Top: Panasonic S1 (left) Canon EOS R (right) Bottom: Sony a7 III (left), Nikon Z6 (right)

It’s been a rather tumultuous year for camera sales atop a market already in decline, but the latest report from Camera & Imaging Products Association (CIPA) shows the market is back in business and nearly recovered from the COVID-19 downturn.

CIPA, an industry association that aggregates shipment and sales information from the leading camera manufacturers, has shared its October numbers, which show the September recovery of shipments wasn’t a fluke. According to the October report, total digital camera sales – which include both fixed-lens cameras and interchangeable lens cameras – saw a total of 1.13 million units shipped. That’s still 22.8% fewer units shipped compared to October 2019, but that’s a far better shipment rate than the past six months, which have seen shipments hover around 50% of what they were in 2019 in the same months.

A line graph showing the month-by-month shipment numbers of digital cameras — including compact, fixed-lens, DSLR and mirrorless — for the past three years. Click to enlarge.

And the numbers look even better for interchangeable lens cameras. CIPA’s report says a total of 754K units were shipped, a decrease of just 13.6% compared to October 2019. Despite shipping fewer units, the monetary value of those shipments is up half a percentage point year-over-year (YoY) as well, showing the cameras being sold are more expensive models.

Interestingly, the increase in value from those shipments can be attributed only to mirrorless cameras. Globally, the monetary value of DSLR sales is down 22% YoY for October, aligned with overall unit shipments, while the monetary value of mirrorless shipments is up 11.9% YoY for October. In other words, the average revenue from global DSLR sales has more or less stayed the same while increasing for mirrorless camera sales. This backs up statements from multiple manufacturers – most notably Canon and Nikon in their investor reports – that higher-end, full-frame mirrorless models are selling better and will be the focus of their product lines.

A line graph showing the month-by-month shipment numbers of interchangeable lens cameras for the past three years. Click to enlarge.

The October report also confirms DSLR camera sales are on a far faster decline than mirrorless cameras, at least in most regions. Global DSLR shipments were at 338K units, down 21% YoY for October, while mirrorless camera shipments were 416K units, down just 6.4% YoY for October.

Where it gets interesting is when you look at shipments by region. The increase in monetary value of mirrorless camera shipments comes almost entirely down to China, which saw a 53.8% increase in value YoY for October. Also, Europe stands as an outlier in the DSLR market; according to CIPA's report, while DSLR sales are down in volume and value to the United States, they're only slightly down in volume and up substantially (30.5% YoY for October) in Europe. This could simply be due to the stock being sent to the respective regions (budget DSLRs vs higher-end DSLRs), but it's an interesting discrepancy nonetheless.

A full breakdown of production and shipments of cameras aggregated by CIPA. Click to enlarge and click here for the PDF version.

The ratio between DSLR and mirrorless shipments to different region varies quite a bit as well. In Europe, DSLR and mirrorless shipments in terms of volume are roughly even, but in terms of value, mirrorless is nearly double. The United States, on the other hand, saw roughly 35K more DSLRs shipped to its shores compared to mirrorless cameras, but mirrorless still has double the value of those DSLRs.

It remains to be seen if volume and value return to their 2019 numbers over the holiday seasons, but things are looking up for an industry that's seen a devastating decline.