The Death of Kaizen? A Change in Fujifilm’s Update Strategy.


Greenhouse Plants and Vases (Fujifilm X100s)

It’s hard to remember now, but was actually back in September of 2010, that Fujifilm, abandoned the hybrid Fujifilm imager/Nikon body template that it had been following since the early 2000’s, and introduced a new and intriguing digital camera that hearkened back to rangefinder cameras of the past.  This camera, known as the X 100, was introduced as a premium product for the discerning photographer.

It was a beautiful camera, and its design evoked an emotional response from older photographers, who could recall an earlier age when camera settings were set by turning dials, and aperture rings.   It featured, a fast , sharp fixed focus lens, and an excellent imager.   It had the effect of reducing photography,which had been increasingly complicated by burgeoning technology, back to its essence.

But it was a deeply flawed product at its introduction. It was slow to start-up, and slow to autofocus (if it did at all). There were serious handling problems. Manual focusing of the camera was difficult at best. I bought one of these with the original firmware; it was very frustrating.  I remember watching a podcast where Scott Kelby and his cohorts at The Grid spent half of the broadcast mocking the new “wunder camera” for its failings.

Happily when I bought mine there was already a firmware upgrade  available that mitigated many of its worst characteristics. Subsequent upgrades have transformed that camera into a truly useful tool, and established the Fujifilm philosophy of “kaizen”, or “continuous improvement”, which up to now Fujifilm has applied to the rest of its “X” camera line. In the case of that original X100, a rather sweeping upgrade was offered, even after its successor the X100s (which I currently use) was introduced.

This has, I think, has fostered fierce owner loyalty among the admittedly small (by market share), but enthusiastic group of Fuji shooters. It has undoubtedly contributed to the numbers of photographers that have abandoned their Nikon/Canon DSLRs to shoot with Fuji products confident that the gear will, when possible, be upgraded to a higher specification.

Recently in an interview conducted by The Imaging Resource, Makoto Oishi, a Fujifilm Marketing representative, announced that there would be no further firmware upgrades for the X100s, which has recently been superseded by the “t” model. The X100t has some improvements which may be software based such as autofocus improvements, and face detection. There are  also some definite hardware upgrades, including a USB charging function, split image viewfinder, and WiFi. All of this was compelling enough to me as an X100s owner that I  ordered one.

Now as regular readers know, I am not one to upgrade lightly. Some of the desirable features of the newer camera were clearly impossible to apply to the older models, so I, like many others, pulled the trigger. However, one suspects some improvements , perhaps the new autofocus algorithms, and the “classic chrome” film simulation, might have been included in an upgrade for the “s” model without tarnishing the desirability of its follow on model (they share the same processor). This kind of support for older models was SOP with Fuji up to now.

There certainly may be reasons why Fujifilm is changing its practices.  They are after all small-volume producer of camera gear, good as it is. Given the  burgeoning number of models in the “X” line , it may no longer be fiscally feasible to maintain this practice. Also  it is true, as time has gone on, that newer cameras are introduced now in a much more mature state, and no longer really beg for upgrades. (Patrick, at Fujirumors, has a nice essay on this).

Still, from a marketing standpoint, I think that Mr. Oishi’s statement was an “unforced error”. I also think it is one from which they can easily recover. All they would need to do is to issue an upgrade to the X 100s as suggested two paragraphs above, and then say no more.  Clearly this is technically feasible. As many people have reported, well-known Fuji shooter, and applied light master David Hobby, has used a X100s courtesy of Fuji, with the “Classic Chrome” film simulation  enabled.

Companies cannot make a living giving things away for free. To those of us who have invested in the Fujifilm system, it is in our best interest that the company’s  consumer photographic division remains viable.

On the other hand, if Fujifilm largely abandons the “kaizen” philosophy, it will be abandoning an attribute that made it distinct from its more mainstream competition. That I think, would be a mistake.


















About henrysmithscottage

Henry F.Smith Jr. has been involved in photography for 35 years. He has become well known as a chronicler of the Eastern US landscapes , though his portfolio includes, portrait, event, and "street photography". His work has been displayed in multiple galleries throughout the northeastern US, and is available for sale for use in public and commercial spaces. His book "Pennsylvania Seasons" is available through major booksellers. He is also a writer and editorialist whose work has appeared in a variety of "daily's" in Pennsylvania. "Dr. Smith" is also a Pulmonary and Sleep physician who practices in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He is happily married, with two wonderful children. Inquiries to purchase prints, and for photographic services can be made through:
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29 Responses to The Death of Kaizen? A Change in Fujifilm’s Update Strategy.

