The Out of Stock Holiday?

Despite the camera makers having started increasing their mirrorless production early this fall, I still fear that they haven't quite matched the consumer reality. 

I keep hearing from tons of people who have put off their buying decisions during most of 2020, but are now willing to finally commit to something new this holiday. They want to end the year in a positive spirit with a new toy, not continue to hide in their holes. This is particularly true of those who already had disposable income, remained employed, and have shown in the past that they're willing to spend on gear.

We Nikon users have had a long year where a lot of things have been "out of stock." After months of shortage, you can finally generally find a few D6 or 120-300mm or 500mm PF at the bigger dealers. But a host of products that should be just generally available, aren't (on the Z side, the 14-24mm, 24-50mm, 24-200mm, 50mm f/1.2, 70-200mm, and 85mm lenses all seem to be in very short supply). Z7 II's aren't going to show up until really close to Christmas, and it's likely that Nikon will once again emphasize kits over bodies and get the mix wrong, resulting in shortages. Let' s not even mention things like the WR-R11 or the MB-N11 ;~).

But Nikon's not the only ones with new inventory issues. The Canon R5 isn't generally in stock at the moment and will probably remain in short supply through the end of the year. Like Nikon, some of the RF lenses are in short supply, too, and kits aren't always available due to the lens availability issues.

Fujifilm seems okay with X-T4 bodies, but the GFX 50R, X-T3, X-T200, and recently introduced X-S10 are backordered, and I'm also seeing more of their lenses not on the shelves, too.

Sony's latest cameras aren't on shelves, let alone in quantity, either. Fortunately their older gear is in good supply. Lenses are okay, too, including the popular Tamron ones.

And we haven't even gotten to the Black Friday sales yet. This is all happening in the pre-XMAS build-up.

The one thing that does seem to be popping up in quantity is refurbished gear. This is more likely just boxes that came back from dealers who couldn't sell them, along with things like items that were in programs such as Nikon's Yellow Box. Just remember that you're giving up three-quarters of your warranty and some types of return privileges when you buy refurbished. 

So what's my advice as we near the peak of the buying season?

Don't necessarily wait for big sales, unless you don't mind missing out. The less time a product has been on the market, the more I'd just suggest you just buy it when it becomes available and not wait for discounts. In some cases, just order it while it's on backorder if the current discount will be applied. 

If you just have to have a big discount, wait until after the first of the year. That's because production has been increasing and inventories will eventually build to the point where the camera companies have to decide to move some volume with more discounting. 

Remember, most of the camera companies close their fiscal year at the end of March. So, if they didn't hit their numbers for the holidays, they'll be highly motivated to push product in the first quarter of next year. Moreover, if they do hit their numbers in this holiday quarter, some are going to try to see if they can continue their success into next year by using some targeted sales. 

Finally, there's this: the CP+ trade show in Japan is currently scheduled to happen at the end of February, and yes, they are planning to do so with a physical show. We'll be seeing, I think, quite a few new releases just prior to that, so older items will need to be cleared as much as possible before then.

Here's my full advice for the holiday buying season:

  • Support your brick and mortar store if you can. We lost a lot of retailers this year, and many are still in danger. Even the big boys like B&H are trying to get by with much lower volume. For our hobby/business to continue to be practicable, we need retailers.
  • For new product you want, just order it. Anything that's been released in the last month or two, it's not likely to be going on (significant) discount, and it's likely to be in short supply. 
  • For popular products, don't try to "time" the sales. If the price drops and you want it, pick it up while it's still in inventory. Most of the camera companies are only going to dump two or three more big shipments of product between now and Christmas. Maybe if something sells for enough and the demand is high enough, they'll do some airlifts of products, but don't count on it.
  • If you're a gambler and open to what product you get, there will be some flash sales, so just wait. Most of these will be on older products, though. 
  • We're still in a pandemic, so pick a project, and buy to that. It's going to be spring or summer of next year that travel really starts to be viable and morally defensible again (e.g. you get a vaccination against COVID-19 and can be reasonably sure you aren't going to become a spreader). You might have noticed that macro lenses went out of stock a lot this year. That's because a lot of us just decided to photograph the small world we live in. Personally, I bought gear that allows me to do more while in Zoom conferences. Just pick something that you know you can do photographically/videographically in the next six months, and concentrate your holiday purchases on that. 
  • Or, upgrade. That rickety beat up tripod? You can get better. Your computer is five years old? Upgrade. Your lens set has turned out to be a hodgepodge of mostly random purchases over the years? Sell the old gear off and consolidate around a two-to-five lens set that really covers 95% of what you need. 
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