If you obsessively follow camera sites like I do, you will have seen the recent big headlines about the 40% drop in camera unit shipments from camera companies in 2013 compared to 2012. 40% is certainly a huge number, but I wanted to try and unpack that a bit.

The first thing I looked at was how the overall drop breaks down into the various categories tracked by CIPA. Here’s what I found:

Built-in lens camera shipment: -44% vs 2012
SLR shipments: -15% vs 2012
Mirrorless shipments: -16% vs 2012

Clearly, the bulk of the drop is coming from built-in-lens cameras (compacts, point and shoot, etc.). When you see that the “built-in lens” segment makes up 73% of all shipments, you can see how the overall drop can seem so large.

But is this really surprising? We know the iPhone and other smartphones are taking over the low end. We’ve heard all the companies say they’re dropping their low-end lines.

Interestingly, the data seems to also indicate the cost that went into production, so you can get some sense of profits in each category. I don’t know if this is actually how to interpret the data (I don’t see any docs on the rest of the CIPA site about this), but I compared the Yen amounts in the “shipment” column with that in the “production” column and divided by the number of units shipped to calculate a per-unit-shipped profit.

Assuming the methodology is legit, it looks like per-unit-shipped profit went up for the “built-in” category by almost 23% (this is after normalizing for the approx. 18% drop in the value of the YEN between 2013 and 2012) I obviously can’t conclude from just looking at this data, but it does seem like the companies did not over-produce these lower-end units, and actually probably lowered production on the lowest end models and are improving the profit margin on the units they do sell.

In the SLR category, year-over-year profit / shipment seems about flat (2% drop) after currency normalization.

Most interestingly, in the mirrorless category, the per-unit profit is up 50%  vs 2012. Perhaps this is an indication of the shift to higher-end mirrorless? We saw lots of FUJI models, high-end Panasonics, and even the Sony FF cameras appear last year, though I’m not sure those have enough volume to explain the uptick. 

If you look at absolute profit numbers in each segment, it falls out that:

“built in lens” category: -27% vs last year
SLR category: -16% vs last year
mirrorless category: +25% vs last year

And if you look at profit share by category:

“built-in” lens: 30% vs 35% in 2012
SLR: 56% vs 56% in 2012 (basically no change)
mirrorless: 14% vs 9% in 2012 (big gain)

Again, I don’t know if I’m interpreting the profit data correctly. But if I am, the data seems to support an overall decrease in volume, mostly coming the built-in category, and a shift to more profitable devices in both the “built in” an mirrorless categories.