The Conundrum of Coercion

Last week, I wrote about the conundrum of choice, the fact that you have so many choices available to you in the mirrorless camera market. 

Today, I want to explore the opposite of that, the conundrum of coercion. The camera makers want you to buy certain models, and at higher prices. Yes, choice and coercion are happening simultaneously. 

The easiest place to see what’s going on is in the Fujifilm X lineup. Not very long ago, we had as many as eight models to choose from. Today, if I’m understanding the current situation correctly, only four models actually remain in the lineup. The X-Pro3 has been discontinued, while the X-T30 II is out of stock everywhere and rumored to have been discontinued. Thus, we’re left with: X-T5, X-H2, X-H2S, and X-S10. If the X-T30 II is disappearing and with the X-E4 already gone, that reduces the lower-cost APS-C Fujifilm models to just one: the X-S10. 

Some makers, such as Canon, built enough inventory—somehow despite the supply chain shortages—that older models continue to linger. You can still buy an R, RP, R6, M50, and M200 camera in many places, though we’re starting to see the usual “backorder” messages starting to show up, which for an older body is just one step removed from “discontinued.” At least in Canon’s case, lower cost products aren’t completely disappearing (R50, R10, even R8 could also be said to be “lower cost”). But then again, Canon seeks 50% market share as a primary goal, and the only way they’ll get to that is by selling lower-end products. I’m pretty sure that Canon doesn’t get a 50% market share of pros with the R3 ;~).

Then there’s the way things are working at Nikon lately: when a Z6 kit starts selling for more than the same Z6 II kit, that’s an indication that B&H and other companies have limited supply and aren’t likely to replace it. (You may wonder about who would buy an older model over a new model at a higher price. Some businesses require a specific model for a reason, typically because they’ve built procedures/practices around it.)

The coercion bit of the headline is that every camera maker wants to take you higher. In price, that is, not in elevation. 

Even Sony’s recent vlogging cameras reveal that, though in a different way: first came the lowish price ZV-1 (1” sensor), then they released a ZV-10 (APS-C sensor, higher priced once you factor in a lens), and most recently Sony launched the ZV-E1 (full frame, top price). In what order do you think those models will eventually be discontinued? ;~)

A quick check of CIPA numbers will tell you all you need to know. For instance, in 2022 mirrorless unit volume increased 31%. But the implied cost of those same products increased 61%. 

For a long time, even back into the 90’s, the camera companies have been a little more concerned about total dollars (yen) taken in than they have been for volume. I’m going to distort things a bit by just looking at the last four complete years, which were obviously impacted by COVID, but you’ll see something interesting in the overall sales numbers:

  • 2022 — 681b yen
  • 2021 — 489b yen
  • 2020 — 420b yen
  • 2019 — 587b yen

I’m pretty sure the Japanese camera companies would collectively be happy with the market being back in the 700-800b yen range again (2016 to 2018 levels), and there’s a good chance they’ll get there this year by simply coercing you to buy higher. As it is, all of the camera companies have reported strong sales for their just ended fiscal years. So if they can coax another 100b yen out of the market, they’ll be even happier. 

The downside to getting you to buy higher is that you’re going to less inclined to buy as often. In other words, the camera makers may be emphasizing short term results over long term. But then again, they’ve always tried to micromanage the market to their revenue needs. If you stop buying, watch for a reversal of pushing product upward and a renewed emphasis on collecting new users at the bottom at lower prices. 

To use my oft-used shorthand words, this is not a time to be sampling, leaking, or switching. If you try to do that at low prices, you’ll get older gear that will feel outdated quickly. If you try to do that a higher prices, well, I hope you have a lot of disposable income. 

I’ve written it elsewhere, but I’ll repeat it here: I believe we’ve entered an era of “ride the horse you’re on.” While I see complaints on virtually every mount that there are “missing products,” I’d also argue that there is a plethora of perfectly fine products already available, and what you should be concentrating on is building your lens collection for the mount you’ve chosen. 

That’s what I’ve been doing lately. The gear closet has gotten a lot leaner as I’ve sold off gear outside my primary mount and just concentrate on the few products I use over and over. I have a slight advantage over you in that I can still sample other products via loaners from the camera companies and B&H. But in terms of my actual kit, I’d say that it’s basically back down to a couple of bodies and less than a half dozen lenses that are getting used in my event, sports, and wildlife work. And I’m perfectly happy with that (as should you if you do the same thing). 

My advice: go ahead and be coerced into a higher-end camera in your chosen mount that’s going to last you for the foreseeable future—every maker has more than one that should qualify—and then be wise about the lenses you add. Spend time, not money, practicing the art of photography with that small quiver you end up with. 

Note this is consistent advice to what I recently wrote on about buying gear you grow into, not grow out of.

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