High-End Unavailability

At least for the latest cameras, we're back to seeing a trend we saw many years ago during the digital era ramp up: back-orders on new products.

As I write this, Fujifilm claims that the X-T2, X100F, and GFX 50S demand far exceeds supply; Olympus and Panasonic can't keep up with their OM-D E-M1 Mark II and GH5 orders; Hasselblad can't keep up with X1D orders; the Leica M-10 is in low supply; and the Sony A99 Mark II is back-ordered pretty much around the world. 

The interesting aspect of this is these are all recent high-end products in their categories. The lower end products that have been released in the same time frame all seem to be available in more than adequate supply, at least here in the US. Meanwhile, higher end cameras that have been around for awhile—the D810 comes to mind—are near the end of their production runs and are in good supply, it seems.

So one of these things has to be true: (1) camera makers under-produced initial quantities of new high-end gear; or (2) camera makers didn't anticipate the strong demand for high-end gear. I suspect it's a combination of both. The higher-end products don't just get spit off of automated production lines like beer bottles. Top sensors for high-end products are made in low volume, and you can't just turn the fab line for them up from say, 7 to 11. But clearly the dedicated and serious photographer still demands more performance out of their gear and will pay for it.

Still, I can't help feel in talking to various camera companies that they weren't exactly expecting demand to be as high as it is proving to be for expensive gear. The Medium Format marketplace is going to see huge growth in unit volume this year solely because of Fujifilm and Hasselblad. It may even more than double. Despite prices that start near US$7000 for a body. 

I predict that the camera makers are going to get confused. "Wait, didn't people say they wanted smaller, lighter systems that were simpler?" "Haven't all the Web sites and blogs on photography been complaining about higher prices?" 

In truth there are multiple customers in photography. The one type of customer that the camera companies seem to know how to win over is the one that is critically demanding of "more" pretty much across the board. More pixels, more dynamic range, more focus speed, more frame rate, more everything. And it seems obvious they're willing to pay for the privilege. So if you fall in that group, be careful what you wish for. I'm now hearing rumblings from multiple companies about >US$5000 projects they've got in the pipeline. 

Of course, meanwhile none of the camera companies seem to have any clue about how to create new, lower-end customers. The Japanese camera companies are mostly iteration-driven, not particularly innovation-driven. It'll take true innovation to find new camera customers in the US$500-1000 range is my bet. 

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