How to Get It
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Today in mid-2012, no one can get a Nikon D800 or D4, and don't even think about getting a Nikon D800E. This isn't news, it's just the way the world works. Nikon has never shipped anything on time, yet some how I always seem to have it in my hands longer than anyone – and I buy my own equipment online just like Consumer Reports and everyone else, never getting anything from manufacturers.
Last summer, a stranger asked me about the camera around my neck. "Is that the Fuji X100?" he asked excitedly. Last year, the Fuji X100 was the hottest camera on the planet, and was so hard to get that people were paying hundreds of dollars more for it used over eBay than I paid for it brand-new a month before! This poor fellow had never seen one, and was waiting until they came in at retail to order one.
It's not the 1990s any more. By the time a hot new product gets in stock at a local retail store, it's already obsolete. Unless you're also the sort of person who prefers a rotary-dial phone, products today come out too quickly to expect to see them at retail while they are still relevant.
Every time a new camera comes out, I get it first, and everyone wonders how I got it before everyone else. I don't get any favors or special treatment, so how do I manage to get it first every time?
It's so obvious to me that I've never mentioned it, but seeing how I've been shopping for this stuff since I was a little kid, maybe I've learned a few things that can help others.
In 2011 was the X100. In 2010 it was the Nikon D7000, in 2009, the LEICA M9, and in 2007 it was the Nikon D300 and D3. In 2005 it was the Nikon 18-200mm VR and the Nikon D200. In 2003 it was the Nikon 12-24mm DX, and in 1999 it was Nikon's 80-400mm VR, which no one saw at retail for two years after it was announced.
Maybe you folks today don't remember, but all these products had the same wait lists that ran years out. People needed this gear for their vacations, couldn't get them in time, and paid way over retail to buy them used from scalpers on eBay.
It's always been this way; in April, 1934, LEICA apologized for not having been able to fill its orders for the stunning new hyper-speed 50mm f/2 SUMMAR which had been announced the previous year.
Hot new products from Nikon are never available when you want them. LEICA is much worse.
Every time something hot and new comes out, it's hard to get. Today, new products come out even faster than before, and this pace will only be quickening in years to come. I'm used to this since this is what I do for a living, but since it's obvious to me and maybe not to most people, let me share my secret of how to get what you want when you want it.
Tip: I'll get on with the story, but Canon does a much better job of shipping than Nikon. Order a 5D Mark III today and you'll get it a lot faster than the D800, D800E or D4 you have on backorder.
Get it First: Order it First, Without Risk
Here's the big secret: I get all the hot new cameras first because I order them online the day they are announced, or at least the first day that I can order it. I get it first, and if I don't like it when it arrives, I always can just return it for a full refund.
I order new items the first instant I can online, and wait patiently. As soon as the big boat from Japan arrives, my item is on its way to me the next day. As Nikon has told me, their demonstrator and loaner cameras all come in on the same boat as the other production cameras, so I just order online from Adorama the day its announced and get it first. (I'm not interested in the cherry-picked prototypes sent earlier to commercial websites; those don't represent the products I'll actually buy, and come with expectations of glowing reviews in exchange for the special treatment.)
In the case of the D800, D800E and D4, I ordered them the night before they were supposedly announced. Nikon announces at midnight NYC time, so Adorama and B&H were taking orders before the sun rose on announcement day – and my name was already on top.
If I hate it, no problem: Adorama and now B&H offer 30-day return policies! Try it, and if you hate it, send it back for a full cash refund. There's no better way to learn about an item than in your own home with your own existing lenses, bodies and accessories without some pushy salesman breathing down your neck in some store. (Warning: these are not free rentals. It is fraudulent to buy an item, shoot a job, and return it. The return policies are a courtesy in case you aren't satisfied with an item; the items must be returned as you received them.)
Adorama doesn't charge my card until it ships. It costs me nothing to order it the first day. I'm first on the list, and the hot new item is on its way to me the same day that the manufacturers get it from the same boat.
Avoid any store that is more concerned about itself than it is about you. If a store has restocking fees, don't shop there. Adorama and B&H don't have them, presuming you return the item as it was received.
Get it first and pay less
Here's another secret: ever wonder how I can afford all this stuff? When I'm the first one with a new product, I can use it for a couple of weeks, and when the used price peaks a month later as all the slow-pokes finally get on the bandwagon, I can sell them on eBay, used, for a profit. Buying the hottest new gear pays!
As I write this, my X100 is worth well over $100 more than I paid for it. When I got a LEICA M9 back in September 2009, they sold used for over $3,000 more than I paid for about the next year because LEICA couldn't make them fast enough.
