In February 2011, Fujifilm released the long-anticipated Fuji X100. It was the first step in Fuji’s future towards reconquering marketshare with their fans.
They quickly developed a close-knitted fellowship that loved their X100’s. When I first got it as part of a sponsoring/testing opportunity from Fuji, it was a quirky camera to say the least. Weird AF that was ungodly slow and -even worse – not always accurate, slow workflow, excruciatingly slow writing speeds, the list was quite long. However, over the weeks and months that followed the camera’s release, firmware upgrades slowly but surely improved the camera substantially. I’ve loved mine since day 1 because I very quickly accepted it’s faults and just worked around them. As I’ve often said before, I believe you should know your gear intuitively inside-out, so you know the faults and can work around them. This surely beats buying a new camera every so and so.
However, time went by and 2 years later, in February of 2013 Fuji released the follow-up model to the X100, the X100S. It was esthetically the same camera. It had the lovely time-aged metal body – the Leica-look as some call it – but the internals had changed. Fuji actually listened to their customers and upgraded the AF system, added buttons where they were needed and worked on almost all of the reported problems. It’s actually quite refreshing to see a company of that size listen to it’s users. Fuji calls it the ‘Kaizen’ philosophy, meaning that things get better along the way. Their way of saying that unlike Nikon and Canon, they’ll continue to work on your (older) camera.
X100 users witnessed the release of the new camera as a thing to upgrade to. Surely the improved AF system, speedier overall responsiveness of the camera and new X-Trans sensor would be interesting right? But what about the users that had to learned to work around the quirks? I personally didn’t feel the need to upgrade, and thus spend more money on what was essentially the same camera for about 70%.
Traditional camera manufacterers like Nikon and Canon would have pushed you to buy that new camera. How? Very easily : discontinue support for older models, stop publishing RAW treatment instructions for software developers and so on… It has to be noted that Nikon or Canon also almost never provide firmware updates for their cameras. The only time they do this, is when they are required to because there’s a problem with the camera. In the 4 years I’ve had my D300S there has been 1 firmware update, that helped a problem almost no-one had. They didn’t add anything to the camera as such. Providing firmware updates, and thus expanding the lifespan of a camera isn’t in Nikon or Canon’s business strategy because it would lower their income-revenue from the sales of new cameras that don’t really offer anything worthy of an upgrade other than a higher series number.
Enter mid-October 2013. In a move that defies eveything we had grown accustomed to in the camera industry, Fuji released a major firmware upgrade for existing X100 customers. That’s right, 2 years after the initial release of the X100, and AFTER they launched the follow-up model, the X100S, they still released an incredible upgrade for their ‘old’ users.
Firmware 2.0 dealt with some complaints and ideas users had had, but it amazingly added a whole bunch of functions :
-X100 users had always complained about the manual focus on the camera. It was slow, there was no focus peaking, in short : it was unuseable. When the X100S was released, all these problems had been dealt with , Focus Peaking was added, the slow ring movement had been addressed, manual focus was now useable. X100 users realized that they would be stuck with the bad manual focussing abilities and that they were just going to have to upgrade to the X100S. Then, fuji did something unparralleled. They added all of the X100S’ features to the X100. We now had focus peaking, highlight warning, the slow ring movement issue had been addressed, in short : manual focus was useable, just like on the X100S and for free!
-Another big complaint users had was that the close-focus abilities of the X100 were not great. Firmware 2.0 repaired this, and increased close focus distance by 30%. They didn’t have to do this, yet they did.
-The startup time of the X100 was a bit slow, so they upgraded it. Amazing.
-They also addressed a number of smaller issues, i’ll spare you the (boring) details about that.
Why is this amazing? Because in the era of continued product launches and planned obsolescence, in the era where manufacterers only want to make profit and usually don’t care about their old userbase, Fuji continued to pay engineers to work on a product that would not generate any future earnings for them. They actually spent money to satisfy clients that wouldn’t increase their revenue.
A normal manufacturer would’ve probably just released the X100S and encourage their X100 owners to make the switch, and thereby increase their sales.
