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Camera, lens shipments plummet

May figures from CIPA (Japan camera manufacturers) continue the steep fall in camera and lens production and shipments first noted in April, with supply side issues possibly holding back recovery.

There were less than two-thirds the number of cameras shipped this May compared to 2019. (Source: CIPA)

While the top line result – a 214 percent increase on May, 2020 shipments – looks outstanding, it masks what appears to be a concerning reduction in Japanese camera and lens output. In 2019 there were a total of 6,056,000 million cameras shipped between January and May. In 2021, the Covid recovery year, this has plummeted by about 40 percent to just 3,607,000 units.

And it wasn’t all attributable to the Incredible Disappearing Compact Camera category. When it comes to interchangeable lens cameras, shipments fell from 3,295,000 cameras to 2,342,000. And while the increase in average selling price for cameras has been pleasing over the past 6 – 12 months, this wasn’t enough to overcome the shortfall in units shipped. Interchangeables shipped in Jan-May 2019 were valued by CIPA as worth 182 billion yen. That fell to 172 billion for Jan-May this year. If it weren’t for mirrorless cameras, which represent a staggering 130 of that 172 billion yen,  the camera industry would be cactus. However, entry-level DSLRs in particular continue to find a market. Pentax, in fact, is sticking with pentaprism technology:

‘In Australia I think many customers are traditionalists and still enjoy using optical viewfinders, as such entry level DSLRs from all manufacturers continue to sell well here,’ explained Clem Kennedy, director of Ricoh/Pentax distributor, CR Kennedy. ‘We sell out of the entry level Pentax DSLR every month and I think it’s the same for Canon and Nikon with their entry DSLRs.

He added that, ‘There has been a big bounce in demand for analogue photo products driven by interest from hobbyists and this generates good margins for all.’

Pattern continues

CIPA provides both shipping and production figures, with the production data a leading indicator of what’s likely to be shipped in the next month. Looking at production, June is set to continue the pattern where the industry is shipping way less than 2019, with June shipping results closer to Covid 2020 June than before the pandemic hit.

The question retailers would love answered is whether manufacturers are shipping as much as they think the market will bear; or are constrained by a lack of components, shipping challenges and other ‘supply side’ issues.

A pattern has developed whereby many new recent releases have been quickly followed up by announcements that   demand has overwhelmed the production estimators – blow me down –  and there isn’t enough stock. This reached an absurd situation last week when the Nikon Z fc was followed up just four days later with this apology: …We have received a large number of reservations for the “Z fc” and “Z fc 28mm f / 2.8 Special Edition Kits” scheduled to be released in late July 2021. For some customers who are currently making reservations, it may take some time before the product is delivered.

See: Supply shortages hitting photo industry?

The lens shipment story is as lacklustre as cameras, with around 500,000 less units shipped to May 2021 than May 2019.

When lens shipments are compared to 2019 the story is similar. There were 5.7 millions lenses shipped in 2019 and just under 4 million in 2020.

‘The battleground for lenses is with the new mounts – Sony E-mount, Canon RF, L Mount, Z mount,’ said Clem Kennedy (CR Kennedy also distributes Sigma lenses.) ‘It is still yet to be determined what the new world order will be with the mirrorless mounts. The lens manufacturers were rapidly releasing prime lenses for the mirrorless bodies, and the next round of releases will be super telephoto lenses for these cameras.’

Looking at the unexpected dip in production and shipments, its hard to gauge whether it’s just the camera manufacturers struggling with post-Covid supply-side issues, or whether the pandemic and its aftermath have changed everything.


  1. Nicholas Grocott Nicholas Grocott July 7, 2021

    I wonder to what extent buyers are fed-up with their new purchase being superseded by a yet newer model within 6 months? My last buys were a Nikon D800E and more recently the Z7, both with a swag of lenses, yet within months came “better” models and better lenses. I’ve had enough. My purchasing days are over for the next 10 years, if that.

  2. David Bignell David Bignell July 7, 2021

    Perhaps this is somewhat related to a downturn in international tourist travel due to Covid as many people purchase a new camera just before they leave on their holiday.

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