PetaPixel

The X-Factor: How the Fujifilm X-Series Changed a Company and an Industry

X

There’s a good chance you’re sick of reading about Fujifilm this week. But with the fever-pitch buzz surrounding the release of the X-T1, it’s not often that we consider the business behind these popular cameras.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the unique history of the Fujifilm X-Series, and the ways in which it reinvigorated both the company that created it and the camera industry as a whole.

The story starts back in 2010. Fujifilm, a company with a long history of dealing in high-quality film and development products, has seen consistently growing sales in its electronic imaging products and has restored profitability to its digital camera business after structural reforms.

However, its imaging division is still being dragged down by declining film sales and has experienced operating losses in the tens of billions of yen almost every year since 2005 according to their annual financial reports. On top of that, other than its aging S5 DSLR, first released in early 2007, Fuji doesn’t have much to offer the serious photographer. Its lineup is made up mostly of amateur-level compacts and super-zooms, as well as the interesting side note of the FinePix Real 3D W3, a two-lens digital 3D still and video camera.

That changed in September of 2010 when Fuji revealed the FinePix X100, the inaugural model of the X-series. Though it was far from perfect, the X100 is a true classic, the sort of camera you’ll see taking up two-page spreads in coffee-table books fifty years from now.

Its rangefinder form factor allowed Fuji to stick an APS-C sensor in a compact body while still leaving room for their innovative hybrid viewfinder. Its retro-styling, which has since been imitated by just about every camera manufacturer, was truly unique at the time, as was its uber-sharp fixed 23mm f/2 Fujinon lens.

To continue to gush about the X100 would be a waste of time, if only because its praises have been sung by writers and photographers far and wide. Some, like Francois Nel, completely replaced their DSLRs with this little camera. Photographer Gary Cruz even made an X100 Birthday Cake.

More important, to this line of thought anyway, these things sold. With a capital S, or perhaps a capital $. Demand quickly outstripped supply, and wait lists for the X100 grew steadily longer. People were buying them for double their retail price-point of $1200 on eBay well into 2011, and they would still be hard to come by for many months more.

fujifilmx100ebay

By March of 2011, the success of the X-series had made a strong impression on the Fujifilm leadership. Their digital camera business witnessed record unit-sales over the previous year by more than ten million units, and its revenues helped to bring the entire imaging division out of the red for the first time in half a decade. Hoping to expand on this success, Fuji committed to exploring more high-end offerings in their 2011 annual report:

Looking forward, the Company will work diligently to boost sales of such mid- and high-end models as the FinePix F550EXR and the FinePix X100. At the same time, Fujifilm will launch new products that showcase the Company’s Fujinon Lens, sensor, image processing and other technological capabilities.

In September of 2011, Fujifilm released the second member of the X-Series, the more modest, amateur-minded FujiX10 with a conventional 2/3-inch sensor and a 28-112mm f/2-2.8 lens. While certainly not as revolutionary as the X100, this offering bore the pleasing retro-styling of its cousin, and promised that there was to be an X-series rather than just a single product or product line.

It was followed a month later by the announcement of the X-S1 superzoom, which coincided with the promise of the imminent launch of a Fujifilm interchangeable lens system. This would be the X-Pro1.

xpro13_mini

While Fuji was quickly building up its X-series, other product lines were starting to shrink. In the same month the X10 was announced, they made public the elimination of several popular films from their production lines. The following year, they increased prices for their films across the board, ceased all production of APS film (although that was hardly a surprise development), and reduced the size of their famous Velvia film lineup. Not long after that, Fujifilm’s cinema film products were also sent to pasture.

That probably doesn’t sound too shocking. A photography company placing emphasis on digital cameras while curtailing photo-chemical processes in 2012, Gasp!

