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Supply shortage hitting photo industry?

Nikon’s Z fc announcement last week was followed just four days later by what’s now becoming a standard part of the product launch communications routine. ‘Pre-order demand has exceeded supply, so expect long delays. Sorry’.

Nikon launched the Nikon Z fc last week then four days later inform the market there would be a long wait for stock. Marketing ploy or chronic supply issue?

From Nikon:

‘We have received a large number of reservations for the “Z fc”… scheduled to be released in late July 2021.

For some customers who are currently making reservations, it may take some time before the product is delivered.

We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused to customers who are waiting for our products. We will do our utmost to deliver the product as soon as possible, and we appreciate your understanding.’

While Nikon may well have underestimated how in-demand a retro-style APS-C mirrorless camera would be, it’s difficult to accept the initial supply was exhausted in less than a week, without a production or distribution issue preventing the delivering of more cameras.

Nikon did something similar a couple of weeks earlier – announcing the new Nikkor 105mm lens for the Z range and then predicting long delays due to being overwhelmed by pre-orders. (Haven’t these people heard of overtime?) The infamous Canon R5 ‘launch’ last year was followed by a lengthy un-launch as the market waited months for stock.

These supply shortage statements are so routine now that the cynic may suspect it’s become opportunistic marketing spin. ‘We apologise for the inconvenience, but this new camera we have made is so amazingly popular that we can’t keep up with demand. You’ll have to jump on the waiting list with everyone else’. It’s like a nightclub bouncer building up a queue to make a venue appear so in vogue that people are willing to wait to get in.

However, evidence is mounting to suggest this isn’t (always) a cunning strategy of Nikon or Canon’s marketing departments, and a supply shortage issue may be emerging across the photo industry. Keep in mind that Nikon in particular, but not exclusively, has reduced manufacturing plant, staff and capacity over the last 12 months or so.

There’s no lack of demand, however, at least in Australia: ‘Our biggest challenge is getting stock into the country at reasonable prices,’ CR Kennedy director, Clem Kennedy told Inside Imaging. ‘Freight costs have increased dramatically, the regularity of shipments has decreased, and the cost of manufacturing has also increased in most countries. Once the stock is here though, it is selling well! There is strong demand in our market, and dealers are turning to the wholesalers who carry sufficient stock.’

The stock issue is critical. Local retailers now know that if it isn’t ‘on the shelf’ they are competing with literally a world of online retailers, some of whom will be in stock.

There are a few factors as to why certain products may be in short supply. Reduced manufacturing capacity for starters. As reported in December 2020, the pandemic has disrupted supply chains by slowing down international shipping networks. Fewer passenger planes means international air freight has lagged, leading to increased sea freighting which then led to a shortage of shipping containers.

There has also been a global semiconductor shortage, partly due to a factory fire in Japan at AKM Semiconductor. The semiconductor shortage has reached a crisis point in the automotive and tech industries, with the worst affected companies being those spending less on chips. But if even tech giants like Apple and Samsung delayed product launches due to chip shortages, how could camera manufacturers sidestep the impact?

At the end of last year, senior management at a major camera brand confirmed to Inside Imaging that disrupted supply chains and the semiconductor shortage had affected the delivery of products.

But camera manufacturers haven’t yet publicly acknowledged they are having any difficulty sourcing components, or how the supply chain has been impacted. It’s all about ‘unforeseen demand’. Let’s face it, transparency has never been the camera manufacturers’ strong suite.

The closest to clarity on the issue comes from Profoto’s CEO, Anders Hedebark, who mentioned component and shipping issues in the Swedish lighting manufacturers’ Quarterly Report.

‘Many companies have had problems with components and shipping during this quarter. I won’t say that such problems did not affect us, but we have nevertheless been able to handle them, even if delivery times of some products increased marginally.’

Based on the CIPA May figures for camera and lens shipments, figures are way down compared with the pre-pandemic years. It quite possibly boils down to a disrupted supply chain, rather than a major blow to demand for cameras.

See: Camera, lens shipments plummet

A supply shortage of photography gear will ultimately make itself apparent at the end of the supply chain – the retailer. So how many are out of stock of new releases?

The world’s largest photo retailer, B&H, is currently awaiting fresh stock from practically all camera companies for major new and existing models. From a list of the 120 best selling cameras (including some duplicates in kits/different colours), 20 were unavailable.

That includes a lot of new, and some old, releases: Sony A1 and A7c; the Nikon Z 7II, Z50, D850, D6, D500; the Fujifilm X-T4, GFX 100S, X100V, and X-S10; the Canon M50 Mk II, 5DS R, select 5D Mk IV kits, and numerous PowerShot compact cameras; the Leica Q2; Panasonic Lumix S5, and several Lumix compact models.

It’s a similar story for lenses, with five Sony lenses covering the spectrum of focal lengths, from 14mm to 100-400mm, unavailable at B&H. Likewise numerous Canon RF and EF, Nikkor Z, Fujifilm XF, and Panasonic Lumix G Vario lenses are unavailable.

A surprising number of cameras and lenses are also out of stock at B&H’s major competitor, Adorama.

One of the UK’s largest independent photo retailers, Park Cameras, is also struggling to keep products in stock. More than half of all camera models are unavailable. Out of 44 Canon cameras, 27 are unavailable (this includes duplicates for cameras sold body only and in kits); same with 25 of 38 Sony cameras; 22 of 39 Nikon cameras; and 48 of 70 Fujifilm. Not a single Fujifilm Instax is in stock. The same goes for lenses.

Park Cameras is awaiting stock on three new release Nikon Zeds.

Based on product availability at these three photo retail giants, sourcing fresh stock appears to be a real problem.

As noted by CR Kennedy’s Clem Kennedy, the lack of supply hasn’t had such a big impact in Australia.

Digital Camera Warehouse, for instance, has several of the previously mentioned cameras in stock – besides the Sony A1, which is unavailable due to a ‘stock delay’. Likewise, Camera House and DigiDirect have plenty of new-release cameras available.

‘Things were tight, and the manufacturers have closed some factories and consolidated production,’ a senior retail chain spokesperson told Inside Imaging. ‘There are issues with some long lenses, but in some respects, that has always been the case as they do limited production runs once or twice a year.

‘Camera stocks are good at the moment, as we forecast and commit to stock well in advance. However, this has become a dangerous game as Covid has culled the “walk-in” customers at various times in various state lockdowns. Sony is always tight as the brand leader, with demand outstripping supply at times.’

It’s difficult to speculate why Australia appears so far unaffected by a supply issue that’s clearly hit some key overseas retailers. Perhaps the state lockdowns have marginally decreased Australian demand so it matches the drop in supply, or local retailers and distributors are better at estimating demand than the production planning department at Nikon. Their survival depends on it.

Whatever the reason, it’s probably a great time to buy a new camera and support the local industry. Prices look set to rise soon and supply seems to be, at best, fluid.

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