Fujifilm’s recent lack of major camera firmware updates has pundits speculating and aficionados fearing the company has abandoned its ‘Kaizen’ reputation, while Canon and Nikon have by contrast embraced this approach.
Fujifilm built a solid reputation for its X series cameras by working on a few favourable points of difference from other camera brands. This includes the retro-style lightweight body and ergonomics, petite size, quirks like film simulation modes, and providing top firmware updates to add new functions and features. Heck, some people even love the APS-C format.
These factors, along with others, has won Fujifilm a legion of fans. Especially those major firmware updates, often cited as making Fujifilm stand out from the crowd, as the new software adds features other camera manufacturers would reserve for next-gen models.
Fujifilm’s reputation was built prior to the mirrorless full-frame race when, given no one is making ’em anymore, DSLR technology reached maturity. At this time Canon was frustratingly stagnating by announcing tepid upgrades to entry-level DSLRs. Fujifilm firmware upgrades, on the other hand, improved the X100’s AE and AF performance, added 4K video to the X-Pro2, and 120fps to the X-T2 – to name just a few.
Fujifilm was described as adopting the Japanese ‘Kaizen’ approach. Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy focusing on gradual, continuous improvements to produce a better work environment. It was adopted to explain Fujifilm’s free ‘gradual continuous improvements’ via firmware upgrades to produce better cameras in the same body.
But since about 2019, there has been speculation Fujifilm has abandoned Kaizen. New Fujifilm cameras rarely cop the groundbreaking updates that users have come to expect.
A rather light-hearted five-minute DPReview video from January 2020 points out that while Fujifilm has issued minor upgrades via firmware, there has been no new major feature to new and legacy cameras. According to the lads at DPReview, Fujifilm claims it’s cautious about not overloading the camera processor with new updates.
‘It sounds like Fuji is losing their way a little bit,’ said DPReview TV co-host, Jordan Drake. ‘It almost feels like there is that camera segmentation going on that we always complain about.’
‘You could certainly say they’re trying to protect sales on the X-Pro3 for a little bit longer, because right now it has those unique features,’ co-host, Chris Nichols, responds. ‘But at the same time, I really think should we be focussing on the fact that Fuji is doing something negative? They’re not really doing anything that the other manufacturers didn’t do for years. I think what’s more amazing about this year is everybody else [other camera manufacturers] stepped up their game in a huge way.’
‘Yeah, Fujifilm really inspired everyone else to do it,’ Jordan agreed.
Canon, routinely hammered for releasing ordinary upgrades to maximise sales, has taken the Kaizen baton from Fujifilm. Several R5 firmware upgrades have worked on improving the 8K overheating issue; the R3 frame rate increased to 195 fps from 30fps; while Nikon also upped the ante with new features such as Eye AF for the Z6 and Z7.
It seems the mirrorless full-frame race has kicked the relevant camera manufacturers into gear to issue beneficial firmware upgrades.
Meanwhile Paris-based wedding photographer, Alex-Michel Ngningha, recently published an article in The Phoblographer out of sheer frustration that his X-T4 hasn’t garnered a decent firmware upgrade.
‘I have to say I am not impressed. We have had one for improved compatibility with SDXC memory card format, one to fix Bluetooth pairing bugs, and one to add an “AUTO POWER OFF TEMP.” option in the “POWER MANAGEMENT” menu. It looks a lot more like fixing issues that should not have been there to begin with than giving anything extra to the user. A case can be made that those bodies already give us a lot for our money, but autofocus has been Fujifilm Achille’s heel for far too long, especially if compared to other offerings.’
His conclusion is that with the mirrorless full-frame revolution, Fujifilm has lost its size and weight advantage. So what’s left?
‘We want Fujifilm to be strong enough to bring meaningful tools that help materialise our creativity into the real world. If Kaizen is gone, one can wonder if they are still bringing enough to the table to entice people to jump in rather than out.’
Perhaps the Kaizen party is over at Fujifilm HQ.