Yuji Igarashi, Divisional Manager, Professional Imaging Group and Makoto Oishi, Manager of Product Planning

Photo: Richard Butler

Yuji Igarashi cuts a relaxed figure as he prepares for the public to arrive at Fujifilm's Fujikina event in Stockholm. I caught the Divisional Manager of Fujifilm's Professional Imaging Group at Fotografiska - part of the world's largest museums dedicated solely to photography - just before the doors opened. He was joined by his colleague, manager of product planning Makoto Oishi, to discuss where the company's digital camera plans stand.

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Fotografiska had hosted the launch of the GFX 100 II the day before, so neither man is in the mood to discuss which areas of the GF system are most in need of improvement.

'Yesterday we announced a new product, so basically we're done,' jokes Oishi, but Igarashi is already looking forward: 'At this moment - as of yesterday - we're done, but I'm sure we'll we'll get a load of feedback, and we'll look to improve from here.'

This talk of feedback makes me wonder whether the company's approach to continuous improvement through firmware updates is still the same as when the X series was first launched or if the mindset has changed.

'We never officially changed our direction or philosophy or anything around firmware'

'We never officially changed our direction or philosophy or anything around firmware.' says Igarashi: 'Quite simply, it's difficult to implement the changes we made with a later generation of sensors and processor combinations and then apply that to an older generation [of hardware]. You have to totally re-engineer the firmware to make certain features possible on older cameras. It's a matter of the resources we have, and of course, there are priorities in our business to consider. So, as much as we want to try to implement all the features of the latest sensor and processor, it's not always technically possible, and other times, even when it is, we have to re-do the exact same work because the base system is different. So we still try to apply what is possible, at least within the same generation of sensor and processor and where applicable.'

Oishi also points out that the kinds of updates they're making have changed as the X and G systems have matured: 'These ten years have been very busy, updating firmware in response to user feedback. At the beginning, not everything was perfect about our camera system, so sometimes the users weren't happy with the way things worked, but these days, it tends to be requests for features people would like to be added rather than things needing to be fixed.'

Yuji Igarashi, holding the Fujifilm GFX 100 II and GF 55mm F1.7R WR, announced the day before this interview took place.

Fujifilm GFX 100 II, Fujifilm GF 55mm F1.7R WR | F4 | 1/200 sec | ISO 1600
Photo: Richard Butler

Igarashi cites listening to customer feedback as one of the most important lessons learned during the past ten years: '[customer feedback] helped develop the X series and GFX system: we couldn't have done this on our own. It's very important for us to stay in communication with our end users, get feedback and try to figure out the right solutions.'

I ask how the company's focus has changed during this time, as video has become more important, and the flagship cameras have become ever higher-end, but Igarashi says it's not a question of a change in focus. 'We started the X-mount with X-Pro1, with three prime lenses. That's how we began,' he says: 'It was a rangefinder-style camera; it was shooting, for instance, much slower snaps: documentary, family photos, those kinds of subjects. But then, of course, we moved to X-T1 in 2014. That was our first weather-sealed camera, so it expanded X Series into a more versatile system: you could shoot outdoors, on-the-go type of photography. And then came X-T2, which had 4K video, which is when we first started expanding to the video side. And now we have X-H2S, which is built for speed. So gradually, we've been expanding the field of photography we can capture, so we'd probably say it's expanded rather than changing the focus of the customer.

I asked what other areas they were looking to expand into. 'We're adding focus in the sports and wildlife categories, which we're not really known for yet,' he says: 'With X-H2S, I think we have a very capable camera, and in terms of lenses, we're also introducing more longer lenses. So that's a field where I think we're very capable, but we're not as known yet, so it's an area we will continue to cultivate.'

'It’s obvious that we have a huge customer base for stills photography, so I think it’s very important to listen to ... those photographers'

I was intrigued by Igarashi's answer when I asked whether this focus on speed and wildlife might come at the expense of lower-end models that were overdue for replacement. Specifically, I questioned the future of the X-E series, to which Igarashi responded: 'We haven't lost focus on any of our existing range, so we're always thinking about what will be next for us.' Which, in a somewhat oblique way, came across as a much stronger statement about the X-E range having a future than I was expecting.