  1. JerryR says:

    I’m hoping that his statement was specific to the X100S. After the last major firmware update to the X100 they announced there would be no more updates just as they did with the X-E1.

    There have been many other managers at Fuji who have acknowledged the loyalty that these firmware updates have instilled in customers so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt until I see an official change in policy or until I see them end of life another popular model in what seems to be a premature manner. After all, it was just a few months ago that they enabled new features in the X-T1 with a firmware update–features which were introduced in a newer model shortly before.

    I agree though that it was an unfortunate comment and appears to be a very public misstep on the part of Fujifilm.

    Keeping my fingers crossed.



  2. digitalthought says:

    Every older model eventually has its last firmware update. The S is now two years old. This doesn’t mean they’ve completely abandoned ‘kaizen’ and ALL such updates entirely…even on future models. A rather big leap here, methinks.


    • And that’s not what I meant to say. I don’t think that Fujifilm owes us perpetual updates. It’s just that there seems to be an obvious update availablefor the X 100s that we’re apparently not getting.
      I believe that from Fuji’s standpoint, this would have been better left unsaid.


  3. Wakefan says:

    With every new product upgrade, there is inevitably an exit strategy. This is usually a strategically planned and carefully communicated means of keeping existing customers happy. I know this because I have been in a large consumer driven corporation for 16 years. With regards to customers, the old phrase “love them or lose them” holds very true. This may be Fuji’s new policy, or it could be a misinterpretation – It did after all come from a “rumor” site. If accurate, it represents a crude and poorly executed communication plan. Fuji needs to make an official statement. Sooner, rather than later.
    I bought my x100s and have been very happy with it, but one of the key features that attracted me was Fuji’s support of the x100 even after the x100s was introduced. I will be disappointed if this shift in support is indeed true. But I will continue to enjoy my x100s and accept that fuji is following a model of support at least as good as the rest of the camera companies… Just not as good as they used to.
    Nice write up – very fairly presented.


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  5. Michael says:

    Great article. Just discovered your site and thought I’d share my thoughts. One of my main reasons for investing in the Fuji system was “kaizan”. I thought to myself how great, and how fresh, it was to see a company actually seem to care about, and put it’s customers first. Once I looked further into, and realized how much I actually liked what Fuji was producing, I was hooked thinking my product would be kept up to date until it no longer supported a new firmware version. I’ve spent a LOT of money with Fuji fully expecting that IF my product “could” be updated via firmware that it “would” be supported and updated. Not for a year, not for two years, but for as long as my product could/would support said update. I don’t recall any small print stating a time limit and I actually did look…did I miss it? Unfortunately it appears that as Fuji has become very successful, thanks to many individuals such as myself who took them at their word, that they now no longer “need” us, or seem as concerned about our business as they were while trying to revive their market share. I don’t know maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised, disappointed…yes, but surprised perhaps not, as it seems to be more the norm these days that one’s (or a company’s) word doesn’t have the value it once did when I was a young man. As much as I like my X100s, X-E2, and all the various lenses I’ve purchased, and while knowing they will continue producing the same great results they always have, I also know they can support many of the updates afforded the X-T1. Not all perhaps, but quite a few of them. I’ve been looking forward to the X-Pro2 and had all intentions of buying one thinking that it would be fully supported via “kaizan” but I may just do with what I have a while longer.Your final paragraph, “if Fujifilm largely abandons the “kaizen” philosophy, it will be abandoning an attribute that made it distinct from its more mainstream competition. That I think, would be a mistake”, is spot on.


  6. Mr. Flash says:

    Fujifilm will probably regret this decision. They have clearly gone back on the good will that their Kaizen philosophy engendered. Now it’s all taken for granted. Thankfully, my recent purchase was within the return window and since this news has been made, I have returned my X-T1 along with the three lenses that I bought with it (14mm, 23mm, and 56mm). I bought into the X system distinctly because of Kaizen and with Fuji flushing that away, they have lost me as a customer. Next week, my new Sony A7r will arrive.


    • Wow, that was an abrupt reaction. I am hoping that the response we have seen to articles like mine will have an effect on Fuji’s decisions going forward. I still enjoy their cameras.


