Panasonic released the first mirrorless system camera, the G1, in October, 2008. A year later, mirrorless system cameras made up 11.1% of total interchangeable-lens camera sales in Japan. Since then, mirrorless system camera growth has been steadily growing.
BCN is a company which gathers the daily sales data from retailers all over Japan. Among the top 20 best-selling interchangeable-lens of 2011 in Japan, 12 were DSLR cameras while eight were mirrorless system cameras. Compare this to BCN 2009’s report, where all but four of the top 20 cameras were DSLRs (and those four were the only mirrorless cameras you could buy at the time).
We know that in general mirrorless camera uptake has been slower in the Western countries. CIPA (Camera & Imaging Products Assocation) reports that sales for mirrorless system cameras from July to December 2011 grew in proportion when compared to overall sales of interchangeable lens cameras. Mirrorless system cameras’ popularity peaked in Japan, taking 42 to 50 percent of the overall interchangeable lens camera market. Asia was second, growing from 22 to 30 percent. America grew from only 13 to 22 percent and Europe from 17 to 21 percent.
While the quick rise of mirrorless system cameras in Japan won’t necessarily translate across to other countries, it’s a plausible indicator of where the digital camera market is heading. As the segment in the middle, mirrorless system cameras are squeezing DSLR and compact camera sales, while compact cameras themselves are facing the squeeze from the other end from smartphone cameras (Sony has come out and said that compact camera sales were down 20% in 2011 across the industry, but keep in mind that 2011 was an extraordinary year for camera manufacturers with the Japanese earthquake and Thai floods hitting their manufacturing base).
DSLR cameras aren’t dying out, even as they’re losing market share. The best-selling DSLRs in BCN’s top 20 ranking are entry-level consumer models, so we still have users choosing them over mirrorless system cameras. Still, if the previous three years were any indication, 2012 will see further growth of mirrorless system cameras, taking market share from DSLRs. CIPA predicts that shipment of interchangeable lens cameras will grow by 18.8 percent in 2012, and they expect that growth will continue in markets outside Japan.
Nearly every major camera company has their hands in the market, Nikon with their 1 series, Panasonic and Olympus with Micro Four Thirds, Sony with NEX, Samsung with NX and Fujifilm with their X-series. The only major manufacturer not in the game is Canon, if they release their own mirrorless system camera in 2012 the market could shift in a significant way.