It's not every day you can corner an interview with the president and vice-president of Fujifilm Canada without it being at a big photo industry tradeshow or event. Even then, there would be a line-up of bloggers and more established channels of media who want a piece of these Fuji Guys. Lucky for me that the new Fujifilm president Ryuichi (Richie) Matoba and vice-president Greg Poole (Fuji Guy) were in town to do a photowalk and I was invited as a special guest, as well as the other local X-Photographers. It was hosted at Revolver Coffee in historic Gastown (we did our last Leica Akademie there in the summer) and this was the opportunity I was waiting for. I had about 20 minutes before the event to ask questions concerning the photo industry in general, as well as specific questions concerning Fujifilm's X Series of cameras. He's a quick rundown of the conversation...
Who is Greg Poole? We know him as Billy's sidekick from the Fuji Guys YouTube videos, but Greg's official title is Vice President, Imaging Products for Fujifilm Canada. He's a hands on type of guy that knows his products, his industry, and he's passionate about what he does. This was obvious the minute we met. Ryuichi (Richie) Matoba is the new President of Fujifilm Canada who was recently transferred from Fujifilm USA in New York. His 25 year career with Fujifilm started back in Tokyo as his first job out of university, and he started right away in the photo imaging division, which meant film and paper back then. Between the both of them, I knew I could get answers to the questions we all wanted to know.
The first question I asked both Richie and Greg was about the future of film photography in Canada, as well as the rest of the world. Although acknowledging a recent surge in interest in film photography, Greg said the only significant growth in this division was with the Instax series of cameras and instant film. In fact, compared to the US, Canada is doing almost 50% better (in terms of percentage compared to market size, Canada being approximately 1/10th of the US market), and we actually saw a shortage in stock due to the increase in demand here. I mentioned to him that I can see growth in the instant film market (as well as regular negative film), but there needs to be a more enthusiast level camera (more manual control) and he said that Fuji is working on it. I told them that I reviewed the Mini 90 retro Instax camera, and although it was fun, the film format was too small to be considered 'enthusiast' quality. He mentioned the 'Wide' format is twice the size of the 'Mini' format and that since there seems to be strong interest in these cameras world wide, there will be further development in this range of products, including a more X-series styled wide format Instax camera... interesting.
Another question I asked them was about the future direction of the X-series of cameras and lenses. When the X100 was first announced, and then when we saw the X-Pro 1 introduced to the photographic world, many assumed Fuji's vision of the X series was on the hybrid 'rangefinder-style' camera and prime lenses. Except for the most recent X100T with a more advanced hybrid viewfinder, Fuji seems to have shifted focus towards EVF (electronic viewfinder) technology and DSLR type super zooms. My concern was that the X series was evolving towards a DSLR replacement system, versus a more retro-but-functional rangefinder prime lens system of bodies and lenses.
More specifically, I asked them point blank: "Is there going to be an X-Pro 2?" Greg said to me confidently: "It's not a matter of 'if' there's going to be an X-Pro 2, but a matter of 'when' it's coming out." He said the development of the X-Pro 2 has been more complicated than expected, but Fujifilm engineers are hard at work on their flagship X-series body. Greg mentioned the engineers have also focused much attention on firmware updates to keep some of the older bodies in the X series lineup as up-to-date as possible. This is something we've all appreciated as Fujifilm photographers.
As for a shift towards DSLR styled cameras, they both assured me that they can do both rangefinder and DSLR type bodies and lenses. Yes the X-T1 is a DSLR killer, but that doesn't mean Fujifilm doesn't care about prime lenses and the rangefinder style compact body (X-E2 and X100T are perfect examples of recent cameras). I asked Greg why no prime WR lenses and he said they are coming soon. He mentioned the new 90mm f/2 and the 16mm f/1.4 are going to be WR lenses, but the lens roadmap doesn't mention it. Perhaps he let a secret out of the bag? If so, this is good news (especially the 16mm being WR). Greg mentioned a few other things about future lenses and bodies, but he put his hand over my notebook and told me off the record (don't worry, I won't spill the beans...) Both Richie and Greg mentioned that although Fujifilm still has a very small market share of the ILC (interchangeable lens camera) market, Fuji's share has been progressively increasing while the competition (Canon, Nikon, Ricoh-Pentax, Sony) has been slowly shrinking over the past few years. They are confident that Fujifilm's success in the ILC market will continue to do so with the current sensor format (Greg said there are no plans for a full-frame X-series body).
I asked Richie and Greg what Fujifilm's goals are for growth in the Canadian market, and they mentioned 3 areas: ILC bodies and lenses, Instax instant film and cameras, and full service printing (print and gift). The last area was a bit confusing since most of N.America has pretty much given up on printing as a service and more as a home-based self-serve. Unless I'm doing a corporate or commercial job, I rarely if ever print any pictures I've taken. The market is very different in Asia and other parts of the world, but a print service comeback here? Greg said Fujifilm is very strong in this area globally and they are confident they can grow this market here in Canada. In fact he mentioned that Fujifilm is the very last photo imaging company that still exists that still make their own cameras, sensors, lenses, film, photo finishing paper and chemistry, photo printers, optics, etc. Unlike other brands, they've survived the industry shift of the past 10-15 years from analog to digital. They both reminded me that Fujfilm's imaging division is only 12% of their total business worldwide, and that their reason for being in the photo industry is because of their dedication to photography and their history of consistent success in imaging industry. They are thus confident that these 3 areas will grow in Canada in the years to come. I'm excited to see what type of services they offer to make this a reality.
My final question was political and I wasn't sure if they would answer honestly, but I gave it a try anyway:
"Is Fujifilm Canada just a satellite office that reports to Fujifilm USA [like many major electronic brands] or do you have relative autonomy and report directly to Fujifilm HQ in Japan?"
I know, pretty forward question right? Both were very clear that Fujifilm Canada works closely with the USA office, but reports directly to Fujifilm HQ. In fact, Greg said that Canada has been one of the most influential countries when it comes to contributing to product development and research. Through reviewers like myself, X-Photographers, retailers and consumers, the entire Fuji Canada team are very eager to listen and pass on our concerns and suggestions to Fujifilm engineers back in Japan. That's why events such as photowalks are important to the Fujifilm team, as they get to hear hands on experience from dedicated Fujifilm camera users, not just retailers and reviewers.
From my own experience I can say confidently that Fujifilm Canada is committed in supporting X-Photographers and camera reviewers who use their equipment on a professional level and listen to our feedback. Whenever I ask for a camera or lens to review, I always get a prompt response (if they have it in stock), and when I post a review, I usually get immediate feedback and the information is forwarded to the marketing-media department to share. In fact, Fujifilm Canada was the first manufacturer to accept me as a reviewer and immediately started sending me camera equipment to review, my first camera being the X-E1.
What I took away from talking with Ryuichi and Greg is that Fujifilm Canada is committed to customer feedback, contribute to the future of photography (both digital and analog) by being market leaders, and are dedicated to support their past and current products by creating backwards compatible body and lenses with continued firmware updates when possible. The fact that the president and vice president of a major electronics manufacturer flew across the country to participate in a sponsored photowalk (with refreshments and prizes) and spent time talking to everyone says a lot about Ryuichi and Greg and the corporate culture surrounding Fujifilm Canada. Thank you Fuji Guys for taking the time to talk with me and I hope to meet with you again soon!