units produced for DSLR and mirrorless cameras in the past four years and plugged them into a graph (blue: DSLR, green: mirrorless, click for larger view):

There are many different conclusions you can make out of this data, so I will let you do this in the comments section. Here are the detailed CIPA stats for the past 4 years:

The list of participating CIPA companies can be found here.

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  • ronadair

    Trust me, smartphone cameras don’t hold a candle to DSLRs, and won’t for a number of years (if ever) in many applications. I’ve produced a RAW camera app (www.flannl.com) for iPhone that allows you to squeeze out the absolute last drop of quality that the sensor provides. While the gains compared to standard smartphone JPEGs are massive (over a billion colors vs. 16 million, 10-bit vs. 8-bit), the optics, sensor size, bit-depth, and even ergonomics are all factors that make it clear that while smartphones have grown up enough to be used in commercial applications, that DOESN’T mean they can come any where near replacing more professional form factors such as DSLRs.

    Are mirrorless and even smartphones cutting into the middle market of buyers who want better than point-and-shoot but can do without a bulky camera? Absolutely. But keep in mind that until some revolutionary advancements in optics, sensors, and interfaces happen, DSLRs won’t be going away. Getting more expensive? Most likely. Getting more niche? Absolutely.

  • ronadair

    More people can make $1,000 with a few hours of use of their DSLR. Not many get those kinds of returns on their cell phone.

    • george pearson

      Unless you consider what the phone is used for. Communication is how we all make money. Contacts lead to text and phone conversations to close the deal… or at least setup the meeting. Plus the creative ones can use the phone’s data to transmit their pictures. Its a mobile world… use your phone as that tool.

      • ronadair

        Sure, it’s a tool. But the vast majority of people aren’t using their cell phone for productive income generation like pros are with their photography gear, hence the explanation why pros are willing to cough up the cash on the front-end when most people are taking the payment option on phones. Barrier of entry is also reduced by the option of credit, which is no less of a trap than regular cell phone upgrades, but I digress.

        In reality, people will perceive things how they want to perceive them, so it’s up to the market players to influence that perception, or get pushed around by others who can.

  • Tom Taubert

    Camera companies/stores still sell cameras behind glass cases with cardboard displays. It could be the 60s (Looking Glass in Berkeley, or Adolf Gasser — closing –in SF) Or in box stores with a security cable and no memory card. Here your lucky if the camera turns on. I don’t see a path here for smart phone users to understand why an investment in a better camera would allow them to step up. It looks like on-line marketing isn’t doing the trick either. I can’t think of any pop culture photographers, but I’m old, that may inspire a purchase of a great camera.

    Apple stores are usually packed with folks. People really like to get their hands on stuff, and as a strip joint advertises “feel the magic”.

    • Allen_Wentz

      I preordered my D500 at the big new Looking Glass store in Berkeley. If the D8xx passes the handling test better than the D810 does I will buy a D8xx there.

      • Tom Taubert

        I like the new store. I probably shouldn’t have used them as an example in my comment. They are different. I hope they are successful. The service is very good. They are also great advocates for photography and building a community of photographers.

    • jmb2560

      Service at Adolf Gasser was terrible. I remember going to the store during lunch time: I was clearly disrupting the sales team having lunch. They could not wait to see me leave the store so they could return to their quiet break. That was 2010 and I remember leaving this place thinking “these guys are dead”. I believe Adolf Gasser was the first importer of Nikon cameras in the US.

      I was actually more upset when Keeble & Shuchat in Palo Alto closed last September. These guys were actually knowledgeable, effective and friendly. Tough time for camera stores…

  • Tieu Ngao

    The smartphone unit shipments stay flat in the last 2 years in North America, Latin America, and Western Europe (see graph below). If this trend continues I don’t see why smartphones will further impact the future camera sales in those regions. Besides, camera performance in smartphones is not the core feature that demands heavy investment in R&D.

    • br0xibear

      So no one’s buying DSLRs, no one’s buying mirrorless cameras and no one’s buying smartphones.
      I’m glad that’s been cleared up, lol…I’m going to go back to taking pictures now.

    • In many markets the smartphone market is approaching saturation. This could mean that its cannibalization of the dedicated camera market may slow, but as the capabilities of smartphone cameras will continue take market share.

    • Allen_Wentz

      That is useful data, thanks!

      To me what is relevant is ANNUAL phone sales are in the 1-2 BILLION range. That means a growing 1-2 billion new, upgraded-to-latest-tech phone cameras, every year.

      So every year there are 100-200 newly upgraded cell phones nipping at the heels of each one new standalone camera sold. And because of the large market size, R&D effort toward phone camera development is very likely to exceed R&D effort toward standalone cameras.

      You betcha that 1-2 billion brand-new-latest-tech phone cameras every year will continue to impact sales of standalone cameras. Especially since standalone cameras are upgraded much less frequently.

