Weathering the onslaught – the battle ahead for Fujifilm

There will be battle coming, and Fujifilm will find themselves in the thick of it.

Nikon has announced their mirrorless is coming spring 2019 and there is no doubt that Canon will release something more substantial than the current M series, with a full frame likely to be released in the next 12 months.

With that will come a mirrorless Armageddon, with many manufacturers battling for a declining ILC market. Whilst it does open the door to greater market shares with mirrorless being considered main stream, I don’t think Fujifilm can afford to rest on the success they have had to date. When Nikon and Canon release their mirrorless cameras, the pressure will be on all of the current mirrorless brands, despite their perceived advantage and they have. I wouldn’t be surprised if one (or two)  of them falls away as a result.

I have a suspicion that both Nikon and Canon will produce something substantial, it has to be something to shake up the market and get attention. It’s a make or break time period for them in the mirrorless market and they aren’t going to want to give the market a perception they are starting at the back of the pack. They’re both have the technology and knowledge to make it happen. Will they be better than Fujifilm, Sony and Olympus? I don’t think so, but underestimating the competition is a mistake that many have made in the past. Nokia and Blackberry never saw the war coming, and both found themselves on the losing end.

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Why are they a threat?

Nikon and Canon are probably 3 years behind the likes of Fujifilm, Olympus and Sony if you consider their current mirrorless lineups. They may not be great, especially not the Nikon 1, but they aren’t starting from nothing as most people assume. There are also some questions about whether either party will start with a fresh mirrorless mount and an adapter, and that may impact their market share. Go with an existing mount and they’ll have large bodies due to the flange distance, go with a new mount and they’ll have to have an adapter. Both give them access to their current lenses so they aren’t starting as far back as Sony did.

Can Fujifilm afford to rest on their success to date?

I don’t believe so, and there are a couple of reasons why:

  1. Brand loyalty – Camera users are extremely loyal, you just have to spend time on some of the camera forums to know that. Arguments and fights are ongoing with the “my camera is better than yours” mentality, and enthusiasts are a substantial part of the market. Changing that loyalty takes a major event, and lets be honest, for the most part, they both produce very good cameras so it’s likely their users are happy. If Nikon and Canon go mirrorless, a large percentage of the users will stay with them.
  2. Glass – Whether they are happy or not, users still have an existing investment in glass. Even if a user is unhappy, he/she is still tied to the manufacturer, except in the case of Sony who have an extensive adapter system to allow non-Sony mount lenses to be used. That means if the user switches to mirrorless, financially it makes sense to stay with the same manufacturer because they can reuse their glass and know lenses are compatible. Even if Nikon and Canon go for new mounts, it’s almost guaranteed they will provide adapters for their old glass and if they are smart they will include them free.
  3. Full frame – We may not think full frame is important but many users are driven by the marketing machine from Canon, Nikon and Sony that says everyone needs full frame and every good photographer should have full frame. It’s reflected in the glass strategy, it’s reflected in their bodies where all the good bodies bar one or two are full frame. As a result, there are many Canon and Nikon users who still believe full frame is extremely important to take photos of their cats at ISO12800. That isn’t going to change easily which means users who are currently on full frame are likely to consider full frame on mirrorless as the logical progression.
  4. Brand names – like it or not, Nikon and Canons are big names in the market and cameras buyers, particularly new buyers with limited experience or knowledge of the camera market, will consider them based on reputation and name rather than camera performance. Nikon and Canon are more recognizable from a camera brand perspective,
  5. Price – Price is an important part of buying and Fujifilm sits in the premium end of the market. When Nikon and Canon enter the market, it’s likely they will be price sensitive to ensure they can grab market share quickly. This may simply be reflected in an APSC model, or a entry level full frame model, but it will be there.

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What can Fujifilm do to counter the onslaught?

Some of these are going to sound negative, but this isn’t really intended that way. Most of these areas are ones where Fujifilm is good, but they will need continued focus. because being in a good position now doesn’t guarantee they will be in a good position later.

