How will the disasters in Japan impact the Photo industry?
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This is a post that I have put off for a few days… I'm still not entirely sure how to approach this delicate subject, but here is my best crack at it. Before we get into any silly discussion about camera equipment, let me encourage all of you out there to donate to something, anything you can to help the people that have suffered through the tragic earthquake(s) and tsunami that have devastated Japan. Above, I linked to a list of a bunch of charities you can donate to. The simplest way is right here through google.
As tough as it may be to look past the loss of human life and utter destruction, I feel obligated to address the fact that these events are going to impact the Photography industry. Japan is the world's largest producer of consumer electronics, motor vehicles, and many other products that we use every day. Japan is a small country, but an industrial giant. Whether you want to believe it or not, the best cameras and lenses are made in Japan now -- not Germany. The disasters in Japan have already impacted the market and camera and lens prices have gone up. Depending on the severity of damage and production halt, prices will either fall back down again this spring or continue to rise into the summer. So I did some research and found everything I could about companies in the photo industry. A lot of news is still developing and it's impossible to know or comprehend when things will be back to "normal" in Japan, but here's what I found out.
The damages to Canon's physical plants seem minor, but the basic logistics of running a business may slow them down a little and of course, everything is still unfolding before our eyes. Canon is a company that produces a lot of their own materials and products, so they shouldn't be as impacted as other companies who rely more heavily on other electronic companies for parts. Canon uses glass from Ohara, Inc for their lenses and I don't believe Ohara was directly impacted by the disasters either… So far, Canon has released a few statements about specific damages to their employees and facilities and donated about 300 million Yen to relief efforts in Japan. I think the worst case scenario for Canon is that we see some further delays on products like the highly anticipated EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye. Only 15 Canon employees were hurt (non life-threatening) in the disaster.
Nikon was probably the hardest hit of any of the major photographic companies, but they still donated 100 million Yen to the Japanese Red Cross. One of their biggest manufacturing plants is located in Sendai, Japan. Sendai suffered major damage and while the Nikon facility doesn't appear to have any devastating structural damage, Nikon has noted that their Sendai plant was damaged and is currently shut down with an undisclosed amount of employees injured in the disasters. This is the factory where the class-leading D3s, D3x, and D700 are produced. Even though the D3x is a little long in the tooth now, it is the industry standard for studio photography (outside of medium format); the same goes for the D3s and sports/low-light photography. Nikon usually releases a pro level DSLR every four years in August/September and many people, including myself, were expecting a D4 this year. If the plant is damaged, there will be some delays in any new releases for professional cameras. Again, it's not just about the facilities; if Nikon has lost valuable workers, they will suffer setbacks. Nikon's other divisions outside of imaging also suffered from disaster impact. They are certainly not the largest company out of this group and will probably struggle more than they will admit.
As the largest electronics company in the world, Panasonic will have the "easiest" time recovering from this mess. Unlike many other companies, Panasonic is totally self-sufficient; they produce every single piece of material that goes into their products -- right down to the batteries -- which many companies simply buy and re-brand. Panasonic has reported that their imaging division, the one that makes cameras and lenses, has taken taken the biggest hit, so that is disappointing to those looking for a GH2. The good news is, their employees have only suffered minor injuries. Supply/stock of the GH2 has already been slow as molasses and there aren't that many left to be allocated in the USA right now. If you want a GH2 or any other Panasonic Lumix product, scoop it up before the market goes bare. Panasonic can even generate their own electricity because they make solar panels. Panasonic may have the most harsh and immediate delays on products, but I believe they will have the fastest recovery.
This is perhaps one of the most important companies in the photographic industry. Sony makes sensors and many other electronics that you will find in every brand of camera. Almost every point and shoot camera (regardless of brand) uses a Sony made/designed sensor. So even though Sony is still a developing and growing company in regards to their own cameras, they are absolutely critical to the rest of the industry because of what they make. They issued the following statement on Monday: "Operations at several Sony Corporation and Sony Group sites and facilities have been affected by the Pacific Coast of Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and Sony is monitoring the status of each of these sites on an ongoing basis, while also considering the most effective recovery measures. Sony also has responded to reports of widespread power outages by voluntarily suspending operations at several sites. No significant injuries have been reported to employees working at any of these sites when the earthquake or tsunami occurred."
Sony is probably the second largest consumer electronics company in the world, right behind Panasonic,ae so I am going to keep my eyes on their recovery. They aren't reporting any significant damages, but they have ceased operations, which is pretty much what everyone in Japan is doing right now, as the worsening situation over the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant develops.
It doesn't seem that Olympus was impacted heavily by the earthquake off of the Sanriku coast. A few of their operations facilities have ceased production because of small damages/power outages and the company has admitted that several employees have been slightly injured. However, Olympus has donated 100 million Yen and several Industrial videoscopes and "non-destructive" testing equipment that have been put to use in helping find trapped survivors. I don't see any foreseeable delays in the future for Olympus products.
Fuji has been the one of the most generous donors out of all the big photographic companies. They have given 300 million Yen in monetary donations and almost 500 million yen in supplies to aid victims. Believe it or not, Fuji's bread and butter is still chemistry and film. They are one of the only remaining suppliers of professional film, paper, and lab supplies. It will be interesting to see how this plays out because FujiFilm is probably more concerned about the disaster's impact on the chemical industry and not electronics. However, one MAJOR electronics product has been delayed. According to 43rumors.com, there has been enough damage to close the factory where the super hyped FujiFilm X100 was being produced. This is very disheartening news as many people were expecting this product to arrive in March. The month is almost over and we still haven't seen one here, so it could be a while.
The bottom line is that none of this news takes precedence over the still developing horrors that we are reading about everyday. However, we are part of this industry and our readers and customers deserve to know the truth about how these horrible events are going to impact the industry. Again, please donate whatever you can to the Japanese Red Cross and keep the victims of this tragedy in your thoughts. In the grand scheme of things, a delayed camera really means nothing when compared to the widespread devastation that has occurred in Japan.-MZ