      Note that I did exaggerate to make the point. The biggest portion of the 1-2 billion new phones each year will have junk cameras running under some funky version of a free, unsupported OS. Most of the camera market disruption is probably caused primarily by flagship phone cameras.

      • Tieu Ngao

        I think differently.
        It’s safe to assume that most, if not all, adults in North America and Western Europe already have smartphones, so the annual phone sales are either replacement or upgrade. A small sub-set of this group also own “serious cameras”, and the majority don’t. There’re only 2 situations that affect camera sales:
        – Negatively: People who own cameras won’t replace or upgrade because their phones already do a nice job for them.
        – Positively: People who don’t own cameras find photography a new hobby but unsatisfactory with the built-in camera in their phones. These people will buy new cameras.

        I think the new camera sales are declining because of many factors, among them:
        – The people who own cheap P&S cameras no longer buy cameras because the smartphones are good enough for them
        – The cameras become more expensive and more durable and the owners keep them longer
        – The cameras are much better now and it’s easier for the new buyers to find something suitable in the used market.

        Regarding the R&D budget: The phone companies are richer but they only invest in something that will likely improve the sales.

    • John Albino

      To a great extent many smartphone users don’t need to upgrade now more often than every 3 or 4 years or even longer. Since by now just about everyone in the world who wants one HAS one, there’s little new market available, particularly in the West.

      • Allen_Wentz

        The data above show 1-2 billion new phones every year. That means 1-2 billion new latest-tech phone cameras every year that are impacting standalone camera sales of 10 million.

    • Thylmuc

      they will by replacing worse previous generation models and by this, will with every new generation, bring an additional crowd of people into the camp of smartphone – only shooters.

      Further, I note that evidently, Apple quickly identified the camera function as a core Feature, and spent huge efforts and resources in improving the camera with every new model. And that is why the competitors now collaborate with Zeiss, Leica, and Hasselblad.

  • Politics_Nerd

    Just keep working on the D850 and D500s.

    • Allen_Wentz

      D8xx yes, but as regards a D500s, I am still learning my (preordered) D500!

      But I may just be slow.

      • Politics_Nerd

        I’m the same way with my D750 I got two years ago! But the idea of a D500s makes me wonder how they could improve it? 😉 I’m sure they have something in mind… 11fps, 400-shot buffer, full-sensor 4k with DPAF in video mode….

        • Allen_Wentz

          Easy big improvement to D500 is to lose the slow SD slot and have dual XQD instead.

          • Politics_Nerd

            That too… 😉

          • 24×36

            That’s a big key for the D810 successor too. Lose the “two different slots” thing, AND the “SD” thing. Dual XQD all the way!

  • Kyle

    There’s less and less reason to upgrade all the time.

    The D90 is still an amazing camera at its 12MP state.

    I expect my D750 and D7200 to last me another 4-5 years before there’s any real reason to buy another DSLR (unless something breaks).

    I’m sure many are in the same boat. No compelling reason or need to upgrade very often.

  • Thylmuc

    A hybrid as poposed by me above should of course provide a far bigger sensor than found in smartphones today. How this can be solved, optically and re. the device size is not quite clear to me, but then, there was an Olympus XA that fit snuggly into any pocket and made great images. It will become bigger than normal smartphones, sure. I did not say it will be easy.

  • jp

    Where is the REAL innovation?
    What is different in the last 10 years, except newer sensor?
    Why DSLR and MILC do not have implement the touch-LCD, with the ability of smartphones?
    Why image processing (demosaicing software) in camera is not improved?
    Why the battery-life is not improved?
    Why the hardware is not REAL weather-sealed for all DSLR and MILC?
    Why the developing of REAL great lenses with f/1.0 is not done til yet?

    Because …….. Yes, the great part of the consumer use smartphone for the photo and video! That is a fact, and what the management do? …… Nothing, nothing, and let ….. (old wine in new container) as D5100, D5200, D5300, D5400 …..
    Instead of listen of the consumer and come out with real NEW devices, “smartphone-App” LCD inside and better hardware weather-sealed. And last but not leased, REAL improvement of democaising-software inside the camera to give superb JPEG-out-of-camera! And better lenses with f/1.0!
    These is all is still there on the market. The management have only to combine it, as Sony do…. (But Sony is not a Camera-company as Nikon). Nikon has better knowledge ….
    Do Nikon management has lost KAIZEN?

    • Aldo

      F1 lenses… formula 1 lenses? Sooo fast

      • jp

        Oh yes, it would be nice. With the Nikon1 – Nikon has a great lens 32mm/f1.2. It is only f/1.2.
        So, Nikon can do it, why not for MILC!
        I had the 50mm/f 1.2 for my analog FM2! It was an amazing lens. But, it does not works great on digital DSLR unfortunately!

