Fujifilm and Pentax Not Fulfilling Demand Doesn’t Build Hype, It Loses Sales

Two cameras are displayed. On the left is a Fujifilm X100V with a black body and labeled "Fujinon Aspherical Lens" around the lens. On the right is a vintage Pentax 17 film camera with a silver and black body, featuring "Auto Takumar" text around its lens.

For the past several weeks, photographers have been expressing a recurring sentiment online: the lack of supply for highly sought-after cameras like the Fujifilm X100VI, Ricoh GR III, or Pentax 17 is actually a strategy to “build hype.” That’s absurd.

I admit, I at first fell into that thought process when I was — and continue to be — unable to purchase an X100VI at retail price. It’s extremely frustrating to want to buy a camera that makes me inexplicably happy and be told, essentially, “no.” This mental state wasn’t helped by the regular reporting of a translated statement from Teiichi Goto, President and CEO, and Representative Director of Fujifilm Holdings that seemed to affirm the belief that Fujifilm was purposely restricting demand.

“The most important point is how much brand strength to create and how to maintain it. Therefore, it would be quite unfortunate to manufacture too much and lower the price,” Goto says.

“The shortage of X100VI’s is as easily attributed to production challenges as it is to intention, though. While having excess supply is bad from a financial perspective, so too is not being able to meet existing demand. In an ideal world, Fujifilm would produce precisely as many cameras as the market demands at any given time,” PetaPixel‘s Jeremy Gray wrote earlier this week.

The emotional response of hearing that you can’t buy something you want makes it easy to be fooled into believing something that doesn’t make any sense, as long as it makes your emotions feel justified. If even a little bit of thought goes into this “restrict availability to build hype” idea, it falls apart.

Almost every company on Earth (save for the most luxurious brands) will never choose to look at a willing buyer and tell them “no.” Sure, some watch and sports car brands do this, but they don’t have hundreds of thousands of people trying to buy one of their products. Their model is based on exclusivity while a brand like Fujifilm’s — as a publicly traded company — is based on moving product.

In this case, restricting hundreds of thousands of buyers doesn’t build hype, it loses out on sales — sales a publicly traded company wants. In the case of the X100VI, by the time many buyers who were ready to pull the trigger in March can actually buy the camera, the urge to actually do so may have passed. Companies need to jump on demand quickly or a purchaser may decide they don’t need it.

One of the biggest arguments that I’ve seen regarding the X100VI is that Fujifilm could have, and should have, increased its production to match what demand for the camera ended up being. A maximum of 15,000 units a month was, in their eyes, never going to be enough. So, they say, Fujifilm must have known this and therefore must be intentionally restricting production.

This assertion doesn’t hold water. Firstly, Fujifilm did legitimately try and significantly bolster its production to meet what it predicted would be massive demand. After it was unable to keep the X100V on store shelves, Fujifilm moved production to China and more than doubled its capacity to make the X100VI versus its predecessor, going with the belief that it would be about twice as popular. That turned out to be a conservative estimate, unfortunately.

But even ignoring that, it’s important to look at two other factors: cautious investment and the weak yen.

First, Japanese camera companies are particularly careful about investing in manufacturing. From Sigma and Nikon to Panasonic, Sony, and Fujifilm, none have dramatically scaled up production for any specific camera or lens outside of Fujifilm’s move to produce the X100VI in China — over the last 10 years, the opposite has been true. Camera companies have been consolidating and closing, not expanding. The fact that Fujifilm put extra effort into expanding production is an outlier, not the norm. After the monumental collapse the camera industry faced not only over the last decade but specifically during the height of the pandemic, all of them are wary of taking on too much risk.

It’s far safer for a company to produce what it knows it can sell rather than take on a ton more risk and debt to massively scale up, only to end up with inventory that will sit in a warehouse. That is even more true considering the state of the Japanese yen.

And that’s the second point: the yen is exceptionally weak right now. It is experiencing a multi-year decline and is, today, at its weakest point since the 1970s. While this means exporters are doing well, domestic consumption is down and any manufacturing that deals with importing or working internationally is extremely costly.

Fujifilm is manufacturing the X100VI in China and Ricoh is manufacturing the Pentax 17 in Vietnam. In both cases, the local currency is stronger than the yen, meaning it is even more expensive for these Japan-based camera companies to operate with fiscal responsibility.

Takeo Suzuki, head of the Pentax Film Project, says as much: “The product is produced in Vietnam, and due to the weak yen in Japan it is more expensive than other places.”

While yes, it is more responsible for a company to only produce what it knows it can sell when faced with the economic situation they are in, it’s absurd to make the assertion that these companies are not only happy with the current state of affairs, but that they actually are creating such a situation on purpose. When they can’t sell a consumer something when that consumer wants to buy it, that is a huge risk of losing the sale altogether — and that’s probably why Ricoh is considering expanding production of the Pentax 17.

Ricoh and Fujifilm want to sell more products — for a consumer brand, that’s always the goal and to think that restricting availability is some nefarious plot to further drive up demand is downright silly.