The winners and losers of photography in 2021

Do you think you have your finger on the pulse of the photography industry? Who still holds the title of most used cameras: Canon, Nikon or Sony? What are the 3 most used lenses? Which specialty of photographers brings in the most and which brings in the least? What kind of photography suffered the biggest losses during the pandemic?

Being a former (art) teacher, I made a quiz for you. Write down your answers, then enjoy these insightful findings from the 2022 State of the Photography Industry Report by Zenfolio and Format and see how you did.

In this study, 3,398 photographers were interviewed, in 97 different countries. 71% of respondents were full-time or part-time freelance photographers, with the remainder comprised of hobbyists, students, and full-time employees.


Now let’s see if you were right: here are some of the fascinating findings from this year’s in-depth report.

The endless rivalry between Canon and Nikon has been a big one for years, but there’s been a new cool kid on the block: Sony. Photographers of all skill levels, from beginner to pro, still gravitate primarily to the two most important giants, with Canon and Nikon being the choice of over 70% of respondents. Sony and Fujifilm accounted for 15% and 7% respectively. cannon [does happy dance] took the overall lead.

As for bodies, Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Nikon D850, Canon EOS-R5and the Sony a7R IV are the top 4 camera models used by the photographers surveyed.

The next one was a startling statistic for me: about 50% of respondents went mirrorless. Most of the photographers who made the switch were in specialties where a lighter, less intrusive camera makes sense: documentary, lifestyle, and travel.

Looking at all the photography specialties, zooms have come on the main lenses. Which lens have you guessed which is the most used lens? The answer surprised me. This is what I called in a previous article the “jack of all trades, master of nothing”: the 24-70 mm. Behind that came the 70-200mm in second and the “nifty fifty” 50mm in third.


Commercial and food photographers are the specialties with the most people earning over $100,000. The specialties that had the fewest people reporting earning over $100,000 were lifestyle, still life, family, documentary, landscape, and fashion.

Whether a photographer is part-time or full-time, and working for themselves or for an employer, the greatest earning potential lies firmly in the “commercial” genres. Those who focus on “the art” have the lowest earning potential. What can’t be expected is that online sales of digital prints and downloads will beat in-person sales in 2021. This is likely due to COVID restrictions and growing sales acceptance online in general.

Although most respondents cite Instagram as their primary medium for showcasing their work, word of mouth still dominates how most respondents generate new business.

Impact of COVID

It has now been 2 years since the pandemic made its way into our lives and one of the objectives of the study was to know the current state of photographers. The study found that 43% of full-time freelance photographers lost more than 40% of their income in 2021. Respondents who identified as part-time freelancers were the hardest hit during COVID. Almost half said they had lost more than 40% of their normal income. Boudoir and event saw the biggest drop in revenue due to COVID. Despite these grim reports, optimism remains as more than 50% of photographers expect 2022 to be busier.

Did you do well on your pop quiz? In summary, here are the answers to your questions that have been woven above.

1: Canon was the most used, followed by the then notable Nikon far behind Sony and Fuji.
2: Word of mouth generated the most new customers.
3: Commercial photographers earn the most money.
4: Art photographers earn the least money, followed by travel and still life photographers.
5: The most used lens is the 24-70mm.
6: About 50% of respondents have switched to mirrorless cameras.
7: Boudoir suffered the biggest revenue loss in 2021.

Thanks to Zenfolio and Format for their thorough work on this study and I look forward to reporting the results next year. you can click here to read the full 68-page report.

Did any of the statistics surprise you? Leave a comment below

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