Interchangeable Lens Market Shares?

A comment by a Sony executive at Photokina had me scrambling for my calculator. What he said was “Sony currently has a 40% market share in mirrorless cameras.” Hmm, that sounds good. Could it be that Sony is finally challenging Nikon in terms of interchangeable lens camera market share?

So I went back to Canon and Nikon’s recent published numbers and the CIPA shipment numbers for 2014 so far and plugged them into a spreadsheet with Sony’s claims and an assumption about Sony’s DSLR sales (which they didn’t disclose). What I came up with was a range of values that went like this:

  • Canon — 38 to 40%
  • Nikon — 33 to 35%
  • Sony — 12 to 14%

Those are ranges because I had to make estimates about a few things and the data isn’t completely aligned. Still, Sony is probably still a fairly distant third behind the duopoly. But note that the three companies between them probably have anywhere from 83 to 89% of the interchangeable lens camera market. Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, and Sigma are scrambling over 11 to 17%. Recent revelations out of Olympus in Japan seems to put them at just under 3% and slipping. 

And, of course, this is “shipping into distribution,” not sales, per se, and it leaves off Leica and Samsung. 

Another thing to look at with market share would be to look at “efficiency.” If you got your entire market share with one model, you’d be doing far better than if you needed 10 to get that share. In terms of current cameras, I came up with the following from their corporate Web sites:

  • 9 Canon (8 DSLR, 1 EOS M)
  • 12 Nikon (8 DSLR, 4 Nikon 1)
  • 10 Sony (3 DSLR, 3 FE, 4 E)

So, Canon and Nikon are dominating DSLRs, but they’re doing so with 16 models, way more than all the competitors combined. Sony is dominating mirrorless, but doing it with 7 models, more than both Canon and Nikon combined. Canon is slightly more efficient than Nikon.

Moving further, at the moment Canon and Nikon DSLRs are a bit different in distribution, too, as I noted in an earlier article:

  • Canon 5 crop sensor, 3 full frame sensor
  • Nikon 3 crop sensor, 5 full frame sensor

So we have three different players taking slightly different strategies towards dominating interchangeable lens cameras at the moment (though the hanging inventory problem increases the number of crop sensor cameras sitting on shelves for all three companies significantly). 

The question is whether or not the implied differences in strategy emphasis—Canon crop sensor, Nikon full frame, Sony mirrorless—will change the balance of power. I think not. One thing that the D750 and D810 do that hasn’t been talked about much is that they shore up the front against the A7 and A7r. I’ve written a number of times in the past two years that I feel that the D800 is the best all-around DSLR available, and my experience with the D810 tells me that it simply improves and extends upon that. That’s not to say that I don’t like the Sony A7 models—I do—but they’re not up to the same levels of what I can do with the D810 and, I assume, the D750. That, of course, is good news for Nikon. 

It seems fairly clear that Nikon is going upscale, at least with DSLRs (though note the AW1 and V3 Nikon 1 models are rather upscale, too). Basically, the same camera in FX is double the price as DX, all else equal. The legacy F-mount lens base is mostly FX, too. So to some degree Nikon is playing to their strengths (prosumer/enthusiast). The problem for them is that this isn’t really a growth strategy, it’s more of a circle-the-wagons strategy, and it’s leaving more than a few folk worried that Nikon is going to leave them behind (DX users in general, but in particular the D300 user). This comes after a huge five year push to try to become the biggest camera maker in unit volume (mostly via Coolpix iterations, but also with additional lines such as the Nikon 1), barely getting there, and then suddenly contracting.

And speaking of growth, what’s with Canon? It appears they’ve raised their 2015 interchangeable lens camera sales forecast (i.e. are not predicting another decline for next year, but rather significant unit volume growth). Given what I know of the market the only thing I could see driving the kind of growth they seem to now be predicting is another new interchangeable lens camera of significance. Coincidentally, there are now rumors floating around that Canon might introduce a new mount with smaller sensor (ala the Nikon 1).

But, overall, it looks to me that we’re still locked into the same basic pattern for unit volume in interchangeable lens cameras that we’ve had since the early 90’s: Canon leading, Nikon following, and Sony (originally Minolta) trailing. At the moment, there’s nothing appearing from any of the three that seems to be going to alter that any time soon.

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