We’d like to believe Fujifilm is the best, but what’s clear is they are not the best at everything and strategies are about addressing both weak points, and continuing with improve your strengths.

  1. Autofocus – This is one of the areas Fujifilm is behind and it’s an area of importance for users. Fujifilm is well behind Sony on the autofocus front and it shows. Perhaps it’s the ability to leverage models like the A9 to build AF technology, perhaps it’s just a very good R&D team, but at this stage, I’d put Fujifilm about 12-18 months behind Sony from a technology stand point and that is a lot of time in technology land where 6 months is a lifetime. You can afford to be second best out of 3 or 4 major players, or 5 or 6, you can’t afford to be 5th or 6th. AF-C needs to improve substantially, eye focus has to be there in continuous, particularly for the segment of the market where people don’t want to know about customizing AF settings. They need to be fast enough to track a child in face or eye. If Fujifilm wants to play with the big boys, they need to put a massive emphasis into improving AF and being best in class. In conjunction to this, Fujifilm needs to have full PDAF coverage or they stand the risk of falling even further behind Sony, and the potential to fall behind both Nikon and Canon as well.
  2. Battery Life – I still can’t get my head around how Fujifilm doesn’t not see this a priority. Their main competitor in mirrorless has twice the battery life and their big priority is using the same battery for compatibility instead of improving it. The X-H1 was a lost opportunity and the battery grip is a cop out for something that shouldn’t have needed it to start with. With the A7iii being a full frame and offering twice the battery life, Fujifilm needs to up their game. Battery life is an important consideration for users and if potential switchers see Sony, Nikon and Canon as having twice as much, it could well be enough to swing them. I suspect Nikon and Canon will have a big focus on this area, particularly if they produce a D850 sized body for pro users so Fujifilm needs to improve this. If they are worried about putting a bigger battery in for compatibility reasons, provide an adapter that gives users the ability to use their legacy batteries.
  3. Adapters – Some people see adapters as a bad thing, opening the door to competitive glass. Sony had the right move when they produced the adapters themselves because a Canon user can shift to mirrorless without the initial overhead of selling their lenses. They can try it out and see how well it works so It gives them a door to try mirrorless. This is something the X100 series has been doing successfully for years, but in a growing market, this isn’t enough. This isn’t like DSLR switchers where you know what you are getting. Mirrorless is a complete change and it’s important for Fujifilm to open the door with their own adapters and allow people to try mirrorless. If they are happy enough, they’ll progressively move their lenses across long term and Fujifilm will still get the lens business. What it also opens the door for users to do is dual systems.
  4. Open systems – I’m not sure how open Fujifilm’s systems are, but when I hear about companies having to reverse engineer Fujifilm’s TTL I get concerned. Not sure if this is still the case, but if it is, Fujifilm needs to open up their systems to third parties, and not at a licensing cost. This isn’t about selling speedlights, this is about showing that Fujifilm has a lighting system available that can match the best. The speedlight game is not one that Fujifilm can compete in when the likes of Godox are producing strobes like the AD600 Pro and AD200 which are great quality, and Speedlights like the TT685 at a third of the retail price of Fujifilm. On the high-end you’re covered by the likes of Profoto. Dump the speedlights and partner with third parties to produce quality gear and focus on improving the current TTL system. Whilst the current TTL is great, it’s still behind the likes of Nikon where your don’t have to worry about ISO being blown out and exposure adjusts based on metering method. I’ll be covering this in a separate article.
  5. Lenses – Fujifilm have an amazing selection of APSC lenses, but some of these lenses have seen better days from an AF perspective. Whilst the optics on most of the Fujifilm lenses are amazing, the AF isn’t so no matter what Fujifilm does to their bodies, the lenses will still be a bottleneck. Canon and Nikon switchers aren’t going to be happy with just Fujicrons when Nikon and Canon start to produce decent glass for mirrorless. The 23 f/1.4, 35 f/1.4 and 56 f/1.2 need the new quad linear motors so they can match the capability of the 80 and 90mm. The 35 f0.95 is an important addition in future. With the upcoming 200mmf2 and 8-16mmF2.8, that should suffice in the short term, but the market will expect additions fairly soon afterwards for gaps like the 50-140mmf4. Whilst I think there are other lenses required, some of these gaps can be covered by third parties if the growth in Fujifilm’s market warrants it and Fujifilm provides third parties with the ability to create lenses with autofocus.
  6. Touch screen – most of the manufacturers suffer with touch screen performance that slow and unresponsive. Some are better than others, but none stand out exceptionally enough for users to take a step back and say “wow, that’s what I’m talking about”. The current performance of touch screens is substandard for a market that has been spoilt by 8 generations of iPhone and countless generations of android phones, and that’s what they have come to expect from touch screens. The market isn’t expecting iPhone X or Galaxy 9 performance, but they are expecting something that at least matches an original iPhone, and right now the performance reminds me of some of the original touch screens we saw on kiosks in the 1990’s.
  7. Mobile apps – It’s critical for Fujifilm to improve the quality of their mobile apps. Whilst Fujifilm’s mobile applications fall into the adequate territory, in a fiercely competitive market, adequate won’t be good enough.
  8. EVF – Fujifilm had a great EVF, one of the best on the market but it still has one failing that needs to be addressed for them to compete with the big guns. The lag associated with higher frame rates! Run your camera at 11fps and what you see is a staggered view that looks like you’re watching a slide show. You lose site of the action and very quickly find yourself behind the subject with the last couple of photos with them off the edge of the frame. Whether they solution to this is stacked sensors, I can’t say but it’s a performance limitation that will have to be addressed sooner rather than later
  9. Buffer – Storage is cheap these days so I’m a little perplexed by the buffer size on the X-H1 when cameras like the A7 are full frame, have twice the buffer, twice the battery life, better AF processors etc. The buffer needs to increase to twice or three times the size.

