Market Share Percentage Shows Sony’s Full Frame Sales Leadership

Last week Sony dropped the bombshell that they’ve held the number one position in the full-frame interchangeable lens market in the United States this entire year. While impressive, this isn’t particularly surprising if you’ve been following digital photography news over the last few years. It’s especially impressive though considering that both Nikon and Canon have decades of a head-start on Sony (a century in Nikon’s case) and that Sony only produced its first full-frame mirrorless camera in 2013.

What’s more impressive though, is some information I’ve recently discovered through communications with NPD Group—the industry analysts that track trends in the consumer electronics market, and provides sales and market share data to all of the key players.  You’ll notice they are the ones quoted in a lot of the public data claims within the industry, including Sony’s release last week.

I’ve been provided with the official market share percentage of Sony, Nikon and Canon in terms of US dollars, and the results are staggering.

You might think that Sony has just eked out the top position by a few points, something that could easily be a fluke, but this is incorrect. Sony’s command of the market share shows that they’re not just tenuously holding the top position, but are ahead of the competitors by double digits.

So, back to market share, I wanted to see if NPD would provide not just what position Sony was in, but the position of all three of the contenders, and more importantly, the percentage of the market these companies held in the same period. I’m a bike racer, and I know that when you’re judging a race, it’s not only important to know who won, but by how much.

As I mentioned, the figures that I got from NPD completely blew me away. Below are the actual market share percentages, by US dollars for the period running 1H (that’s business speak for first half) 2018

Sony Market Share By Percentage 1H 2018

BrandU.S. Dollar Share
Sony40%
Canon33%
Nikon26%

Source: The NPD Group, Inc., U.S. Retail Tracking Service, Detachable Lens Camera, Sensor Size: Full Frame, Based on Dollars Share, Jan.- Jun. 2018.

This is important information, not just because it shows how far ahead Sony is, but because it’s data for an entire half of a year. This doesn’t represent some fluke where a new product put someone in the lead, but six months of actual sales data in a fiercely competitive market.

It’s also important because—well look at that market share position over Nikon. That’s 14% more dollar share than Nikon in a year when Nikon has delivered their highest-demand product in years, the Nikon D850.

This helps put the new Nikon mirrorless camera into context as well. Nikon owns 26% of the market share, so to move up to the number two spot they’d need to capture eight percent more of the share going forwards from the other two companies who are both competing against Nikon.

So, if Nikon only sells their mirrorless camera to existing Nikon customers, they’ll be competing against their own market share. That’s called “market cannibalization” which is the effect that a new product has on existing product sales. They’d simply be trading the sales of DSLRs for the sales of mirrorless cameras. As it stands now, Sony need only pull away more Nikon customers that are dissatisfied with the new mirrorless ecosystem than Nikon pulls away Sony customers, and that gap is going to be impossible to bridge.

Because this is full first quarter data, it includes actual sales of Sony’s a7 III line and actual sales of the Nikon D850. Some will argue that Nikon’s percentage sales are lower because they haven’t been able to keep up with demand on the D850, but that’s precisely one of the company’s problems, something that will only grow when they’re offering a whole new system.

Another argument I’ve heard in forums about these figures is that they aren’t fair because Sony has two recent camera shipping, the a7R III and the a7 III, while Nikon only recently released one camera (again the Nikon D850), and Canon only has the Canon 6D Mark II. This simply points out that Nikon and Canon are still operating on their traditional three-to-four year development cycle, while Sony is producing cameras as a more aggressive pace. Both Nikon and Canon chose to only have one new full-frame camera in the same period where Sony decided to release two.

Can the Nikon, the company that is unable to fulfill D850 orders do so while also trying to fulfill orders of their mirrorless cameras? And can they also develop new products in both their DSLR and mirrorless lines fast enough to keep up with the competitors?

Since 2013, when the Sony a7 arrived, Sony has released nine full-frame bodies and twenty-ninelenses (including the two teleconverters). Nikon, by comparison has released seven new full frame bodies (six if you count the D810 and the D810A as a single unit) and just a handful of new full-frame lenses. Canon has amazingly released only five new full frame bodies in that time (four if you count the 5Ds and 5Dr as a single unit) and a similar handful of lenses.

In this new mirrorless world and the upcoming head-to-head challenge between Sony, Nikon and Canon, it’s interesting to think about what each company is able to produce, and how often. Nikon and Canon have worked on a product cycle that’s around four years, while Sony’s updated their camera bodies inside of two years.

The fact that Sony’s in the number one position is good for Sony users, and the upcoming direct competition between Sony, Nikon and Canon  is good for everyone as it will push further innovation. If Sony hadn’t championed the full frame mirrorless camera, it’s unlikely that Nikon and Canon would even had considered making a full frame mirrorless camera,as its  bad for their core DSLR business.

Sony is also interacting with the photographic community in  ways that Canon and Nikon have never dreamed of. This weekend I attended the first BeAlpha event in Brooklyn, NYC, and it was off the chart. In addition to the gathered Collective members and Artisans, hundreds of photographers flocked to the event to take part in shoots, listen to speakers, and to meet each other—and meet the Sony staff. While it might seem like a simple idea to put on photographic events for photographers, it’s not something that Nikon and Canon do, and it’s a sign of the way that Sony is thinking more about the photographic community than anyone else.

Sony users have the peace of mind of knowing that they’ve picked a system that’s not only competitive, but leading the pack. I’ve been to many press events where Sony outlines the major steps they had to take to reach this spot—a huge investment in sensor technology, a re-design of lenses, etc.—and they’re certainly going to do whatever it takes to hold that number one spot. That means more innovation, more development and more effort to distance themselves from the products made by Nikon and Canon.

The next few years should see massive advances in the digital photography world, and looking at the numbers, it’s pretty clear Sony will be leading the charge.