But the combination of a flowering digital lineup and shrinking demand for film created a rapid shift in Fujifilm’s revenue distribution in a very short period of time. Consider: in 2010, electronic imaging products represented only 30% of their imaging division’s revenue, while just two years later that number had increased to 37%. For comparison, in 2008 electronic imaging products represented 28% of Fujifilm’s imaging division. That means Fujifilm’s digital business was outpacing their film and film processing business between 2010 and 2012 at a rate more than three times faster than during the two previous years.Untitled

To put that another way, the X-Series, as Fujifilm’s flagship digital line, was helping to rapidly reshape a company that had been holding on to the film age for longer than just about any other.

The X-Series continued to grow, with the introduction of models including the X-E1 (a smaller alternative to the X-Pro1) the run-of-the mill compact XF1, the beginner’s mirrorless X-A1 and X-M1. Fuji has also released sequels to the X100, X10 and X-E1: the X100s, X20 and X-E2. Then, of course, there’s the X-T1 that’s been burning up the headlines this week.

Millions of blogging hours have been spent hyping up and reviewing these cameras, and Fujifilm has certainly been convinced that they’ve found a ticket to continued success. Even though they reported a drop in revenues for digital cameras over the last fiscal year, caused by declining demand for compacts they say, they also promised that they intend to throw even more emphasis on the X-Series, and especially on interchangeable lens systems, when they reported to shareholders last March.

The X-Series led Fujifilm to prominence in the top-tier camera market, but it also left a lasting impact on the larger photography industry. On top of the retro-styling and hybrid viewfinder mentioned earlier, the X-Series introduced the Fujfilm X-Trans sensor through the X-Pro1, which tackles image moire without the need for an anti-aliasing filter and purportedly produces sharper images.

These are features that were adapted, sometimes in different forms, by other companies shortly afterwards. It’s not hard, for example, to see aesthetic similarities between the stylings of the Pentax MX-1 and the FinePix X100. Meanwhile, Fujifilm’s efforts to get around the necessity of a sharpness-killing anti-aliasing filter represent some of the first in mainstream production cameras, and were followed by similar efforts from Nikon, Pentax, and Sony. In a similar fashion, Sony and Nikon both seem to be working on their own Hybrid Viewfinder.

pentaxmx1-0

It’s relatively easy to find photographers talking about how an X-series camera revolutionized their photography. Christopher Jue wrote on the subject just the other day. By this point, the clamor for these cameras has become a little monotonous. But that’s exactly why other camera manufacturers have clearly come to conclude that Fuji got some things right: their quirky retro cameras achieved critical and commercial success.

That success changed the conversation. Back in 2010, the megapixel wars were still in full force, compact cameras looked to be doomed entirely, and it was still very unclear whether or not Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens systems would prove to be anything more than a fad.

In the middle of this, Fuji offered a compact, non-DSLR premium camera with a fixed-length lens and an unconventional user experience. It held a price tag well over similarly featured DSLRs, and promised a measly twelve megapixels. That was a pretty big step outside convention, and its runaway popularity proved that companies could appeal to skilled photographers without needing to fit in to the black-DSLR-with-lots-of-pixels-and-lenses-and-super-high-ISO-levels mold.

Even though it seems clear in hindsight that Fuji was filling a pretty big gap in the market, the X100 was still a huge gamble in 2010. It was a camera that focused more on the user experience, solid glass, and styling than on flashier technological specs, and it worked.

Good or bad, that’s a spirit mirrored in many recent high-profile releases, like the Nikon Df, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 and the Lumix GX7. Whether Fuji’s cameras directly inspired those products, or simply tested the waters for them, it’s a safe bet that the camera industry would look a lot more boring today if not for the arrival of Fuji’s X-cellent, X-otic, X-Series.


Image credits: Photos from Fujifilm UK, Fujifilm-X, and Revenue Graph from Fujifilm Holdings


 
  • Sky

    “Good or bad, that’s a spirit mirrored in many recent high-profile releases, like the Nikon Df, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 and the Lumix GX7. Whether Fuji’s cameras directly inspired those products, or simply tested the waters for them,”
    – Neither. Olympus made retro-styled cameras even before Fujifilm did. And Oly got as much right to claim “inspiring” everyone else as Fuji does.

