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 info-graphic below. All the metrics show a decline in sales of both cameras and lenses.
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, since the company’s introduction of the FinePix X100 in 2010, 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.
As a Fujifilm user, as a lover of good design, and as a sometimes camera geek, I’d like to see a streamlining of the series, so there are fewer models and the focus is on making each of the models the best product in its class. And in that spirit I present my ideas for a streamlined X series.
This hypothetical range naturally incorporates a number of Fujifilm’s current cameras; it covers the whole market, bottom to top, and all the offerings are best in class products.
Looking at the popular end of the market, where the iPhone, with its ever-improving camera, rules and where point and shoot cameras have been driven to near extinction, Fujifilm could, should, introduce a Fujifilm X Cam app for iOS and Android smartphones. Considering the increasing use of phone cameras by photojournalists and artists, a well-designed, full-featured phone camera with social network accessibility, editing options and Fujifilm branded filters simulating Velvia, Astia, and so on would be appealing to smartphone photographers and Fujifilm fans and would be a great marketing exercise for the company.
Next: a compact camera. As technology allows camera makers to fit bigger sensors into compact bodies, they become more powerful, more versatile, more desirable. Fujifilm should design a serious compact, not an underwhelming Fujifilm XF / XQ or a bulky X10 / X100 but a really pocketable, high-performance camera that would appeal to novices and pro photographers alike: Let’s label it the XC, Fujifilm’s take on the Ricoh GR V, with a focusing ring, a viewfinder and Wi-Fi connectivity. Wi-Fi should of course feature in all cameras.
A relatively inexpensive entry-level interchangeable lens camera for the novice photographer is likely to be popular. The company currently has two – the X-M and the X-A – and there’s the X20, which is a capable fixed-zoom entry level camera, marred only by its small sensor. Simplify. Reduce. Combine. Fujifilm should create one seriously good entry level camera: the XN. 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 cameras?
The company already has a great enthusiast’s model. The X-E2, evolved from the X-E1, is almost pitch perfect; an excellent camera that’s beautiful, discreet, robust, versatile and just as appealing to the professional photographer as the enthusiast. Keep refining it. Get rid of the plastic. Weather seal the body. Improve the electronic viewfinder, the sensor, the battery.
The latest addition to the X series, the rugged looking X-T1, is also a wonderful tool, a professional tool, a technician’s tool. The X-T has now taken the Fujifilm X crown; it’s the company’s new pro camera model. It’s both a superior stand-alone, all-weather work-horse and the excellent heart of a professional system. Keep developing this baby too.
The X100: classic Fujifilm, classic photography; an iconic camera. This is the current generation’s Leica. A pure photographer’s camera fused with some great technology. Don’t change it. 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 or add to the name. I’m so looking forward to the next version of the X100.
X Pro: What to do with it? Initially this is what I thought: develop a DSLR killer, the Fujifilm X, with a 35mm full-frame sensor and advanced photo and video capabilities to compete with the Nikon D4 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Release it with a superior wide-aperture 50mm prime XX lens and an M mount adaptor. Add more full frame lenses in time. After further consideration, I think it’s obvious that APS-C sensors are closing the gap on 35mm quality and performance and will continue to do so – meaning there will be no great advantages to using 35mm equipment. Most of Fujifilm’s current X-Series cameras can confidently be called professional tools, so a camera labeled X-Pro needs to speak to the special needs of the pro photographer. I think Fujifilm should look at developing a new medium format system, with a modern digital X-Pro camera perhaps based on the form of its own GW rangefinder series of ‘Texas Leica’ film cameras, such as the Fujica G690 or GW690, and released with a trio of medium format lenses approximating the focal length equivalents of those originally introduced with the X-Pro1.
And there it is: my take on a streamlined, cohesive X series in which all the offerings are professional level and each can clearly rule its niche yet appeal to all kinds of photographers. I wonder what plans Fujifilm has for its X series?
Image credit: Info-graphic by LensVid