Professional, Enthusiast and Unique Cameras

It is interesting to have a look at the financial performance of various companies that manufacture cameras. As could be expected, general trends are obvious… decreasing unit sales, revenues and profits. After the camera market peaked in 2012, it has been in a state of continued decline. This decline indicates that the future of the industry is with professional, enthusiast and unique cameras. The days of mass marketing inexpensive consumer-oriented generic cameras are over.

For those of you who would like to have a look at the current financial reporting of various companies here are a few links that you may find interesting.
Nikon
Canon
Sony
Fujifilm
Olympus
Ricoh (cameras included in Other)
Panasonic (cameras under the Appliance division)

I remember back in 1974 when I bought my first interchangeable lens camera. The market was basically composed of three groups. Professional photographers. People who needed a camera for their work but were not pro photographers. And, enthusiasts who had the financial capability to own an interchangeable lens camera system so they could pursue their hobby.

Look at what has happened with successive generations of cell phones as more advanced imaging technology has appeared in them. Today, the photographic needs of the vast majority of consumers is well met by their cell phones. Generic point-and-shoot cameras have been in a sales free fall for many years.

It appears to me that the camera market is returning to its former structure of the 1970’s. That means that professional, enthusiast and unique cameras will become the norm.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the total number of photographs being created around the globe is growing exponentially. The challenge for camera manufacturers is that a shrinking share of those images is being created with dedicated cameras.

It would make sense that camera manufacturers would segment the market by identifying the types of images being created. Then determine which of those image segments is best served by a dedicated camera.

Do most people need a dedicated camera to snap some quick photographs or record simple videos of family, friends or vacations? Not really. They can, and do, use their cell phones to regularly upload this type of material on their social media sites.

It is harder for a cell phone to provide images of more specialized content. Things like nature photography. Underwater imaging. Macro photography. Or sports photography to name a few.

To survive and prosper in the future, camera manufactures will need to become very efficient niche market differentiators in terms of their strategic orientation. The days of being successful by churning out huge volumes of nondescript “me too” products are over.

Being a niche market differentiator means choosing a small slice of the market and developing the best possible product for that market segment. Effectively defining and segmenting the market is where the future lies for camera manufacturers.

Unfortunately from a strategic standpoint, it appears that most camera manufacturers are still missing the boat. The current stampede to produce full frame cameras is just another form of “me too” product marketing. It isn’t the magic bullet that camera manufacturers think it is, and it won’t save them. That’s because focusing on sensor size is still maintaining a product orientation to strategy and marketing. That’s the fundamental mistake that most camera manufacturers are making.

So, in the near term most camera manufacturers will continue to flounder. Sales and profitability will continue to disappoint for the next number of years… even with a plethora of shiny, new full frame cameras. Many camera buyers will view the majority of these new full frame offerings for what they are… basically the same old cameras with a different sensor, but not much different or improved in terms of innovative technology.

Continuing declines in camera unit volumes and profitability will lead to predictable outcomes. Far fewer camera models. Higher unit prices. And, the eventual disappearance of entry level cameras with limited feature sets and comparatively low pricing. Perhaps even the disappearance of a few camera brands.

The smart camera manufacturers will figure out that continuing to take an old school product orientation with their strategy and marketing is a dead end. Some will begin to see and segment the market in a new way. They’ll segment the market by image subject type, and the attitudes that a photographer has about creating an image.

The age of psychographic segmentation will finally reach the camera market. It will provide the camera manufacturers with new, in-depth ways to understand the underlying reasons why we create photographs. As well as the attitudes we have about cameras and other image creating tools. That new way to look at, understand, and segment the ‘image creation’ market will help lead camera manufacturers out of their current strategic wasteland.

So… the future will be with professional, enthusiast and unique cameras… but they will be truly amazing!

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6 thoughts on “Professional, Enthusiast and Unique Cameras”

  1. I am not a pro photographer, so an important thing for me is not having to fool with settings to get a good exposure. The Sony Rx100 and RX10 series excel at this so the person can point and shoot with excellent results. I wish they had a bigger display, but they really are superb consumer cameras and seems to be the right formula.

    1. Hi Ed,

      I’ve never used a Sony camera but I know that both the RX10 and RX100 are highly rated by owners. Both of the cameras have a 1″ BSI (backside illuminated) sensor which is capable of very good image quality. My Nikon 1 J5 also has this type of sensor in it.

      If a camera is easy to use and produces the results needed, then it is a great fit!

      Tom

    1. Hi Ed,

      If your cell phone works well for your needs then go for it! I have a Nikon 1 J5 which I really enjoy using. It does not have an EVF and I initially thought that I would like like using the camera. Within a week I found that not having an EVF with that particular camera was a non-issue for me.

