The photographic press recently reported the 2005 figures from the Camera & Imaging Products Association (CIPA), a Tokyo based industry association that represents the Japanese camera manufacturers.
No surprises in their figures, DSLR shipments at 3.8m units in 2005 have just overtaken film cameras, and the trend is expected to accelerate with DSLR shipments surging to 4.7m units in 2006 before growing more slowly thereafter, reaching 5.3m units in 2007 and 5.6m units in 2008. They also seem to believe that the world market for total digital cameras has pretty much peaked at about 65m units, with much smaller growth in the future.
However, buried in the raw data on CIPA's web site were some figures that did surprise me. They split out production and shipments of "Medium & Large Format Cameras", the haemorrhaging declines weren't a shock, but the miniscule scale of the remaining business was.
CIPA members (which include all the Japanese names you'd expect such as, Pentax, Fuji, Contax/Kyocera, Mamiya, etc) shipped a grand total of just 7,950 medium and large format cameras in 2005, down from 10,507 in 2004, and 18,006 in 2003.
Furthermore they're clearly winding down existing stocks because in 2005 the entire Japanese camera industry manufactured (as opposed to shipped) just 5,842 medium and large format cameras! Even if Hasselblad (excluded from these figures) absolutely dominates the medium format industry it's hard to see how the total world market could amount to more than about 40 or 50k cameras a year.
I once heard that the market for medium format digital backs was only about 30k units per year. But I was hoping that the digital MF announcements by Pentax and Mamiya might herald a renaissance in the industry, with more products and competition leading to a virtuous circle of falling prices and growing sales. In this commercial environment it's difficult to see why any company would bother.
Rather it suggests that although medium format, digital or film, occupies so much of the enthusiast's attention, from a commercial point of view it looks like a trivial sideshow that simply doesn't warrant any serious investment.
It's sobering to think what we might expect in the future. Even the DSLR business is just the cherry in the camera cocktail, medium format isn't even the stick!