Many months ago I was made privy to a set of sales numbers collected and predicted by a major financial player (you'd know the name), and who was using that to make predictions about which companies that make cameras would and wouldn't thrive in the coming years. The supplier of these numbers was asking for my comments about the predictions on the camera market implicit in those numbers out through 2018.
Here's the thing that I said to my questioner after analyzing those numbers: mirrorless is going to hit a lower peak in sales than DSLRs.
We're starting to get decent numbers out of CIPA about mirrorless production, so can actually test against the predictions that I was given to assess. I stand by what I wrote.
Tech disruptions all follow a similar pattern, the well-known hockey stick curve. Early on there's little growth and the curve is near the bottom and flat (that would be the early Leica digital era ;~). Then the disruption gets leverage and takes off (m4/3 kicked that off). The angle of the growth slope and the length of the growth slope is important. Eventually the growth tapers and you get a plateau at the top. Basically: _/¯ is the way every tech disruption curve looks overall, with only the angle and size of the / being different.
One thing I look for is how long the >100% growth lasts. That tells us a lot about both things. Guess what? Mirrorless is already down to 50% growth per anum. Last year: 4m units. This year: 6m units (predicted out of CIPA numbers). That represents a far quicker decline of growth than the DSLR market saw, thus the general conclusion you have to reach is that the peak in sales won't be as high.
Of course, 50% market growth is >50% larger than the current "growth" in compact camera sales, which is highly negative now. And it's still better than the low double-digit growth in DSLRs. That's why everyone wants to play in the mirrorless market: it's the best way to show any significant sales growth in any of the camera markets (outside of smartphones, which is beyond the reach of most camera companies, and even outside the camera group in the few that do play there). Play your cards right and you can actually take a bit of overall market share from the leading three players (Canon, Sony, and Nikon).
Since I've been writing a series of articles over on bythom.com this month about the viability of DX (and by assumption APS) DSLRs, which are the heart of the DSLR market, it's worth commenting on what's likely to happen in coming years. DSLRs will defend themselves for awhile, then become EVFs (ala what Sony has done with their DSLR lineup). In other words, most of the DSLR market is posed to eventually merge with mirrorless. Taken together, mirrorless and EVF DSLRs will be bigger than mirrorless or DSLRs by themselves. But it also means that we'll be back to the too many players trying to grab market share from one another problem. Don't underestimate the Canon/Nikon will to dominate this market. They may not appear to be competitive at the moment in mirrorless, but they will have to dominate the combined mirrorless/DSLR market in the future to stay players in cameras.
Sony is the oddball in the race. They are actually successful at mirrorless, not so successful at DSLRs (in terms of market share). I look to Sony to try to leverage their mirrorless success against Canon and Nikon as the markets start coming more together. But here's a message to Sony: get off your butts and produce more and better NEX lenses! There isn't a lot of time until Canon and Nikon figure out what they're going to do in the combined mirrorless/DSLR world and start producing their own solutions, including lenses. The other players need every advantage they can muster to hold off the Big Two.