When Is A Product Out of Production?

We recently had a rumor site state that all F-mount products are out of production at Nikon. No source that could be affirmed was given for that claim. 

"Production" has a meaning in the US. Dating back to some of the earlier more consumer protection laws (e.g. 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act), there's been an ongoing dance between regulators and businesses. At present, the primary law where "production" has relevance is California's. Because California is in essence the fifth largest economy in the world, companies would have to make a decision to produce two different outcomes in the US: one for California, one for the other 49 states. 

This happened for awhile, for instance, with the auto makers, where California's early emissions regulations produced one form of internal combustion engine for California, and different ones for the rest of the nation. Until, of course, other states started to have the same issues that California did with smog, and opted to endorse the California regulations themselves.

The operative California law that comes into play for cameras has been undergoing some change with the recent Right to Repair initiatives that have passed, but the basic tenant is that for any product over US$100, an electronics maker must provide repair parts for a period of seven years after the product's last manufacturing date. What we don't have is a law or regulation that requires companies to disclose when that date actually occurs, which makes it difficult to enforce the law.

Nikon is never going to announce that they've stopped producing a product, therefore. However, over the years of observing them, I've noticed a few patterns. An open database that was maintained by US Customs for awhile (now closed), allowed me to substantiate some of my observations until a few years ago. 

Here's what I'd say about "ceasing production":

First, that doesn't appear to work the way I've seen it hinted at or reported elsewhere: Nikon doesn't appear to build a "final inventory" and then sell from that until they have no more, then claim the product is discontinued. Back in the earlier days of DSLRs when volume growth was ratcheting quite rapidly, Nikon did make large "batches" of a particular camera or lens. But pretty much since they had to reconfigure all their manufacturing after the quake and tsunami in Japan plus the flood in Thailand, they've moved to a different strategy. Low demand products get moved off the main assembly lines and into something that is more "hand assembled" in low volume as needed. That appears to be absolutely true for cameras at the Thailand plant, and has been since Nikon started the shift away from DSLRs with the D500. I don't believe the last D500's were made in quantity on the main line, but rather in a low-volume queue as needed. Exactly when the last D500 was made is unclear, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was 2019 or 2020. 

You have to also remember that NikonUSA attempts to get all the units coming into their warehouse sold to individual dealers, too. If there's just enough demand from dealers for a camera and Nikon has the parts, producing it occasionally in response to direct demand in low volume is the most efficient and profitable way to do that. 

One visible clue that no new units are being produced is price. I've noticed that Nikon discounts many (if not most) products right into end-of-life, but the minute the product returns to full price and you're seeing some dealers list "backordered" as the status, it's highly likely that the product is no longer produced. Or, at least, that Nikon stopped production for the time being. Sometimes it seems that a last production run has been made—the Coolpix P1000 for instance—but then months later suddenly a small batch shows up again, only to repeat the process. As far as I can tell, these periodic deliveries are coming from the low-volume section on a "need to make" basis. 

Why does the price go back up to full retail? Because some large volume purchasers—think NASA, government, agencies, etc.—standardize on a product for as long as they can—think training and support—and don't want the newest upgrade when they need to replace a unit for some reason. Dealers, particular a big one such as B&H, also use price to discourage the casual buyer from eating up the last of the product that's in their inventories.

The other aspect of end-of-life has to do with Gray Market. You can actually see what's happening with pricing in B&H's current Nikon DSLR offerings:

  • Still discounted product: D7500, D780, D850
  • Gray market product: D500, D610, D750, D810
  • Full price product: D6
  • No longer available: D3400, D5600

From this I'd say the D3400, D5600, D500, D610, D750, and D810 are no longer manufactured, and any gray market version that's still available new is coming from the SE Asia arbitragers. The D6 is probably on its last legs and kept at full price to encourage most people to go to the Z9 instead while keeping it available for government and agencies. Given the continued discounting, the D7500, D780, and D850 are likely still being manufactured. 

I don't believe there are piles of finished D7500, D780, and D850 models sitting around Nikon corporate. There are likely piles of parts for those cameras that are sitting in inventory somewhere, otherwise those cameras would no longer be discounted. And more specifically, there are two parts that you just can't order up some new ones whenever needed: EXPEED6 and the image sensors. The D780, specifically, uses the same parts as the Z6 II, so is probably the camera least in danger of leaving production at the moment. 

While I've used Nikon in my discussion so far, it's interesting to note that Sony is clearly using an older Nikon DSLR tactic: you can buy brand new A7 Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV models, for instance, which seems to suggest that Sony Imaging has parts on hand to continue making three generations of cameras. How long that stays true is a different story, but it seems to me that Sony is about where Nikon was in 2012 when peak camera was reached. Given how many models Sony now makes, and given how many generations they are keeping in the market, I'd say that Sony is going to have to make some tough decisions soon, otherwise they are giving up profit margin for what benefit? Clearly Canon has stopped the Sony overall market share gain (and at a lower level than Nikon achieved). 

Lenses are a trickier story, and I don't have any insight as to how the shift in production has gone there for Nikon, as I have no sources left in the plants where they are made. Whereas most DSLR lens production was performed at three different plants in Japan, the majority of the Z-mount production is now done in China and Thailand, with only a small number of lenses made at the remaining factory in Tochigi Japan. 

Overall, do I believe Nikon has stopped all F-mount production as the rumor said? No. 

Of course, F-mount production is clearly way down now. As far as I can tell it's been moved off the main production floor in Thailand to the low-volume area. Also clearly, the F-mount DX lens production does seem to have mostly ceased. Nikon Japan, for instance, is down to listing only four such lenses in their current lineup. 

Which brings me to a final point: for Nikon specifically, the Japanese market is the canary in the coal mine. If a product gets discontinued there, it is either out of production or has been shifted to low-volume manufacturing and sent only to markets that still have lingering sales. The reasons why the US market often is the last to see things like F-mount discontinuations are: (1) it's a large market with a lot of dealers that's also not split into sub-markets (as is Europe); (2) many of Nikon's costs are delineated by Thai/US currency shifts, not Japan/US ones, which have historically had more dramatic shifts; and (3) the US market was slower to shift to mirrorless than Japan itself was. 

There's little doubt that the F-mount is on its final legs. As I noted last year, the upcoming European regulations that come into effect at the end of 2024 are going to play a part in that, too. But has production stopped? I don't see the signs that it has, at least for a handful of remaining products. Nikon themselves have refuted the rumor both publicly and privately, though their language, as usual with Nikon, is a bit on the non-specific side other than to say that production is ongoing. 

Which gets us back to that California law: by not being specific about when production actually ends for a product, consumers can't hold Nikon's feet to the fire about when repairs and support ends. For example, does the D500 repair and support end in 2025, 2026, or 2027? I don't know. I just know that it will. 

This is the way the F-mount ends. This is the way the F-mount ends. This is the way the F-mount ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.

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