It's no surprise the camera market is in a decline, earmarked by continuously-decreasing unit sales, revenue and operating income. It seems as though no company is safe from the impact of both smartphones and the general decline in demand for DSLRs, but while the numbers are indeed in a freefall, the reality is the actual macro-level outlook is far more nuanced than catchy headlines alone can tell.

To take a more overhead view of the camera industry, we're dug into the industry-wide numbers from CIPA and broken down the most recent results from Canon, Nikon and Sony to compare them year-over-year (Y/Y) to see how things are shaping up.

CIPA

CIPA provides an overarching view of how the camera industry is doing through the participation of nearly a dozen camera companies that report their production and unit shipments to CIPA on a monthly basis. Since we’re only looking at the last two quarters from Canon, Nikon and Sony, we’re only going to dive into the numbers for the corresponding months of CIPA’s data.

CIPA's September graph showing interchangeable lens camera unit sales over the past three years.

From April 2019 to September 2019 (the latest statistical data CIPA has made available), CIPA reports 8M total digital camera shipments: 4.4 million interchangeable lens cameras and 3.6 million cameras with built-in or fixed lenses. This is an overall decrease of 22-percent Y/Y with a 23-percent decrease for interchangeable lens cameras and a 20-percent decrease in cameras with built-in or fixed lenses.

CIPA's September graph showing interchangeable lens unit sales over the past three years.

These decreases are concerning, but still less dramatic than the Y/Y change from 2017 to 2018. This change could be due to a few factors, but the most obvious one is that both Canon and Nikon introduced their full-frame mirrorless systems in late 2018, which likely helped to slow down the declining market as consumers hopped onboard the newer systems. However, it's clear from the following numbers that neither Canon nor Nikon saw their full-frame mirrorless options replace the declining sales of DSLRs as both companies might ultimately be hoping.

Canon

For its FY2019 Q2 and Q3 numbers, Canon reported 2.06 million unit sales for interchangeable lens cameras and 1.36 million compact camera sales during its FY2019 second and third quarters, a decrease of 16-percent and 13-percent respectively Y/Y for the same time period.

A breakdown from Canon's Q3 financial presentation that highlights the units sold in Q3 as well as the net sales and operating income of its Imaging Systems division.

This 16-percent decrease is less than the industry-wide 22% decrease as noted in CIPA's data, but these two quarters last year were before Canon's EOS R (and EOS RP) was announced and it's possible that DSLR sales were depressed in expectation of the new cameras being around the corner. So, while the numbers are better than the market in general, with all of the development and marketing that went into making its new RF-series gear, it's merely softened the blow rather than boost unit sales.

In regards to finances, Canon has reported ¥394B ($3.6M) in revenue and ¥23B in operating profit over the past two quarters, a decrease of 19-percent and 59-percent, respectively. It's worth noting the drop also includes the loss of revenue and profit from the broadcasting and cinema gear that was included in last year’s numbers and has since been moved elsewhere within Canon's business structure.

A breakdown of the net sales and operating income of Canon's respective business divisions for its third quarter.

Throughout its presentation for investors, Canon specifically references the ‘deterioration of [the] macro-environment,’ which is more or less investor spin for the camera market is in decline—a fact backed up by CIPA numbers, as well as numbers from other camera manufacturers during the same time period. Canon also echos the sentiment that you’ll see in Nikon and Sony’s report below, saying there is ‘intensifying price competition.’ Interestingly though, Canon isn't downgrading its forecast for the remainder of the year—something Nikon has done for two straight quarters now as you'll see below.

Canon also notes that it’s working to lower inventory before the end of FY2019. Based on numbers provided, Canon has ¥157B worth of inventory as of the end of FY2019 Q3; less than it had this time last year (¥174B), but still higher than previous FY2019 quarters.

A breakdown from Canon's Q3 financial presentation that discloses current inventory levels compared to previous quarters and last year.

Something always worth keeping in mind is that Canon’s Imaging Systems business accounts for a relatively small percentage of its overall income. Based on the numbers from FY2018, Canon’s Imaging Systems division represents 25-percent of its overall revenue and 37-percent of its operating profit.

Also, Canon's FY2019 numbers are skewed when looked at Y/Y, as it moved its broadcasting equipment and cinema-use video cameras from its Imaging System division to its Industry & Others division.

Nikon

Moving onto Nikon, the numbers don't get any prettier. In its most recent financial statements covering the past two quarters, Nikon says it sold 800K interchangeable lens cameras, 1.3M interchangeable lenses and 500K compact cameras. These numbers are down 25-percent, 21-percent and 41-percent Y/Y, respectively.

Revenue, Operating income and unit sales broken down in Nikon's Q2 financial presentation.

