Japanese camera maker Nikon will withdraw from the single-lens reflex camera business and shift toward digital offerings amid intensifying competition from smartphone cameras, Nikkei has learned.
Nikon’s SLR cameras have been widely used by professional photographers for more than 60 years and have come to be seen as synonymous with the Japanese company.
It now plans to focus resources on mirrorless cameras, which have become mainstream products on the back of more advanced digital technologies.
Nikon’s cameras have been losing out to smartphones, which increasingly feature powerful cameras. Nikon aims to beat them by offering products with more unique features.
Since June 2020, when Nikon launched its flagship D6 SLR, no new SLR models have been released. The company has already stopped development of compact digital cameras.
From now on, Nikon intends to focus on digital mirrorless cameras, but production and distribution of existing SLR models will continue.
Nikon is the second largest SLR maker after Canon. An SLR camera uses a mirror to reflect an image the photographer sees through the viewfinder.
Nikon dates from 1917 and adopted the company name in 1946. It released its first SLR in 1959, and has long been held in high esteem by professional photographers and journalists. It made its name offering top quality alternatives to German makes such as Leica that once dominated the market.
By the late 1990s, Nikon had made the switch to digital SLRs. Last year, it sold more than 400,000 SLRs, competing head to head with global leader Canon. SLRs are also produced by Ricoh under the brand Pentax.
Mirrorless cameras have a different viewing system and use image sensors that convert light into electrical signals. Like SLRs, they can accept interchangeable lenses that offer much more range than the fixed focal lengths used in most smartphone cameras. A feature of Nikon cameras has been the F-mount introduced in 1959. It has always allowed photographers to use a wide range of old lenses on recent SLRs.
Shipments of mirrorless cameras overtook SLRs for the first time in 2020 with 2.93 million and 2.37 million units shipped respectively, according to Japan’s Camera & Imaging Products Association.
There has been an overall decline, however. The combined market peaked at 11.67 million cameras in 2017, but had fallen to 5.34 million by 2021.
The dramatic falloff has forced Nikon to focus on the segment that still has potential to grow. In 2021, the market for mirrorless cameras expanded 31% to 324.5 billion yen, even as that for SLR cameras dropped 6% to 91.2 billion yen.
Mirrorless cameras have powerful capabilities. Artificial intelligence provides facial and pupil recognition. They can also identify animals, vehicles and objects.
The Nikon Z9, released last year, can shoot 120 images per second — more than ten times faster that most SLRs without the wear and tear of a moving mirror. This makes them ideal for sports and wildlife photography. Mirrorless cameras are lighter, smaller and virtually silent.
Mirrorless cameras have also been coming down in price to below 100,000 yen ($730), which is less than comparable SLRs.
With enhanced viewfinders and less lag, the quicker image processing helps photographers in fast-moving situations.
Mirrorless cameras already account for half the revenue from Nikon’s imaging products business, compared with about 30% for SLRs. In the year ending in March, sales of imaging products totaled 178.2 billion yen, or 33% of total group revenues.
Rival Canon also plans to follow Nikon and stop producing flagship SLR models within a few years.
Source: Nikkei Asia