Igarashi makes the point that photography is still very important to Fujifilm: 'We're generally getting very positive feedback about X-T5,' says Igarashi: 'and so I think it's obvious that we have a huge customer base for stills photography, so I think it's very important to listen to that segment and those photographers.'

But, he said, it's not always possible to react to all feedback. 'One camera might have a specific feature, and consumers might then expect it to appear on all of the other models, and sometimes the feedback is contradictory. For example, with the X-T5, the choice between a tilt or vari-angle [rear screen], we get almost 50:50 feedback.'

Makoto Oishi with the Fujifilm GFX 100 II and GF 55mm F1.7R WR

Fujifilm GFX 100 II, Fujifilm GF 55mm F1.7R WR | F4 | 1/200 sec | ISO 1600
Photo: Richard Butler

Moving on, Oishi said he was particularly proud of the IP connectivity and new technologies the company has been working on (they used their camera-to-cloud system to upload the portraits from this article to the Frame.io platform to ensure I had them quickly). I asked why they'd chosen Frame.io over more open formats. 'Frame.io is probably one of the most sophisticated and easy-to-use [platforms],' says Igarashi: 'and there's already a customer base, which we think makes total sense. If we tried to create our own version, it might force a change of workflow on these users to adapt to the way we do it. That's one thing we always think about to make sure whatever we do, we don't create any more work for our users. So, at the moment, we think this is probably the best solution we've got to offer to customers.'

'At the moment,' he concedes: 'the main users of Frame.io are videographers. However, there's lots of potential for still photographers as well. I think it's exciting to see this expansion.

Circling back to the new camera, I asked both men what the biggest strength of the GFX system was, now that the GFX 100 II has expanded the video capability so much, and both immediately agreed it was the 44x33mm format and the image quality and tonality it allows. I point out that we sometimes see people suggesting Fujifilm should have gone with full-frame rather than pursuing one smaller and one larger format, but Igarashi seems to believe the company has the right approach: 'The whole philosophy that we have is making sure we offer value to our customers. So I think we can do that with GFX, with its bigger sensor and large format, but also with the more compact APS-C size, which is also a very capable system. We can be confident and say, for these two lines, we can offer something that other brands cannot offer.'

'We can be confident ... we can offer something that other brands cannot offer'

I also asked a little about the new GF500mm F5.6 added to the company's lens roadmap: it's going to be big, isn't it? 'Maybe not so big,' says Igarashi conspiratorially. 'It could be long, but light,' Oishi says, proudly: 'some arrangement like that.' 'But not too big, anyway.' Igarashi confirms.

Given the impossibility of buying the (now quite old) X100V, I asked about how the company has reacted to its sudden popularity. 'Of course, we've tried to increase our production capacity to meet those demands, but the demand keeps on growing, so it's hard to catch up,' says Igarashi. But he seems to recognize it as a nice problem to have: 'I think this simply proves the product itself is very good,' he says: 'because once more people knew about it, it became more popular. It shows that the concept of the product is good. Probably we should do a better job at marketing, right?' he laughs: 'so more people can know about this product.'

'It gave us confidence that the concept of the camera is correct. Of course, X100 has always been a popular camera; that's why it's in its fifth generation. If the camera wasn't popular, we wouldn't have continued evolving it. It's the first camera to reach the fifth generation - though it's not the fifth generation sensor and processor - but it's the fifth generation model. It's by far been our most popular product.'

But should we worry about the next X100 being reworked in response to TikTok feedback? 'Maybe pink or red,' Igarashi suggests: 'blue, purple, orange? No, I think we just stick to our concept and hope we'll do well.'

'...If we were to produce a next one,' he adds, with a smile.

Just as we're wrapping up and preparing to take the photos for this article, Igarashi says: 'I wanted to add that we're happy about the continuation of DPReview. I think all the manufacturers appreciate it: it's such an important platform for us to get feedback through.' I thank him for this and make clear that it's our committed and vocal audience that's responsible for our continued existence. 'I was one of the readers,' he says: 'checking the site every day, and wondering "Hey, what's going on?" You announced you were going to close, but then you kept updating us all. I knew there was something going on, but I wasn't sure. But I'm very happy with where we are and where you are today.'