More Panasonic GH2 international launch troubles, delayed until January

All is not well behind the scenes at Panasonic.

The GH2 continues the aggressive approach to video for Panasonic and it’s a great camera. Just how great, I’ll determine shortly. I have the challenger in the house – a Canon 60D (taking a ride in Philip Bloom’s luggage straight from Japan) which is fantastic and now I’m awaiting the GH2, any moment now.

Mine’s a Japanese camera, because the European and American versions have gone AWOL. In Japan things have never been an issue with supply. That’s Panasonic’s domestic market and interest in forward facing mirrorless cameras there is very high (yet stock rarely runs out). I have cornered a few in Taiwan and sold them to lucky readers. I still have a few left, the details of which are here.

Unfortunately those who have pre-ordered the camera from Amazon in the US have had their delivery dates changed, and now the orders are being cancelled altogether.

I have heard Panasonic dealers say that December is now wildly optimistic and they’ve been told by Japan that no stock is due in stores until January. It could be that a limited number of pre-orders at the major online retailers will be fulfilled in December but it’s clear that Panasonic won’t have enough units ready by then to satisfy all the demand because I have learnt they are even cancelling existing pre-orders!

That is despite pre-orders being unexpectedly pulled from stores earlier this month, so clearly something major has happened at the factory.

We can speculate forever as to why but let’s cut to the chase. The most likely scenario is that Amazon have taken more pre-orders than Panasonic can now fulfil due to the delays. A technical change is slowing down the production line, and Panasonic will have dramatically fewer cameras out of the door by Christmas than they’d hoped.

So far none have shown up in retailers outside of Japan and Taiwan at all. The international model doesn’t yet exist outside of Panasonic’s factory. This is even more worrying because it gives us no idication on how long the delay is going to last or even whether the technical issues are yet at all solved.

Here is an extract from one such email sent to an Amazon US customer.

Due to a lack of availability from our suppliers, we will not be able to obtain the following item(s) from your order: “Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2…” We’ve cancelled the item(s) and apologize for the inconvenience. We must also apologize for the length of time it has taken us to reach this conclusion. Until recently, we had still hoped to obtain these item(s) for you.

Pre-production GH2 sensors had dead pixels but I think quality control would have noticed dead pixels pretty soon on a final mass production line, don’t you?

History repeating?

All in all, this is exactly the same situation we had last year with the GH1. Thanks to the global economic melt-down at the time Panasonic underestimated demand and short stocked the GH1. It took over 4 months for availability to pick up.

Early models were a variable bunch – some of the sensors had severe vertical banding which was especially apparent with the slow F4 kit lens. So Panasonic had to halt the factory run according to my sources and wait for the new Japanese factory to come online before they could improve manufacturing tolerances to keep banding under control. This resulted in yet more stock short-fall later in 2009.

Panasonic could not compete with the giant marketing spend and brand awareness of Canon in DSLRs, either, so the most forward looking of video DSLRs was beaten by a traditional Canon with a mirror which was a bit of a shame, as bit changes to camera concepts like mirrorless do push the whole market forward.

Panasonic are not doing themselves any favours this time around by stating a firm November release date one minute, then silence the next along with a complete no-show.

Come on Panasonic, you have a world-beating product – you can do better than this and get it out by Christmas in decent numbers.