Oh snap! Digital camera market in ‘free fall’

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When was the last time you snapped a picture with your digital camera? For many, the answer is "months" or "years".

Widespread usage of smartphone cameras is pushing point-and-shoot digital camera sales into a "free fall", say analysts, and there's little hope of a turnaround for the market.

Digital camera shipments by Japanese manufactures plunged 32.5 percent on year to 3.96 million units in September, marking the 29th consecutive month of declines, according to data published by the Camera & Imaging Products Association, a Tokyo-based industry group, this week.

Domestic shipments fell 28.6 percent to 540,000 units, while export shipments fell 33 percent to 3.42 million.

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Shipment volume declined 32.5 percent in Europe, 41.9 percent in the Americas, 21.9 percent in Asia, and 27.4 percent in other regions.

Digital cameras are taking a different course from other consumer electronics goods such as TVs, laptops and smartphones, which first took off in developed markets and then in emerging markets, said Wee Teck Loo, head of consumer electronics at Euromonitor.

"This isn't the case with digital cameras. Consumers in emerging markets aren't buying digital cameras at all," Loo said. "For the price of an entry level camera, at $150-200, consumers are able to buy a mid-range smartphone that provides many more features."

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Tetsuya Wadaki, analyst at Nomura, who proclaimed the digital camera market was in a "free fall" in a note this week, said weak demand at Canon, the world's largest camera maker by sales, is emblematic of overall market conditions.

Canon last week reported a 27 percent fall in third quarter operating profit, hurt by a slump in its camera business.


While demand for point-and-shoot digital cameras is plummeting, there's one segment of the camera market that's holding up well: digital single-lens reflex (SLR) and compact cameras, says Loo.

"There's a new breed of affluent middle class consumers, predominantly in developed markets, that's totally skipping entry-level cameras and going directly to SLRs and compact cameras," he said.

This is positive for Canon and Nikon, which are well-established in the business, said Loo, however, players such as Kodak, Panasonic and Olympus may suffer as a result.

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As such, the growing popularity of SLRs may not be enough to rescue the entire industry.

"Canon has launched its EOS 7D Mark II, a high-performance SLR able to meet the needs of professional photographers and while it has been very well received, it is unlikely to prevent the market from contracting," he said.

Nevertheless, he says, "we still note the possibility that the launch of attractive products by Canon or Nikon, which have strong brand appeal, could change the course of the market slightly.