    • With all due respect, that’s nuts. You should buy a camera / system because it has what you need and it feels right and works for you, not because of some hoped for baubles in the form of firmware update freebies in the future, freebies that have never been officially guaranteed in the first place. Also, I am stumped by your logic; you’re moving from a company that doesn’t appear to be going to continue to update the firmware of certain models to a company that just plain doesn’t (as far as I know) update firmware at all – because you think the first company will not update firmware??


  7. Hiya!

    I have written about this before – that is, not only the concept of kaizen, but the idea that Fujifilm is ‘abandoning’ it. I still feel people are not applying the word correctly – or at least, not broadly enough. You can see my blog entry via the link below. The main point (I guess): stopping firmware updates (if they indeed are doing that) could actually be kaizen in action.

    I think it is worth reading, in relation to this article. As a side note, since writing that entry, Fujifilm has also mentioned in an interview that they do indeed have a kaizen policy in place – again though, they are talking about what kaizen really is, not what many assume it is.

    Having said all that, I too would like at least one more firmware update for my X100s.


    • Enjoyed your article. Helpful to have more refined thoughts on the concept of “kaizen”.


    • MIchael says:

      Read and enjoyed your article but in my Very humble opinion I do believe that Fuji was using/pushing “kaizan” on the public, via their advertisements, suggesting that their products would be updated via firmware for as long as a particular product would support it. Nowhere was the word defined in adverts other than to relate it to their products. (vs their processes) For the life of me I can not figure out how Fuji would Not benefit from pushing out firmware updates to any product that will support it. It would be so easy for them to do and their customer loyalty would be out the roof. I’ve spent a Lot of dollars with Fuji between cameras and lenses, and while I definitely won’t be sending all my Fuji equipment back because I still enjoy them so much, I do have a decent amount of disposable income and was looking forward to the X-Pro2 but I’m going to wait this one out and see if Fuji is still as loyal to us as we are/were to them. I’ll probably consider my purchases a little more carefully knowing that kaizan really doesn’t mean what Fuji led us to believe it meant. Oh well………I’ve been around long enough that it’s not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, time I’m disappointed but again I did enjoy your article and bookmarked both your site and Henry’s site.


      • I agree that they never advertised there intention to provide such comprehensive updates. The fact that they did however certainly accustomed to people to the practice.

        I did not intend to suggest that because of one marketing reps statement, Fujifilm is completely abandoning their former practices. It is clear to me however, that the X100s likely could be updated further. Apparently was not there intention to do so. Perhaps this will change.


  8. CrazyCanuck says:

    Why do some folks assume that Fuji’ so called Kaizen approach is free to consumers ? Typically, the retail price covers development, production, marketing, distribution and support during the item’s planned life cycle. So… Kaizen may be an innovative marketing tool to help distinguish Fuji from its competition but I don’t believe for a minute that its being offered ‘free’ to its customer base.


    • Absolutely true. Everything is folded into the price of the product.


    • Some people may think it is ‘free’ in the sense you mean, true. But I suspect most are simply using the term to mean, something they are not being charged extra for at the time of acquisition. Probably what they are really trying to express is their surprise or pleasure that Fujifilm has bothered to go to the effort. I mean, Fujifilm needn’t and that would just boost (however marginally or not) their profit margin. But your point is correct of course, they are not free.

      Also, I still stand by my original observation, which is that the *consumers* application of the concept of ‘kaizen’ is just a nifty way for the consumer to re-conceptualise what Fujifilm are doing, as opposed to moaning about the idea of ‘incomplete’ or ‘unfinished’ product development. An idea one can use as a balm in effect, to sooth one’s wounded consumer soul.

      Actually, I would not be surprised if, having started as an initial and necesary fix to a product that may have been forced to market too soon (or, two products – the original X100 & X-Pro1) , firmware updates are now seen internally as good marketing (it would be interesting to know Fujifilm’s history of firmware updates pre X Series). I also wonder if Fujifilm never thought of referring to these updates as ‘kaizen’ until reviewers, consumers and other commentators started doing so.

      Further, and just to add to your original point, one of the things often overlooked in this discussion, is that different departments may have different priorities and goals, sometimes driven by very different business beliefs. What some may see as good for the stockholder, others may see as bad for marketing or bad for product evolution, and so on.


