Interesting Things Said on the Internet II

"OMDS says it is shifting to become an outdoor company making imaging products. It’s a subtle shift, but also a significant one in terms of positioning the OM System brand in a different… ahem, space to the other camera-makers." --Digitalcameraworld

When marketing can't describe why their products are a better choice, they look for truth-adjacent rationalizations to explain. 

First off, I don't think any of us were aware that Olympus (and now OMDS) was an "indoor" company. True, they made some products that were used indoors, some that were used outdoors, some that were used in both locations. But to use location in terms of their current products really doesn't make a lot of sense. And oh, by the way, OMDS, does that mean I now have to use my LS-P5 digital recorder only outdoors? ;~) Apparently so, since the marketing materials say it's for "music and field" but only show it used outdoors. Ditto the journalist-oriented recorders.

Worse still, OMDS is using "Outdoor Monster" branding at times in describing what their products are for. Do I really want a monster? I don't think so, but it is true that if I do want one, I want to keep it outdoors. 

All the camera makers are scrambling for the niches they think they can still see and claim, which in turn is also scrambling their product development and user base. I can tell you that the wildlife photography market is getting "filled" and most customers can't afford to buy the big guns more than once. So good luck with targeting that. 

I still have my doubts about OMDS, even though the similar, earlier spin-out of Vaio from Sony is still going, now on it's 13th generation of laptops. Cameras don't sell in the volume laptops do. The dedicated camera market at the moment looks basically overall flat and lacking any meaningful growth. 

Of course you know what I'll write about that: the camera market lacks growth because the makers lack the ability to both properly define why you need one, let alone match user needs properly. 

But let's keep this on OMDS for a moment: imagine if they had made a True Pen, not the compact-derived Pen PL/PM variants they've tended to create. Imagine further that this was targeted as a true compact, ala the Fujifilm X100. Think it might have sold (not sure if it would have gone viral though)? The funny thing is that OMDS must be able to see for themselves that all those PL/PMs basically sold out fast when offered at a discount in the Japanese market. But they haven't really been replaced with anything, and aren't available at all in many markets, including the US. Guess they don't work outdoors. ;~) Petapixel recently interviewed OMDS execs who said they didn't think a Pen-F successor would sell. Well, it certainly won't sell if you don't make it, so good on getting that right, OMDS.

What I keep seeing is companies that don't understand cameras making cameras. Oh, they understand semiconductors and electronics and even optics, but they don't understand cameras and the way people really use them. Probably because the designers don't actually use them, nor do they talk enough to the global community that does use their cameras. 

"X100VI production should be increased in about four or five months." — Fujifilm UK manager

People seem to believe that increasing production is as simple as someone saying "just do it." It doesn't even work that way at your local McDonalds, which would almost immediately run out of food because their incoming supplies are tightly controlled and scheduled. 

No doubt the Fujifilm X100VI triggered a lot of orders. Indeed, the first thing that has to happen is someone at Fujifilm verifies the level of orders and comes to some conclusions about how many are multiple orders where people were just trying to get in line in as many places as they could. Then they'd need to look at their supply chain and see if they have to make adjustments there. Then there's predicting the overall global economy in the near to mid future. 

But let's say that everything adds up and Fujifilm decides, yes, there is a much stronger demand for that product we need to ramp up for. If, for instance, Fujifilm decided that they needed twice as many image sensors for the X100VI as they originally thought, even if they could tell the fab to double production it would be almost three months before they saw a volume change. 

The myth of semiconductors is that you "just stamp them out." In other words, put a wafer on the stepper, press the Start button, and out the other end comes a finished product. Some even think this happens in minutes. Nope. Big bummer coming for those of you who do think that. Many steps occur in just preparing the wafer, then each layer that goes on the wafer takes an enormous number of steps and time to complete, and once that is all built up, the wafer goes to the next machine. That machine does testing of every individual "chip" on it, essentially the first pass of QA. Next, the process may change location depending upon who's doing the work. Either you cut the chips off the wafer and retest, or you do the next step on the wafer: what I call "toppings" are put on (microlenses, Bayer filtration, phase detect masking, etc.). You're still not done. The results next need to go to a packaging facility, where the casing and connection pins are placed around what's been built so far. Some companies do the packaging first, and some toppings last, so some of these later steps may occur in different orders in different places. But they all have to be done, and my point is that there are multiple facilities (and even companies) involved in that. During all this work, the materials may have even piled up a lot of frequent flyer miles along the way. Korea's second largest memory chip maker, SK Hynix, just announced a new packaging facility to be built in Indiana, for instance. The fabs with their steppers, where the process of creating their chips all starts, are in China and South Korea.

So Fujifilm doesn't just call up Sony Semiconductor and say "we'd like double the number of image sensors this month, please." Moreover, if someone calculates wrong—and remember that the image sensor is the most expensive part in the camera—you also can't just call up and say "sorry, we only need half of what we just asked for." 

In other words, changing production capacity in any meaningful way for a camera is a careful process where risk is examined closely and you're dealing with multiple suppliers you need to keep happy. 

Since Fujifilm also uses that 40mp image sensor in cameras other than the X100VI, you might say that they could just pull parts destined for another product. But what if the X-T5 or X-H2 also has high demand? And what if you were going to announce another camera with that image sensor? Heck, is it possible that a recession or worse might happen before you can get more units to market?

I've known for 40+ years via first hand experience that demand that is significantly higher than expected is an "all hands emergency" and requires extraordinary managerial coordination to work through. And that doesn't come without risk. For instance, what if a competitor such as Nikon introduced a similar compact camera with their 45mp sensor in the time before Fujifilm could get all those new image sensors they asked for? 

All this brings me back to one thing, though. Really good product management requires that you be close enough to your customers to fully understand potential demand well prior to launch. All the Japanese companies tend to be pretty conservative in their forecasts and not particularly well connected to their potential customers. Fujifilm already knew they were having clear troubles meeting X100V (the prior model) demand, but their bet was that 15k units a month of the new camera would solve that. They were wrong. And now we'll wait for several months before we see just how much they've managed to increase production.

I'd say that the potential for "overshoot" is pretty high here for Fujifilm. It's a bit like captaining a huge oil tanker: it just doesn't change direction fast, and if you misjudge, you can't instantly correct. 

To continue that analogy, Fujifilm has been sailing a different direction with their compact camera and achieving excellent success. All the other captains seem to not have noticed. None have moved any ships that same direction. All seem to be dealing with their own ship crisis at the moment ;~). So I think Fujifilm will probably be fine with increasing production. But we'll still have to wait for it.

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