We Need Clarity

Nope, I'm not talking about a setting that increases mid-range contrast (and is far too overused, in my opinion). That's a topic for a different day. 

Today I want to write about clarity of message from camera makers to photography enthusiasts. In short, there isn't any.

The latest is a variety of posts and sites around the world claiming that the Nikon D500 is discontinued. The problem here is the word "discontinued." It seems clear that Nikon's Thailand plant is not regularly pushing out D500's at the moment. We seem to have had a series of long delays between shipments arriving in the US, so the camera has been out of stock in most stores for almost six months now, with the few that do come in almost instantly selling out. But it also seems like Nikon hasn't actually discontinued the D500 (why would they cancel the best APS-C camera on the market?). 

We see variations of that theme with every camera maker at the moment, and when you ask the executives at those companies, without giving specifics they'll simply attribute the issue to "supply chain issues." Of which there can be quite a few distinct varieties. In some cases it's been a maker getting only a subset of their orders for a particular part—say an LCD panel—that's used in quite a few of their products, and then having to decide which product(s) they'll build with the parts they do get. I suspect that we're now also seeing some cases where image sensors aren't being made because fab utilization is at 100%+ and companies are having to pick which sensor they want using up the on-fab time they can get. Because sensors have long production times measured in months, if you shut production down for a complex semiconductor like an image sensor, it may be a long time before you can get them back into production and receive new units. 

The problem I'm seeing almost universally is that camera companies are providing little guidance to customers about what's happening. That means that (1) they themselves don't know; or (2) they don't want you to know; or (3) they don't think it important enough to tell you what's really going on.

I'm a fan of communicating. Communicate good news. Communicate bad news. Communicate important news. Communicate trivial news. byThom is a one-person company, and there's a limit to how much time I can spend communicating versus how much time I spend creating new viable work, but camera companies shouldn't have that problem. They have entire staffs whose job is to communicate. Right now, they're doing a pretty poor job of communicating things you'd want to know, like whether the D500 will continue to be made as the supply chain kinks get untangled. Moreover, Nikon has this disturbing habit of discontinuing something in one country while still selling it in another (so much for their claim they're a global company ;~). 

And it isn't just Nikon. I have no idea, for example, what's going to happen with all the Sony A6### and other models that aren't currently being distributed. I'm also getting odd "in stock" and "out of stock" reports on various cameras from Asia, Europe, and other places in the world that seem to make little sense. In one case, a product officially discontinued by a camera maker has returned to being distributed and sold! 

Meanwhile, Canon in their October 21, 2021 information to Tokyo business publications said "Amid challenging conditions surrounding parts procurement, we focused on the production and supply of high-end products [cameras] and lenses, which enabled us to secure a double-digit profit ratio." We're going to see a bunch more of that as the latest earnings sessions start playing out in February and March. 

The problem, of course, is that customers don't care about double-digit profit ratios, they care about whether they can get the products they want, when they want them, and whether they can plan for what future products they might get. You can't do that. I can't do that. No photographer, pro or amateur, can currently do that. And that's because we're not getting any messaging clarity from any of the camera companies. Heck, Ricoh just made a statement that was quickly interpreted by some as "we're abandoning mass production of cameras." Which, of course, wasn't true. But something that should have been a clear message to a single market about a change in distribution practices turned out to be a global cluster foulup.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's taught us that misinformation, disinformation, and information all travel at warp speed over the Internet, and because everyone's mostly communicating via the Internet rather than in person, within hours all of that has hit everywhere and causes total confusion. Multi-billion dollar global companies won't stay that way if they let confusion triumph over clear messages. 

So, with that said, here's a quick summary of some of the confusion coming from the Big Three:

  • Canon — The CEO essentially said no more DSLRs, then the statement got somewhat back-tracked, but opaquely so. We've been seeing EF lenses go out of stock and then revealed they're no longer in production. A lot of critical RF lenses seem to be in short supply. The R5 C seems to fly in the face of EOS Cinema camera designs, so that story needs further explanation.
  • Nikon — The D500, in particular, seems to be perpetually out of stock, but the D850 also goes out of stock a lot. Both are seminal cameras that are highly competitive today, but hard to get. The D5 and D6 also seem to stay out of stock much of the time. "Imported" (gray market) has suddenly returned at B&H as the way to get a lot of Nikon gear in any timely fashion. In the Japanese market it seems F-mount DX lenses are being discontinued right and left. But even the current Z6 II and higher mirrorless cameras seem to be lagging customer demand and rotating into back-ordered status every month now. Yikes. It's like your grocery store shelves: bare.
  • Sony — Here's an interesting disconnect: all of the A6### cameras and a few of the others such as the ZV-E10 and A7C are either no longer produced or temporarily halted, but stores such as this site's exclusive advertiser, B&H, have them in stock. So Sony overproduced cameras to demand and then got caught in a parts shortage, apparently.

None of these things are good. All require more clarity from the maker. A lot more clarity. Customers, and potential customers, are trying to make decisions and not feeling like they can. In particular, DSLR and mirrorless APS-C customers are finding what clarity there is says "buy full frame mirrorless." 

Of course, that's to the advantage of profit margins, as Canon has already said to investors. But profit margins don't take photographs. Nor do profit margins buy cameras. 

So, I dare you Canikony: who will be first to clarify what's actually happening, why, and how that's going to impact your product lineup moving forward? And don't say you don't know the what, why and impact, because that would just make you seem incompetent.

_____________________

From a personal standpoint (and some clarity on my part): there are four cameras I've been trying to get to review for my sansmirror.com Web site, but haven't been able to. Well, at least not without stealing a body from someone who is trying to buy one, but who can't find it in stock. While B&H will pull a model from what they receive next from a camera maker and lend it to me, I don't want to do that when there are so many people trying to buy that camera, but can't do so because it's out of stock. I don't need to review something and potentially increase demand that can't be filled.

This has me considering whether to pull back and just cover one thing, say the Z System, where I'm up to date on everything and can rent the couple of lenses I don't have. Of course, that devalues my ability to cover the Z System somewhat, as I then no longer can speak as authoritatively about how the Z cameras compare to the competitors'. 

Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: dslrbodies.com | mirrorless: sansmirror.com | Z System: zsystemuser.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com

bythom.com: all text and original images © 2023 Thom Hogan
portions Copyright 1999-2022 Thom Hogan-- All Rights Reserved

Advertisement: