'Our goal is to satisfy everyone': an interview with Fujifilm execs
Following the launch of the Fujifilm X-T2 last week, we sat down with senior executives from Fujifilm.
- Yuji Igarashi, general manager of Fujifilm's Electronic Imaging Division.
- Takashi Ueno, manager of Fujifilm's Electronic Imaging Group Sales and Marketing and Optical Device and Electronic Imaging Products Divisions.
- Ryouichi Takamoto, Optical Device & Electronic Imaging Products Division, Sales and Marketing Staff.
We talked about the X-T2, Fujifilm's plans for lenses, and why the company is putting a lot of energy into video.
The following interview is taken from on-record portions of our conversation, and has been edited slightly for flow and clarity.
Fujifilm now has two flagship product lines - the X-Pro and the X-T. How do you see these two lines as being distinct?
We think that the character of the two cameras is completely different. The X-Pro series are special cameras for snapshooting, reportage and so on. But the X-T2 is a multipurpose camera, so we’re trying to sell the X-T2 to DSLR users, compact camera users - all photo enthusiasts and professional photographers. That’s the target with the X-T2.
The X-Pro 2 doesn’t have a 4K movie function, because we see the X-Pro 2 as being a stills camera. But the X-T2 needed 4K movie.
|The X-T2 is compatible with a new 'Vertical Power Booster Grip' which can accomodate two batteries, making a maximum of three in total. This takes the X-T2's endurance to a CIPA-rated total of 1000 shots.|
Apart from the 4K movie function, what other features differentiate the X-T2?
Durability. And that doesn’t just mean toughness, but also battery consumption. That’s why we made the Power Booster grip for the X-T2. And autofocus performance. We want the X-T2 to be able to capture all subjects. The X-Pro 2 doesn’t need such fast AF, because for snap-shooting and portrait shooting it’s not necessary. But our target users for the X-T series include sports photographers.
If you look at the body shape and balance, we have the booster grip for the X-T2 which works well if you’re using telephoto lenses, whereas with the X-Pro 2 it’s designed to be more discrete, and for use with prime lenses. The body style itself is different.
Some of our readers have expressed disappointment that the X-T2 costs more than the X-T1. Why is this?
It’s a combination of two factors. One is the exchange rate, of course [editor's note: the value of the yen relative to the dollar fluctuated significantly from 2014-16] and the other is the features included in the camera. We’ve added 4K video, a new 24MP sensor, a new shutter and so on. These factors have resulted in an increase in price.
In the X-T2, is the autofocus system different to the X-Pro 2?
Yes, the algorithm is completely different. But we’re planning to add this [improvement] to the X-Pro 2 in FW 2.0, in October. But the AF-C custom functions will only be available in the X-T2.
Why did you choose to include 4K video in the X-T2?
The movie function is one of the most important functions of digital cameras. Many of our competitors had offered 4K, but we didn’t. Fujifilm is a popular company in the broadcast industry, because we’ve developed so many lenses for broadcast cameras. So we are familiar with the industry, we just been able to utilize that knowledge [until now].
Video has long been a weak area in the X-series…
Yes. Our X-Trans color filter array is more complicated than that of bayer array, but we have developed a new, very powerful processor - the X Processor Pro. This can read data faster than the processor in previous X-series cameras, which means we could add 4K movie recording to the X-T2. But we don’t think that the X-Pro 2 necessarily needs 4K.
Could 4K movie recording be added to the X-Pro 2 with firmware?
No. Because of hardware issues. We’d need to add a heatsink, which the X-Pro 2 doesn’t have because we wanted to maintain its body size.
Does that explain the slight weight increase from the X-T1 to the X-T2?
In adding 4K video to the X-T2, were you responding to existing X-series users’ demands, or to market expectations?
People are taking more movies now. In the past, maybe it was OK for us to release video that was not great, but now, the movie specification is one of the most important reasons why someone might buy a camera. Even if someone takes primarily stills. So the importance of video has grown and grown and we’re trying to make improvements. Hopefully video will be one of our strengths in the future. Every day our X-series photographers are asking us to improve movie quality.
|Despite having an articulating rear LCD screen, the X-T2 is limited to physical dial and button-based controls. It seems that touch-sensitivity is still some way off, in high-end X-series cameras.|
Why did you decide not to include a touchscreen on the X-T2?
One reason is that a key feature of the X-series is dial operation. And dial operation and touch operation are completely different, so combining them could be confusing. The typical way of shooting with X-series cameras is with your eye to the viewfinder, and to use a touchscreen you’d have to take your eye away from the finder.
Our priority for the X-T2 for now is to focus on the viewfinder. We’d like the user to use the finder primarily, with dial operation. But the X70 for example we introduced a touch sensitive screen, because that camera doesn’t have a viewfinder.
Will future X-series cameras continue to look much the same, or will you experiment with ergonomic changes?
Dial operation is part of our identity. This concept and style of operation will be maintained in order to distinguish our cameras from competitors. We also think that this design is the most intuitive for general photography.