Let’s be very clear : Fuji was not obligated to do this. The X100 wasn’t perfect, but buyers knew the problems it had. The camera worked perfectly fine, albeit with some quirks, but it worked. Fuji was just so set on satisfying their user base that they didn’t stop developping a product that had already been replaced with its follow-up, but also was 2 years old.
“Oh, but you are just a Fuji fanboy, Nikon and Canon do this also”. Let’s be clear ; I am not a Fuji fanboy, if anything I considered myself for quite some time a Nikon fanboy but their recent business strategies and camera releases are making less and less sense to me, and they are become a bit to greedy in my honest opinion. I understand the economics of running a profitable company and the need for increased revenue to satisfy investors, but when you operate in an industry that has customers that are very attached to your products, you always have to treat them with respect. And that is something Nikon and Canon are losing quickly.
The D600 ordeal proves this very clearly. For those who aren’t familiar with this, I’ll explain very briefly : Nikon released the D600 in september 2012. Very quickly new users began noticing an increased amount of ‘sensor dust’ : little particles that latch themselves onto the sensor. While this isn’t uncommon, the D600 suffered significantly more from this than other camera, indicating a clear design fault. Industry-professional tests revealed that there were actually tiny particles of oil from the shutter mechanism and mirror latching themselves onto the sensor. A clear construction error. Nikon however, instead of offering free repair services for the users, quickly discontinued the D600 and introduced the D610. Evidently, the problem had been fixed, but this wasn’t advertized as such. They added some bogus, less than marginal upgrades in order to convince D600 users to switch.
Here’s where they lost me, and here is why I respect Fuji even more. Fuji’s camera wasn’t broken. Yet, they continued to work on it, in order to improve it substantially. Nikon’s product was broken, and they didn’t even try to fix it. In an attempt at getting more money from their users, they just released a new camera. Firmware 2.0 put the X100 right next to the X100S. There are still some differences, like the sensor, but all the quirks and faults that could have pushed X100 users to upgrade were dealt with, and I (and many others) don’t see the point in upgrading anymore. Fuji won’t receive any more income from me (at least for this product) yet still they paid engineers to work on my product, and that is am-a-zing.
Why have I written a lengthy blog post about this? Because this spectacular move from Fuji might be the first one that shakes up the industry.
Nikon, Canon and other brands are releasing new products every bloody month or so. Their product catalog is filled with cameras that are basically the same, and sometimes it looks like they just release updated models with less that marginal upgrades just to keep busy. In doing so, they lose my respect, and I think I’m not alone.
Fuji, even though they are releasing far fewer models, they have managed to conjure up a fellowship of loyal customers for their products. I’m really impressed by Fuji’s products, and the love they pour into them.
When I first received the X100 I though it was going to be a fun little camera, but nothing more, but is has rekindled my love for e.g. street photography, and since then I take this little camera everywhere I go. It has changed my perspective on photography, and my perception of Fuji.
But it has also changed my spending habits, and that’s good for Fuji and bad for Nikon. Whenever I buy a Nikon product, I’m terrified because I fear that they’ll release some altered version of it very shortly after. Usually, I’m right. My concern isn’t that it will be a slightly better version of my product because I’m a big believer that vision is more important than gear, but that Nikon will drop support for my product. So I wait, and I read, and I compare. And that’s bad for Nikon. I might stumble on an alternative. On a better product. I lost confidence in them so I see what others are offering.
With Fuji, I know that whatever product I buy is going to be supported for a long time. Sometimes, the lifespan of my device might even double. When I want to buy something Fuji I don’t hesitate. I go in, I buy, they make a well-earned profit. They have earned my loyalty, and they’ll make a bigger profit in that, that in the extra revenue from 1 item I have to buy from them because I need to upgrade.
In the end, I think Fuji and other companies that have the same business model based on customer loyalty and mutual respect will win. As we’ve learned, a fellowship is stronger than separated individuals. Fuji is planting seeds and cutting trees responsibly, whilst Nikon and Canon are deforesting the Amazon forest only to be stuck one day with a huge stockpile of trees and no takers.