Are People Really Using Their Cameras?

I was discussing cameras that were turned in for trade with a dealer recently. They pointed out that they see two variations: (1) cameras with huge shutter count numbers; and (2) cameras with virtually no shutter count mileage. 

Another dealer I talked to told me about the recent high-end camera they got in trade: 14 shutter activations. Considering the original cost of the camera, that was US$135 a photo! I hope they were really, really good ones. On the other hand, someone’s going to get a like-new used camera for not much money. 

There’s a crowd-sourced Web site that tries to predict shutter life for cameras. For the camera with 14 shutter uses: average after which the shutter is still alive is 124,000 clicks. The average shutter failure happens at 188,000 uses. So there should be plenty of life left in that used camera for the person who eventually buys it.

One thing I wonder about is how much of the ~6m interchangeable lens cameras sold in the past year fall into each of those two categories (high use, almost no use). Even though this site mostly deals with folk that are in the former category, if buying-without-taking-photos is a significant portion of the market, it has implications for the future of the camera companies. 

There’s no doubt that by the peak of both the film and DSLR eras there was a lot of “perception buying” going on. By that, I mean that people were buying because they wanted to be perceived as keeping up with the Joneses. E.g. “every household has a serious camera, I’d better get one.” 

I worry that a lot of the current mirrorless buying going on is perception buying. After all, cameras such as the Nikon D850 are incredibly competent. As good as the Z8 is, you have to be truly serious about photography to justify buying it if you already have a D850. That's similar for most other recent Canon and Nikon users, as well. 

Perception buying has a tendency to go away. Indeed, because “a smartphone is a good enough camera” thinking now pervades the Internet, it takes better and more persistent marketing to get the perception buying folk over the buying barrier. 

I wrote at the start of the pandemic that I felt that 4m/annual units was a floor through which interchangeable lens sales had better not fall through. Since then, we’ve been in the 5m to 6m range for the most part. Can this be sustained? Can we go beyond that ceiling? 

The camera companies are all basically happy with their financial results at the moment. Everyone seems to be reporting growing profits and healthy product margins. Personally, I’d be worried. Pushing higher end products with bigger margins in lower volume is mostly a one-time tactic. What’s needed is something more disruptive (as in “you need to replace your old system with this, because…”). Something that will generate more sales volume, not higher prices. 

The more that perception buying (low use buying) is happening, the more I’d be worried. I don’t have the ability to do that sort of survey from my site (you’re all high use folk, for the most part). I sure hope that the camera companies do.

 Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: | mirrorless: | Z System: | film SLR: all text and original images © 2023 Thom Hogan
portions Copyright 1999-2022 Thom Hogan
All Rights Reserved — the contents of this site, including but not limited to its text, illustrations, and concepts,
may not be utilized, directly or indirectly, to inform, train, or improve any artificial intelligence program or system.