Factors that will affect upcoming camera gear availability and pricing.

13 July 2021

This article aims to provide an overview of the current market, highlighting factors you should be aware of that could affect the products available for you to buy. It will also provide some advice on how you should approach each potential purchase.

A disrupted market
Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a number of adverse affects on the supply of products to the market over the past 12-18 months.  And, although Australia’s relatively small market is less affected than the larger markets in the Northern Hemisphere, going on current trends, this disruption will probably continue through 2021 and is likely to be felt here before long.

The overall camera market has also been shrinking in the last few years, as shown in the graphs below. Peaks normally begin in late spring in both hemispheres then fall a little in summer when most people have their holidays and rise again from autumn through into the pre-Christmas gift-buying months of October and November.

It’s worth noting these plots are influenced by seasonal effects in Northern Hemisphere countries, where most purchases are made. The pattern would have a different shape for Southern Hemisphere countries and volumes would be lower – although the overall ‘picture’ will be the same as for the major markets. In the Northern Hemisphere there is normally a fall in volumes and market value in the traditionally’ quiet’ period after Christmas when most people are back at work and school. This doesn’t occur in Southern Hemisphere countries, where it’s the peak of the holiday season.

The latest chart from CIPA (the Camera & Imaging Products Association in Japan), reproduced above, shows clearly the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on camera shipments from Japanese manufacturers in three plots covering 2019, 2020 and the first quarter of 2021. The two plots for the COVID years of 2020 and 2021 reflect the differences from a ‘normal’ year, indicated by the 2019 plot.

We’ve used CIPA’s monthly data to create separate plots for fixed-lens cameras and interchangeable-lens cameras (ILC) with the latter separated into DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. These categories are plotted relative to the overall market, which is shown by the purple line.

This graph shows camera shipments in units from January 2020 – just before COVID-19 took hold – through to the latest figures, which cover May 2021.

This graph shows the value of camera sales in 1000 Yen increments. Not surprisingly, it parallels the shipment graphs. However, readers should note the higher value of the mirrorless camera sector compared with the DSLR and fixed-lens cameras.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is having a wider effect on technology-related markets. It’s also changing consumer behaviour in both predictable and unpredictable ways, with more people shopping online, especially in the larger capital cities, due in part to periodic lockdowns. We’ll look at these influences in the second part of this article.

The chip shortage
Worldwide there is a global shortage of semiconductors, which means consumers are facing price rises and shortages across a wide range of products. Initially the problem arose because factories were closed when the pandemic first hit but, even though production has largely returned to ‘normal’ a new surge in demand, driven by changing market conditions (including more of us working at home), has driven what one commentator describes as ‘a perfect storm of supply and demand factors’.

Demand for computers, smart devices and communications technology has skyrocketed and consumers have also been buying more home entertainment devices. Electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers have also been affected, as has the smaller imaging devices market. Leading semiconductor manufacturers like Sony and Samsung have struggled to keep pace with this demand.

Interestingly, the worst affected market sector has been the car market, where manufacturers cut back on orders when vehicle sales fell last year but are now ramping up production. The move in many countries to shift away from ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles to electric models has increased the demand for computer chips. Electric vehicles are the fastest growing market sector worldwide, a trend that is likely to accelerate – including in Australia.

The chip shortage looks set to persist for some time yet because it takes several years to get complex semiconductor production factories up and running. Expect shortages of many devices over the next year or two along with increased prices for all goods that use computer chips (cameras included).

Product discontinuations
As consumer preferences shift from DSLR to mirrorless cameras, the leading manufacturers are shifting their attention in parallel. That has a number of consequences for product availability and pricing.

Since early 2020 none of the major manufacturers has introduced a new DSLR camera. Sony announced its last A-mount DSLR camera in October 2019 but only officially announced it was ceasing production of the last of its DSLRs (the α99 Mark II, the α77 Mark II, and the α68) at the beginning of May 2021. While some models may remain on dealers’ shelves, no more will be made – and it’s a matter of time before Canon and Nikon follow suit.

When it comes to lenses, Sony hasn’t released an A-mount lens since 2015; Canon hasn’t released a new EF-mount lens for the past three years and announced the discontinuation of 26 EF lenses in April 2021. The last Nikkor DSLR lens was announced in June 2018 and Nikon has discontinued at least seven AF-S Nikkor lenses this year.

Local resellers appear to be offering most (if not all) of the available DSLRs at discounted prices so if you’re looking for a DSLR system, now could be a good time to buy – at least while stocks last. But be aware you’ll be buying into older technology, which will probably be fine if you don’t expect to extend your equipment collection but may be unwise if you plan to develop your photographic skills and capabilities further in the future.

In the imaging equipment market, overseas websites have reported on growing shortages of products, particularly items that were released recently or have just been announced. While COVID constraints have undoubtedly impacted supply chains, the need to re-tool factories to build mirrorless cameras and lenses rather than DSLR products has also played a role.

Manufacturers are also being forced to micro-manage how they use the parts they obtain from third-party suppliers, which are also impacted by COVID. Chip shortages have been a major source of delays in new product releases.

Some shortages will require changes in what goes into kit bundles, while high-demand products could move into and out of stock, indicating an inability to keep pace with demand. Low-volume products like cameras and lenses will suffer more from these shortages than items like smartphones and computers, which are likely to get preferential treatment.

Making decisions
Online shopping is here to stay – and it’s a relatively new experience for some city dwellers. Country folk have been shopping-from-a-distance for many years, initially using catalogues that were posted out several times a year by major city retailers.

The problem with shopping online is that it’s just too easy to click on the ‘purchase’ button and commit to a product that may – or may not – be what you really want and/or need. But once you’ve committed it can be difficult to step back and products can be expensive to return.

Faced with these issues, the wisest course is to visit your local camera store. You just can’t beat that ‘hands-on experience’ when choosing a new camera or lens. But if you’re forced to shop online it would be wise to take the following advice:

1. If you’re interested in a particular camera and/or lens, visit a number of local websites to check on availability and pricing. More recently released products should be priced close to the published RRP (check Photo Review’s news and reviews for details). High-demand items will usually be in short supply and, once the initial shipment is sold, it could take some time for dealers to be re-supplied. Be prepared to place a deposit to order a just-released product that you REALLY want and need.  If the item you want is out of stock, be prepared to get in line for the next shipment.

2. If the item is a ‘like to have’ product rather than a ‘must have’ item, consider waiting. The need to buy new equipment for a trip is probably less urgent in these days of closed borders and lockdowns; less so if the gear is needed for a specific job or project or to replace lost or damaged equipment. Delaying your purchase can have worthwhile advantages, such as lower price and improved product performance through firmware updates (which will be installed when the unit is manufactured).

3. Consider renting. This is a great solution for gear that will only be used for short-term or one-time requirements. Many of the major retailers offer this service to valuable clients. If you choose to rent, make sure you allow enough time before the event/job for which it will be used to make sure there aren’t any pre-existing issues with the equipment and you’re comfortable using it. This also lets you be sure the item is what you really need and allows you to change it if it’s not.

4. Be wary of buying from offshore websites. If in doubt, it’s always safer and less hassle to buy from your local camera store. Check out Photo Review’s detailed recommendations about offshore purchasing here.

For a local perspective on stock levels, check out this article in the industry newsletter Inside Imaging.  In addition, Nikon guru Thom Hogan has posted an interesting article on the camera market that is well worth reading on his US-based website.

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