    What Fuji certainly did start was a trend for APS-C compacts with it’s X100. And it’s a great thing to have, can’t wait for more companies following this path!

  • Derek

    I’ll go to bat for my X100S any day of the week and I can’t wait to see what else these guys have up their sleeve. I really hope they can keep this momentum going and continue to blow us all away. My two biggest concerns are full frame dead-enders who reject any camera without the traditional 35mm sensor size and Fujifilm’s apparent willingness to double down on EVFs and/or drop finders altogether from some of its X models. I was an OVF-only guy myself until getting the X100S, and have been surprised how much I find myself using the EVF in the “hybrid” finder instead of the OVF, to fine-tune exposure *before* capture, vice after on the LCD as with other cameras. But it required a transition, and it’s a gamble to expect ever-more photogs to buy cameras and make that transition as the company (and all these camera-makers) are dealing with all these business headwinds. Likewise with the APS-C sensor size, to which they seem locked in with their lens portfolio. I have no problem with it, but a lot of people do, and the thing that keeps coming up about the new XT-1 is that people wish it had the 35mm-size sensor. I really hope Fujifilm can keep winning people over with what’s a kind of complicated sales pitch.

  • Kynikos

    Wake me when they go full-frame.

  • Brandon Chin

    If you really want a larger sensor go, medium format. Or better yet, go large format with film.

  • AbinSur

    Yeah….I wanna see them make these cameras in a 4X5 format,,,screw that wussy Full-Frame stuff….

  • NancyP

    The other very interesting thing about Fuji is that they have introduced a new sensor format (X-Trans), which introduced some post-processing workflow issues, and yet the cameras started off selling quickly.

  • Stainer

    I made the switch to Fuji. The controls did it for me, I don’t consider them retro, just practical. As a hip-shooter they gave me immediate control, I could change the shutter and aperture without even looking. What I missed was mechanical manual focus, which I got on my X-E1. Now with an ISO dial on the upcoming X-T1, I feel like I’m still using film (except for the distance markings and throw that get shifted in crop conversion). When I make a mistake now, it’s all on me, and that’s relaxing.

  • Vlad Dusil

    What’s with all the Fujifilm love on PP in the past days?

  • Alex

    I’ve battled and changed numerous cameras over the years (K5, GF1, A77, OM-D, various Canons, etc). But with none have I found as much pleasure to shoot with as with the X100.

    Honestly every-time that I pressed the X100’s shutter button it would be a small piece of heaven. It was such a pure photographic experience, from the satisfying threaded shutter, to the almost silent shutter sound and the ‘better-than-life’ photographic result.

    I’m now a Fuji convert, I’ve bought and sold several cameras, but my main camera remains a Fuji. I don’t care about the limitations, past slowness etc., it’s all about the experience and the result.

    I really hope this outsider continues to find success and keep bringing the same awesome products.

    – my only note to the article is that Fujifilm may not have been big in the consumer business but it certainly is big in the Pro business, making the best (and most expensive) movie camera lenses.

  • http://sonaten.se/ Jonas N

    I don’t think Fujifilm intends to go there because they think APS-C is a useful compromise to offer higher quality than the micro 4/3 segment, yet often much cheaper and lighter than full-frame cameras.

    While the new Sony A7 is pretty small and neat, full-frame lenses often aren’t, especially not when you get to flexible zoom lenses.

    I really only think full-frame is suited for studio photography, or perhaps professional journalism like on sports events where you have it firmly seated on a tripod. Lugging around full-frame kits during a vacation or to shoot kids, it’s really not where I think that many even want to go, even if they could.

    Finally, I also think the lines are blurring as for the output. The output from 56/1.2 lens on a Fujifilm X camera is deceptively similar that from a traditional portrait lens on a full-frame camera, and the high ISO performance is better than that of full-frame even just 4-5 years ago.

