CILCs are Catching on Among Pro Photographers – But What’s in a Name?

Eve Padula
Jan 3, 2013

Terminology within the digital photography market can be ambiguous, especially when the industry has not yet standardized naming conventions. For example, consider the DILC (digital interchangeable lens camera) market and its subcategories. DILC is an umbrella term that incorporates all cameras with interchangeable lenses, but it can be further divided into two major categories–digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras and compact interchangeable lens cameras (CILCs).

At this time, CILCs are primarily separated from DSLRs based on the exclusion of a mirror box, a smaller size, and a lighter weight. Nevertheless, product definitions are still undergoing changes and the lines are blurring all the time. To this point, products like Panasonic’s Lumix GH3 do not contain a mirror box but are roughly the same size and weight of a traditional DSLR. Over time, InfoTrends believes that the distinction between CILCs and DSLRs will disappear, and interchangeable lens cameras will simply be referred to as DILCs. The cameras in this category would then compete head-to-head in terms of features, functionality, and price. Right now, however, the DSLR and CILC subcategories still exist.

According to InfoTrends’ 2012 report entitled Digital Imaging and Professional Photographers, the vast majority of pro photographers currently own DSLRs. Although other camera types are also in use, none are nearly as popular as DSLRs. At the same time, however, the share of professional photographers who reported owning CILCs more than quadrupled year-over-year, rising from just 11% in 2011 to over 49% in 2012.

Figure 1: Digital Camera Ownership (2011 vs. 2012)

Although the share of pro photographers who own CILCs has risen dramatically in just a year, ownership is not necessarily an indicator of use. When professional photographers were asked what type of camera they primarily used for work, over 90% cited a DSLR. Meanwhile, only about 1% of pros stated that their primary camera was a CILC. So while CILC ownership is certainly becoming more widespread among pros, DSLRs continue to be heavily favored in terms of frequency of use.

Figure 2: What type of camera do you PRIMARILY use for work?

This points to an interesting dichotomy in the market. Although InfoTrends’ research has shown that most professional photographers do not mind the size and weight of traditional DSLRs (many actually view a heftier camera as a plus because it helps to justify the higher price point–they are literally getting more for their money), there are times when a more compact camera proves to be advantageous. For example, a CILC will generate less hand fatigue during long photo shoots, and its compact size can also facilitate videography. Professional photographers understand and appreciate these benefits, and many are scooping up CILCs for at least occasional use as a result.

When CILCs first came to the market, many expected them to appeal to tech-savvy photo enthusiast consumers who wanted to upgrade their point & shoot cameras without adding too much bulk. Although some of these consumers are certainly investing in CILCs, professional photographers are the ones who are really noticing them right now. CILCs are not expected to remain a distinct category forever; they will likely be folded back into the DILC umbrella as time goes on. Ultimately, though, what really matters is that CILCs are generating sales for the digital photography market–what they are called and who purchases them are secondary issues.

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