The latest financial results from Japanese camera manufacturers indicate that Sony has quietly assumed the mantle of market leadership in cameras from long time leader, Canon.
The stark contrast between Canon and Sony photographic business unit results for 2018 are a leading indicator of a changing of the guard in camera manufacture. Canon’s Imaging business unit – comprising cameras and lenses, inkjet printers, scanners, projectors, broadcast equipment – didn’t have a great year, with a fall in net sales and a larger fall – 32.6 percent – in operating profit. There was a drop in sales of cameras of 14.6 percent compared to 2017. Projections for 2019 is for the decline in camera sales to continue, but at a lower level.
By contrast, Sony’s Imaging Products group latest results – the nine months from March – December 2018, show sales up by 23 percent and operating profit up 14 percent compared to 2017. (Canon operates on a Jan-Dec financial year while Sony’s runs from April – March.) Sony’s imaging business unit is almost entirely involved in the manufacture of cameras and lenses. It has a separate, 800-billion-yen business unit manufacturing imaging sensors.
Canon’s camera sales for Jan-Dec 2018 amounted to 600 billion yen – plummeting from 703 billion yen in 2017. Sony’s predicted sales from April 2018 to March 2018 are forecast as 670 billion yen, and it already has 516 billion yen logged from March – December.
Canon predicts camera sales of just 563 billion yen in 2019. (Sony has yet to publish 2019 forecasts.) On these official company figures, it would appear that Sony is already the world’s largest manufacturer of cameras. And that’s without the huge contribution to imaging technology from its advanced image sensors for itself and other camera manufacturers. It could thus be argued that Sony is the camera industry’s new market leader. (Nikon? Its imaging division has overall sales under 400 billion yen.)
And there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly magical up Canon’s sleeve to arrest the decline. Canon’s strength is in compact cameras and DSLRs – both contracting segments of the market. Canon attributed the drop in sales of Canon cameras in 2018 to market contraction, and pointed to full frame mirrorless cameras as a particular (‘urgent’) focus for 2019. But this is where Sony has established a dominant position.
‘Accelerating the expansion of our mirrorless lineup is a priority,’ the Canon report states. ‘The key to this is the EOS R, our first full-frame mirrorless model, launched in the second half of last year.’
‘…In order to further increase our presence in the mirrorless camera market, this year we will continue to expand our entire mirrorless camera lineup, consecutively launching new R-System products, including lenses.’
(Related story:Cheaper Canon mirrorless rumoured)
Not only will Canon have to take on Sony, which will be moving on to its fourth generation of mirrorless cameras in 2019, but Nikon, Panasonic and Olympus have also recently come out with well-received new mirrorless cameras. This is not to downgrade Canon’s undisputed strength among, and support to, professionals, many of whom wouldn’t consider using any other camera.
Canon’s other strategy to drive growth in cameras rests on the courageous decision to develop and launch new types of cameras.
‘Due to the proliferation of smartphones, the number of people capturing images is increasing and this
is widening the range of users seeking image capture features as high zoom ratios and video functions.
In response, we are broadening our horizon with regard to image capture and will launch models that
don’t fall under the typical notion of what a camera is.
‘We showed several new concept cameras that were well received by young people when exhibited in
the United States last year…It will take some time before we see these activities contribute to our performance. We will, however, continue efforts to actively cultivate new users.’
– But mainly it’s about full-frame and mirorrless. In a Q&A document accompanying the annual report Canon stated: ‘For cameras, amid market contraction, we urgently need to re-allocate our resource to categories that are growing such as mirrorless cameras and cameras incorporating full-frame sensors. And this is what we are currently doing.’
‘Urgent reallocation of resources’ doesn’t sound like the tactics of a company in full control of its destiny. Certainly not in a leadership position. Sounds more like panic.
Canon has been the largest and most influential of the camera makers for such a long time now the notion that this may no longer be the case will probably take some time to factor in, but in raw sales terms, and looking at what Sony has going for it and Canon hasn’t in the immediate future, it’s worth considering.
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