CP+ 2019: Fujifilm interview - 'We want to show photographers the future'
|Makoto Oishi, Product Planning Manager at Fujifilm, holds a working prototype of the forthcoming GFX 100 medium format camera.|
At the CP+ show earlier this month in Yokohama Japan, we sat down with senior executives from Fujifilm. During our conversation we covered everything from the upcoming GFX 100, to plans for APS-C and why the X100 still occupies such an important position in the company's lineup.
Our interview was conducted with three senior executives in Fujifilm's Electronic Imaging Products Division:
- Toshi Iida, General Manager.
- Makoto Oishi, Product Planning Manager.
- Shin Udono, Senior Manager of the Sales and Marketing Group.
This interview has been edited for clarity and flow. For the sake of readability, responses have been combined.
In the long-run, how do you see full-frame and medium format coexisting?
They definitely will coexist. Especially after we introduced the GFX 50R, we’ve seen a wider audience become interested in medium format and the sales of the 50R look very promising. I think this is a good sign.
Do you have a target for market share of the full frame + market?
We don’t have a specific number, but roughly speaking full-frame accounts for about 1/3 of the market right now in terms of value. It’s growing slightly. Medium format used to be something like 1% but after we introduced GFX, the medium format market has doubled. This is a good start. So we don’t have any specific target numbers, but our mission is to increase the size of the medium format market.
After we introduced the 50S, we checked to see what kind of customers were buying it, and roughly 70% of the buyers were coming from other brands. Mainly DSLR users. These users still keep their existing systems, and the GFX is additional.
|The original GFX 50S, a 50MP camera intended to compete with flagship high-resolution DSLRs and full-frame mirrorless cameras.|
Do you have a sense of how many of your GFX customers are professionals?
According to our surveys, 20% are professional, and 80% are non-professional. If you look at the GFX 50R, more of those customers are non-professionals. Learning from our experience with the 50R, I think that the customer base is growing. People who shoot street-style photographs like the 50R, which takes them back to the days of our medium format film cameras. Of course the focus could be faster, but they can live with the current system.
Is it important to you that the proportion of professional users increases?
Yes, of course. Especially after the [announcement of] Capture One compatibility, we increased our professional user base, and of course the GFX 100 is coming.
What do you want the GFX 100 to achieve for Fujifilm?
We hope that it will be successful commercially, but more importantly we want to show [photographers] the future - the potential of medium format. I think that full-frame can probably reach 70-80MP, but we need to stay ahead, using the larger format. So it’s kind of a technology showcase, showing our [confidence in] the format. The other side is that it’s a good way of demonstrating the quality of our glass. Our GFX lenses were all originally designed for 100MP resolution.
|A prototype GFX 100, showing the large, stabilized 100MP sensor.|
Do you have an update on availability of the GFX 100?
It will be before the end of June - within the first half of this year.
When you’re developing lenses for GFX, what was more important - the experience gained from developing lenses for the X Series, or experience developing lenses for large formats?
I think really our experience from the X Series. They were designed to cope with modern sensors, and the need to control the light more precisely.
What kinds of photography do you think the GFX 100 will be used for?
Our immediate [target market] is commercial photographers, people who shoot fashion, landscapes, and so on but we really hope that general full-frame customers will start to look at GFX as a serious option for more general-purpose photography. With the GFX 100, with its phase-detection, back-side illuminated sensor and stabilization we’d like to see more customers adopt GFX.
X Series photographers are more general-purpose, and GFX customers are those who love the look of medium format
Do you see a difference between your X and GFX customers?
It is different - X Series photographers are more general-purpose, and GFX customers are those who love the look of medium format, and the quality. With the 50R we’re expecting to see the gap narrow, because the style of the camera is more suited to snapshooting.
The GFX 100 is one of the first cameras we’ve encountered that can shoot 16 bit Raw. When will photographers see the benefit of 16-bit over 14-bit?
Mostly at low ISO, in very deep shadow detail. The benefit is subtle, even though there is four times the amount of data. It’s tougher to edit. 14-bit will let you shoot faster, which is why we don’t think [16-bit] is appropriate for APS-C.
|The X-T3 - the latest in a range of high-end Fujifilm APS-C cameras for enthusiasts.|
What does Fujifilm need to do in order to lead in APS-C?
Fundamentally, we need to keep up the pace of development for new devices. New sensors, processors, and the lens lineup. That’s the fundamental strategy. And I think the X-T3 is a classic example. Better focusing, 4K 60p and so on.
We’re positioning APS-C against full-frame, and its faster, and more responsive because of the smaller sensor. So we’re really focusing on speed and of course image quality is [also] important. Versatility is the most important thing, and we’ll keep investing accordingly.
The X-T3 has a major firmware update coming, and Fujifilm has a long-standing policy of updating older models - do you think in the long run this policy has helped or harmed total sales?
