After the announcement of the Fujifilm X-H2S, which has a PASM dial instead of the traditional dials of the X-H1, many people asked, “Is Fujifilm losing its soul?” I’ve had a number of Fujifilm photographers tell me that they believe so, and some have inquired if I believe so, too. What’s my opinion? Is Fujifilm indeed losing its soul?
Fujifilm has already lost its soul. It’s done gone. Elvis left the building awhile ago. The design decisions during development of the X-H2S are simply the manifestation of that lost soul.
What was this “soul” that Fujifilm lost? How can a company even have a soul?
A whole book could be written on this topic, but to summarize in a short sentence, Fujifilm’s philosophy for their X-series cameras was analog-inspired innovations with a focus on the photographer’s experience (both while using the camera for photography, and as customers of the brand). This was their soul. That philosophy, which seemed to be clearly understood, is what drove the camera department of the company (remember, Fujifilm’s main business is not photography nowadays). From the design decisions to the Kaizen firmware updates and everything in-between, this philosophy oozed out—it was both obvious and attractive, and is why Fujifilm was suddenly successful, quickly overtaking other brands, including iconic Nikon.
Fujifilm didn’t need to have a photography department at all, but they decided that, even if it was a bust, they’d still fund it and keep it going, because photography had been such an important part of their company’s heritage, and had been an important aspect of Japanese culture. They were merely the caretakers of this thing that was bigger than themselves. That’s how they looked at it, anyway, and it was noticeable and refreshing.
Somewhere along the line, however, Fujifilm began to view this differently. The photography division needed to be built bigger. It must grow. It must become more profitable. It must gain more marketshare. It must become as big as—or bigger than—Canon and Sony. I think there are actually two competing sides within Fujifilm (and maybe this battle has been taking place for awhile now): one is profit-first driven, and the other is nurture-first driven. The side I would like to see win is the latter, but the side that seems to be winning is the former.
Where this lost-soul has most obviously manifested itself is Kaizen, or the lack of it. This is a word that I hadn’t heard of until I owned a Fujifilm camera. It’s something that attracted a lot of people to the brand. It means continuous improvement—making something better over time, even though it was already purchased. Why? Part of it is duty (what you are supposed to do), and another part of it is that it creates loyalty, because it shows the customer that you care about them, and not just their money. That care will cause the customer to overlook shortcomings, because the caring is more important to them in the whole scheme of things. And long-term loyalty is more valuable to the company than short-term gains. I don’t know the exact timeline of when Fujifilm stopped caring (or, more accurately, began caring less about their customers in favor of caring more about profits), but it seems to be during the development of X-Trans IV. That’s when the profit-first people seemed to first get an upper hand on the nurture-first people. I don’t know for sure, though. What I am confident in is that, as X-Trans V rolls out, the profit-first philosophy is the current mantra of Fujifilm’s photography division—it’s Fujifilm’s current soul, unfortunately.
Am I overreacting? After all, the X-H2S is just one camera, right? There are two points that I’d like to make. First, Fujifilm removed the traditional dials on the X-H line in favor of PASM. For Fujifilm, PASM cameras are intended to attract new customers who are not interested in or are otherwise intimated by the traditional controls of their other X models. They don’t put PASM on cameras that they intend to market to their current customer base. The X-H2S is their top-of-the-line “flagship” model, the first X-Trans V… and it’s not for you. It was never intended for you. Screw you! It’s for them. Those guys with their Sonys and Canons, that’s who it’s for. We give our best to them. Our current customers who have been so loyal over the years will have to be happy with the crumbs that fall from the table. Second, X-Trans V is rolling out, while the X-T3 (their all-time top-selling model) and X-T30 are still on an island, and the X-Pro3 and X100V (premium models) don’t have as good of JPEG features as the X-S10, X-E4, and X-T30 II (mid or lower tier models). That’s shameful, in my opinion. Take care of your current customers first before working so hard to bring in new customers. Fujifilm is making their customer base less loyal, which will only hurt them in the long run. Nurture first.
If you build it, they will come. Fujifilm built it and they came; however, not enough for the profit-first people. They want more, but they’re barking up the wrong tree. Instead of becoming Sony in order to attract current Sony users who are unhappy with their gear (how does this makes sense to anyone?), Fujifilm should double-down on what makes them unique. What’s special about Fujifilm? Analog-inspired innovation and the photographer’s experience—that’s what’s special, or at least it used to be. There’s one other thing that’s unique, and that’s community. Fujifilm didn’t build it—instead it was built around them; however, they have not done nearly enough to embrace it and engage it. In fact, at times they’ve been standoffish to it. That needs to end, because community is Fujifilm’s greatest asset, yet they seem unsure of how to engage it, so they do so halfheartedly and from a “safe” distance.
I didn’t mean to write a negative article. When I sat down at the computer, I had no intention of typing out this post; however, it’s something that has been circling inside my mind for a few weeks now, so I suppose that it was inevitable. I really hope that it doesn’t make you feel angry towards Fujifilm. This article’s aim is to, on the off chance that this is actually read by Fujifilm, inspire reflection and perhaps even change, and secondarily put into words something that maybe you have felt but weren’t sure how to express. Perhaps this is somehow therapeutic. For me it feels good to say, even though it is negative, and I hope that getting it out in the open will somehow produce something positive.