Will a Camera Maker Clear the Cupboard?

In the first decade of digital, it tended to be that when a new camera came out, the camera maker stopped making the old one and closed out sales on it as quickly as it could. Moreover, in the run-up towards Peak Digital, many cameras were made in big batches, and then production shifted to other models to make other batches. Inventory was not a bad word, and production often didn't keep occurring right up to the generation change, making it easy to just go from Model 1 to Model 2. 

Beginning when peak sales occurred in 2011/2012, things began to shift. Nikon was one of the first to simply leave older generation cameras on the market, particularly consumer ones. As I pointed out at the time, Nikon used that to create US$50 price point positions from about US$500 to US$1000. Coupled with changes to manufacturing that didn't pile up large batches of most new cameras in inventory, this established the "making several generations at a time" practice we see companies using today.

For example, until this past week, Sony would sell you a new A7 Mark II, Mark III, or now a Mark IV. Parts shortages due to supply chain issues forced Sony to put an end to A7 Mark II production. What's currently in the retailing pipeline will probably be it for that model. I don't see Sony restoring production of it.

One thing that kept a lot of cameras in production was parts commitments. If you agreed that you'd buy a specific quantity of an image sensor, you risked price penalties if you didn't. So keeping a camera in production until you met that commitment became common. I wonder, however, if today the tide has shifted: would the semiconductor companies who are maxed out on production capacity rather produce higher priced, sophisticated sensors rather than the older generation stuff that has lower profit margins? If so, they might be willing to let those older sensor users off the hook. 

We're currently in a new manufacturing cycle that doesn't look much like past ones. Everyone is getting fewer parts than they have ordered, and they're having to choose which products they make with them. I keep hearing about shortages of parts that are relatively universal across camera and lens models, such as stepping motors for lenses, pre-amps for audio, LCD panels, and even some really basic components such as capacitors used in power circuitry. 

The big question is this: will Canon and Nikon use the supply chain crisis to simply stop making DSLRs and DSLR lenses? Even though those companies are in slightly different places with slightly different strategies, I could see either or both closing down the mirror-slappers completely. Of course, they wouldn't tell you that until there's no inventory left, but I'm pretty sure we'd figure it out before the last box leaves the dealer. 

But as we see with Sony, mirrorless isn't immune from the crisis, either, and models can (and will) be shut down. 

So I return to the headline: will we see any camera maker decide to clear the cupboard of all but the most current models? Consider this:

  • Canon — DSLRs are the big candidate here, EF lenses somewhat less so (because some of the Cinema cameras use them). The aging mirrorless models are the M's, the RP, and the R. Could we see Canon close some of those out and replace them with something entirely new? Doubtful. I think Canon will simply close down the DSLRs.
  • Fujifilm — The older GFX50's are one candidate, but I was surprised to see the X-H1, X-Pro2, X-T20, and X-T100 still listed on Fujifilm's X camera site. B&H is no longer listing them for sale, which really leaves only the X-E3, X-T30, X-T3 as the generational hold-outs at the moment. At least in the US. 
  • Nikon — Again, DSLRs are the big candidate here, particularly the crop sensor ones. While Nikon has been parring back the F-mount lens lineup, again that has tended to be mostly in the crop sensor (DX) side. Clearly, the D850 is still a reasonable seller, so they can't close out the F-mount without closing out the cameras. Given how long Nikon left previous legacy products on the market, I expect some minimal DSLR gear to live on while they devote themselves to mirrorless, much like we had a couple of film SLRs that lived into the DSLR generation. On the mirrorless side, the question is whether the original Z6 and Z7 will live on during this crisis. While they bridge the Z5-Z6II and Z6II-Z7II price gaps, is it realistic to continue them? I don't know. I can't imagine the original cameras living on past the III introductions, though.
  • OM Digital Solutions — One of the best-selling OMs right now is the E-M1 Mark II, at steep discount. OMDS's problem is that the E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III didn't really light the m4/3 world on fire. That, plus we have previous generation models available across the lineup, which means that the very low volume is split across at least eight models now. OMDS's problem is simple: at their low volume they need to sell high-end product, not older gear at discount. They should clear the cupboard, but they might lose even more volume in doing so.
  • Panasonic — Both the G and the S lines have too many models for their volume. But like OMDS, reducing models might reduce volume further. 
  • Sony — Sony took the Nikon approach, and embraced the generational models left on the market. In the crop sensor lineup, even the A6000 is still on sale (probably to establish a low entry price point), but their two most current cameras, the A6400 and A6600 have just been removed from production due to the parts shortage. The good news for Sony is that they've got enough product in inventory to make it through this holiday season (other than the ZV-10, which is pretty much out of stock), but I judge the APS-C lineup as needing a fairly complete makeover at this point. Sony currently has five models they're trying to sell, two of which are out of production for the moment, two of which are older models, and one of which is in short supply. On the full frame side, things are a little better, but we've now got 10 body-only full frame SKUs, which is pushing it. 

I suspect that none of the camera companies will clean the cupboard and strip down to current models only. They've gotten too hooked on trying to micromanage the sales efforts via model proliferation, so they just work overtime during the parts crisis doing even more micromanaging. 

Nikon, for instance, has said that their strategy is no longer volume based, and targeted to only certain types of customers now. They could indeed easily strip down to Zfc, Z5, Z6 II, Z7 II, Z9, D850 (and D6?). But I don't think they will. As long as they can profitably juggle the D500, D780, D7500, Z50, Z6, and Z7 in the mix, they almost certainly will. A 13 model lineup looks better than 7 (and remember Sony's 5 APS-C and 9 full frame models [one of the 10 SKUs is a color change]). 

So, to answer my own question: no, I don't think anyone will empty their cupboard, even though two or three of the companies probably should. 

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