We believe in maximizing the customers' satisfaction, to create a long-term strategy that will make our brand trusted by our customers.
After launching the X-T2, a lot of X-Pro 2 owners started requesting 4K as well
Fujifilm has invested a lot in video, in quite a short period of time. How have your customers reacted?
Four or five years ago, movie functionality was almost ignored [within Fujifilm], but with the X-T2 we added 4K, and more than just resolution we’ve added new profiles, worked on the autofocus and everything else. It takes time, but definitely more and more customers are looking at Fujifilm as a serious video [manufacturer].
After launching the X-T2 with 4K video, a lot of customers who owned the X-Pro 2 started requesting 4K as well. We never thought that users of the X-Pro lineup would care about 4K video. We really hope that the GFX 100’s 4K movie will show people something new, as well.
Do you think there’s room in the X Series or GFX-series lineups for a dedicated video camera?
It’s possible. We don’t have any concrete plans but at some point in the future it might be a consideration.
|Fujifilm's MK lenses are made in X and E-mount versions, in order to appeal to as wide an audience of filmmakers as possible, while Fujifilm grows its native video options.|
You have the MK line of cine lenses for X-mount, do you think there’s a growth opportunity there in the future?
Definitely, yes. Good video needs good video-oriented lenses, so it’s definitely a growth opportunity. The level of R&D investment is quite high, but we managed to make it make sense financially by having an E-mount option as well, alongside X-mount. That lets us reach a much broader base of customers.
How have the MK lenses performed in the market?
In line with our expectations. We didn’t anticipate huge sales numbers because although our [video’] customer base is growing, it’s still quite small.
Are the E mount MK lenses selling to small production companies, rental houses…?
Both, but at that price point a lot of end users are buying them directly [rather than renting].
Digital corrections have an impact on image quality
Let’s imagine two lenses, both of which give comparable image quality: one requires no help from software corrections, while the other does, and is smaller and less expensive as a result. Which is a better solution for the photographer?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. Our philosophy is to minimize digital correction, and maximize the optical quality of our lenses. The downside as you mentioned is cost and size. It’s a balance.
Analog correction and digital corrections are different. Digital corrections have an impact on image quality, for example resolution. Even chromatic aberration - you have to [manipulate] each channel, R G B, and it reduces total resolution. Whereas analog, optical correction isn’t really ‘correction’, it’s about the physics of light.
Are there some lenses where you do rely on software correction? And if so, when would you make that decision?
We start with optics, and our designers start from the position of [needing] zero digital correction. And then if the lens looks like it will be too big, or too heavy, maybe we start talking about software. It’s always a balance but we regard optical quality as the first priority.
|The XF 8-16mm F2.8 is a powerful ultra-wide lens for APS-C which offers excellent image quality, albeit in a larger and less convenient form factor than some full-frame competitors.|
When you introduced the X mount lineup originally you talked about prioritizing optical quality even if it came at the expense of autofocus speed. Has your thinking changed since then?
If you look at the first XF lenses, like the 35mm F1.4, they had beautiful optical quality but slow autofocus because the entire optical assembly had to move for focusing. That was the first generation.
If we redesigned that lens now, probably we would take a different approach, and get a better balance of optical quality and autofocus. This is because we have new actuators, and new optical technologies. Compared to the first generation of lenses, we have learned and developed technologies to make lenses smaller without compromising image quality.
In terms of technologies and production techniques, can you give us examples of how Fujifilm in 2019 is different to Fujifilm in the past?
In terms of production we’ve started to introduce some automated lines. We still depend predominantly on the work of our craftsmen but, for example, when we make resolution adjustments to lenses, we’ve introduced some automation. So instead of a human making manual adjustments to the barrel, it’s done by machine, which is more accurate.
When we started the X Series our focus was much more on stills
Has your material science developed over that time as well?
Yes. Both materials and coating technologies. Several years ago for example we started to introduce Nano GI coating, which we didn’t have in the first generation of lenses.
Another difference from five years ago is the requirement for movie shooting in lens design. When we started the X Series our focus was much more on stills, but our recent lenses have inner focus systems which are much more suitable for video shooting. We do care about those customers.
Do you see potential for Fujifilm to become a major player in the sports and wildlife photography market?
In the future, yes. At the moment our customer base within that segment is small, but the XF 200mm F2 opens the door to those kinds of customers. It will take time, but in the future we see that kind of customer [coming to Fujifilm].
In terms of camera design, what needs to change in order to cater to those customers?
We need to look at sensor and processor first, and performance, speed - we need to look at everything.
If we asked 100 different X100F customers for feedback we’d probably get 100 different answers
Do you have any thoughts on how you could evolve the X100 Series?