  9. Stephen Scharf says:

    Interesting post and series of comments. From my perspective, both as a Fuji X-cam photographer and my professional perspective as a Six Sigma Black Belt and Design for Six Sigma trainer and practitioner, I can assure customers that Fuji will not be abandoning the true concept of kaizen. The literal translation from the Japanese means “change for the better”, but in this country that is often interpreted as “continuous improvement.” I think it is important to understand that the true meaning of kaizen is core to many Japanese companies. It is how they live, breathe, and defines a key part of their culture (along with key principles of Shingo); for them to abandon the true meaning of kaizen is virtually unthinkable (not just Fujifilm, but Toyota, Honda, etc, etc, etc.) to them. The publicity and benefit of firmware updates is just a small, but the most visible part to customers,of the broader meaning of kaizen for Fujifilm. They are constantly improving things, things that most customers never notice unless they are trained to look for them. One example is how Fuji changed the pattern of knurling on the aperture ring and shutter speed (SS) and comp dials on the X100T, along with different degrees of force that are required to turn the SS and comp dials. Why did they do this? Because it made for a better camera. It is important to understand that virtually everything on these cameras is thought through from a design and manufacturing perspective; their is intent behind everything they do, and much of that intent is shaped by the philosophy of kaizen.

    Now, with respect to release of firmware updates that add features to cameras. I think it’s important to look at this from a glass half full rather than a glass half empty perspective. We’ve all benefitted from Fuji releasing firmware updates for cameras; these were all free and added significantly to the functionality of their products and their value to customers. But these updates aren’t free for Fuji; they have to commit money, time, resources and effort to put them out. And the facts are that Fuji, like any company, does not have infinite money or resources. They have to make tradeoff decisions about how they allocate their resources across the X-camera program. No company can afford to support a camera for forever with and endless series of updates; they have to put those resources in to new efforts and programs that benefit the growth and value of the product line overall, and they have to make tradeoff decisions about how to go about that. And, lest anyone forget, they have to be profitable doing this, they are a business, after all. For example, would you rather have Classic Chrome on an X100S or have Fuji devote resources to improve dynamic range, flash performance and AF performance? You can’t have it all and Fuji can’t do it all…those are facts.

    Personally, I think Fuji has done an amazing job of balancing all of these various activities. So, my suggestion would, next time one thinks about griping about what they’re not getting from Fuji, perhaps go back and rethink what they have gotten from them instead, and try to think about this from Fuji’s perspective, rather than one’s own.

    Oh, and BTW, Fuji just released free firmware updates yesterday for the X-T1 and the X100T, and all of their zoom lenses. So much for no more kaizen.


    • I get all of that.I do think however that Fuji missed an opportunity for customer relations by not updating the autofocus, and film modes on the X100s. The “T” model has other hardware features to recomend it that couldnot be added to the older camera. I’m really upset over all of this, put mildly dissapointed. After all, it was Fujifilm itself, to its credit, that created these customer expectations.


  10. Mihir Shah says:

    Well, i can see the point of Fuji drawing a line somewhere, but I agree with the Henry that when everyone knows and have seen celebrated photogs talk about new features in their x100s modded with firmware BY Fuji, it creates an expectation which can create disappointment when not met.
    I love my x100s, since i bought it, the canon gear has been hardly used. Will this news change my perception of the quality of Fuji products? No, it will not. But will i think more carefully before investing in another, yes definitely.
    If economics is the main issue for not releasing this upgrade, then why not charge for the firmware update? i would happily pay $30 to bump up the capabilities of my camera which i know can be had. I am sure most users wouldn’t mind too. It will keep the loyalty factor on and have a good balance of ensuring products which CAN be improved, are done so.


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  12. david says:

    late post, just read the article. The X100s was my first fuji, 6 months after bought it the x100t was released. I was and am still a little sour about the x100s not getting the new af system or classic chrome. I don’t have the means to buy every new body they release. some people will say, well look at other camera makers, you never get any firmware updates. well my x100s has the exact same image sensor and processor as the x100t, the xt1, and xt10. there is no reason my camera should not have the new af system and film simulation. For a company that is pushing these cameras to street shooters, all of cameras shoild receive the improved af system. You can say that manual focus is where its at, but as a street shooter myself I rely on AF to hit focus, and my X100S misses ALOT. Fuji are using their customers to beta test their cameras at an expensive entry fee, then releasing the same hardware with updated software. It’s bad business if you ask me. Anyway all that being said, it’s still one of my favorite cameras to use but I hesitate to buy any “new” camera from fuji until they put a new image sensor and processor in it. Say no to expensive beta testing!


  13. Pingback: The XE 2 Firmware Update: “Kaizen” Is Not Dead. |

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