Some times a chart can be a whole story that can take hours to discuss, or be the subject of conferences and books. The chart above is the story of camera sales in the last 69 years. So here is a few points:
- The meteoric ride of digital practically started at the dawn of the 21st century. Look how sharply the grey bars fall. Decades old analog technology got replaced overnight by digital (blue bars). Magazines screamed, analog fans kept reiterating the benefits of film, but numbers show the full picture. By 2005 analog was dead. End of story.
- 2010 was peak digital camera. That was when we see the highest digital camera sales or the highest “traditional” camera sales ever. So what happened? The smartphone arrived. This is what happened. And since then compact camera sales have lost more than 60% of their sales volume and keep looking towards extinction.
- SLRs are a steady market with signs of old age. DSLRs have seen steady growth throughout the 2000s and now mirrorless technology is here as a worthwhile new contender. Still, interchangeable lens systems in total do not sell as well as say five years ago.
Is the smartphone responsible for digital camera decline? Everybody says so and I partly agree. But that does not take account of two very important factors:
- The supply of new human customers that will buy new cameras or constantly replace older ones is not limitless.
- Not everyone is really interested in photography. The fact that me and some of us love it does not mean that it is the same for all humans.
These two factors alone would cause a plateau in sales without smartphones. So yes, digital camera technology as we know it is now mature technology and cannot escape the growth pattern of every technology. And those interested in casual photography can shoot with smartphones, a move that I actually applaude. Is digital technology able to reinvent itself? Very likely. It will be interesting to see the same chart in a few years’ time…