"The camera market has largely bottomed out at its current size. Going forward, we expect the professional and advanced amateur segment to expand further and that products will become more highly developed. Accordingly, we expect the overall market to grow from now on. As for DSLR cameras, we will continue to supply products as long as there is demand."
As a long time camera customer (decades), I am disappointed by this announcement. Knowing that they are changing their focus to more professional which would mean a higher price point. Having purchased two Canon mirrorless cameras and both being disappointments, I do not have faith in that sort of shift in their production. It seems they are a follower and not a leader in mirrorless technology. Not trying to stir up anything as I own another major brand that is mirrorless and it is leaps and bounds above all the Canon gear I own which is substantial after decades.
What are your thoughts on the announcement?
Like you, I have been a Canon user for over four decades (although I use Fuji, Nikon, Olympus and Sony to a much lesser extent). I was not surprised at the announcement by Canon - I think other manufacturers are seeing much the same trend. Let me explain why I think that is true...
Go back to the start of the century. Digital was just starting, there were no significant cell phone cameras and the market was very different within the digital camera environment. Most people were buying point and shoot cameras, and the few DSLRs available were extremely expensive. Actually, Canon created a massive price drop with their EOS D30 (not the 30D), a 3.3MP APS-C CMOS camera that saw it come out at $3,000, compared with previous cameras that were around $25-30,000, and used CCD sensors that were both more expensive to make, demanded much more power and attracted dust like magnets. For the following decade P&S and DSLRs continued to develop, and the market grew as people abandoned their film cameras in favour of digital.
The game changer was the rise of smartphones that had massively improved camera technology. While the sensors remained small, they benefitted from the explosion in computational photography to enhance and improve both still and video imagery. That, combined with the benefit that cell phones could immediately process images using in-camera apps and upload them to social media sites, started a decline in dedicated camera sales that has continued and broadened up the level of camera models. Not only were these units relatively cheap: coming as part of a smartphone people bought anyway, but they were extremely easy to use - something that could not be said for a novice learning to use an Interchangeable Lens Camera.
So, we have seen the market eroded from the bottom up as casual users abandoned traditional cameras and went to the 'new Brownie': the smartphone. Having fatally undermined the P&S market that put a lot of pressure on the amateur photography market. Canon have always had a major income source from their lower-end DSLRs: they are relatively easy to use, and there has been a huge range of optics. Still, these cameras, and all of the ones above, had to gain more and more features to stay in the game, and that cost money - although, surprisingly, they did not adopt the lessons from cellphone makers to change their interfaces, that remained largely traditional to those from decades before.
The rise of Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (MILCs) has been a further game changer. For all makers it has required a huge investment in R&D, design, and up-tooling to deliver the systems like Canon's R-series or Nikon's Z-series, to name but two.
Given that cost, combined with the absolute mayhem caused by COVID, and the resulting chaos in manufacturing and logistics, the 2020's have been a challenging decade for all makers. Sony had led the MILC charge, and had a firm lead in the MILC market that was challenging to Canon and Nikon to break into. Some enthusiasts are notoriously fickle when it comes to gear - switching brands to follow the latest tech. Gear Acquisition Syndrome(GAS) is a hallmark of those that believe that their latent genius is held back by equipment and constantly chase the holy grail of that perfect camera to release that talent. I think that is far less true of the professional market where practitioners are more pragmatic: using a camera as a tool and not changing that unless it offers real benefit to their business.
All that said, it has become clear that the P&S, and DSLR markets are dying - much to the dismay of a group that love that platform. This is not new: it has happened with every significant technology change, and is called disruptive for a good reason. However, given all of the above, Canon chose to continue its supply of DSLRs as long as the market supported that, but the money had to go into the new generation of MILC cameras. The M-series has been a bit of an odd-ball. It uses MILC tech in a much more compact form and lower price point, and has catered to a market, especially strong in Asia and Europe, of people who embrace the smaller form factors of a MILC for travel, convenience, and especially Vlogging. Again, Canon have continued production of a somewhat reduced range to support the market as long as it is viable - no-one wants to turn down good income. However, it is clear that development has ceased in the DSLR and M-MILCs in favour of putting those resources into developing the R platform. Again, that has been hampered by COVID: both directly in terms of shut-downs and disruption of manufacturing and unreliable logistics that make a smooth transition more challenging.
The first R-series MILC cameras that Canon came out with were clearly for the high-end of the market: pro's and serious enthusiasts. After a slightly tepid effort with the R, and more egalitarian effort with the RP, there has been a strong offering a the higher end with R3, R5 and at the Prosumer end with the R6. The recent release of the new ASP-C platform represented by the R7 and R10, signal that Canon is keen to capture that much greater middle ground: the hobbyists. It signals that Canon is swinging its full range across to R-series MILCs, and will likely erode offerings in the DSLR and M market spaces, as people swing across to the new platform: offering significant improvements in both stills and video shooting.
