Understanding Numbers, Japan Edition


Each year, BCN in Japan reports year-end market shares for various categories of computer, consumer electronics, and camera retail sales in Japan. Generally, the mirrorless camera component of BCN’s yearly pronouncement has been interpreted this way: “Sony gains market share, Olympus loses market share.” Yes, that’s true:

  • 2014: Sony 34.3%, Olympus 22.3%
  • 2013: Olympus 28.9%, Sony 26.5%

So you might say that Sony picked up about 8 points of market share and Olympus lost about 6 points. Single digit numbers. Not terribly big numbers. Obviously, not good for Olympus and good for Sony, but this doesn’t look like big news, it just looks like a modest shift.

However, it’s important to look at more than one isolated set of data. Let’s look at just two data points, 2012 and 2014, and with two sets of numbers, BCN’s retail sales and CIPA’s shipments to the Japanese market. While it’s not a perfectly aligned set of data, we’re going to multiply the BCN observed market share each year with the CIPA actual shipments of mirrorless cameras into Japan to come up with approximately how many cameras were actually sold: 

  • 2012: Olympus 244k units, Sony 162k units
  • 2014: Olympus 159k units, Sony 246k units

Uh oh. That shows a very different picture than just a single digit gain or slide of market share, doesn’t it? In just two years, Olympus and Sony have completely reversed positions in Japan in terms of mirrorless camera sales. And remember, Japan is one of the strongest markets for mirrorless cameras, so a big reversal like this is meaningful.

Adding in Panasonic to make this a m4/3 mount versus E/FE mount comparison gives us this:

  • 2012: m4/3 434k units, E/FE 162k units
  • 2014: m4/3 248k units, E/FE 246k units

This actually makes things look worse. In 2012 m4/3 was trouncing the E mount 2.7 to 1. Two years later, the mounts are in near parity.  

Meanwhile, a lot of folk keep saying that Japan is an indication that the DSLR companies are in trouble. Well, maybe not as much as you think. In Japan—and again, this is the market with one of the highest mirrorless camera penetrations so far—the CIPA numbers say 1.1m DSLRs shipped into Japan in 2014, while only 725k mirrorless were. That’s 60% DSLRs, 40% mirrorless. But BCN’s numbers show that Canon has a 54.7% market share and Nikon a 39.1% market share in DSLRs. So let’s put the full set of calculated unit shipment numbers for Japan in context:

Updated: market shares in earlier version were calculated incorrectly; I’ve also added Fujifilm and Ricoh/Pentax to the numbers:

  • Canon*: 670k ILC units sold in Japan in 2014, 37% overall ILC market share
  • Nikon*: 460k ILC units, 25% ILC market share
  • Sony*: 265k ILC units, 14.5% ILC market share
  • Olympus: 159k ILC units, 8.7% ILC market share
  • Pentax*: 106k ILC units, 5.7% ILC market share
  • Panasonic: 89k ILC units, 4.9% ILC market share
  • Fujifilm: 76k ILC units, 4.1% ILC market share 

    *Includes both mirrorless and DSLR shipments

Certainly Canon and Nikon aren’t as dominant in Japan as they are in, say, the US, but they’re still pretty clearly the #1 and #2 players, even in one of the most mirrorless-centric markets out there, and they still hold half the interchangeable lens camera market in Japan. Canon’s recent EOS M3 release in Japan, with its aggressive pricing, looks like a salvo across Sony’s bow and an attempt to grow market share again in the home market. In a year, we’ll know how that played out ;~).   

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