DSLR Lens Discontinuation Continues

Canon and Nikon seem to be in a race to see who can discontinue the most DSLR lenses. The latest being Nikon's rumored discontinuation of the 16-35mm f/4G FX and 16-80mm f/2.8-4E DX lenses (plus several others). Note I wrote "rumored." The information going around on the Internet is mostly based upon an article in Japan (asobinet.com), but at the moment these lenses haven't appeared on Nikon Japan's archived product list.

I'm not sure that people are understanding what's really going to happen (at least here in the US). California repair law is what basically sets the standard in the US. Effectively, that says that a company such as Nikon must keep enough parts to be able to repair products for seven years after cessation of manufacturing. 

What the discontinuations of production means—some of the so-called discontinued lenses are still being sold new—is that the clock starts ticking for reasonable repair expectations. Production ended for many Canon and Nikon DSLR lenses in 2020, so the repair services of those companies for those products will likely run out in 2027. At that point, what happens is that used lenses start get cannibalized for parts by third party repair shops. It's unclear, however, whether some parts can be easily scavenged that way on the sophisticated AF-S and VR (IS) lenses. 

I'm not particularly worried about discontinued lenses. I already have a small number of lenses that are past "guaranteed repairability." I'm willing to move on. 

However, Nikon's reputation among enthusiast and pro photographers is heavily influenced by the strong legacy support it developed. For example, until recently, Nikon was still making some manual focus AI lenses that have been in production longer than some of the customers for them have been on the planet. What we're seeing out of Nikon lately is a move away from legacy support (Nikon 1 discontinuation, lens discontinuations, no screw-drive in the FTZ adapter, and eventually, DSLR discontinuations). 

Moreover, Nikon has several recent exotics (e.g. 180-400mm f/4E, 120-300mm f/2.8E) that are very high priced and obviously still being made. However, the savvy enthusiast is looking at all the lens cancellations—including supposedly the exotic 200mm f/2—and saying "I can't afford to buy that lens if they're going to discontinue it soon and start the repairability clock ticking." This is one reason why I suggested last year (and again this year) that Nikon needed a F-to-Z conversion option for the exotics. Even if that was fairly high in cost—say US$1000—I'd be more inclined to buy that 120-300mm f/2.8E today if I knew I could move it over to the Z mount when I needed to. Remember, I'm shooting sports with the D6 these days, but Nikon wants to sell me a Z9 soon.

Meanwhile, Canon is still selling EF mount cinema cameras but discontinuing EF lenses right and left. Neither Canon nor Nikon seems to be all that interested in the continuing customer all of the sudden, but wants simply to move into their future product lines completely. No doubt some of that is that these new products are assembled by robots, have fewer alignment and test steps in the manufacturing cycle, and should generate new lens replacement cycles, as well. 

Still, things aren't going to go as smoothly for either company as they hope. Breaking of legacy support always opens up a customer's next buying decision to competitive products. For Canon, I'd bet on loss of market share. For Nikon, they already gave up on market share and are looking solely at on-going sustainable profit. 

Personally, I don't get all that upset about the moves that Canon and Nikon are making. I'll make the best choices for me photographically for the foreseeable future, which may not be Canon or Nikon in some cases. I don't think of my lenses as "investments," but rather depreciating assets used to produce revenue. You calculate their return over expected lifetime. At some point you do the same thing with a US$12,000 lens you bought as Nikon just did with some factories: it no longer produces viable revenue (reward for most of you) so you sell it off and move on to something that does.

I'm going to once again state what I believe to be obvious: Nikon is so narrowly focused on profiting during contraction that ironically they're leaving some money on the table as they do so. Ditto Canon, though with them it's keeping market share on a product pivot that they're focused on, not so much profitability. 

The real issue here is the so-called chilling effect. The string of recent discontinuations make it less likely that someone will put out big money for a product right now, at least in the F-mount or EF-mount. Which, of course, makes the sales of those products go down and the companies even more likely to discontinue more of them. It's a vicious circular cycle, unfortunately. This is exactly the point where a clearly worded statement of intent (road map) would help clarify the air and restore some buying confidence. 

Let me put it this way, if you knew that there'd be a three-DSLR lineup for the foreseeable future (with updates to firmware and/or products), you'd be more likely to buy the remaining DSLR lenses. So, consider a D580, D880, and D6 II. Suddenly it makes more sense to buy the 120-300mm f/2.8E. Alternatively: all the current DSLRs will phase out as their sales drop below sustainable levels (e.g. road map says no new DSLRs). In which case fewer will want to buy a 120-300mm f/2.8E lens, so it's more likely to go away, too. That second scenario works for the moment, as neither Canon RF or Sony FE has a 120-300mm f/2.8 lens to sell mirrorless users, so the Z system isn't at a deficit.

I've been saying it for some time now: the camera makers (particularly Canon and Nikon) want you to transition to something new. But they remain largely silent on how that transition is supposed to work for customers, other than you buying all new gear. Not that Nikon was all that forthcoming in the past. But now, more than ever, Nikon needs to have clear, focused, meaningful messaging to their loyal customer base, or else risk losing more of them than they'd like to. 

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