CP+ 2019: Camera makers bank on mirrorless cameras

Visitors at the annual CP+ Camera & Photo Imaging Show 2019, held in Yokohama, Japan.
Visitors at the annual CP+ Camera & Photo Imaging Show 2019, held in Yokohama, Japan.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

Traditional camera makers are fighting the challenge of smartphones with ever more capable cameras.

Following the flurry of 5G, foldable and multi-camera smartphone announcements at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona last month, participants at the annual CP+ Camera & Photo Imaging Show in Yokohama, Japan, last week said they would pull out all the stops to develop mirrorless cameras - the bright spark for traditional cameras with changeable lenses.

At the biggest show for photographic equipment and accessory makers, Mr Yoshiyuki Mizoguchi, who leads Canon's consumer camera business, said traditional cameras with changeable lenses are better at capturing a wide range of colours under low-light conditions and produce better bokeh.

These photographic effects can be achieved by the latest mirrorless cameras, which are lighter and less bulky as they do not use reflex mirrors unlike traditional digital single lens reflex cameras.

"I believe these will be the drivers that will entice smartphone users to the interchangeable-lens cameras market," said Mr Mizoguchi.

In photography, bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image.

Although the latest smartphone cameras can produce this effect, the colours are arguably richer on traditional cameras.

Mr Yutaka Iwatsuki, Sony's senior manager of imaging product planning, said the company is banking on mirrorless cameras for growth.

The camera industry has been declining for years due to smartphone cameras steadily getting better, which has resulted in consumers not seeing a need to buy dedicated cameras.

 
 

Last year, global digital camera shipments fell by 22.2 per cent year on year to 19.4 million units, according to figures by industry trade group Camera & Imaging Products Association, which organised the annual CP+ show.

Competition is expected to stiffen.

At this year's Mobile World Congress, Nokia unveiled a smartphone - the Nokia 9 PureView - with a rear five-camera system, while Oppo previewed a 10x optical zoom smartphone camera system.

Even so, analysts are convinced that there will still be a group of loyal fans for traditional cameras.

"Some Instagrammers and video bloggers will use interchangeable-lens cameras and edit on the PC before posting to stand out from the crowd," said Mr Loo Wee Teck, head of consumer electronics research at market research firm Euromonitor International.

Mr Ed Lee, group director of business intelligence firm Keypoint Intelligence, said digital cameras are returning to their role as tools for photographers.

"We are going back to where we were with film, when the people using (these) cameras are interested in photography as an art form," says Mr Lee.

Expect to pay more for these cameras, said Mr Alexander Dehmel, senior market insight manager of market research firm GfK Asia.

Overall, there has been an increase in the global average selling price of digital cameras.

Typically, the average selling price started at €540 (S$830) last year, up 22 per cent from the base price of €442 in 2016, according to data from GfK Asia.

 
 

Despite the higher price, global mirrorless camera sales grew 22 per cent last year over the previous year, GfK Asia said.

It is the continued decline of fixed-lens cameras that has pulled down the overall industry figures, said Mr Dehmel.

Sony was the first to launch its full-frame mirrorless camera, the a7, in 2013. Last year, Nikon launched the Z6/Z7 and Canon, the EOS R.

These mirrorless cameras use a full-frame image sensor that is bigger than the two other smaller but common formats - APS-C and Micro Four Thirds - and are thus able to deliver better image quality.

Next month, Panasonic will be launching its highly anticipated S1 and S1R full-frame mirrorless cameras.

Panasonic is part of the L-mount Alliance with Leica and Sigma, which allows the companies to create cameras and lenses for Leica's L-mount system for mirrorless cameras.

Lensmaker Sigma, too, will be launching its own L-mount full-frame mirrorless camera.