Why FUJIFILM?

Hola! こんにちは! Namaste!

This is my first attempt to write a blog post - and I would like to discuss here with you the role of Fujifilm (Fujifilm Holdings Corporation) as a company in the photography industry. Why I chose this subject as to start off with? Well, firstly, I quite recently have garnered a great deal of fondness (not fanboy-ism) towards this company as a whole - primarily due to their unparalleled Customer-feedback driven business model whilst serving as a catalyst in the photography industry by delivering feature-packed products at a cost-effective price point in an aesthetically functional camera-body. An industry where promoting the mundane and re-packaged-old is prioritized over delivering well defined, masterfully executed products Fujifilm has stood its ground and nobly tackled the competition - noticeably so from Sony corporation and its range of recent wonder cameras. Before we go onto answering Why Fujifilm?, let’s look a bit into what Sony has to offer and what propel Fujifilm to get to its top-game.

Sony is gargantuan as a company - it is well-established on the frontiers of Electronics, music industry, motion picture and financial services. Based on its widespread use of advertising campaigns we can safely and rightly-so presume that Sony knows how to sell its products and portray themselves as leaders in the field of photography business even though it has gone through some rough financial phase lately. I say this because I, like many others, came close to purchasing the revered A7III camera purely on the basis on how the camera was advertised as the best thing that happened to the mirrorless camera market - ‘Perfection for all, Everything you need’ was the tag line in its unveiling video. I never used the camera, never did I had any usage experience with any of the ICML Sony cameras, but here I was, readying my finances, calling up the bank to set up a good interest rate for the loan which I will have to procure to get myself this supposedly the ‘perfect camera’. From what I have seen and read online, sure Sony has hit a home-run this latest iteration, yes the A7III is a great camera, packed to the brim with the loads of useful features, but it wasn’t for me. More on this later. My point here is, Sony almost convinced me to purchase their camera. How did this happen? I believe the answer, plainly so, is in the fact that Sony marketed this camera brilliantly. A well-structured advertisement campaign, multiple-multi-location, well-timed, recurring seminars did the talking and selling. The well-known YouTube brass like Kai Wong, Tony and Chelsea Northrup, Jared Polin, Dan Watson to name a few, in their own unique ways brought further refinement to the discussion of how great this camera was, the shortcomings were discussed too, a good write-up review by Tom Bricker sheds some literary light on the subject matter. By now its easy to presume that the masses were queuing up at the Sony stores to get themselves this nice camera for themselves - and people who have invested in the Sony line-up are happy to say the least. While I too was enchanted by this pied-piper (Sony), I opportunely heard a different tune in the midst - a tune less pretentious, more serene, more kosher and more introvertedly so - which was being played by Fujifilm and since quite some time in-fact - all I had to do was be more still and distance myself from the typical and tune into the recherché, the uncommon. Bang! comes in Fujifilm - with its blazing guns - the X-H1 - my first Fujifilm camera I got the opportunity to have a crack at it. Before we go ahead with my impressions about this phenomenal camera, allow me to tell you in brief how I came to know about Fujifilm as a photography oriented company. This origin story goes back 2 decades in time, in an old, abandoned town of Mumbasrella - well, for the sake of seriousness of this article, lets stick to the gospel and heed to how the story unfolds, unassumingly so, but for real.

I recognized Fujifilm as a photography related brand early on in my childhood as I now recall. I remember vividly of we having an - now considered vintage - the Polaroid 250 camera. Being an only-child, yet capricious, erratic, I never had too much of an access to camera - it was intentionally hanged at-least 5 foot above my reach at all times. What was left closer to me, logistically-erroneously so by my parents, were some green boxes of goodness - the Fujifilm FP3000B rolls. Now that was my initiation - passive initiation I must say because I never got to play with these boxes too much and what was inside of it, but there it was, in mint condition, ready to be loaded in to the 250. I never took too much interest into the camera or any of it back then - it was but a object of desire for me in terms of being a play-thing, nothing more. As time went by the camera too went away. If memory serves me well here I believe the camera along with the rolls was given to one of my family relatives or sold off to a vendor - either way it was no more with us. In time - I started venturing into my locality with friends and family - I recollect often seeing Fujifilm banners in almost every photography studio we came across. The interesting bit here is the part of Mumbai where I was born and brought up - infamously known as South Bombay, had legions of photography studios - 10 of these studios were located within a 2 Sq. Km. area of where we lived. In fact the oldest photo studio in Mumbai, the Indian Art Studio had these wonderfully hand-painted Fujifilm banners on thin metal sheet, the colors of these banners fading through the years. These hand painted banners have now mostly disappeared, replaced by digitally printed flex banners and electrically illuminated plastic blocks.

