A Bit of Buying Advice

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that we’re going to have continued shortages of product in the near term, particularly for ones that are just announced and released. I now know of almost a dozen cameras and lenses whose original launch schedule has been pushed back because of the issues that keep emerging. Issues that have nothing to do with design and test, but simply the ability to manufacture them in quantity.

Even some older products are also going to see shortages if dealer inventories clear much more than they already have. I’ve heard that some existing body+lens kit bundles are likely to change due to parts shortages, and it should be obvious that a lot of higher demand products are going in and out of stock constantly, indicating that supply isn’t quite keeping up with demand. 

Here’s another trend that’s happening: companies are micromanaging the parts they do get, so they might put a short-in-supply part into a more expensive camera and let a less expensive one go out of stock for awhile. That alone will probably kill the consumer DSLR (and it would have killed the compact camera if it hadn’t already died). This is going to get worse. I think far worse, but I’m hoping for just worse. 

Nothing seems to be changing in the tech supply/delivery chain very quickly. Indeed, in terms of shipping constraints, parts constraints, and more, I just keep hearing from my friends still in the industry that worse news, with worse problems are coming, not better news or problems being solved yet. This seems to be true throughout tech, but low volume products such as cameras and lenses are going to struggle more with the supply/delivery chain issues than higher volume ones like smartphones and computers. 

I’m going to be providing some specific buying advice about several different market “slices" in the coming weeks, but I thought it best to start out with some broad statements:

  • If it’s in stock and you need it, buy it. Don’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Inventories are low all over for high-demand products, a little better for older products that are past their peak demand. Still, it’s becoming clearer that once those boxes leave the dealers’ hands for customers, getting new inventory to replace them is starting to take longer and be less reliable. Waiting for “sales” could trigger a long wait on your part. I’ve already seen things go on instant rebate that were out of stock at most dealers on the day the rebates started. A lower price doesn’t do you much good if you can’t get the product.
  • If it’s out of stock and you need it, get in line. Nikon has mostly conditioned its faithful to this: wait lists have been common for popular new Nikon products throughout the digital age. The question has always been “which line?” I’m a fan of supporting good local dealers for pre-orders (no this isn’t really in conflict with my site’s exclusive advertiser, B&H; there’s room for both brick and mortar as well as Internet sales; indeed, B&H is a local dealer in New York City, so your getting in line from afar cuts into B&H’s ability to deliver product to its local customers). It’s reasonable to require a small deposit to get in line, but it’s also reasonable for that local dealer to be honest with you about where you are at in that line and honor that position, too. With Nikon, in particular, there’s good reason to use a local dealer for out of stock items: NikonUSA’s policy of spreading meager arriving inventory equally across all dealers with orders in place before filling big orders or catering to the mass channels tends to mean that you can get an out-of-stock product from your local dealer quicker than the mass market channels.
  • If you don’t really need it, consider taking a buying timeout. There are people who do need some products—for a project, for a job, for an already scheduled trip, to replace lost/damaged gear, etc.—and you’ll make it easier for those folk to get what they need by not gobbling up something you don’t really need but just have some lust factor for. That’s doubly true if you’re just going to stick that new gear into your closet for use when you’ll get around to it. I’m a little tired of the me, me, me culture that’s spawned. Showing a little consideration for others isn’t all that difficult, is it? (Disclosure: I’ve purposely held off on a couple of reviews so as not to create a new run on what I know to be very tight inventories for a couple of products. And yes, as B&H can tell you, the minute I put a “highly recommended” on something, there’s a clear increase of orders for that product at B&H, enough to distort the wait lists or inventory status. Thank you for your respect for my writing and your support of it, by the way.)

We’ve had disruptions before. The quake/tsunami/flood of 2011 was one such, but there have been others. The difference this time is in how fast the camera companies can get back to “business as normal.” I’m predicting normal is not going to happen in 2021. I’m hoping that it will happen before the spring/summer buying surge in 2022. 

So, put a little more thought into what you really need, and what would really elevate your photography, and concentrate on that while we wait for “normal.” 

Update: One of my long-time readers pointed out there’s a fourth option that makes sense, and I agree: 

  • Consider renting. This works great for short-term or one-time needs (e.g. once-in-a-lifetime safari), and some local dealers make that more tempting for any need by giving partial or full credit on rentals against future purchase. If you don’t have a local dealer that can help with a rental, consider my friend Roger Cicala’s company, LensRentals. I’ve used them a few times, and have had many workshop students who’ve used them, and recommend them wholeheartedly. The one thing I’d caution you about renting is this: always make sure that you get the gear early enough that you can try it and make sure there aren’t any issues prior to your counting on it. For a long safari, for example, I tend to recommend that people receive their rental at least a week before they leave, so that they can practice with it and make sure it’s what they really need (I’ve had people rent a 300mm and then discover that they really wanted a 500mm, for example; a practice trip to the zoo would have revealed that). 

Update 2: Another good reader suggestion: The flip side of your buying advice is to sell unused or redundant gear now.

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