Equipment & Techniques > Cameras, Lenses and Shooting gear

Medium Format Camera Market

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Gary Ferguson:
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!

John Camp:
Many people think the problem is that the companies making digital backs (and now, integrated digital medium-format cameras) have tried to get too much of their investment back too quickly -- that is, that a 22mp camera/chip sold at $30,000 represents a huge margin per camera, even given low chip yield for the larger sensors. That, combined with limited utility (slow frame speeds, low ASAs, uncertain reliability, buggy software) has kept the market down. I believe, and apparently a lot of other people believe, that if the manufacturers begin producing a MF camera at about $10,000, with better reliability, usable software, etc., then sales would increase dramatically. But there are a lot of issues to be worked through before we get there. Manufacturers seem to be driven by a simplistic marketing idea --- more megapixels are better -- when I suspect that what most of the market wants now is better software and more reliability. After all, what market is a 40mp camera going after that a 22mp camera can't handle just as well? The art market, maybe, but that is a tiny niche. As for professional commercial photography, I'm not sure anybody could tell the difference between a 22mp shot and a 40mp shot in even the best standard-sized magazines (Vanity Fair, etc.) given that the final reproduction is done on high-speed presses...

I really don't think the MF market is disappearing; it's waiting for maturity. Whether the all the camera companies survive their own marketing is another question.


If I was making digital MF backs, I'd take a hard look at making them compatible with all the older models sitting in people's closets and on bargain tables.  Talk about a renaissance!  I suspect sales volume would jump sufficently to cover a price drop, which in turn would lead to even more sales.

I don't know about anyone else, but DSLR's killed our use of MF, and I'm not about to dump a bunchabucks into a MF back, meanwhile also having to completely revamp our MF holdings.

We've got 6 Mamiya 645 Pro bodies and something close to 20 lenses sitting in a box in our studio.  They haven't been out of the box in two years.  But give me a digital back that will work on that body for under $10K, and the DSLRs are likely to become the dust traps.


--- Quote ---As for professional commercial photography, I'm not sure anybody could tell the difference between a 22mp shot and a 40mp shot in even the best standard-sized magazines (Vanity Fair, etc.) given that the final reproduction is done on high-speed presses...
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Now think about what will happen once Canon comes out with a 22mp 1Ds-MKIII ..
That will make the MF industry shrink even more. The semiconductor industry has this effect of making everything mainstream - the immense investments required to make a new chip mean that you have to aim for mainstream.  If there is a niche close by, make sure you cover it as well.

I think that in the end, digital will make everyone shift 1 camera format smaller - those who used to shoot LF will swith to digital MF, ex MF film will go to FF digital, and 35mm photographers will go to APS-C.

I know next to nothing about digital backs so I have to ask.. How big are the smalles MF digital backs? Are there any 10Mp backs for example? Maybe some older ones? How expensive are thay these days?


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