So, when Canon say that they see the market as bottoming out, I personally see that they mean that they think that the decline in camera numbers sold will stabilize and flatten (ergo 'bottom out'). Without doubt, R7 and R10 are enticing offerings at their price points, and the ability to port across legacy EF and EF-S lenses is supportive of the move.
In the end, to hold their place against the ever-evolving smartphone, they have had to invest in much better tech, and that costs money, yet they have had to do so in a dramatically shrinking marketspace and against stiff competition from other major brands.
I think it is fair to say the P&S is dead, replaced by the smartphone, but a market of amateurs, enthusiasts, prosumers, and pros still exists and this is smaller pool all dedicated manufacturers are fighting to swim in right now.
Canon have made two statements that you quoted and as I interpret that, I actually take some comfort in them.
The camera market has largely bottomed out at its current size: after a period of carnage, the camera market is stabilizing and that is a good thing for manufacturers and consumers, because it provides a basis of confidence for future investment and development. In a way it can assure us that Canon isn't going anywhere.
"...we will continue to supply products as long as there is demand" there is some comfort and assurance here for DSLR and M-series owners that, while they may not get any new bodies or lenses, as long as people buy what's on offer, they can get product. Of course, it is obvious that with the latest APS-C R models they are offering a path to woo away enthusiasts to the R-mount but they haven't suddenly ceased production of those legacy platforms. They are simply stating an economic reality.
Cell phone cameras have taken away the P&S market. In agreement 100%.
However, is that the same customer as the DSLR? Was the last "pro-sumer" DSLR camera the 5DMIV in 2016? Has there not been a demand for a DSLR since 2016? Or has the company's focus shifted away from DSLR to mirrorless?
All major players have recognized the technology shift started by Sony about five years ago and as the technology has changed they have moved with it. People were saying much the same thing about Canon when they moved from the FD mount to the EF mount and brought in the EOS system.
Canon are still making the 1DX and 5D series DSLRs but the market and the money have moved to mirrorless - it is what it is.
" Knowing that they are changing their focus to more professional which would mean a higher price point."
All camera manufacturers have let the iphone maker's eat their collective lunch. In my DSLR 101 classes, I can't even guess how many folks that picked up a Rebel and expected it to be as easy to use as an iphone. They even expected it to work in a similar manner. Camera makers could have done that but they didn't. They simply conceded that part of the market. It will never return!
I much prefer a DSLR for the type of photography I do. My 1DX II and 1DX III bodies have never created an issue or had a glitch in hundreds of thousands of captures in the rain, snow, and extreme cold and the battery life is excellent with several thousand exposures between battery pack changes. The optical viewfinder shows me in real time exactly what is happening, I don't want an electronically processed view. The lightest lens I typically use is a 70-200 f2.8 and I shoot with telephoto primes up through the 800 f5.6 so saving a few ounces in body weight is a negative because the solid construction of the 1DX series helps provide balance for the big primes. And I have zero interest in shooting video with these cameras which is one of the reasons for the move to mirrorless since it is derived from classic video camera architecture.
I will pick up a second 1DX III this year although for all practical purposes, I am pretty ambivalent between my 1DX II and 1DX III bodies and I still carry a 1DX as a spare to events because it is still an incredibly capable camera that like my other 1DX bodies has never let me down. Noise under low light conditions is very close between the 1DX II and III, enough that rarely is there a significant difference. The 1DX III has additional AF capabilities with more points and eye and head/helmet tracking capability but for most events I am using a single AF point to pick out what I want in the action so the added capabilities are a crutch I rarely use.
Ultimately, if I keep doing photography long enough I may be forced into mirrorless only due to lack of availability of professional DSLR models but that will be the only reason. Long after GM and others produced DOHC and other different architecture engines, the classic OHV design was used for a huge part of their output because the attributes of the architecture were perfect for the application. Different platforms/technologies have different attributes, benefits, and drawbacks and mirrorless, particularly with Canon's efforts to date, is far from being the universal perfect solution for all photography needs.
I went mirrorless with Canon about two years ago (although I still have all my DSLRs). The early units: EOS R and RP were not their best effort IMHO - I would describe them as 'tepid'. However, the R5, R6 and R3 are performing well for me, and have improved with a series of firmware updates to resolve early issues. This is not unique to Canon - Fuji pioneered the application of the Kaizen approach - continuous improvement, in this case via firmware updates, and that is one of the reasons why they have a very loyal following. Sony and Nikon are also pursuing this path that is as much dictated by the fact that cameras are becoming much more computerized, especially with the application of computational algorithms for lens correction, autofocus and tracking. We are used to that with our PC's: it was inevitable that it would happen with cameras.
I would be interest to know the details of why you were unhappy - what model or models you were using, lenses and the versions of firmware you were using when you had problems. I would also be interested to know what brand you moved to and how that has worked out for you.