In its financial presentation for investors, Nikon has updated its forecast for how many units it expects to ship this coming fiscal year, as well as the number of units it expects the digital camera market as a whole to bear. Nikon believes it will sell 1.5M interchangeable lens cameras, 2.5 million interchangeable lenses and 900K compact cameras, down 100K units across the board compared to its previous forecast from August 2019 and down 28-percent Y/Y.

Comparing Nikon's numbers to Canon show the situation is more dire for Nikon. Canon's EOS R and EOS RP haven't done as well as Canon expected, but Canon is forecasting unit sales to drop 17-percent Y/Y whereas Nikon's forecasting nearly double that at 28-percent. This means Canon is expecting a decline less than the market as a whole according to CIPA's numbers whereas Nikon is six percentage points worse than what CIPA is reporting.

A chart from Nikon's Q2 financial presentation that breaks down the sales of its ILCs, interchangeable lenses and compact camera unit sales.

In addition to unit sales, Nikon's revenue and operating income aren't cheery either. Over the first half of its FY2020, Nikon reported 119B yen in revenue and an operating profit of just 2B yen. Compared to the first half of its FY2019, those numbers are a 21-percent and 85-percent decrease, respectively.

Much like Canon with its RF-series, the cost Nikon has sunk into its Z-mount system and accompanying lenses has likely contributed to the massive decrease in operating profit. It’s not cheap to develop new systems and lenses, especially considering the amount of capital required to get new factories and fabrication up and running at full scale.

A chart from Nikon's Q2 financial presentation showing revenue, operating income and unit sales figures compared to last year, as well as the forecast for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Nikon specifically calls out its Imaging Products Business in the presentation, saying it was the only division that wasn’t ‘mostly in line’ with its estimates. The materials specifically say the camera market ‘has deteriorated further as market shrinkage accelerates and competition intensifies.’ It also cites the increased cost of its Z-mount system lineup expansion as ‘a burden’ to its operating profit and notes it overestimated the sales forecast of its Z-series cameras.

For a company that's stated in the past that its Z-series is more or less the future of the company, continually low numbers isn't the best look, especially considering how much Nikon relies on its camera division compared to the likes of Canon and Sony. Nikon goes so far as to say it hopes to 'fundamentally transform' its Imaging Products Business to 'generate enough profits to justify [the Imaging Products Business] existence as a business unit.'

Sony

Of all the financial results we look at, Sony’s has consistently been one of the most challenging to gain details insights on. Due to how they structure their business segments, we can't really delve into the figures in detail as we can with Canon and Nikon. However, Sony didn't specifically mention anything too positive or negative about its camera division, which hints that there wasn't anything too notable about its latest quarters.

A breakdown of sales and operating income for Sony's Electronics Products & Solutions division. This division includes Sony's camera sales, as well as mobile devices, televisions and other electronics.

According to Sony’s current Q2 and Q3 reports, its Electronics Products & Solutions EP&S segment — which includes digital cameras amongst other electronic products — pulled in 977.4B yen in revenue and 66.5B yen in operating profit. This is a decrease of 13-percent and an increase of 35-percent Y/Y, respectively. Sony doesn’t elaborate much on the sales of camera gear, aside from saying that overall unit sales have decreased year over year.

A breakdown in sales and operating income for Sony's Imaging & Sensing Solutions division, which is responsible for the manufacturing of its imaging sensors.

Moving onto Sony’s Imaging & Sensing Solutions (I&SS) segment, which is a separate — but related — business responsible for making its image sensors, the latest reports put its cumulative Q2 and Q3 earnings at 541B yen and 126B yen. This is an increase of 18-percent and 64-percent, respectively. Sony says a ‘significance increase in sales of image sensors for mobile products,' mostly due to smartphone manufacturers now putting multiple camera units in their devices, as the main reason for such dramatic growth Y/Y in both revenue and operating profit

Conclusion

All in all, there’s plenty to take away from the latest numbers and results. The digital camera market continues to shrink and although full-frame mirrorless cameras from Canon and Nikon are somewhat picking up the slack in sales, they’re not entirely mitigating the decrease in DSLR shipments—especially for Nikon.

Furthermore, the cost of research and development (not to mention marketing and promotional material) that goes into launching cameras and lenses with new mounts has dramatically impacted the operating profits of the imaging divisions. As Canon and Nikon continue to pump money into their newer systems, operating profit will likely stay low until economy of scales kicks in and the new fabrication components are paid off. But declining DSLR and compact sales without corresponding growth in the mirrorless market isn't going to make the transitions any easier to get through.

The market appears to be dropping at a slower rate than it has in past years, but it's still not great news. At what point it will stabilize remains to be seen, but with an Olympic year next year and more mirrorless developments in the works across the entire industry, it’ll likely be a while until we find out.