If we asked 100 different X100F customers for feedback we’d probably get 100 different answers. What are the top requests? Number one would probably be for better glass, since that lens is a 2010 design. We started at 12MP and now we’re at 24MP, so that’s probably the number one.
Second would be a split between people who really want a tilting screen, and people who really don’t want such a screen. Not much feedback about 4K, maybe weather-sealing is number four, but the most important thing is people don’t want us to change the style or the size. That’s a challenge.
The X100 is where everything began - is it still an important product line for you?
Of course, it’s a kind of symbolic line. That’s why we haven’t changed the naming convention. It’s a lot of pressure - we can’t make any mistakes! We’re already on the fourth generation and there’s a huge customer base that trusts Fujifilm so we need to work hard not to let them down.
|The original 12MP X100, which started everything. First announced at Photokina back in 2010, the X100 is now on its fourth generation, and Fujifilm is careful not to update the line too rashly, given its importance to the brand.|
We’ve seen some manufacturers open up their lens mounts. What is the logic behind keeping X-mount a ‘closed’ mount, and do you think that might change?
I don’t think we need to change our position. We’ve already created 31 lenses for all necessary focal lengths, so we don’t feel that we need to open up the mount to third parties.
If a third-party manufacturer decided to create X-mount compatible lenses by reverse-engineering, would that help or harm Fujifilm?
I think that from a customer’s point of view, more options are good.
What do you think the next big revolution in digital imaging will be?
From a sensor point of view, everyone is talking about global shutter. That is one thing, which will come at some point in the future. The other thing is more computational and Artificial Intelligence technologies making it into cameras. Probably those two things.
If those two technologies were available to you right now, what would they enable you to do?
The modular GFX! Just kidding. Global shutter would give us more freedom of design, no rolling shutter, things like that. It would expand the shooting possibilities. And AI and deep learning, that would let photographers just press the button and let the camera do everything, without worrying about controls, things like that. That’s the kind of camera that could be created.
Editor's note: Barnaby Britton
Fujifilm's Toshi Iida and his team are on a mission to change the world of photography, and they're hoping that the upcoming 100MP medium format GFX camera will help shake things up. There aren't too many photographers out there who really need 100MP and Fujifilm knows that, but an ultra high-resolution medium format camera with in-body stabilization and the ability to shoot 4K video is quite the party piece - or 'technology showcase', to use Mr Iida's words.
That doesn't mean that Fujifilm is just showing off with the GFX 100. There are a lot of things that have prevented photographers from making the jump to medium format before now: size, weight, slow performance and middling autofocus being four of the major ones. The GFX 100 promises to narrow - if not entirely erase - the performance gap, while at the same time extending the image quality gap between full-frame and medium format in a way that no other manufacturer has ever been able to.
The unique hybrid viewfinder of the original X100 isn't unique any more, because Fujifilm has used it in five other cameras since then
Even if you have zero interest in a $10,000 medium-format camera, we've seen how Fujifilm uses experience gained from one product to inform the development of others, right from the beginning of the X series back in 2011. The unique hybrid viewfinder of the original X100, for example, isn't unique any more, because Fujifilm has used it in five other cameras since then, including the X-Pro 1 and X-Pro 2. Likewise in-camera image stabilization, which was developed for the video-focused X-H1 - itself a testbed of sorts for the GFX 100.
While many of our questions at CP+ were focused on the GFX 100 and on Fujifilm's large-format strategy in general, Mr Iida also had a lot of encouraging things to say for APS-C users. For starters, it seems like Fujifilm's strategy of adding features to older flagship models via firmware isn't going to change in the near future. The X-T3 is the most recent camera to get a major boost in functionality, and it's reassuring to know that even after it's eventually replaced, its development might not cease.
More than any other manufacturer out there, Fujifilm has really committed to APS-C
While it seems unlikely that the X Mount will become an open standard any time soon, It's good to hear that Fujifilm won't fight with third-party manufacturers who create new options for their customers via reverse-engineering. It's worth noting though that one of the best disincentives to them doing so is Fujifilm's own APS-C lens lineup, which is extensive, if not comprehensive. More than any other manufacturer out there, Fujifilm has really committed to APS-C, and it will be interesting to see how the lineup evolves as Mr Iida pushes his engineers to create more specialist optics like the XF 200mm F2 for sports and wildlife photographers, and the MK range for video shooters.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the customer spectrum, a lot of us are happy with the fixed lens, stills-focused philosophy of the X100 Series. It was interesting to hear from Mr Iida (and everyone in the room with him) that Fujifilm is very careful about how and when it updates the X100, which occupies a "symbolic" position in the catalogue. We don't know yet what a next-generation X100 will look like, but judging by the customer feedback (and by Fujifilm's track record of listening to and acting on that feedback) it's a pretty safe bet that a new lens will be part of the package.
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