      Tom

  2. Tom,

    In the light of current trends (steep decline in sales, etc.), I understand why Sigma came up with the fp, the modular, full-frame hybrid camera. I guess it’s an interesting take on the “unique” camera category. I agree with your observations — the photography business will likely go to the 1970’s – 80’s levels. The niches will be there but will likely be compressed (wedding, et al). I thought I was in the minority but I guess it’s becoming really obvious to more and more people that at the rate things are going, photography as a job, will either be high-paying or unprofitably priced (exhibit a: https://www.dpreview.com/news/0475276807/getty-is-phasing-out-rights-managed-photos-in-favor-of-royalty-free-content).

    Cameras, lenses and peripherals are not getting cheaper while income from photography jobs/gigs are going the opposite direction (even free if crowd-sourced).

    I also get your analysis that the FF route is a stop-gap measure to somehow slow down the decline in sales but maybe 3-5 years down the road, only the camera companies with other non-photography products will be around. Case in point: Nikon. I was a Nikon user for more than a decade before realizing that the shift to mirrorless was the future. The earlier press releases from headquarters has always been: we will support both F and Z mounts (understandable since there’s what, millions of F mount lenses sold). But can Nikon really support both mounts long-term? Judging from their half-hearted commitment to DX APS-C, it’s hard to get one’s hopes high. If we add their abandonment of the very promising Nikon 1 platform, it’s difficult to really hope for better. The recent introduction of the Z50 points to another half-hearted effort to stop the bleeding if only momentarily. It’s a promising APS-C product with a not-so-great future as far as the Nikon lens road map is concerned (also, would it be another DX experience?). In the end, Nikon may survive (albeit maybe smaller with niche products like a D6 or D7 hybrid ML/SLR), owing to its other optic products though the future, but as far as Sony is concerned, is with AI-enabled photography.

    Anyway, it’s an interesting moment in time though some of the effects are not heartening (lost photography jobs/income; the free-sourcing trend even among big companies; the reliance on technology instead of skill to correctly portray a particular experience/product; etc.)

    Oggie
    http://www.lagalog.com

    1. Thanks for your in-depth comment Oggie!

      As you point out, significant changes are hitting many parts of the photography market. Many professional photographers are also under financial pressure as fees, royalties and other income streams are all under pressure. From what I have heard from some other photographers, putting images up on Getty is pretty much pointless because the company is selling low cost subscriptions. For a very modest fee subscribers are allowed to download quite a few royalty free images. That means that photographers who put their work up on Getty literally get pennies when one of their images is downloaded. I think there will also be some rationalization in the photo service market and Getty could very well be a casualty down the road.

      It seems that when it comes to photography, the vast amount of the market expects something for nothing. That puts the viability of a whole host of photography related services, including websites and other information sources at significant risk. After a certain point content producers simply throw up their hands and walk away.

      It is very hard to watch the camera companies struggle… especially Nikon. Like you, I have been a Nikon owner for a number of years. I still have my Nikon 1 gear and plan on using it for many years to come. Unfortunately Nikon no longer makes products that have the capabilities that I now need. For as much as it pained me deeply, I had to move on.

      The latest Nikon forecast is showing their Precision Equipment Business will generate higher revenues than the Imaging Products Business during their current fiscal. Profits from the Precision Equipment Business are estimated to be over 400% higher than from cameras. On page 22 of Nikon’s presentation materials this comment about the Imaging Products Business was made, “Generate enough profits to justify its existence as business unit and expand applications of core technologies.” For Nikon to put this comment in its presentation materials must send a chill up the spine of Nikon owners. I know it did mine.

      There certainly is nothing wrong at all with folks buying full frame cameras… many people need this type of gear for the work that they do. From my perspective I see camera companies trying to ‘force the market’ into full frame as the format is the most obvious one that cell phones cannot come close to matching image quality. This is an example of ‘product thinking’ and not ‘customer thinking’. I feel that the future of camera manufacturers is with the use of AI and individual camera customization through firmware. For example, I would love to have the option to replace the “Trains” intelligent subject tracking on my E-M1X and replace it with “Birds in Flight” if that option was available to me. This type of individual camera customization would make capturing images easier and more custom tailored to the experience that an individual photographer desires.

      Fundamentally companies that manufacture cameras need to see themselves as operating in the ‘image creation business’ not the camera business. That is the first step in them completely changing how they serve their customers’ needs. Nikon 1 is a good example of a product line that didn’t meet its potential because Nikon didn’t really know what it had. It failed because the company saw it and sold it as a camera system, not an as an imaging solution. That’s water under the bridge of course.

      I watched an interesting F-Stoppers video about how many megapixels a photographer actually needs. The example they used was a billboard. Based on the dots per inch printing used on a billboard and the typical viewing distance, all that is required is a 2 MP image!

      In many ways I think the camera companies have been inadvertently fuelling the decline in camera market sales by their approach to product development and promotion. Getting people to believe that they need larger sensors and more megapixels, then have those same customers discover that their photographs have not improved after spending all that money on gear… only fuels discontent with cameras as a product category. I know that you have previously shared your personal experiences moving to a smaller, lighter system… which you are very much enjoying. The enjoyment of creating images is what camera companies need to promote… and show how their products enable that experience. Cell phone makers have beat them to the punch… I hope there is still time for camera companies to adapt.

      Tom

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