TOKYO -- Japanese camera makers are upgrading their unit sales forecasts for fiscal 2017 by about 10% as demand for high-value-added models drives a market recovery.
The Instagram effect
The camera market had been on a downward trend over the last several years as consumers defected to smartphones, shrinking to a fifth the size of the peak marked in 2010. But signs of recovery are evident this year, with global shipments having grown on the year for five consecutive months.
Canon, Japan's largest camera maker, upgraded its outlook by 8% from its original plan to 9.5 million units for the year ending December. "Models that take interchangeable lenses and compact digital cameras are both selling better than expected," said Toshizo Tanaka, executive vice president and chief financial officer.
Sales of Nikon's new D850 digital single-lens reflex camera and upmarket compact digital models are also brisk. The company raised its full-year forecast by 8.3% to 5.2 million units.
One factor behind the rally is the photo-sharing app Instagram. More users are choosing high-value-added compact digital cameras to snap and post pictures that cannot be taken with a smartphone camera.
The Asian market has been the driver of mirrorless camera sales, but those models have been making headway this year also in European and U.S. markets. Their presence is becoming especially noticeable in the professional market once dominated by single-lens reflex models.
Robust sales of mirrorless single-lens cameras were a major reason why Sony, Fujifilm and Panasonic upgraded their forecasts. Sony has twice lifted its original outlook by a total of 10.5% to 4.2 million units, the same figure as the year ended this March. Its Alpha mirrorless camera series is selling well. Fujifilm sees sales volume rising over last year's result to 1 million units.
"We will pursue the professional market with mirrorless cameras," stated Shigeki Ishizuka, an executive vice president at Sony. Sales of full-frame, high-performance mirrorless cameras are strong, capturing demand from both professional and amateur photographers. Lacking contact points for professionals, Sony also created the Imaging Pro Support program for repairs and consultation.
Panasonic is also on the offensive. "We will go all out to strengthen operations for high-end cameras geared toward professionals," said Yosuke Yamane, director of the imaging network business division. The company will seek input from young photographers in developing new products.
Panasonic on Thursday unveiled the G9Pro, a mirrorless single-lens camera with powerful image stabilization capability for shooting moving objects. Using its first-rate image-processing technology, Panasonic equipped the G9Pro with the ultra-fast autofocus of 0.4 seconds. The camera goes on sale in Japan Jan. 25.
Global camera shipments from January to September climbed 13.6% on the year to 18.91 million units, according to the Camera & Imaging Products Association. Although some of gains can be attributed to a rebound from last year's earthquake in Kumamoto, which hurt camera component supply, the market has clearly turned around, and industry insiders see a year-on-year gain in 2017.
Japanese camera makers are hoping for an even greater recovery as their country hosts a plethora of sporting events starting next year, including the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.