I got a discount and paid about $640 when I ordered my Nikon 18-200mm VR the day it was announced because Adorama offered a competitive price. A few weeks later, the price rose to list price ($699.95) as demand tightened. When I ordered it, no one, including myself, thought it could work very well, but I didn't worry. When I got mine, I discovered at the same time as everyone else who was smart enough to early-order theirs that it was spectacular and really did replace all the lenses we used to carry. They then became impossible to find, and sold used for over $1,000 for more than a year!
I'm not smarter than anyone else; I've just been doing this longer and realize that it costs me nothing, and often pays, to order everything as soon as I can. Because I can return anything with which I'm unhappy (or often resell for a profit), it costs me nothing to just order it and be patient. An investor would say that I'm buying the option for free, and if you can take an option on something for free, you're always ahead of the game.
Get it first and get better quality
Here's another benefit of buying smart: when I get the first batch, it's usually got very tight quality control because the engineers are still supervising production as they fine-tune the processes. (Japanese cameras are nothing like American cars.) In fact, I often get a product, like my 18-200mm VR, marked MADE IN JAPAN, and not the next batch that gets offshored to Thailand or Africa or China or wherever for the rest of production. My first-run product commands a premium whenever I go to sell it. My X100 is made in Japan, but no one knows where it will be made by the time slow-poke buyers get around to getting theirs.
Beware price-gougers. Many stores will raise their prices to suit themselves as the market will bear. Adorama and B&H work in our interests and don't gouge, which is why they've been growing and growing since the 1970s while selfish local stores have come and gone. (Adorama and B&H are family owned and operated single-location brick-and-mortar stores, made with real New York brick and mortar, and each is still run by the guy who founded it; they aren't publicly traded multi-location chains that care more about their own profits than us photographers.)
Don't buy from price-gougers, and don't be one, either. Resist the temptation to order 10 pieces of whatever's hot to resell them for a profit. When people do this, since they don't need to make good on their credit-card balance until after they've already resold the items for a profit, or when people buy from gougers, it only encourages gougers to buy up more than they need, which is half of what causes scarcity for new products in the first place.
There is a very definite pattern every time something hot and new happens.
When it's first announced, you can order it either immediately, or might have to wait a couple of months if it was a "development" announcement as opposed to a product announcement.
In any case, the clock starts the moment you can place your order. The day you can first place your order, the price is stable, or sometimes, slightly discounted. Regardless of what happens, your order is locked into the lowest price. The hotter the item, the more the market price will rise in coming months.
Most of the time, the price stays the same for several months as the product trickles in. Most new products aren't super-hot, as was the Nikon 18-200mm VR and as the next Nikon FX camera is going to be.
If the demand is hot, as it always is for something genuinely new that everyone needs, like the Nikon 18-200mm VR, LEICA M9 and Fuji X100, the manufacturer simply won't gear-up with enough production capacity to make as many as everyone needs for the first couple of years. This is because ten times as many of these products are needed than usual as everyone buys it, and then the demand falls back to normal. Manufacturers won't invest what it takes to build-out capacity that far because as soon as the initial rush is met, the factory would sit mostly idle, and just as likely, companies are so in-their-own-box that they have no idea how much more popular a genuinely great new item will be than the usual crud about which they attempt to make so much hoopla.
In any case, the hotter the product, the deeper is the vacuum created by the demand a month or two later as the laggards start reading final reviews and hearing about them from friends who got them first. This is when the resale prices soar and gouging begins, and when the people who ordered them early can resell them for a profit after having enjoyed them for a month.
This "vacuum" period lasts for as long as it take for production to satisfy demand. For normal products, there is no vacuum period, while for hot products from big makers it might be a month to a year, and from a small manufacturer like LEICA, it can be years. For instance, the LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH isn't even as good as the much less expensive LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2, but since the SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH is so difficult to manufacture and made in such small quantities, today it still sells used for more than you can order it new — and it came out back in 2004!
After the vacuum is filled by the manufacturer, the new price eventually starts to become discounted, but depending on the length of the vacuum period, inflation and exchange rates may not let it fall to as low as when it first was announced. Most ordinary products that haven't had a supply problem have new prices that become more discounted after about six months.
What if it's so hot that you can't order it?
If you were silly enough to wait until a vacuum kicks in to try to place an order, Adorama or B&H may already have so many back orders that they stop taking orders! They do this when they have so many back orders that the manufacturer has no idea of when it can meet them.