As mentioned, its not all doom and gloom. Areas for improvement doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t doing a good job now. It’s simply saying these are areas they should consider focusing on or improving to keep ahead of the game.

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Every manufacturer has areas for improvement, Nikon and Canon have a dismal selection of decent APSC glass, Canon can’t match Nikon (with the new sensors or the previous Sony sensors) and Sony in the sensor game, Nikon’s current liveview AF is worse than the old X-E2 range of Fujifilm cameras, Sony’s cameras are soulless and lack any charisma, Nikon and Canon might be stuck with new mounts or adapters on their mirrorless cameras. Some of those are much harder problems to fix.

5 Comments

  1. Canon already has a very attractive – to me at least – apsc small mirrorless camera in the marketplace. It has a decent EVF, a very good touchscreen, a vari-angle LCD, a decent zoom, great autofocus but is not a interchangeable lens camera. It is the G1x mark iii and for me it makes a great travel camera but it is also harbinger of what Canon might next reveal. I remain a committed Fuji user – X Pro 2 and an assortment of lenses plus the Canon for travel/go everywhere with you camera – but I agree that we are on the brink of a much wider mirrorless market. For me the best thing about the Fuji X system – leaving aside how great they are to use – is the fantastic and affordable (with a bit of saving up) lenses which you rightly praise but urge for more improvement. If Canon and Nikon go full frame mirrorless then I think Sony will feel the heat much more than Fujifilm.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great opinion piece. I really like this type of analysis.

    I think the Fuji X series is really hampered by the lack of in body image stabilisation. I’ve been shooting Olympus and have been eying Fuji cameras for a while – there’s so much to love about them, but at the moment I’m not willing to give up a few drops of stabilisation, especially when it comes to some of the longer focal length primes. I was surprised this didn’t make your list but perhaps I’ve become a lazy photographer with the Olympus IBIS.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts about this and whether you ever wish your Fuji cameras had IS.

    Like

  3. Would you consider image stabilisation as an area Fuji needs to up their game in? I’ve been spoilt using the Olympus system for the past several years. I keep eyeing the Fuji cameras and lenses. There’s so much to love but I’m wondering what it’s like to shoot long lense without any stabilisation.

    Your thoughts?

    Like

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