During my early college days, back in 2011, it was rather ironic but my mother won a Kodak KB-10 film camera equipped with a Kodak film roll, in a quiz contest from some program on TV. It is ironic because apart from film-lovers, hipsters and photography-conservatives, no one else was using films or film-based cameras back in ‘11. This time around, I grabbed the opportunity and the camera in a single stride. No one cared about the camera though, I was allowed to use it at my leisure. I then happen to literally waste that Kodak roll by trying to damage my own eyes while taking self-portraits - call them analogue-selfies - by holding the camera straight up to my face and taking the shot - triggering the flash - as bright as the Sun, piercing my cornea and also foolishness. I gave up on this idea after a single attempt. I continued taking photos of cats (probably, unknowingly inflicting the same ordeal on them) and trees and what not. When I gave the negatives for development, the images came out sloppy at best, including my selfie which had my disgruntled right half of my face with an obscured nose and a half opened right eye. Ridiculous. The first thing I did later was go get some fresh film rolls - and guess which film rolls I got - the ones by Fujifilm. This time I managed to take intentionally close up - call it macro photos of my cousin brothers lovely face. You guessed it, I had some fun. I enjoyed shooting with film and eventually I ended up buying a Canon AE-1 with some Fujifilm X-TRA400 rolls from one of the film camera vendors in Flora-Fountain area close to home. I have fond memories of using the AE-1 and loved the way the Fujifilm rendered the colors. I have shared two photographs from my film adventures here on the website taken with the KB-10. I hate to say it but I managed to lose all the rolls that I used with the AE-1 - I would have loved to get it scanned digitally and do some post processing. I believe some good photographs were in there. During this time I once went on for a stroll with the AE-1 and taking photos, failing to realize I did not load the film properly. I came back home empty handed and with a heavy heart. I eventually gave up film processing -because back then it was hard for me to keep up with the financial case the whole process of shooting with film incurred. I may get back to shooting film in time I feel - there is nothing so organic feeling as shooting with a film camera and this time around I would love to develop the films at home. I believe developing your own negatives - no pun intended - should feel like not just cooking food for yourself but also growing those vegetables in your backyard - you have control over every aspect of making photographs. Fujifilm is the only company in this modern photography era that lets you retain control on your photo making process like no other - more on that later.

Fast-forward a few years, Fujifilm as a company and its product started flying under my radar - undetected that is. I was just not aware what as a photography company it is doing and what kind of technological advancements they have made since making film rolls - literally. In time I became infatuated with the Nikon Full frame cameras like the D750 and Sony A7 series until very recently i.e. a few months ago I came across a video by a distinctive, characterful young man with white hair and impeccable literal virtuoso - Hugh Brownstone - via his YouTube channel - 3 Blind Men and an Elephant. The video which I speak of is here. This video rekindled my love for Fujifilm - and this rekindling happened in a beautiful way. I started getting searching for more YouTube videos related to the X series camera and Oh boy!, I was in for a treat - a visual, soulful treat. Before I continue further, you can see some amazing videos by Ted Viera from Las Vegas, USA, and who also happens to be a Jazz guitarist. This man knows his stuff - he is emotionally first and later technically connected to his photography - his work is brilliant. You can visit his website and check his portfolio. And here I was, rejoicing in the fact that a brand that I once knew revealed itself to me via these videos and work of some amazing photographers who on countless occasions have revealed their love for Fujifilm as a company and showcased their love for the cameras Fujifilm manages conjure. Another brilliant photographer, Mr. Thorsten von Overgaard, spares some time for us and speaks about the Fuji color science in a video whilst comparing the Fuji X-Pro 2 with Leica.

