Japan mid-tier camera makers face shakeout as smartphones shatter mirrorless hopes

Japan mid-tier camera makers face shakeout as smartphones shatter mirrorless hopes
A model poses with a Nikon 1 J1 camera at its unveiling ceremony in Tokyo, in this 2011 file photo.

TOKYO - Panasonic Corp and Japan's other mid-tier camera makers have a battle on their hands to win over a smartphone "selfie" generation to mirrorless cameras that held such promise when they were launched around five years ago.

Panasonic, like peers Fujifilm Holdings and Olympus Corp, has been losing money on its cameras since mobile phones that take high-quality photos ate into the compact camera business. This year, compact camera sales are likely to fall more than 40 per cent to fewer than 59 million, according to industry researcher IDC.

Meanwhile, sales of mirrorless cameras - seen as a promising format between low-end compacts and high-end single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras - are sputtering as buyers put connectivity above picture quality.

A 40 per cent drop in Panasonic's overall camera sales in April-September left the imaging division vulnerable as the company's mid-term plan to March 2016 demands unprofitable businesses turn themselves around or face the axe.

"If you look mid-to-long term, digital camera makers are slipping and the market is becoming an oligopoly," said Credit Suisse imaging analyst Yu Yoshida.

Panasonic held 3.1 per cent of the camera market in July-September, down from 3.8 per cent a year earlier, according to IDC. Canon Inc, Nikon Corp and Sony Corp controlled over 60 per cent between them.

"Only those who have a strong brand and are competitive on price will last - and only Canon, Nikon and Sony fulfil that criteria," added Yoshida.

Canon and Nikon dominate the SLR camera market, while Sony could survive any shakeout thanks to its strength in making sensors for a number of camera manufacturers as well as collaboration with its smartphone division.

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