Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why Is The Used Camera Market Absolutely Retarded?

I am, or should say was, on the hunt for a used Panasonic GH1. I love the GH2 for video, but the photo quality out of it leaves a bit to be desired. The lower-res sensor of the GH1 was always noticeably better with the blue channel. My quest came to an abrupt end when I saw how much people were trying to charge for the damned thing. One flaming assface wanted $1,400 for the body only. Average price on eBay was in the neighborhood of $400 body-only. I was blown away.

The GH1 is over three years old. Everything about it has been surpassed. $400 will almost buy you a new GX1, G3, NEX 5n, NEX C3, Nikon D3200: the list goes on. The point being that $400 buys you a fair hunk of any camera aimed at the lower-level enthusiast market. Yet resellers, and even a few customers, seem to think that this is a completely fine price.

The GH1 isn't an anomaly, either.

Leica haters will frequently rant about how ridiculously expensive Leica gear is in the secondhand market. Lenses can actually increase in value. It's not just Leica, though. Leica may be the most heinous manifestation of this, but smaller, less prestigious companies head in the same direction. The Panasonic GF1 is still being offered for $400 on eBay. $400! Anything that is even remotely considered desirable has a price far in excess of what common sense says it should have. Nikon D2H, nearly a decade old: $1,000. Canon EOS 20D, 8-years-old: $1,000.

There appears to be two elements to this: customers who are willing to pay far too much, and stores who are willing to charge too much, even in the face of no sales. I've noticed that electronic markets that are just slightly out in left field seem to frequently suffer from this. Unlocked cell phones that are many years old are being offered for hundreds of dollars. Smartphones from one or two generations ago that never sold well will continue to list for full price for months upon months, then suddenly plunge in price when the retailer seems to  have an epiphany about the way business works; you need a customer.

This is actually one of the reasons why I don't like an industry predicated on small retailers. I also think that I'm not alone in this hatred and it is the reason why these markets are being devastated by the Internet. Small resellers are very reticent to accept price drops. They clog the market with inventory, prevent customers from buying, and hamstring corporations who are interested in getting product into people's hands. Unfortunately, large retailers aren't much interested in small markets. Used unlocked cell phones and used cameras are relegated to the tiny shops, run by people who seem to think that a five-year-old camera is worth 90% of what it was when it launched.

This market makes sense when talking about Leica because Leica is more an aspirational product. It's part camera, part jewelry. It's an objet d'art. That's totally fine! There's a lively market of people who all accept the value of Leica. Used lenses move quickly, bodies sell well for the price. It's not simply about the photos. It's about the experience of taking them, and that has a great deal of value. Fucking Panasonic does not have an experience. They sell their crap at Wal-Mart.

Likewise, this sort of behavior made some sense back in the days of film since major technological developments didn't happen every year. A Pentax K1000 would produce identical photos to the Pentax MX. The solid-state revolution had yet to take hold, and cameras didn't become obsolete every year. Well, now they do. A camera from five years ago will still take fine photos, but when a camera can be bought new that does everything much better, the value equation gets wildly shifted toward the new cameras. The older camera must be much cheaper to make up for the performance difference. This is a reality that home theater, computer, and car companies have had to deal with for many years. Every year pushes the boundaries of speed, processing, ISO, and size. Cameras are obviated very, very quickly. They are no longer a rare thing. They are no longer valuable.

If only someone would tell the people that are selling them.

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