Fuji and the Competition in 2021: A (personal) thought experiment

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FTOG Contributing Member • Posts: 971
Fuji and the Competition in 2021: A (personal) thought experiment
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Hi all,

in a recent discussion about Fuji's status quo and trajectory, I shared my views concerning system selection and potential system switching.

Note: Let me preface this by saying that the following merely reflects my point of view and absolutely contains my personal opinion. I make no claim that they reflect anyone else's, leave alone the majority of Fuji shooters.

The thought experiment

My premise rested on three main assumptions:

  • Any camera is a design compromise, so inevitably any camera will have strengths and weaknesses - it's unrealistic to expect any one camera/system to deliver it all
  • One needs to reflect on the core needs the camera/system needs to fulfill
  • Ultimately system selection, system switching or remaining with a manufacturer hinge on the best (possible) match between own needs and camera/system strengths

It's a grey, miserable Sunday here, so I suppose I was happy to stew on the above a little. I sat down and had a go at illustrating my personal view on Fuji in the context of its main rivals. I chose to throw together a few radar graphs, as I find them easy to digest and that they aid comparing different systems.

Before I continue, let me reiterate that this my personal opinion. To briefly outline my photographic profile, if you will: I'm an enthusiast primarily shooting landscape, travel, street and an occasional portrait. Coming from film and FF DSLRs, I eventually migrated to Fuji's X-E line of cameras for their excellent portability and left-side EVF. The following illustration is certainly skewed to reflect my personal views. Other people's priorities (e.g. video, IBIS) aren't even featured as categories.

Rating categories

To guide my thoughts I selected eight broad categories:

  • Value: Not to be confused with price. What value is available in the system, and to that end, what benefits are to be had from increasing budget
  • Size: As someone who appreciates compact gear, physical size of camera and lenses as a combo is important to me
  • Weight: Where size guides how much I can carry in a given volume of storage, weight plays a major role in the likelihood of me carrying photo gear and how comfortable I will be after a long period of carrying it
  • Lens selection: A rather self explanatory point. Although I'll add that I primarily considered the sensor-size specific lens offering by the manufacturers themselves. Moreover, my lens requirements aren't too exotic - i.e. I won't need long wildlife glass, macro lenses or other speciality lenses.
  • IQ: Quite a strong generalisation which consists of many sensor (e.g. resolution, dynamic range, colour science/need to edit, high ISO noise) and lens (e.g. sharpness, contrast, bokeh, abberrations) related factors.
  • EVF: Size, resolution, fidelity
  • AF: Speed, accuracy, hit rate in burst
  • Future of System: I don't have more than a crystal ball, like anyone else, but this is my impression of where the systems might be going

For any category, a higher ranking on the radar graph means a better result. E.g. a lower weight will gain a higher score.

The results

The following are the competitors in alphabetical order; separate for each current sensor size:

Canon have built out a strong RF system since 2018. Especially some of the Canon RF lens releases are outstanding. However, the lens choice is dominated by fast aperture glass that is large, heavy and quite pricey. This has cost them some ground how I view their value proposition and lens selection. When it comes to size and weight, Canon sit middle of the pack, compared to Nikon and Sony. IQ wise, Canon glass is pretty good and I like Canon's colour size (I dislike files that require hours of work in post). With its diversified product portfolio - including business outside photography - Canon RF should rest on a pretty solid business foundation.

The sore spot is Canon's ASP-C offering. With no concrete news about APS-C bodies for the RF system, it's the EF-M system competing in that space. While it's offering great value and delivers on the size and weight front when it comes to bodies, the selection of lenses is narrower unless you consider adapted EF or third party lenses. It's a somewhat stagnating system and I don't see Canon investing much resources into any longer. So the weaker lens selection won't change, and indeed I wonder how long this system will remain in production.

Unlike its historic rival, Nikon's lens portfolio for the Z mount has focused on more attainable, mid-range releases. While there are faster lenses by now, the moderate aperture lenses are a lot more attainable than Canon's offering, which in my book scores them some lens selection and value points. Nikon's bodies are more overbuilt, resulting in heavier camera bodies, indeed they skew heavier than both Canon and Sony. In the mid-range cameras, I find Nikon offers by far the most EVF. IQ is without fault and the colours are pleasant. While capable, Nikon's AF (in the mid-range) doesn't quite match its peers.

Nikon's APS-C offering has the biggest potential to challenge Fuji's space in the short and mid-term. The Z fc and related APS-C lens announcements show more APS-C initiative than Canon or Sony. While its offering is physically larger and a bit heavier than Fuji's mid-range bodies, if the APS-C lens selection will be built out more fully, the offering could be very comparable - and competitive - with Fuji.