In these rare cases, as it is as I write this for the Fuji X100, and as it was for a while with the Nikon 18-200mm VR, Adorama or B&H didn't want to do us the disservice of taking a lot of orders when they had no idea of when they'd be able to honor them. All it does is annoy us to take orders under these conditions (since there is no product), so they won't do it when something is too hot to handle.
This never happens if you order the day it's announced; it happens when you follow the crowd and get sucked into the vacuum period.
If this happens, just wait until you can order it.
The logistics pipeline
If you wait to play with something at retail, it will be way too late. If it's a hot product, the reviews are published, the Rockwell Effect kicks in, and the price starts to climb as it sells out long before it even hits retail stores. In fact, if a product is hot enough to cause a supply vacuum, often smaller stores put what few items come in up for sale on eBay for more, even if you've left a cash deposit at the original price. You'll get yours — when the market cools.
I haven't bought at retail since the 1970s. Today, by the time anything arrives at retail, it's already obsolete. New products come out so quickly that retail distribution supply chains have too many links in them to get products to local stores while they are still current.
When the container arrives in New York, Nikon USA, Canon USA and LEICA are all within about 30 miles of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The products all get to Adorama's and B&H's New York City area warehouses about the same day as they get to Nikon, Canon and LEICA for distribution to dealers. In fact, Adorama's and B&H's logistics centers are in the same shipping terminals as the ports, while the camera companies' offices are located out in the suburbs.
The same day that my order is already on its way to me directly from New York City, Nikon and Canon are just getting their stocks. After they arrive at Nikon and Canon, they go to the national chains' National Logistics Centers (NLCs). A week later they get to the chain store's Regional Distribution Centers (RDCs), and another week later get to Local Distribution Centers (LDCs), and a week after that get to the local stores. Your small local dealer is so far down on the list due to their low volume that they may have to wait for the next shipment from Japan! National chain stores' logistics chains are optimized for high-volume efficiency, and not for fast throughput (low-latency) for new products. National chains don't get theirs until after mine is in already my hot little hands, and everyone else who ordered the first day gets theirs, too.
What about Amazon?
Amazon is awesome, and I buy from them almost every day, but when every day counts with a new product, Amazon tends to take an extra day until you can order it, or instead of accepting orders, instead collects a wish-list to notify you when it becomes orderable.
This is nice, but considering that Adorama and B&H each let me place solid orders, instead of wishes, for hot new items, I use Adorama for the hottest of the hot photo items, or B&H for pro recording-studio equipment.
Readers have also reported rare cases of Amazon dropping orders for hot new items and expecting everyone to re-order them. I've never heard of Adorama or B&H doing that, so when it's imperative that I get a hard-to-get product ASAP (this is what I do for a living), I use Adorama or B&H.
What about Ritz?
Ritz used to get their hot new Nikon products a day or two ahead of everyone else, but for the past year, Ritz' website has too often not shown the correct in- or out-of-stock status on new items. I'm also unsure of how well Ritz today can get their hands on the hottest of the hot, so as of 2011, I'm sticking with Adorama and B&H for my orders for impossible to get new items.
What about your vacation?
Be patient. No one knows when it will arrive if its a hot new item, so don't lose sleep over not knowing. So what, use whatever camera you've got today. The critical thing is to have ordered it as soon as you could have.
What about the second day — or week ?
I'll be honest, sometimes it's the second day or the next week before I order, and usually it's no big deal, unless it's super-hot like the D800.
If you like to support what I do here and I don't yet have a direct product link, using any of these links works just as well if you can find the new product faster than I can post a direct link to it.
So long as you get on it as soon as you can, you're fine. The problem is that the majority of people are still waiting around a week or until the item starts to ship before placing their own order, not realizing that by the time shipping starts, it could be a month before all the backorders placed by people like me have shipped — or a year in the case of the hottest Nikon products. For LEICA, it's often years!
Above all, be patient
The hotter a new product, the less likely anyone will know when your order will ship. Nikon, Canon and LEICA have very little idea when the containers will arrive from overseas, and what will be on them. Even if they did know, they don't tell the dealers who have them on order.
Therefore, don't ask the dealer when to expect your order. They don't know because the manufacturer doesn't know either.
If you get impatient and cancel, you're now on the back of the line of the shiftier dealer who may have promised you a date in order to snake your order away from Adorama or B&H. Don't fall for this; place your order and sit tight.
Good things come to those who are patient. The impatient people are those who wind up paying more to get their products later.
This is how I get everything long before the buzz builds and the prices go sky-high, and it costs us nothing to order early and wait.
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