The coronavirus pandemic has hit the camera industry particularly hard with a dramatic downturn in both production and sales during March. Traditionally a period when sales of new products announced after the New Year begin to come on-line, this March saw production and shipments from Japanese companies drop to only 48% of levels reached in the same month last year.

Figures released by the Japanese Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA) show world-wide shipments were only 47.8% of the volume last March, with the number shipped to Asia (excluding Japan and China) only 39.8% of last those shipped in March 2019. Shipments to ‘Other Areas’ (including the Middle East) are most healthy but still down to 68.2% of last year’s volume, and this region accounts for a very small proportion of sales. Shipments to the USA were at 44.7% and those to Europe were 48.3%, while Japan managed 54.5%.

Production and shipped data for March 2020. Column 2 is for comparison to February 2020 and column 3 shows a comparison to March 2019. Column 4 compares Q1 2020 with Q1 2019

It seems SLR cameras have fared far worse than mirrorless models, which may be partly down to the fact that there are fewer new SLR models around at the moment. Production of SLRs reached only 32.6% of the levels for last March, while mirrorless models reached 56%. China was the only region to receive more SLRs than mirrorless cameras, but that figure was still only half of what the country took last March.

The CIPA figures are reflected in the sales reported by Stackline, which showed online camera sales in the USA were down 64% in March. With many camera shops with closed doors too, sales across the counter are also likely to be very poor. The market research company rated cameras no. 3 in its list of the 100 fastest declining product categories – with only briefcases and luggage doing worse. Unsurprisingly, disposable gloves were the fastest-growing product.

Last week Canon reported a drop in camera revenue of 27% for the first quarter of the year - slightly ahead of that across the total Japanese camera market which recorded a drop in revenue of 31.1% compared to the same period last year. The revenue drop for SLRs shipped from Japan was 40.2% while that for mirrorless models was 25.8% in the months January to March 2020.

Sales of lenses have held up a little better with the total volume produced in March dropping by 46.1% and those shipped falling by 44.8%. Production of full-frame lenses dropped by 34.5%, while those designed for smaller formats fell by 53% by volume. In better news, the value of smaller-format lenses shipped to the USA was up by 1.5% over the value shipped to the region in February – and I’ll take that as a positive.