A lot of our readers continue to be a little disappointed by the AF speed of some of the X-mount lenses. Is this something you’re working on improving?
Lenses like the 35mm F1.4 and 60mm F1.4 use DC coil motors, and the focusing elements are very heavy. For example the weight of the focusing group in the XF 35mm F1.4 is more than 100g. It’s almost unbelievable compared to most current autofocus lenses. On the other hand, in the XF 18-55mm zoom lens, the weight of the focusing group is only around ten grams.
Because of the weight of these groups in this fast prime lenses, we cannot make them focus faster. But that’s why we’re making new F2 lenses. Our 35mm F1.4 is designed for the best image quality, whereas our 35mm F2 - while we also care about image quality - is designed for fast autofocus and lighter overall weight.
Most autofocus lenses have only one focusing element, but our 35mm F1.4 for example, all of the elements in that lens move [to achieve focus].
Still on the topic of lenses, where do you see the biggest gaps in your XF lens lineup, right now?
Long focal length prime lenses, fisheye lenses, and tilt/shift lenses. Of course, the demand for these lenses is very small, and we have to prioritise. Currently we are prioritizing lenses like the 35mm F2, 23mm F2 and 50mm F2.
|Hasselblad's X1D is a relatively compact medium-format camera. Exactly the same kind of camera, in other words, that Fujifilm used to be known for, back when a roll of Velvia was the memory card of choice for enthusiast photographers.|
Hasselblad just released the X1D - a relatively compact medium format camera. Do you think there is an opportunity for Fujfilm in this market in the future?
We’re keeping our eye on that market, and the full-frame market too, but we’re still focusing on our APS-C range.
Are you interested in attacking the full-frame market in the future?
We’re attacking this market with our X-series. And with X-Trans III, we think that when people actually see what our cameras can deliver, we think there’s a good chance that photographers will use our X-series in the future.
The question of sensor size depends on what the user wants, as an output. If you’re using a medium format camera and you definitely need that for the work you’re doing, maybe APS-C is too small. But for general use, I think our [current] APS-C sensor is comparable to full-frame image quality. I think we can satisfy most people. But in future our goal is to satisfy everyone.
Is Fujfilm committed to the sub-APS-C market anymore, or are you focused now on APS-C?
We still do well with tough cameras. Because smartphones haven’t been able to replace them. So we’ve not completely abandoned that market. As long as there’s opportunity we’ll continue to look into it.
Some manufacturers are moving into virtual reality imaging with products like the Nikon Key Mission, the Samsung Gear and so on. Is this a market segment that Fujifilm is interested in?
At the moment we don’t have anything planned.
When a photographer thinks about Fujifilm as a brand, what kind of qualities do you want them to associate with the company?
Image quality. We are a photography company - not a camera company. That’s what our boss is always saying to us (Toru Takahashi - interviewed in January). That’s very important. We are still a film maker. So image quality and color reproduction.
In many ways, the on-record portions of this interview offer a message consistent with that delivered by Mr Takahashi and Mr Iida when I spoke to them earlier this year. Fujfilm is committing to two flagship APS-C platforms, X-Pro and X-T, and with the release of the X-T2, this strategy has reached a degree of maturity.
The similarities between the two cameras are arguably less interesting than the differences. The X-T2 is the faster of the two, and is designed to appeal to a wider audience. Not necessarily a more professional audience, but perhaps a more commercial one. Several times, the executives I spoke to stressed the importance of satisfying the needs of sports photographers and the inclusion in the X-T2 of Canon-style AF 'sets' is clearly intended to ease the hypothetical transition for prospective DSLR defectors. Meanwhile, 4K video (and from what we can tell at present, pretty good 4K video) is of course, a feature that is currently unavailable to most DSLR photographers, regardless of brand.
Whether or not the X-T2 can actually attract these dyed-in-the-wool DSLR shooters is of course another matter altogether. Ironically, I get the sense that it is the rangefinder-style X-Pro and X100-series that have attracted more attention among traditional enthusiasts, possibly because they are so un DSLR-like. Fortunately, the X-T2 is an excellent camera. Both ergonomically and in terms of image quality, the X-T2 continues to impress us in studio and real-world testing, and as we'd expect from a product with this kind of lineage, it's a pleasure to shoot with. I like how the X-Pro2 looks, but I must say, I greatly prefer how the X-T2 handles.
Publicly, Fujifilm is fully committed to its APS-C system, with its twin flagships, but I'd be very surprised if some of the company's engineers aren't looking jealously westward to Sweden, where Hasselblad recently announced the X1D. This, after all, is precisely the kind of medium format camera that Fujifilm used to be known for, back in the film days. Lightweight (ish), easy-to-use, and relatively affordable next to more traditional SLRs.
One of the gentlemen I spoke to last week said that 'in future our goal is to satisfy everyone'. Only he knows exactly what he meant by that, but it's fun to speculate. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.
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