And April Makes Four

The April shipment numbers are in, and the trend I've been commenting on for some time continues: mirrorless camera sales growth is still not what everyone seems to think it is. For the fourth consecutive month, mirrorless shipments from camera makers in 2013 trailed shipments in 2012. The April 2013 number is 95.6% of the April 2012 number. That's an improvement from February and March, but to call mirrorless cameras a growth market is now clearly a misnomer. 

DSLR shipments for April 2013 were 97.3% of 2012's, mirroring the mirrorless numbers, basically. (Note: CIPA's percentage calculation doesn't agree with mine, which is slightly higher. Either they revised a previous number or they miscalculated. I haven't had time to check which, yet.) 

Folks who are still hung up on the "mirrorless is growing faster than DSLRs" notion should look at the CIPA numbers a little more closely. CIPA tracks both "production" (what was manufactured in that month) as well as "shipments" (what was sold into distribution that month). What I just reported were the shipment numbers. In general, those are the most useful to look at, as you can't buy a camera at retail if it hasn't been shipped from the maker. Since camera makers often make cameras in batches, they sometimes stockpile inventory for brief periods, thus the production numbers don't map as well to retail sales except over longer periods of time. 

The production number for mirrorless in April was only 58.7% of last year, while the production number for DSLRs was 102.5% of last year. In other words, the DSLR camera makers are still making cameras at the same volume as last year, while the mirrorless makers have cut back. This has implications on future CIPA shipment numbers. And it's not a one-month trend: the lower-production-than-shipment trend for mirrorless has been going for three months now. Clearly the mirrorless makers have cut back on what they think the market will absorb in terms of mirrorless cameras.

No, this lowering of production doesn't imply the death of mirrorless cameras, it simply acknowledges what I wrote over a year ago: mirrorless cameras will not overtake DSLR sales any time in the near future. The initial high growth rate of mirrorless was a false one: the camera makers overzealously produced them when the demand wasn't really there. 

I still predict that the mirrorless/DSLR world will eventually be one and the same. Once phase detect autofocus is on the imaging sensor with the same level of performance, there's little need for the cost and complexity of the mirror system in DSLRs. As Canon has shown recently, you can make much smaller DSLRs, even with the old mount depths. Long term, the difference between most mirrorless-derived cameras (m4/3, NEX, etc.) and most DSLRs (EF mount, F mount, Alpha mount) is going to really only be the depth of the camera. The smaller sensor cameras (Nikon 1, m4/3) will have an advantage of smaller lenses, at the disadvantage of lower image sensor performance. 

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