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How Large is the Medium Format Market?

I found this quote in the Forbes interview with Leica quite interesting:

FORBES: An established market, plus established competitors, plus a new target audience for Leica… it all adds up to a tall order. How is is the S-System selling?

LEICA: There are no industry-wide figures, but we think the core medium format market is roughly 6000 units per year – worldwide, for all brands. We are not yet the market leader (I estimate Phase One to have 40-45% market share), but we already have 20% share – and this is only after 3 years after introduction.

A few years back I had heard “2000” for the total market size. Well, 2000 or 6000 is of the same quite small magnitude—dwarfed by any DSLR or high-end compact presumably by a factor of 10X - 100X.

Considering the R&D costs and this small market, it explains why these cameras cost so much. But I still think that with the right design choices and the right form factor (and lower price), this market could be much. The key is to keep R&D costs low, thinking in terms of building a large sensor compact camera as something enjoyable to be targeted at anyone who would be a pro DSLR and some expensive lenses, but who want a real camera with the ultimate quality..

Leica S2 medium format camera

D W writes:

This is perhaps a misleading way to look at the "MF market". Why? The life cycle of a professional MF system is very much longer than almost any DSLR and certainly all of the compact, 4/3 etc offerings. The correct way to look at this market is to look at the number of professional (and perhaps high-end amateurs) using these systems. Most Hasselblad 500 series cameras and I suspect virtually all of their H series cameras are still in use. They are, to put it bluntly built like tanks, and are eminently serviceable for a very long time. Mr Forbes or Leica may be correct in that the volume of new unit sales each year is low but these units are adding incrementally to a substantial installed user base.

A more useful measure would be to look at the market share of each company in respect of the total installed user base. This, I suspect would show that Hasselblad dwarfs the rest. Turning to the definition of the MF market. This is not a market for a piece of rapidly redundant technical equipment a la Nikon and Canon but for a set of tools, support and services which meet professional photographers needs worldwide.

Any comparison with consumer products is therefore facile and misleading.

DIGLOYD: facile: “appearing neat and comprehensive only by ignoring the true complexities of an issue; superficial.”. All righty then. I don’t know everything, that’s for sure.

Every market including the consumer and prosumer ones has “add on” sales and services: lenses, accessories, service and so on. The total size of the market is proportional to yearly sales and also to the installed base. But this is true for Nikon and Canon DSLRs also, and arguably more so, since the array of accessories and lenses is far wider, and over a massive user base by comparison. And such users tend to keep buying new cameras every few years.

Moreover, more and more the pros are finding that high-end DSLRs can take on most of the tasks formerly reserved for medium format. Not all tasks, but most. And more and more, the difficult economy means that the market is pushing pros who might have formerly bought a medium format system down to “way beyond good enough” DSLRs. And most pros have both as well.

Finally, I expect the advent of world-class lenses of true medium format pro-grade quality such as the Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Distagon to shake up the medium format market.

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