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2020 CIPA data highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted camera industry: Digital Photography Review

Top: Panasonic S1 (left) Canon EOS R (right) Bottom: Sony a7 III (left), Nikon Z6 (right)

The Camera & Imaging Products Association (CIPA) has released its stats for 2020, revealing the production and shipment data of camera units from January 2020 through December 2020.

According to CIPA’s data, which is comprised of information provided by these manufacturers, total digital still camera shipments were down 41.6% by volume (8,886,292 units shipped) and down 29.4% by value (¥420B / $4B revenue), year-over-year (YoY). For context, 2019 saw a YoY decrease in shipments of 21.7% by volume (15,216,957 units) and a decrease in value of 19.5% (¥587B / $5.6B).

A full breakdown of camera production and shipments, broken down by camera type and region. Click to enlarge.

If we look more specifically by camera type, compact cameras (defined as cameras with built-in lenses) and DSLR cameras accounted for most of those losses. Compact camera shipments were down 47% by volume (3.58M units shipped) and down 41.3% by value (¥76.4B / $730M in revenue), while DSLR cameras were down 47.3% by volume (2.37M units shipped) and down 44.6% by value (¥96.7B / $920M in revenue).

Mirrorless camera shipments fared better, but still saw drops in both volume and value. CIPA’s data shows a 25.9% decrease in volume (2.93M units shipped) and 12.5% decrease in value (¥247B / $2.36B in revenue). It’s worth noting this is the first year, based on CIPA’s historical data, that mirrorless camera shipments have been higher than DSLR camera shipments — a concrete sign that mirrorless has overtaken DSLR cameras as the more popular choice.

A month-by-month breakdown of total camera shipments in 2020 (orange), 2019 (black) and 2018 (purple). Click to enlarge.

Another tidbit we can deduce from these stats is that the average price of a DSLR camera shipped in 2020 is less than half that of a mirrorless camera sold in 2020. By taking the value of shipments divided by the units, we can estimate an average sale price of approximately $387 per unit for DSLR cameras, compared to an average unit sale price of $805 for mirrorless cameras.

CIPA’s numbers also confirm what we’ve seen from the financial reports of Canon and Nikon; despite shipment volume being down, the value of units shipped isn’t dropping at an equal rate. In other words, fewer cameras are being sold, but those that are being sold are fetching higher revenue, suggesting mid-to-higher-end models are becoming the more popular choice.

A month-by-month breakdown of interchangeable lens camera shipments (includes both DSLR and mirrorless cameras) in 2020 (orange), 2019 (black) and 2018 (purple). Click to enlarge.

Normally, we would dig more into the regional aspects of CIPA’s numbers, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying quarantines in place across the globe, it’s difficult to get an accurate overview of how different regions factor into the numbers and it would lead to more speculation than substance.

For example, both China and Japan have been able to better control COVID-19 outbreaks according to publicly-available information and have therefore been more open for residents. This is reflected in the numbers, as shipments are dramatically better in those areas than the likes of the Americas and Europe. In fact mirrorless shipments to China were flat YoY by volume and actually up 13.4% by value. Another factor in this could be the proximity of the camera manufacturing facilities to the region, as global shipments have been delayed or downright stopped in some regions in an effort to reduce the spread of infection of the novel coronavirus and its mutations.

A list of the companies that currently provide production and shipping information to CIPA. Click to enlarge.

Even on a normal year, it’s difficult to contextualize these numbers in an industry that’s going through a dramatic transition for the past decade. Even more so in 2020, when a global pandemic affected nearly every facet of the global economy.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. If you look at the beginning of 2020 (specifically January and February) — before near-global lockdowns and financial hardships started to take affect due to the COVID19 pandemic — the YoY decreases were less than they’ve been for a number of years now. The final few months of the year also show a recovery from the initial COVID-19 downturn and suggest a better future going forward.

Canon’s financial documents, as well as a recent interview with Sigma’s CEO Kazuto Yamaki, both speculate 2021 will be a year of stabilization for the photography industry, and CIPA’s numbers appear to back this up when looked at with the understanding that the global COVID-19 pandemic magnified an industry that’s been in a steady decline for almost decade.

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