The Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA) has released its data for May 2021. While the global economy is still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (and the numerous variants now spreading), a recovery of the photography market is well underway, even if it’s still well below the numbers we were seeing back in 2019.

Starting first with overall digital stills camera (DSC) market, May 2021 saw 711,362 units shipped at a value of 42.2B yen, up 192.4% and 231.8%, respectively, compared to May 2020. Compared to May 2019, units shipped are down 47.3% while the value of those units shipped is down 16.7%.

This chart from CIPA shows total digital stills camera shipments in 2019 (purple, circles), 2020 (black, triangles) and 2021 (orange, squares). These numbers include compact cameras with built-in lenses, DSLR cameras and mirrorless cameras. Click to enlarge.

If you ignore DSCs with built-in lenses and look only at DSLR and mirrorless camera systems with interchangeable lenses, May 2021 saw 459,408 units shipped at a value of 35.5B yen, up 214.2% and 250%, respectively, compared to May 2020. If we compare the data from May 2021 to that from May 2019, unit shipments are down 39% by volume and down 10.1% value. As you might expect, DSLR camera sales account for a large majority in the decrease for interchangeable lens camera systems between 2019 and 2021.

This chart from CIPA shows total shipments for cameras with interchangeable lenses in 2019 (purple, circles), 2020 (black, triangles) and 2021 (orange, squares). Click to enlarge.

Specifically, if we ignore 2020 (since it was an abnormal year due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and look at the difference between May 2019 compared to May 2021, DSLR camera shipments dropped 54.4% by volume and 49.2% by value; meanwhile mirrorless camera shipments in May 2019 compared to May 2021 dropped only 19% by volume and actually saw a 16.5% increase in value.

Nearly every market saw YoY gains between May 2020 and May 2021, but the Americas, in particular, are seeing a dramatic recovery. CIPA’s May 2021 data shows a sizeable increase in total interchangeable lens camera shipments to the Americas, with nearly double the shipments (in both volume and value) compared to April 2021. Compared to May 2020, interchangeable lens camera shipments are up 463.5% by volume and 627.2% by value in May 2021, with mirrorless accounting for a vast majority of those gains. Specifically, compared to May 2020, May 2021 saw mirrorless interchangeable lens camera shipments increase a whopping 712% by volume and 1,227.9% by value, signaling a strong recovery as vaccination rates are going up and restrictions are lifted across much of North and South America.

CIPA’s complete May 2021 breakdown, which shows production and shipment data from January, February, March, April and May 2021 by camera type and region. Click to enlarge.

So what all does this mean? As has been the case for over a year now, it’s difficult to tell. Compared to the same timeframe in 2019, DSC shipments are down roughly 40% by volume, which is in line with the 20% or so decrease we were seeing from around 2017 onward. However, in that same timeframe, the value of those camera sales has dropped only 16% or so.

This means that while fewer cameras units are being sold year after year, the average price of the units sold is increasing. It might be a small consolation prize for camera manufacturers, but it suggests there is some kind of equilibrium on the horizon, particularly as mirrorless cameras continue to increasingly fill the void being left behind by lacking DSLR camera sales.

You can find a full list of companies participating in CIPA’s data and view all historical data on CIPA’s website. You can find the full May 2020 dataset here.

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