Photography Products on Life Support

Not to be morbid, but a number of photography products are on life support and entering their final days. The tech world is ruthless in moving on from older tech, and the pandemic-caused supply chain issues are making that happen faster, not sooner, for a number of items.

Let's start with some that should be obvious:

  • Compact Flash — This card format is no longer being used in new cameras. If you're using a camera that requires Compact Flash, now is the time to stock up on some new cards, while you still have choices. You could wait until they go into the close-out discount bin, but your choices will be few at that point.
  • CFast — Another card format that is hitting a dead end, though a bit slower as some video-oriented cameras still use it. Canon's cinema cameras are keeping this one alive a bit more than Compact Flash, for instance, but expect a change there soon, too, as Canon is now embracing CFexpress. 

The future of cards is clearly CFexpress for higher-end camera products. Canon, Nikon, and Sony are all embracing it for their top products, and that will work its way down to lower cost products soon enough. SD cards aren't dead, though. They continue to be the VHS of photography: a modest performance product that's good enough for most uses. Do yourself a favor, though, and start retiring your older SD cards and replacing them with current UHS II ones if you want to keep up with what the camera companies are doing (and you'll get better transfer speeds into your computer from a UHS II card reader, too). 

The products on life support that get talked about the most are these:

  • Consumer DSLRs — In ten years we went from companies selling 10m of these a year down to where we are today, which is less than 1m units. There's nowhere for consumer DSLRs to hide any more. It used to be that the camera companies could take the lowest models into developing or third-world countries to get some volume, but those days are mostly gone. Manufacturing lines for these models are all being shut down, if not already shut down. When their parts supply drains, they'll be gone for good. Don't expect any new consumer DSLR announcements.
  • High-end DSLRs — This is a bit of a different story. There's just enough volume left here at profitable margins that Canon and Nikon are still clinging to their sales in this category, particularly Nikon and the D500, D780, D850, and D6. The parts supply issues are making that difficult to do for much longer, though, and I expect that to narrow by one or two models soon. I don't expect another high-end DSLR from Canon, though perhaps they might do some firmware updates for the 1DX Mark III. Nikon, however, is the wild card. There's still hope that they'll make a swan-song DSLR or two, much like they did with film SLRs. 
  • Lenses for DSLRs — Making glass for lenses is a long process that can take a year for many of the more sophisticated elements (aspherical, large ED, etc.). Lens glass making is still done mostly using the same techniques as always, which involves lengthy creation, curing, and polishing steps. As DSLR sales volumes started to go down, lens production was somewhat slower to react, and we ended up with a glut of DSLR lenses. My quick survey tells me that more than half the DSLR lenses we had available three years ago are no longer having new glass made. It could be even more. All that glass production is more profitably turned into full frame mirrorless lenses these days, so slowly we're seeing DSLR lenses leave production entirely as glass stocks dry up. Canon has been more aggressive at this than Nikon, surprisingly. I say surprisingly as Canon is still selling EF-mount Cinema cameras. But Nikon has been aggressive in removing DX lenses in many of their subsidiaries, leaving the remaining inventories to the American and European areas that still have large DSLR concentrations. At this point I don't expect any new EF or F-mount lenses to be introduced. I expect the ones that will be left on sale will dwindle over time as no new glass gets produced for them.

But there are plenty of other products that you should be concerned about if you rely upon them:

  • 1" cameras — I recently noticed Canon's XC15 go on sale for one-third off, while we haven't heard of another Sony 1" camera since the ZV-1 (which was really a video-oriented rework of the RX100). The RX line itself hasn't had a new release in over two years. Same thing is true for 1" Canon PowerShot and Panasonic Lumix models. Sony Semiconductor's 1" sensor lineup seems stalled at 20mp, and I'm sure that fab demand is so high that it would be difficult to get their attention on 1" without a significant volume order. 1" may be history, though Nikon still has that long-lens DL24-500 they designed, and they probably are seriously thinking about a replacement for the P900-type consumer cameras, as they've been successful. That said, Nikon has no sensor supply at the 1" level these days, so probably will just continue the P900/P1000 until they are no longer profitable.
  • Zeiss E-mount lenses — The Batis, Touit, and Loxia lens lines have all gone silent, with no new releases since 2018. While you can still find them in stock, one has to wonder whether production is actually continuing (or for how long). In general, Zeiss has been overall silent. They've been "matched" in full frame mirrorless lens capabilities, and they had the ZX1 disaster recently, too. Given that their last photo-related announcement was spring 2021 (Radiance primes for cinema use) and their Medical and other specialized groups are producing high growth, I suspect they're not as interested in the shrining photography market any more.
  • Small dealers — As sale volumes decrease, a number of smaller dealers are running into minimum sales requirements needed to maintain a relationship with a camera maker. I've seen multiple stores dropped by Nikon, a couple by Canon, as sales dropped below a minimum level. It doesn't help that the camera makers, particularly Canon, insist that dealers take certain numbers of consumer DSLR and other lower cost models, either. That puts the dealer in the hot seat to sell off the remaining inventory of cameras on life support, and typically without additional marketing and discount support from the camera makers.

So what are your choices for photography companies or products on life support?

Update: corrected CFast reference.

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