All of this information then additionally going through various blogs and forums, conveyed me one thing - Fujifilm as a company - is special. The cameras, the ecosystem that Fujifilm has created, the exceptional Fujinon lenses, all build up the stage on which the photographers declare and communicate clearly why the whole experience of shooting with a camera like say the X-Pro 2 is such an engaging experience. It is not just the camera, not just the lenses or just one specific thing that makes Fujifilm so special. Its the amalgamation of all the factors, it is the precision with which Fujifilm engineers and puts it all the pieces together; this is what makes any of its products exceptional, unparalleled. I myself, as I said before, was too invested into looking out for a camera with strong specification suite, hence the Sony A7III came into the picture. For me and people with a similar mindset do tend to keep the specification sheet away from the decision-making part of their brains most of the time - or at-least that is what I gathered in my time researching about the Fujifilm ecosystem whilst comparing it to other companies and their products.

It is how you feel why making photographs scores highest points in my books. This is the reason some people still swear by the 35mm film, medium or large format systems. None of them have any fancy 1000 fps burst rates or 51200 ISO capability - yet these systems
still and forever will thrive because people love making photographs with them, they love crafting their stories with these humble tools. How you feel about system/camera while you are making photographs with it will determine how long and fruitful your relationship with the given system/camera will be. If having the latest and the greatest spec’d camera is what makes you tick, so be it. For me, the feel of the camera in my hands, the feel of the how the glass in front of the sensor renders the image, how much hassle-free control I have over the camera and its idiosyncrasies in the most functional way is what determines how qualitatively long duration I shall be spending with the camera - not just its core specification list and I by declaring this no way imply other companies are bad or Fujifilm products are the absolutely, universally adored and will rule the markets because I find them so special - far from it. Tomorrow if Sony, Olympus, Lumix, Zeiss, Nikon, you name it, any of them conjure up a product that will satisfy, cater my needs in a package that feels good in the hand and inspires me to make more photographs, be my guest.

Fujifilm, in my understanding, is the only company that has been consistently delivering promises and tried to be on the top of their game in areas that actually matter to photographers and videographers out there. If you and a bunch of fellow photographers are missing out on a certain features on your existing Fujifilm camera - Fujifilm will try and bring the feature via an update. The infamous Fujifilm firmware updates. Never has a company rolled out updates - that imbue the existing models with important and latest feature sets and capabilities which in turn keeps your investment more engaging and rewarding over time. A concise video by the wonderful Fuji Guys Channel declares the significance of the Fujifilm’s ideology behind rolling out timely firmware updates will shed some more light into why this is so important and why more companies should take cue from Fujifilm. Such steps has ensured that people will retain their investment in Fujifilm’s ecosystem and its this retention and enhanced usability of your existing, older camera body is what’s encouraging and fostering peoples trust in the brand. No other company is doing this, at this steady, consistent rate. Fujifilm through this firmware-update-regime, has given out a very loud and clear message. They have in their ways of caring for their existing users and prospective buyers, declared the fact that, as a company Fujifilm will take care of your investments for next few years and they will in no way push any of us to purchase the latest camera they might roll out every consecutive year by trying to bring the same feature set, as is, or a version of it which the internal electronics of the respective camera body will be able to sustain via a firmware update. To surmise, if a company has a business model which wants you to buy their latest camera body as soon as it lands in the stores, then they, will not manufacture bodies with feature-wise upward-scaling bodies - so that also cuts down the possibility of releasing any substantial firmware update. Unlike Fujifilm, that is what is happening with most of the companies.
You can check the stream of firmware updates released for their legendary X-T2 camera (here) since its inception and you will see Fujifilm is listening and acting on the feedback and requests of their user base. Its a re-assuring feeling that if I had purchased the X-T2 when it was released back in July, 2016, even to this date I would not be subjected to the dilemma of purchasing the next new-kid-on-the-block like say the X-H1 or even the X-T3. This becomes a kind of a mental release - wherein you can focus on making photos rather than being skeptical about your purchase decision with a release of a new camera every alternate year - that is if at all you tend to think gravely about the spec sheet of your camera at all that is. So this made me call up the wonderful guys over at Fotocenter in South Mumbai - who arranged a Fujifilm executive to get me a hands-on with the X-H1. And this is where the theory met the practical.