  • http://www.flixelpix.com/ David

    The X range is brilliant. It has matured rapidly since the X100 and hats off to Fuji for supporting every X camera with regular firmware updates!

  • samotracia

    Overpriced toys

  • Seb

    You are completey wrong with your comment about their cinematic lenses!

  • http://www.woodyoneal.com/ Woody ONeal

    wow

  • kassim

    Agree.

  • kassim

    x100 was a game changer. Other X cam were just expensive cameras.

  • robin

    I still don’t understand why people need full frame when they just upload their pictures into internet and never print the large photo to their full potential. most of us don’t need a full frame.

  • gochugogi

    I agree, the Olympus PEN E-P1 was a groundbreaking quasi-retro design that enjoyed a great deal of popularity one year prior to the X100. I suspect the early Pens inspired Fuji to up the ante on their X series.

  • tap0

    On the other hand, whenever I shoot with my Fuji X100, I feel disconnected with the subject, since it is still slow to focus and quirky. Also, looking through the OVF, the final picture is not what I see, because of the frame lines and parallax. For me, the Fuji X100 looks better than it shoots.

  • mooboy

    100% agree. Having to hit 4 controls to set exposure on a Fuji X100.. auto focus is slow, and manual focus is problematic. I do love the shutter though…

  • Brendan

    The way I see it, Fuji and Sony are the most interesting camera manufacturers to watch. Fuji seems to look back in time for inspiration while Sony is looking forward – introducing new technologies and ways to shoot.
    I do not give a rats what my camera looks like or retro feel and yet I hate going without my X100. It’s my walk around camera, and it’s fantastic from a purely technical user perspective… that said it does bring all the girls to the yard.

  • Anton

    Sony and Nikon working on their own hybrid viewfinders? Interesting! Do you have a source?

  • mark0159nz

    I like what they are doing, If you watch a training video from creative live with Zack Arias which was filmed a couple of years ago, he talks about going to medium format. Now he is going using fuji cameras for most of his work. While there are times I am sure he will use medium format, for his creative work, he’s using Fuji and that’s says a lot about the camera system as a whole.

    I do wish tho they would release a FF camera like the X100s. use that to test the market and if it’s starts of well then they know where to go. If they are smart, all they need to do is release a body and say a 50mm lens and adapters for all other lens mounts and bingo that should be enough to start the ball rolling. Just look at the Sony A7/A7r and see that people are using the camera with adapters so they can use the body with current stack of lenses.

    I like the layout and how quick it can to use the camera in manual mode. Just like the old film cameras of yesteryear. All the dials are on the lens/body and from there you can change aperture or shutter or ISO. You don’t have to press a menu button or press a FN button while turning a dial. a quick change to a setting you want.

  • Tamim Tasdik

    X100 has changed the way I used to look at photography. Gave up my Bulky Canon and got a X Pro 1 as well…Whilst I love both my my X100 and X Pro 1…I would love to see fuji coming up with a full-frame X…After all people paced a lot of trust on fuji. For many like may X system has become the primary camera system. It reminds me of the greatest rangefinder ever made Contax 2…I guess it’s Fuji’s turn to reward its users with a full frame X Trans sensor…

  • Sky

    That would be great, no doubt. Only problem is price. Right now Full Frame is the best thing non-professional photographer can get without selling a kidney and an eye.

  • Sky

    Some people view their photos on quality screens, and just like the “looks” that Full Frame gives combined with relatively cheap lens (not true for full frame mirrorless though as they got very expensive lenses for some reason).
    “most of us don’t need a full frame” – Most of us don’t need any camera at all. Cameras are not water or air that you would “need” them.

  • Sky

    On the other hand – Canon, Sigma and Zeiss are most interesting lens manufacturers. Also Canon and Nikon are most interesting accessories manufacturers.
    You see – photography is much more than just a body. ;)

  • Sky

    Canon’s doing the same. Just look at the rumor websites.

