Toshihisa Iida, Senior Manager Sales & Marketing, Optical Device & Electronic Imaging products division, Fujifilm pictured at the CP+ show in Yokohama, Japan. 

[photo: Barnaby Britton]

We're at the CP+ show in Yokohama, Japan where Japanese camera and lens manufacturers show off their latest products to a domestic and international audience of journalists and enthusiast photographers.

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Day three of the show was cancelled due to heavy snow but Toshihisa Iida, senior sales and marketing manager at Fujifilm still found time to sit down with editor Barnaby Britton to discuss a range of topics including the reception of the new X-T1, firmware updates to older and existing models and the possibility of larger-format X-Trans cameras in the future. 

Fujifilm recently announced the high-end X-T1 - how popular has it been at the CP+ show this year?

It’s been incredibly well-received. just after the announcement in January we conducted some user events in several cities in Japan and compared to similar events last year the number of customers who attended had almost doubled. This shows the high level of interest.

Also we’re already collecting pre-orders, and the number is very encouraging. Initial demand is roughly twice what we’d planned, so we’re increasing the capacity at our factory as much as possible, at least for the next few months.

How important is the high-end market for you?

Very important, for two reasons. Commercially, obviously it’s important but also higher-level customers understand the quality of X-Trans. It’s easier to communicate that to higher-level customers compared to beginners. 

Do you still need the low-end customers?

Yes because there is still a market, mainly in Asian countries for consumers who are stepping up from compacts, and we cannot ignore them. But our main focus now is high-end.

The new Fujfilm X-T1 offers full weather-sealing, improved autofocus and a high-quality electronic viewfinder. Read our first-impressions review here

What difference do you see in adoption of the X-series, in different countries around the world?

In Japan, 40% of the market is mirrorless, followed by other Asian countries, at around 25%, while the US and Europe are way behind at just over 10% so it’s very varied. 

Do your customers in different countries ask for different things?

Yes. For example in asian counties we have more female customers, certainly in Japan, and they tend to take different pictures - more dreamlike, softer focus, lower contrast. That’s something that some western photographers don’t really understand. Asian customers also seem more keen on social networking and sharing their pictures. 

What do your worldwide customers ask for most?

More lenses, and greater video functionality, also more customization options and a greater range of accessories - especially flashes. 

You mention more customization - presumably you could make some changes to existing models with firmware?

Yes. For example we will release new firmware for the X-E2 soon which will improve the refresh rate of the EVF bringing it to the same level as the X-T1 and also add an interval shooting function. 

Last year Fujifilm released a major update to the X100, bringing it closer in line to the X100S and now you’re planning on bringing the X-E2 closer to the X-T1. Do you not risk losing sales of the newer models by doing this? 

Yes but it in the long run customer trust is very important. We’re a relatively new brand and we need to build trust. There was some internal debate about the X100 update, and some people within Fujifilm didn’t think we should upgrade a discontinued model but we decided to do it anyway. 

Do you sell more high-end bodies in the US and Europe, or more low-end?

We sell more high-end. Especially in the USA. The low-end market is a little tough, but the high-end market is easier.

Is there more profit to be made in the high-end market?

Yes. For two reasons. The bodies themselves, we can sell at a higher price but also we sell more lenses with higher-end cameras, so overall it’s more profitable. Our research shows that the attachment rate for a high-end camera like the X-Pro 1 is around 3.8, whereas cameras like the X-A1 it’s more like 1.2. With low-end cameras people often just stick with the kit lens.

Are your users asking for greater resolution in future X-series cameras?

Not really - some people are asking for more, but overall there’s very little demand for 20MP or higher from our users. 16MP at the moment is the best combination of resolution and signal to noise ratio but obviously as time goes on the technology will develop and we’ll be able to offer higher resolutions with improved signal to noise ratio in the future.

The Fujifilm X-E2 sits beneath the X-T1 in Fujfilm's X-series lineup, and a forthcoming firmware update will bring it closer in line with the flagship model, adding an interval timer function and increasing the refresh rate of its electronic viewfinder. Read more about the X-E2.

How important is video to your customers?

It’s becoming more important. For example we’re speaking to professional photographers who are telling us that their clients are demanding more and more video as well as stills.

Do your professional customers use your cameras alongside their existing DSLR equipment?

At the moment yes, but they’re telling us that they’re using their older equipment less and less.

Do you you want to compete against professional full-frame cameras?

Inevitably yes, we have to compete against full-frame. The professional market is very segmented, and for example for sports photography I think the X-T1 is already competitive. So yes, I’d like to challenge full-frame. 

Do you have people at Fujifilm working on the X-series who started out working on film?

Yes. Some of our people started out working on our film cameras, and some on Instax. One of our engineers is a veteran with a lot of experience, he’s around 60 years old and his background was in the creation of our Velvia and Provia films. He’s still around, and he advises us on how to develop our image processing, for example.

Our X-Trans sensor is designed with the knowledge we have from making film, which is very important. The sensor design itself and also the image processing. 

The X-series is maturing now - what lessons have you learned along the way?

Since we launched the X-series with the X100 we created a lot of cameras, and even since the X-Pro 1 was launched we made the X-E1, X-E2, X100S, X-M1, X-A1 and X-T1. I think we did too much too fast, and made too many models. Some customers have told us that it’s confusing. So now we will slow down, step back and look at what our customers are buying, and what they want. We also need to refresh our lens lineup. 

How was the X-A1 received, with the 16MP Bayer sensor?

The X-A1 was created in response to customer requests for a lower-cost model. We found the Bayer sensor was surprisingly good, partly thanks to our image processing. We’re currently testing how well the X-A1 sells compared to the X-M1 with the X-Trans sensor, because going forward we don’t need two entry-level models. It’s undecided at this point. 

What are the major challenges facing Fujifilm in the future?

Our biggest challenge is customer awareness, and customer education. We think that at least 50% of the market could be mirrorless in the future, but what’s missing is awareness on the part of the consumers about the benefits of mirrorless.

In my opinion this is due to the lack of focus on mirrorless from the two big brands, Canon and Nikon. The Nikon 1 and EOS M didn’t satisfy customers so many consumers see mirrorless as something inferior to DSLRs. That’s the biggest challenge. We need to educate customers that mirrorless is not inferior, it can be better than DSLR. 

Would it help you if Canon and / or Nikon created a high-end mirrorless camera system?

Yes. Because it would increase awareness.

What will you do if they don’t?

We, as well as Olympus and Sony will have to do a lot of hard work! We do events to increase awareness, allowing customers to experience our cameras and get information one-on-one. It’s a hassle, and it takes time but it’s the best way. 

When Adobe made the big improvements to X-Trans Raw processing in Camera Raw 7, did that help you?

Yes, it helped a lot. Because a lot of our customers were invested in that software. 

Times are tough in the camera industry - what is your strategy for the future?

The only way is to keep innovating. We need to give customers reasons to upgrade or replace their camera, and mirrorless is a big opportunity. The weight is less, it’s smaller, the shutters are quieter and we now have a good enough lens lineup. Our challenge as I said is consumer awareness, but if a customer understands the benefits, there’s no reason not to change from their DSLR.

Will X-Trans sensors get bigger, in the future?

At the moment we’re focusing on the APS-C format but in the longer term, after we’ve completed our lens lineup… I can’t deny the possibility.