It seems like the camera industry might be finally turning a corner.
After 55 consecutive months of year-on-year declines in worldwide shipments of digital cameras, there was a 17.2 per cent increase in December last year compared with the same month in 2015, based on data collected by the industry trade group Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA).
In a keynote speech last week during the CP+ Camera and Photo Imaging Show, an annual camera trade show organised by CIPA in Yokohama, CIPA president Hiroyuki Sasa said: "Once we hit the bottom, the only way is up."
This year will be the trigger for the market revitalisation, said Mr Sasa. However, industry watchers did not share the same optimism.
The recovery in shipments of digital cameras was largely a result of production easing back and fulfilling back orders after the April 2016 Kumamoto earthquake, said Ms Karissa Chua, global consumer electronics industry analyst at research firm Euromonitor International.
Globally, retail volume sales of digital cameras are still expected to decline by 7 per cent this year compared with last year, predicted Ms Chua. Last year, it was a drop of 15 per cent compared with 2015.
"While the pool of consumers who are purchasing cameras has shrunk, there has been a shift towards more premium and high-value models like DSLRs and mirrorless cameras," she said.
In other words, the serious amateurs and hobbyists are the ones who are still buying the interchangeable-lens cameras.
Camera retailers are also seeing a similar trend. "There has been a shift to this group of customers, mainly because of the mirrorless-camera segment, which boasts of being compact but yet is able to produce high-quality images," said Mr Vincent Tan, retail manager of camera store Cathay Photo.
"Right now, mirrorless cameras are the only ones experiencing growth in sales," he said.
According to data from market research firm GfK Asia, the mirrorless-camera market segment in South-east Asia expanded by 45 per cent in volume last year compared with 2015, with a corresponding 51 per cent growth in market value.
"The market trends point towards a bullish segment for mirrorless cameras within the overall digital-camera market across South- east Asia," said Mr Gerard Tan, GfK Asia's senior director.
He mentioned his attempts at taking photographs of a CP+ 2017 booth with people playing basketball using his smartphone, but all the photos turned out blurry. "This is when you realise you need a professional camera," he said.
In Singapore, the overall digital-camera market contracted by 30 per cent in volume last year compared with the year before, based on GfK Asia's data.
All is not lost. GfK Asia feels that the Singapore market is expected to remain relatively stable because of the increase in the average selling price of cameras sold, echoing the same trend seen across the region.
"Camera makers may be selling fewer units but the margins from each unit are increasing," said Ms Chua. She expects the average unit price of digital cameras to grow by 5 per cent from last year to 2021.
So, maybe, the camera industry might be picking up after all.