Counting lenses

Phil Greenspun asks us to guess how many Canon EOS lenses have been made.

I guess…

Just over 50 million. :-D

As far as I can tell, the figure given in the press release doesn’t even include EF-S lenses, which I would guess would be the ones selling the most in recent years
—commenter on the blog

That commenter would fail the Fermi sanity test as I’ll explain later. Canon is counting EF-S lenses as they consider them part of the EF mount.

Well, I was *almost* within an order of magnitude — 22 million * 2 == 44 million, almost 50. I was within 1.2 orders of magnitude.
—commenter on the blog

Also some people don’t know what an order of magnitude is. The guess above, as Greenspun corrects, is only .28 orders of magnitude off from the actual. Very close.

In any case, you’ll get in the right order of magnitude without all that data. The only thing you need to tell the person to make an accurate guess is something what an SLR is (so they realize that not everyone can afford one) and that Canon is a vendor… After all, I’m sure Pentax has sold more than 5 million K-mount lenses since 1975—as well as Nikon and the F-mount since 1959. In fact, if you guess 50 million, you’d be in the within an order of magnitude for Canon from about 1995 to just about the rest of the lifespan of the EF mount (say for the next half century).

What is mind-boggling is that you don’t even need to tell them how long the interchangeable lens SLR has been around—the answer is since 1936, because all sales before the interviewees life are meaningless. How meaningless? Canon claims they have sold over 10 million lenses in the last 2 years. That means, though the mount has been around for 23 years, the last three have accounted for over 20% of the total sales. To give you a better idea: I noted, they were at 30 million in 2006 and will double that number in 2012!

This is not unique to Canon.

Nikon passed the 50 million mark in September 2009. The press release claims that in the last year they’ve sold 5 million Nikkors—nearly the same rate as Canon has. (This is how I know that Canon is counting EF-S lenses.)

Let’s do the same trick: Nikon has been producing F-mount Nikkors since 1959, they passed the 30 million mark in 2001, the 40 million mark in 2007, and the 50 million mark in 2009. That’s a phenomenal rate!

If you haven’t guessed already

I thought the number outlandish. Kind of like when I bought my first two lenses, and I saw what some other guys had: outlandish. Now I have 15 or so EF lenses. I guess that is how they get to 50 million.
—Commenter on the blog

To all the egotistical commenters who think that people like us (enthusiasts) have accounted the bulk of that number, my breakdown should point you to the obvious…

All our lenses don’t account for much in that number.

For instance: I’ve purchased 9 Nikkor lenses in my life, two of them as part of a kit among four Nikon bodies. It turns out that’s the only two that really count. Typical numbers I’ve seen 17.9 million lenses worldwide for 11 million interchangeable-lens bodies. When you consider that the dSLR market has been declining for the last two years (and probably this year since the estimate is polluted by EVIL cameras)—you are left with the inevitable conclusion that the bulk of sales is due to selling kit lenses.

In other words, you can get to 25 million units on kit lenses alone!

This explains why Nikon keeps introducing new kit zooms. It drives me up the wall, but there is no arguing with the force of numbers.

New Lenses

One thing about the numbers that I’ve mentioned is that they are showing that overall dSLR sales have been sliding for the last year while lenses sold have been increasing. That slide will probably continue with non-dSLR interchangeable-lens bodies making the difference. However, lens sales will still increase 11% overall.

What this means—and Nikon and Canon have already projected this—while kit lenses is still the bulk of sales, a lot of sales (and margins) are to be had in second purchases. These may be kits also, like the 55-200 VR, 18-200 VR update, but Nikon already has these covered. I think there are going to be some higher margin items in the offing this year, especially more zooms and maybe a couple wide angle primes. Traditionally, Canon has this area much better covered than Nikon, but Nikon’s lenses actually meet some minimal quality bar: for instance the 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S is actually sharper than many primes in that range from both manufacturers, similar performance specs out of the 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR and VR II. However, all is not lost—since Canon will have to respond to Nikon’s moves, expect the quality of their lenses to increase also: the EF 50mm f/1.2 L II and the newly announced EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L II are but the first shots.

We’ll see tomorrow what Nikon has in store for us.

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