All the things discussed above had profound impact on me - but they were practically just impressions and speculation that I had put in perspective without experiencing first-hand of what all of it actually feels like or is it all true or just speculative subjective assurances. I never, until the day I went to the said Fotocenter store, had any hands-on experience with any Fujifilm camera at all. I was, a bit pessimistically anticipating that I will not be all that impressed for some reason.

When I reached the store and after having a brief chat with the store owner - the Fujifilm executive retrieved the camera and the lenses and handed it over to me. Lo and behold - the mighty X-H1 was finally in my hands, for real. First immediate impressions - none of the physical features of the camera body were loud or sticking out - it all felt in place. I started venturing into understanding what button executes which function and after some time of tinkering on the camera and its settings, I realized , all the buttons were seemingly serving a specific purpose, discreetly and effectively so. Not so surprisingly - the first 10 minutes or so the camera felt a little heavier than I anticipated, the body though housing the mirrorless system inside felt like a DSLR. But this weight-perception changed after spending some more time with it whilst taking some photographs with the XF 100-400mm and the XF 56mm lens that were provided for the demo. Once my hands got used to camera, the weight, the dimensions, you will find it hard to fathom, but I didn’t want to handover the camera back to the Fuji executive. I within this short time with this camera realized that the weight which I felt in the beginning was nothing but the robustness and a proof of very well balanced body. This was especially made clear when i used the 100-400mm lens. The way the body was housing the lens was reassuring and stable.
Nothing on the camera body was prying for my attention. The layout - clean, tactile and functional, nothing seemed disorderly or non-functional, all the buttons, their placement, served a specific purpose, and I believe that purpose was to solely make the camera adaptable to any category of photography and put itself out of your way and be as less intrusive as possible so that one need not be distracted by the camera or any of its mechanism while make meaningful photographs.

I literally requested the Fotocenter owner and the Fujifilm exec to allow me to take a few more shots with it - to which they gladly obliged, in-fact I believe they went out of their way and made me comfortable and allowed me to use the camera at my behest for quite some time. I remain thankful to them for allowing me to do so. This short hands-on experience with the X-H1 brought a lot of clarity to my perception of what a camera should be. I was left with this simple realization - which I will aptly and briefly summarize -

Fujifilm cameras and lenses are very special tools that are beautifully made to last ages and grow with you as a photographer.

Is the X-H1 perfect then? My answer to this is - there are cameras and there are great cameras. I would term a camera as ‘Great’ if it is aesthetically functional, easy to use, has top-notch craftsmanship, has an expansive lens ecosystem, realistically has a functional life-cycle of 4-5 years, is adaptive to varied weather conditions, has a reliable customer-support and provides considerable value at the price point in which it is available at given point in time. Fujifilm excels in all of these areas and factually I have not heard or know any other camera manufacturers that do so consistently and over long periods of time while remaining accessible to a majority of people due to their aggressive pricing policies. A lot many cameras from various other companies are out there that are well-suited for each individual photographer who based on their style of shooting, the environment they shoot in are able to derive wonderful results. For me, Fujifilm is a company that augments confidence in me because the way they do make these cameras with such attention to detail and the way they tend to support the life-cycle of the any of their cameras with their comprehensive, timely firmware updates and the quality of images and videos these cameras produce at comparatively affordable price bracket - I feel justified to call Fujifilm the best camera company that exists today - and my newfound, unwavering respect towards the company makes me enthusiastically hope that this trend continues for eons to come.

So, Why Fujifilm?
Why not a Fujifilm?!.