  • Sky

    There were some rumors that Fuji does in deed plan to release Sony RX1 competitor.
    For me the biggest question is – will it have OVF? I sure hope so.

  • Sky

    I still can’t understand what’s the point of having mirrorless and X100. For me – X100 eliminated any need to buy mirrorless I ever had. It does everything I want from portable camera, while not overlapping with my main system. So I got a perfect set: DSLR and large sensor compact. Both complete each other in different ways.

  • AbinSur

    Just because a camera is full frame does not make it the “best”..The need for a camera to be full frame to create great images is a myth…

  • John

    I’m pretty darn happy with my Nikon D610, what’s in the files coming out from it kicks ass bigtime no myth there dude! And the camera doesn’t create the images, the photographer do, the camera just records them… The better prerequisites for recording, the higher odds for the photographer to get happy with the result.

  • http://www.markhoustonphotography.com/ Mark Houston

    So your saying that your photographs are better because you have a camera with a “full-frame” sensor.

  • Matt Boggs

    Eh. I used to have an E-PL2 which is similar. The pen cameras were never full on retro, more like rangefinder inspired. But their shape and size was dictated by their features really and not some retro styling cue. But Fuji went all the way with it. Aperture rings on the lens, shutter speed dial, optical viewfinders. The X100 was the first full on retro camera.

  • Matt Boggs

    There aren’t many issues any more. The only one I can think of is that the Fuji RAW files take just a few seconds more to render. But they have the best JPEG engine of any camera so who cares.

  • http://blog.LITfoto.com/ Matthew “fotomatt” Lit

    In today’s digital headlines Speed Graphic announced it will begin producing…

    Can you imagine?!

  • TB

    Not quite, long before Olympus came there was Sigma DP, I remember waiting eagerly to buy after the Photokina announcement in 2006. I got my camera in 2008. It was retro and the first compact camera with the APS-C sensor. In terms of retro, it has always been around just look at the Ricoh camera history! For me Fuji was inspired by Sigma and Ricoh.

  • Brendan

    Only Sigma recent Sigma lenses really excite me – that says my bank balance though. Cool new stuff from camera bodies might influence the direction all manufacturers make their bodies in 5 years time – a new lens is just an expensive new lens..
    I do actually primarily shoot Canon. Magic lantern is too important a functionality for me to ever seriously invest in Sony or Fuji.

  • Brian McDonnell

    Or, very reasonably priced tools….Depending on your perspective. Game changers really, which should come at a premium.

  • Cscamp20

    This is true. Sigma dp series with fixed lenses started all this. I still have my sigma dp2 even though I don’t use it anymore. I know use my x100 and sold my dslr. I just wanted to add that as much as I love my x100, the images I get on my very slow sigma dp2 is just out of this world. Colors on the foveon sensor is just beautifu

  • Cscamp20

    I bought my x100 the week it came out and never looked back since. With the recent updates its is almost as good as the x100s

  • John

    No, I’m saying, if you read my comment once again SLOWLY, that the technical quality of the files, ie. what the camera is recording, is AMAZING! If you’ve ever used a FF camera, you know what I’m talking about!

  • John

    If you’ve once seen the difference in perspective, dof, and perception of resolution from a FF sensor, there’s no return… Think of it as very well scanned fine film…

  • John

    Dxo Sensor rating tests are in disagree with you. The first 7 cameras are Nikon FF cameras, followed by Canon, Sony, and more Nikons. The first Fujifilm is the x100, on #59, in High ISO / Noise comparison….

  • John

    Trends?

  • John

    The best camera is the one you use, no matter what brand or age it has… Keep shoot and have fun!! (y)

  • cogset

    DXO does not rank the X-Trans sensors. The x100 is a traditional 12mp Bayer layout. What is a more interesting comparison, which you won’t get on DXO, is an X-Trans 16mp against a Nikon DF, also 16mp

  • John

    Definitely, I hope DxO measures the X-Trans sensors and put that result up, I can’t wait, would be VERY helpful! :)