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2021 doom: Panasonic selling camera division, Nikon to shrink business?

2021 doom: Panasonic selling camera division, Nikon to shrink business?
(Image credit: YouTube: Tony & Chelsea Northrup)

After correctly predicting that Olympus would exit the camera industry, an industry pundit is now forecasting that Panasonic will follow its lead and sell its own imaging division in 2021 – and that Nikon will continue to shrink its camera business, ceding its traditional number two position to Sony. 

That's according to photographer and YouTuber duo Tony and Chelsea Northrup, who state that while the Panasonic S5 is a great camera, it may not be enough to change the fortunes of a manufacturer that has sold less cameras than Olympus – and that we may not get to see a successor to the Panasonic S1 or Panasonic S1R systems. 

Panasonic to sell? 

"The overall company does a lot. They're an electronics manufacturer, consumer electronics, and cameras are such a small part of their business they don't even show up on their financial report. But their stock has been kind of devastated in the last couple of years – like, it peaked in 2018," said Tony.

"More concerning is, they have been aggressively cutting divisions that are not profitable since that peak, since their stock has been sliding… they sold fewer cameras than Olympus, fewer cameras than Nikon – two companies that we know are not profitable. So it's probably not great. And, according to the Nikkei, there's rumors that they're actively looking for an outside partner. Sounds familiar, right?" 

Both Tony and Chelsea noted that Panasonic's pivot away from Micro Four Thirds cameras and towards full-frame was a positive move, but alienates the loyal fanbase established with cameras like the Panasonic GH5, who can't organically upgrade to the new cameras. It also leaves the manufacturer cultivating a lesser known full-frame system, with a leaner offering of lenses and a comparatively poorer autofocus system than competitors. 

The pair speculates that Panasonic may announce a deal to sell its imaging division and bow out of the camera industry in 2021. They also believe that while the  Panasonic GH6 will be released, it will be the manufacturer's last ever Micro Four Thirds camera. 

They expect Panasonic to experience slow sales for its full frame cameras, as their contrast-detect AF systems make them less appealing than more capable full-frame equivalents from Canon, Nikon and Sony, and they consequently conclude that we may not see successors to the S1 and S1R.

The Panasonic S5 is a great camera, but is it enough to turn the tide?  (Image credit: Panasonic)

Nikon to shrink?

"As a company, Nikon is not performing very well – they're at about $6 a share," says Chelsea, "and they also have a downward trend that's pretty severe. I think it's been pretty public that the health of the company has been struggling, there's been layoffs and cuts in research & development and things like that, so I am concerned about Nikon".

While Tony points out that Nikon is still number two in sales for DSLRs, but clarifies that these strong sales are because the company has been unable to graduate existing customers over to the mirrorless ecosystem, which is the primary goal. 

Indeed, Nikon is only number five in mirrorless sales with just 7% of the market. To put that in context, the pair point out that Nikon sold less mirrorless cameras than Olympus, which obviously was so unprofitable that it exited the industry. And it also sold less cameras than Panasonic, which we've established may very well be on the same trajectory.

The takeaway is that Nikon is doing well in DSLR sales, and that this paves a natural path of progression for those customers to upgrade when they are ready. However, Nikon itself isn't really ready for that transition, as the company's infamous shipping problems mean that the full range of professional f/2.8 trinity zoom lenses still aren't available for the Nikon Z6 or Nikon Z7 – and Z mount cameras don't have articulating screens, even the new Nikon Z5, stunting their overall appeal.  

The pair question whether the manufacturer would (or would be wise to) produce a Nikon D860, as it would maintain the strong DSLR sales but also maintain the lack of urgency with the mirrorless line. They predict that the imminent Nikon Z6 II and Nikon Z7 II will remedy the limitations of the original models, but note that company itself stated that it expects the Nikon market share to shrink. 

"Even they say this in their financial reports – they expect their market share to shrink. Which is such a pessimistic statement for the company to make about themselves. And they're just cutting R&D left and right – that's how they're solving this 'we're losing money problem': not by putting more in and trying to catch up, but by just backing off and almost conceding it. And that just really concerns me."

Read more: 

The best Nikon camera: including Nikon DSLRs, Nikon Z and Coolpix compacts
The best Panasonic camera: from long zoom compacts to Lumix mirrorless
The best full frame mirrorless camera: Sony vs Canon, Nikon & Panasonic