Focusing on a great camera range

Thinking out aloud about Fujifilm’s X series

2013 was a great year for cameras: a slew of exciting new products were released onto the market from manufacturers and the camera sites and forums were alive with reviews, comments and discussions about products like the Leica M, the Sony Alpha 7, the Olympus OM-D E-M1, the Nikon Df, the Ricoh GR V and the Fujifilm X100S.

Unfortunately 2013 was also a terrible year for cameras, “the worst year for the photography industry in a long long time (maybe even decades)” declared the folks at LensVid, who have crunched data published by CIPA (the Camera & Imaging Products Association) and presented it in the easily digestible but somewhat depressing infographic below. All the metrics show a decline in sales of both cameras and lenses.

Infographic by LensVid

Plenty of new releases; falling sales. It doesn’t seem logical to flood a shrinking market with more products, but that’s what seems to be happening as the camera makers throw ever more darts at the board in their attempts to hit a bullseye.

What’s a camera company to do?

I think Fujifilm is on the right track with its X series of cameras, which have captured the youthful spirit of a certain German company that has evolved into a purveyor of luxury goods. But I think the X series has lost some of its focus: there seems to be a confusion of overlapping models that have been released to market within a short timeframe in an attempt to broaden the market appeal of the X brand.

I’d like to see a streamlining of the series and a focus on making each of the models the best product in its class.

I’m just thinking out aloud here: as a Fujifilm user; as a lover of good design; and as a camera geek. I mean, I outlined my thoughts on the back of a cafe napkin, while enjoying a cup of coffee. That’s the spirit in which I present these ideas.

Caffeine fueled creativity

The range covers the whole market, bottom to top (left to right), but all the offerings are ‘best in class’ products.

Looking at the cheaper end of the market, where the iPhone rules and point and shoot cameras have been driven to near extinction, Fujifilm could — should? — introduce a Fujifilm X Cam app for iOS and Android smartphones. A slick full-featured phone camera with social network accessibility, editing options and Fujifilm filters simulating Velvia, Astia, and so on would be appealing to smartphone photographers and Fujifilm fans and would be a great branding exercise for the company.

Next along — a compact camera. Not an underwhelming Fujifilm XF / XQ or a bulky X10 / X100 but a real pocketable high-performance camera that would appeal to novices and pro photographers alike: Fujifilm’s take on the Ricoh GR V, with a viewfinder and Wi-Fi connectivity. It’s 2014: Wi-Fi should feature in all new cameras.

An entry-level interchangeable lens camera. The company currently has two — the X-M and the X-A — and there’s the X20 which is a fixed-zoom entry level camera. Simplify. Reduce. Combine. Create one seriously good entry level camera. Give it an alloy body. Include a PASM dial, a tilt-screen, configurable controls, scene filters. Give it an X-20 style viewfinder. A threaded shutter release button. Sell it with an XF zoom lens. On the subject of lenses, kill the XC line. What’s the point of Fujifilm producing inferior glass for its X series?

An enthusiast’s model. The X-E2 is almost pitch perfect; a wonderful enthusiast-level camera that’s compact, robust and versatile — keep developing it. Get rid of the plastic. Seal the body. Improve the electronic viewfinder. The sensor. The battery.

The X-T is also a wonderful tool, a professional tool, a technician’s tool. Both a superior stand-alone work-horse and the excellent heart of a professional system. Keep refining this baby too.

The X100: classic Fujifilm, classic photography; an iconic camera. Don’t touch it. This is the current generation’s Leica. A pure photographer’s camera fused with some great technology. Refine its internals and its rear controls; make subtle improvements to the styling. Add a couple of more lens converters to create a mini system. Don’t take its soul; don’t change the name.

The X ‘Pro’. What to do with it? We’ve been waiting for an updated version of the X-Pro 1 and we got the X-T1 as its worthy successor. The company’s flagship model has been superseded by a number of its siblings. I say, release a DSLR killer, the Fujifilm X, with a 35mm full-frame sensor and advanced video capabilities. Release it with a superior wide aperture 50mm prime XX lens and an M mount adaptor. Add full frame lenses in time.

And there it is: my take on a cohesive X series in which all the offerings are pro level and each can clearly rule its niche and appeal to serious photographers both amateur and professional. I wonder what plans Fujifilm has for its X series?

Note: An updated version of this post can be read on my blog.