It’s no secret that camera sales have been declining for several years. The global pandemic has unsurprisingly significantly impacted the camera industry. Some companies have had bigger declines than others, and I think over the coming couple of years we’ll see some camera makers restructure, put themselves up for sale, or go out of business altogether. What should Fujifilm do to minimize declines and maximize profits in these tough times?
I’m not an industry insider or business expert. There aren’t any good reasons why Fujifilm should listen to me on this topic (other than I’m one of their customers). Besides, they have a pretty darn good track record for dealing with change within the industry and economy. Fujifilm doesn’t need my help. This article is more for my own enjoyment and perhaps yours. It’s fun to consider and discuss this topic. I don’t expect anything else to come from this.
Camera sales have been declining since the collapse of the compact camera market. Cellphone camera technology has come a long ways, which has rendered point-and-shoot cameras obsolete. The casual amateur snap-shooter uses their phone now to capture pictures, and has no need or interest in another camera. Before cellphone cameras had decent image quality, camera manufacturers were selling cheap automatic cameras to these folks. Lots and lots of them. But now that market is all dried up.
The more serious shooters are still buying cameras, but cameras have reached a point of diminishing returns. Digital technology changes quickly, but if a camera is already really good, these improvements have less of a practical application. For instance, if a photographer finds that his or her camera’s autofocus is already more than good enough for their photography, a quicker autofocus system won’t likely tempt that photographer to upgrade. If a photographer finds that his or her camera already has enough resolution for the size they print, more resolution won’t likely tempt that photographer to upgrade. In other words, photographers by-and-large are keeping and using their gear for longer than they did 10 years ago, or even five. Digital is still disposable, but it is becoming less so, or at least photographers are beginning to realize that they don’t need to “upgrade” as frequently as they used to.
The camera industry isn’t Fujifilm’s main business. After the film collapse, Fujifilm diversified, and now they’re a pharmaceutical and cosmetics company that also happens to sell cameras. Their camera arm, which is just a small part of their business model, is doing better than many other camera makers right now. Still, the current market is impacting Fujifilm, and will continue to do so, which means Fujifilm might need to consider some changes.
Fujifilm has several camera models that are essentially the same, but look different and have only small feature differences. Fujifilm should consider ways to either further differentiate their similar models or combine them into one. The X-T200 and the X-A7 have nearly identical features, and having both models seems redundant. The X-Pro3 was made more unique to further separate it from the X-T3, and that worked out well, I believe. I look at the X-E line, which I love. My first Fujifilm camera was an X-E1. The X-E3 is so similar to the X-T20, aside from camera body design, so what differentiates the two besides shape? Fujifilm should consider discontinuing the X-E line, or do something to the eventual X-T40 or X-E4 to better differentiate the models. For example, if Fujifilm added IBIS to the X-T40 or made the X-E4 a black-and-white only camera (the “X-E Acros” is what I’d call it), that would separate them, and Fujifilm would have unique models. I think, alternatively, the X-T40 could basically be transitioned into a higher-end model, and serve as the (eventual) X-T5 without IBIS. The X-H line, now that the X-T4 has IBIS, is also redundant, so the X-H2 would need something to make it stand out, such as 8K video. Since the X-T4 has been so well received, I’m not sure how much of a market there is for an X-H2, but Fujifilm insists that this camera is in the works. It will be interesting to see it when it comes out, perhaps next year, and how well it does.
Fujifilm has situated itself as the leader in digital medium-format. It seems like overnight they went from not-even-in-that-market to top-dog, thanks to the success of the GFX line. Still, it’s more of a niche market than anything mainstream. I think what’s missing is a “budget” rangefinder-style 100-megapixel camera without IBIS. Essentially a GFX-50R, but with the 100MP sensor of the GFX100 inside. Maybe Fujifilm should consider adding IBIS to whatever camera replaces the GFX-50S. I have no idea how profitable this line has been for Fujifilm, and if it will stand the test of time, but I think it was smart of Fujifilm to jump into a market that they could easily dominate.
Something else that I think Fujifilm should consider is replacing cameras less frequently. When they release a camera and then replace it with a new model one year later, that’s too soon. Two years is too soon. Three years should be a minimum between updated cameras, and four to five years is even better. I know this might sound counter to what consumers want, but X-Trans III cameras, such as the X100F, X-T2, X-T20 and X-E3, are still very excellent! The X-E3 hasn’t been replaced yet, and the X100F was only recently replaced after three years, but the X-T2 is three models old now, and there’s already “talk” of an upcoming X-T40, while the X-T30 isn’t even a year-and-a-half old yet. It’s better to get the most out of a model, then replace it with something that’s a significant improvement over the previous edition. There’s a latin phrase festina lente, which means “make haste slowly.” Fujifilm needs to keep pushing the envelope and strive to produce more technologically advanced cameras, but not be too eager to release new models that only have small improvements over previous versions. If Fujifilm were to update the firmware on the X-T3 and X-T30 to breathe new excitement into these models, these cameras could still be sold for another two years easily.
There’s one more important point that I’d like to make, and this relates to Fuji X Weekly. I think Fujifilm needs to focus even more on JPEGs. I’ve discovered that there’s a huge community of photographers who love the camera-made JPEGs produced by Fujifilm cameras, whether straight-out-of-camera or with X RAW Studio. The film simulations—a brilliant idea by Fujifilm—were just the tip of the iceberg, and now film simulation recipes are all the rage. There’s something big here, bigger than I think Fujifilm realizes. Yes, Fujifilm has demonstrated their commitment to the JPEG with the X100V, X-Pro3 and X-T4, but they need to continue their commitment on future models. This is a fairly unique angle that Fujifilm has. While other camera makers do, in fact, have some nice JPEGs, Fujifilm is perhaps the only brand with a cult following based on it. They should absolutely capitalize on that, more so than they have been.
I doubt that Fujifilm will read this article, and I’m even more doubtful that they’ll make any internal changes based on it. I think it’s sound advice, but what do I know? Whether or not Fujifilm does any of the things I suggest, I think they’ll be just fine and will weather this “storm” without too much trouble. The guys running the company seem pretty smart to me, and are doing just fine without my advice. It will be fascinating to see exactly what happens within the camera industry in 2021 and beyond, and what Fujifilm does to find success during these tough times.