The end of an era: Nikon no longer develops SLR cameras

Nikon D6

The camera manufacturer continues to sell current models such as the D6. In the medium term, smartphones and system cameras will finally take over the market.

Nikon is a pioneer of the SLR camera. Since 1959, the Japanese manufacturer has been driving the revolution in photography, which has brought Japan’s camera brands the world market leadership in digital cameras to this day. The group is now ending this era. Nikon confirmed what many had expected: the company is stopping developing new SLR cameras.

The scarce resources are to be concentrated on mirrorless system cameras, which have outstripped digital SLR cameras. Because the system without a heavy and large folding mirror and glass prism enables smaller cameras and lenses, new functions and, above all, simpler video recordings.

Nikon’s last new SLR camera is the D6 from 2020. However, these and other existing models are to be resold for the time being, including the lenses.

With this, Nikon corrects the mistake of having relied on digital SLR cameras for too long. In this area, the manufacturer of precision optics fought a duel with local rival Canon for decades for the place of the world’s largest manufacturer. At the height of the digital camera boom around 2010, camera manufacturers were selling more than 100 million units a year worldwide.

After that, manufacturers lost this lucrative market to smartphones. At the same time, electronics manufacturers like Sony and Panasonic, as well as brands like Olympus and Fujifilm, attacked the two camera giants by creating a new market segment: mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses. Sony – the world’s largest manufacturer of image sensors, which acquired traditional camera know-how by acquiring Konica Minolta – dominated this segment for a long time. It was the right bet, as statistics from the Japanese Association of Camera Manufacturers show, whose data are equated with the world market: In the record year 2017, sales of system cameras with interchangeable lenses reached 11.7 million units.

What Nikon is up to now

But then the business slacked off here too, partly because smartphone manufacturers are equipping their devices with ever better cameras. In 2021, camera manufacturers sold just 5.3 million units. But the mirrorless lost fewer customers than the SLRs. Nikon’s camera division fell into the red at times.

It was only in 2018 that Canon and Nikon entered the segment with full-frame cameras, which was new to them. This refers to cameras whose sensor is as large as the negative of 35mm film used to be. And with that, the fate of SLR cameras was sealed. In 2020, with 2.9 million cameras, this new category overtook the SLR systems for the first time, which were only sold 2.4 million times.

In 2021, the new photo cameras continued to grow, while the traditional cameras lost ground.

But Nikon suddenly found itself in an unfamiliar position in the new segment: number three. Canon, financially and technologically better positioned than Nikon, is now fighting Sony for the crown of camera manufacturers.

Nikon is now concentrating on catching up. The new mirrorless top model Z9, which can shoot 120 photos per second, is praised by many testers. The long-established group is thus maintaining its chance of playing at the forefront of a shrinking camera market in the future.