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The Death of Kaizen? A Change in Fujifilm’s Update Strategy.



Greenhouse Plants and Vases (Fujifilm X100s)

It’s hard to remember now, but was actually back in September of 2010, that Fujifilm, abandoned the hybrid Fujifilm imager/Nikon body template that it had been following since the early 2000’s, and introduced a new and intriguing digital camera that hearkened back to rangefinder cameras of the past.  This camera, known as the X 100, was introduced as a premium product for the discerning photographer.

It was a beautiful camera, and its design evoked an emotional response from older photographers, who could recall an earlier age when camera settings were set by turning dials, and aperture rings.   It featured, a fast , sharp fixed focus lens, and an excellent imager.   It had the effect of reducing photography,which had been increasingly complicated by burgeoning technology, back to its essence.

But it was a deeply flawed product at its introduction. It was slow to start-up, and slow to autofocus (if it did at all). There were serious handling problems. Manual focusing of the camera was difficult at best. I bought one of these with the original firmware; it was very frustrating.  I remember watching a podcast where Scott Kelby and his cohorts at The Grid spent half of the broadcast mocking the new “wunder camera” for its failings.

Happily when I bought mine there was already a firmware upgrade  available that mitigated many of its worst characteristics. Subsequent upgrades have transformed that camera into a truly useful tool, and established the Fujifilm philosophy of “kaizen”, or “continuous improvement”, which up to now Fujifilm has applied to the rest of its “X” camera line. In the case of that original X100, a rather sweeping upgrade was offered, even after its successor the X100s (which I currently use) was introduced.

This has, I think, has fostered fierce owner loyalty among the admittedly small (by market share), but enthusiastic group of Fuji shooters. It has undoubtedly contributed to the numbers of photographers that have abandoned their Nikon/Canon DSLRs to shoot with Fuji products confident that the gear will, when possible, be upgraded to a higher specification.

Recently in an interview conducted by The Imaging Resource, Makoto Oishi, a Fujifilm Marketing representative, announced that there would be no further firmware upgrades for the X100s, which has recently been superseded by the “t” model. The X100t has some improvements which may be software based such as autofocus improvements, and face detection. There are  also some definite hardware upgrades, including a USB charging function, split image viewfinder, and WiFi. All of this was compelling enough to me as an X100s owner that I  ordered one.

Now as regular readers know, I am not one to upgrade lightly. Some of the desirable features of the newer camera were clearly impossible to apply to the older models, so I, like many others, pulled the trigger. However, one suspects some improvements , perhaps the new autofocus algorithms, and the “classic chrome” film simulation, might have been included in an upgrade for the “s” model without tarnishing the desirability of its follow on model (they share the same processor). This kind of support for older models was SOP with Fuji up to now.

There certainly may be reasons why Fujifilm is changing its practices.  They are after all small-volume producer of camera gear, good as it is. Given the  burgeoning number of models in the “X” line , it may no longer be fiscally feasible to maintain this practice. Also  it is true, as time has gone on, that newer cameras are introduced now in a much more mature state, and no longer really beg for upgrades. (Patrick, at Fujirumors, has a nice essay on this).

Still, from a marketing standpoint, I think that Mr. Oishi’s statement was an “unforced error”. I also think it is one from which they can easily recover. All they would need to do is to issue an upgrade to the X 100s as suggested two paragraphs above, and then say no more.  Clearly this is technically feasible. As many people have reported, well-known Fuji shooter, and applied light master David Hobby, has used a X100s courtesy of Fuji, with the “Classic Chrome” film simulation  enabled.

Companies cannot make a living giving things away for free. To those of us who have invested in the Fujifilm system, it is in our best interest that the company’s  consumer photographic division remains viable.

On the other hand, if Fujifilm largely abandons the “kaizen” philosophy, it will be abandoning an attribute that made it distinct from its more mainstream competition. That I think, would be a mistake.