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Since January 1, 2011, the world’s camera makers have announced nearly 85 new camera models and only three of those are HDSLR/DSLR/interchangeable lens— mirror- less cameras.  This number does not include dedicated camcorders/video cameras.  These announcements have largely been made in conjunction with CES 2011 in Las Vegas and the Japanese CP+ show. 

The Bread and Butter of Digital Camera Business

The 80 plus  new point & shoot, advanced cameras, and super zooms, most of which have some video capabilities, underscore the fact that digital cameras are a staple of the consumer electronics business and also the continued importance of the  these cameras for image capture.  The cameras in this segment of the market are generally priced under $500 with the greatest number available in the $100-$350 range. These cameras fall squarely within the segment of the market that is most vulnerable to the camera- equipped smart phone.  Camera makers have battled the appeal of the phone imaging by including additional amenities and functionality: higher continuous shooting frame rates, better ISO performance, Wi-Fi connectivity, weatherproofing/ all-terrain proofing, waterproof models, as well as enhanced in-camera filters and processing abilities, and-image sharing options.  In an effort to expand the appeal of these cameras to more advanced users, manual control and a raw capture options seem to be showing up with increasing frequency on cameras in this segment. The pitch seems to be that the dedicated camera can give you better images as well as a greater degree of control under every circumstance than your cell phone can.    

Even with pressure from smart phones, the Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA) forecasts 6.4% growth in this segment of the market with unit sales approaching 115 million.  According to CIPA, overall camera sales are expected to reach 131 million units this year, which represents 7.8% growth over 2010. 

The Growth Segment

Estimates are that HDSLR/DSLR/interchangeable lens— mirror- less cameras account for the sale of the remaining 16 million camera units this year.  These cameras represent a smaller, but faster-growing and more profitable segment of the market for the manufacturers.  The expectation is for a 20% increase in sales over 2010.  The battleground here appears to be in the $500-$1000 retail price range where every major manufacturer is a player with multiple products in body only and /or lens kit configurations.

 The profitability of these cameras is not only fueled by the sale of camera bodies themselves but by the appetite of users for multiple lenses. How important is the demand for lenses? CIPA indicates that lens shipments should increase this year by nearly 22 percent to 26.4 million units.  While the traditional DSLR camera makers, have extensive lines of 35 mm lenses from ultra-wide to super telephoto for every conceivable use, they are facing competition from third party lens makers who are aggressively expanding their offerings.,

This potential for growth in lens sales explains the recent expansion of third-party lens manufacturers’ into the relatively young micro 4/3 lens utilized by Panasonic and Olympus and interest in the E-mount used by the Sony’s NEX camera models, which are not as robust as the options available for the traditional DSLR brands, Ultimately, the increase in lens options for cameras that utilize these mounts, should benefit camera body sales and market penetration. Sony recently made the decision to make their E-mount specifications available to third-party lens manufacturers without licensing fees.

 The wild cards in the growth in the HDSLR/DSLR/interchangeable lens— mirror- less camera segment are Canon and Nikon, who will undoubtedly release new HDSLR products during 2011, but neither has indicated whether they will introduce interchangeable lens mirror-less cameras and lenses this year.  Canon has, however, indicated to analysts that that it believes that sales for all of their digital cameras will top 30 million units.

What the Abundance of Cameras Means

There are a lot of cameras in hands of the general public, and the majority of them are in the hands of people who are not making a living with them.  The access to relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use cameras has changed the value of and the way people value both still and moving images.  The abundance of still and motion-capable cameras allows people to chronicle their everyday lives with an unparalleled ease.  This is a win-win situation for camera manufacturers, their shareholders, and the public.

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