        • Aldo

          Maybe canon can do a FF 1.0… since the mount has allows a bit more light in… but I dont think It’s possible for nikon.

          • jp

            I do not speak about how it is possible for the actual devices.
            I speak about the future!
            You see, Nikon has a lot of work, if they want to come out with NEW MILC or better DSLR!
            All Nikon DSLR is a faulty design at the begin.
            1991 Kodac came out with the DCS 100. The Body was the Nikon F3!! That was the capital fault….
            The developer thought the F3 Body will be good enough for digital!…… You see, what happen till today.
            Japan not have silicon valley…. Japanese do not think and act, as American people.
            If Nikon only has “a silicon valley think tank” on the development department, then we could have much better devices.
            Now it is to late…. smartphone device will grow and will have better optical lenses every year. The opportunity is gone. The DSLR fan-group shrink every day. Who will give Nikon money for the development of newer devices? Nobody… it is on his last legs!!! unfortunately
            The same for Canon by the way.

            • Aldo

              okay so you mean another mount (other than F) that would allow f 1.0 lenses? I can see how that may be possible, although it could be impractical.

              I’m not sure if you are saying that nikon is lacking innovation, I agree but I don’t think they are that far behind. I think right now their biggest fault is being disconnected from consumers (not so much advance users)

    • 24×36

      The smart phone crowd wouldn’t buy DSLRs (or MILCs for that matter) with the latest, greatest smart phone touch screen and apps, because you can’t put it in your pocket. You’re trying to sell yachts to desert dwellers.

  • akkual

    There are plenty of factors that people have not considered here:
    1) DSLRs developed rapidly between 2007-2012. Since then, the development has been very slow. There is no need to buy new DSLR every 2 years anymore.

  • Adam

    I am thinking that there seems to be some real misunderstanding of the numbers we are seeing and what they are really telling us.

    Here are my thoughts…if anyone really cares. 🙂

    1. The steep decline in DSLR sales since 2012 is most likely a combination of the “good enough” mindset from many users and that DSLR innovations are pretty stalled right now. Notice the sharp drop since 2012 and think back to what was released that year, D4, D800, 5DIII, 1DX, etc. ALL of those cameras were revolutionary upgrades from their predecessors.
    2. Mirrorless does cut into the DSLR sales some, but there arent really a lot of options in the sub $1k range that are drastically better or lighter than the entry level DSLRs at similar price points.
    3. Mirrorless are great options as travel kit, backup bodies, etc. but for an enthusiast that can only swing one main body and one system in their budget, at this point, a D7xxx series or equivilent seems to be a better “one system” solution.

    The problem here is that Nikon has done what it does best, to about the best of its ability. Image quality from ANY of the current DSLRs is about as good as needed for 90 percent of what 99 percent of photographers need. Small tweaks and advancements of course will happen, but I dont see a real “revolution” in image quality on the near horizon. The issue is workflow and user interface, NOT what Nikon (or Canon, Fuji, Sony, Olympus, etc) specialize in. Either that side of the design teams need to be boosted with new ideas or they need to open an SDK and let the software become more modular for workflow improvements.

    For a price of $600 US you can get a D3400 with two really good lenses that cover from 18-300. There is no real mirrorless competition at that price point. Unless you go without an EVF.

    Also, for simple image making, the D3400 is spectacular. Sure the AF is lacking and controls are limited, but for someone that just wants to leave it in “Auto” mode and walk around taking better low light/complicated light images than their phones its tough to steer them elsewhere.

  • Very good points, thank you. Subsidized or not, though, folks are walking around with $1K+ phones, if they had to pay market value, and they take that for granted because they carriers are subsidizing them. Then again, one could argue that >$1K is way over-value for a phone that is so mass-produced and so small, but then again I guess the miniaturization technology involved is always the opposite of cheap.

    Either way, yours is an interesting point about inflation and the price of a top-quality lens from however many decades ago it was that, well, a livable wage started to disappear overall from the lower/lower-middle class. IMO, the problem is much bigger than just photography, it has to do with a “perceived standard of living” versus what a livable wage is these days, and of course society’s judgment of which careers are worthy of a slightly-more-than-livable wage.

    (In other words, either we’re all fooling ourselves and are trying to live way beyond our means, OR we are all the victims of large corporations strangle-hold on the global market for both cost-of-living items, and luxuries / toys. The truth is probably somewhere in between, or secret option #3 that I didn’t think of lol.)

  • Eric Vogelpohl

    100%. The %’age of all charts/graphs for which this author can’t be bothered to include a thousands separator for the axis-values.

  • true

    It’s ok. Give nikon couple of years, and they will look into the mirrorless possibility. Take your time, there’s no hurry.

  • Andreas

    Maybe Nikon could add a new function, and make it possible to surf, make phonecalls etc on the camera? Turn things around, so to speak, make the camera to a mobile phone?

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