When it comes to the future of the company, it's less diversified corporation and stronger reliance on cameras makes the system perhaps a bit more vulnerable. Certainly not a concern in the short-term, but camera demand and demand for Nikon specifically need to stabilise on a sustainable level more so than is necessary for its main competitors. If pushed into a corner or seeing disappointing sales of that product category, Nikon might postpone or halt its APS-C efforts to focus on FF, hence my lower rating for the future of Nikon Z APS-C.

Of the three big guys, Sony have been around the longest in the mirrorless space and it shows. Lens selection is wide and deep, with trailing lenses seeing refreshes. AF is an undeniable strength for Sony, and its FF cameras are more compact and lighter than Canon or Nikon. The EVF in its mid-range bodies is lagging behind a little. Compared to the other two, I'm not the biggest fan of Sony colours, and its files would need the most work in post to suit me.

While Sony's APS-C offering is getting a bit long in the tooth, it's still very capable. Especially its AF is unmatched in the APS-C market. I find it difficult to gauge Sony's commitment to APS-C, especially considering recent news of halting APS-C camera production. Sony's portfolio has often hinged on APS-C shooters putting some FF glass on the APS-C bodies, so if Sony are going to de-prioritise its APS-C division, there might be a considerable slowing down of the development of its APS-C lens offering.

When it comes to future, Sony as a very diversified company is a very safe bet in the short and mid-term. In the long run, a corporation as large as Sony might focus on more lucrative and growing markets, but we have no indication of their camera business being at risk.

MFT has kicked the door open for mirrorless and capable, small interchangeable lens cameras. For a while it enjoyed great small cameras and was pioneering mirrorless video cameras. These days, the competition has closed the gap when it comes to video. MFT continues to offer the smallest possible camera-lens combinations, especially due to smaller possible lens sizes. However, APS-C and even FF cameras have come down in size and particularly their weight is now going head to head with some of the midrange MFT bodies. While lens selection is fantastic and continues to grow, the diminishing returns in pixel density has taken a lot of wind out of the sails of MFT sensor development. Moreover, I feel MFT's AF isn't quite on par with much of the competition any more.

As for the future of MFT, it's hard to not be a bit pessimistic. I am quite fond of Olympus, but it seems that Panasonic have moved on and are now primarily focussing on the L mount. With some of its technology stagnating, a former ally seemingly focussing elsewhere and the camera division sold off to become its own entity, a lot now rests on OM System doing well. While I'm not writing an obituary for MFT, it's a challenging time ahead.

Fuji then? Fuji has come a long way developing its product portfolio (although sometimes too cluttered). Its bodies have much matured, and a lens offering that had some notable gaps has largely been built out. Undeniably, Fuji's lens portfolio is the most complete APS-C specific there is. IQ is very good and particularly the colours make the system a joy to use, if little - if any - post processing required. Especially in the low- and mid-range, Fuji offers very portable cameras, both in size and weight. Like its APS-C and MFT rivals, the EVFs in the midrange aren't spectacular - obvious sacrifices to both size and price point. AF for stills is sold, especially in AF-S. AF-C and tracking could be better to narrow the gap with market leaders Sony and Canon.

While Fuji X is in a good place, there certainly has been some emphasis on building out the GFX system, which is earning Fuji lots of money. Once GFX has reached a similar maturity, I'd hope to see more attention paid to Fuji X - although the rumoured X-H2 might do just that already next year.

Limitations:

  • There is obviously plenty of generalisation here, which is simply necessary to arrive at some kind of conclusion. If you were to assume an X-T4 versus an X-E4, some of these bars can move a good bit
  • While it's one of my main draws to Fuji, I didn't include ergonomics in this exercise. I simply lack hands-on time with many of its competitors to conclude how I'd get on with their ergonomics long-term. The other factors I found much easier to approximate from limited experience

Conclusions

While the competition seems quite interchangeable, I find there are quite characteristic traits to each offering.

Looking at Fuji X compared to my own needs, I very much recognize why the system makes me pretty happy. Being a compact X-E shooter, the system delivers great portability. I happily make some concessions when it comes to the EVF, for me portability is a higher priority - and I understand why Fuji needs to differentiate the EVF against its higher priced models. The lens selection leaves none of my needs unfulfilled (although an 18/2.0 Mk II would be nice). The IQ is more than I need for my uses and AF, even on my older X-E3, is sufficient. That being said, an improved AF could push that bit closer to being the complete APS-C package for me. While Fuji is priced a bit higher than APS-C DSLR cameras and lenses, the quality is consistent and very good, so there certainly is plenty of value to be had.

If you've read this far, thanks a whole lot for indulging me.

Finally, really can't stress this enough: this isn't going to be representative of anyone else but me. But I am very happy to hear your thoughts on the above and learn about your views.

 FTOG's gear list:FTOG's gear list
Fujifilm X-E2 Fujifilm X-E3 Fujifilm XF 14mm F2.8 R Fujifilm 50-230mm II Fujifilm XF 23mm F2 R WR +3 more
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