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Fuji is Listening

A couple of weeks ago I asked you what you’d like to see in the future X-series from Fujifilm as I had the unique opportunity to travel to Tokyo to meet the people behind my favorite camera system. I managed to squeeze all your input and mine into my luggage and headed to Tokyo. Zack, Kevin and David came well prepared too. We received a great welcome in Fujifilm Tokyo head office. At the ground floor they have a very neat camera museum and we took our time to explore all these beautiful pieces of history. 

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There’s also an exhibition space filled with lots of inspirational work. Both the museum and the exhibition are open (and free) to the public btw. 

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Fujifilm is probably most known for their camera equipment but this company does so much more, they even produce beauty products. 

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After the tour is was time to do a rehearsal for the lectures we were going to give to a pretty big audience of Fujifilm people, Japanese press, photographers and bloggers. There was a bit of confusion with Kevin suddenly growing a goatee …

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… and David becoming pretty attractive …

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But we worked out the glitches before having lunch and having the honor of meeting mr. Tanaka, Fuji’s digital camera business unit president. 

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Then it was time to hit the stage and tell our own X-stories. 

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David went first and gave a very passionate lecture. We all know David as a technical geek and “the lighting guy” but you would almost forget that he’s an inspirational photographer with an incredible amount of experience as a photojournalist. David’s blog has been a huge influence in the growth of my photography. He kindled my passion for lighting and showed me that sharing information is the right thing to do. I really hope that next to his lighting articles, he will be sharing more of the stuff that he put into this lectures with you and me: things about interaction, finding subjects, making the most out of a situation, passion, telling stories and finding your own voice. 

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Next up was Zack. I’ve never met him before this week but I always had the feeling that we shared the same vision on many things. I admire his big mouth, his willingness to share and above all … his work. But as always with people you admire, there’s the chance that when you meet them in person, they turn out to be a complete jerk. It turned out I shouldn’t have been afraid about that. He’s exactly the guy I hoped he would be: outspoken, passionate, funny and skilled. He shoots different subject in a different way from what I do, but I could relate to his story very well. The Fuji X-cameras help him to go back to the essentials of photography, make him enjoy his passion for photography and grow as a artist despite the fact that he has trouble accepting the word “artist”.

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You can imagine I was pretty nervous to be speaking after these two amazing photographers who also have the talent for captivating an audience. My presentation was about how I learned to see photography from the point of view of a client instead of a photographer. It was about the importance of emotions and stories instead of showing of how many lights I can use in a single photo. My Fujis are helping me to produce a more real and intimate photography and gave me the confidence to go for what I believe in. 

Next up was Kevin. Respect for that man, he basically got straight of the plane onto the stage. On stage the jet lag and exhaustion magically disappeared and were replaced by vision and passion. “Photojournalism” is often incorrectly used to describe a wedding photographer’s style while they do nothing but staging the whole wedding. I’ve seen (granted, really amazing) wedding photo’s that look real but are basically completely staged. Kevin made the bold choice to move away from this trend in wedding photography and go for pure documentary photography without staging anything. I really enjoyed hearing Kevin talked about his vision and the way he brings it into reality. 

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After the lectures we got to meet some members of the Japanese photography press and we did all did a video interview for the Fujifilm X website (these interview will be online soon). 

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It’s always great to see your own work hanging on a wall but when it hangs in the permanent collection at Fuji HQ between great works of people you admire, it’s a true honor. 

 

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We ended this long day with a great dinner and even a surprising birthday party. 

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After a short night, we headed for Fujifilm’s Omiya factory for a series of meetings with the people who actually design and make our cameras and lenses. We started the day with some short presentations for the engineers. Each of us presented our own story and we all got a bit emotional about being in the presence of all this incredibly smart people. We thanked them for their great work and encouraged them to stay on the same track. We also presented them with our and your suggestions to make the system even better and more complete. 

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A quick break took us to a little showroom that made it once again clear that Fujifilm is making much more than just X-cameras. 

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These two days were packed with amazing moment, but the most interesting part was without any doubt the meetings we had with the engineers in charge of color, sensor, lenses and camera design. They gave us a better insight of what’s going on behind the scenes and talked about future products. They were also very interested to hear our ideas. It became soon very clear that they really care about their customers and are pretty much aware of what you and I would like to see in future X-cameras. As working photographers we were able to help them understand why these things matter so much to us. We picked their brains and they picked ours for many hours. These meetings all turned into brain storm sessions where our craziest ideas were analyzed by technical experts, sales and marketing people. 

To be honest, I wasn’t too interested in hearing technical details about the X-trans sensor. That thing produces amazing images with a great feel and that’s all I really need to know. But the meeting turned out to be very interesting after all. What struck me most is that the technical part doesn’t seem the starting point in the development process. It’s not about: “let’s produce a sensor with as much pixels as possible”. Instead they start from what kind of colors, contrast and “feel” people like in pictures. And only then they start looking for a technical way to capture that. A fine example of this philosophy is the fact that one of the main guys in sensor development has been involved in the development of some of the iconic films that Fujifilm produced like Velvia, Astia and Pro. He moved from chemicals to microchips but his job is still the same: making sure the image is pleasing, has character and the right “feel”.

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We found the same philosophy with the lens guys. Designing clear, sharp and well build optics is only part of their job. The big secret of the excellent range of X-lenses is that these guys spend a lot of time on hard-to-describe characteristics like bokeh and a smooth transition between the areas that are in focus to the parts that are out of focus. They try to make the lenses as resistant to flare as possible but it is unavoidable when shooting straight into a light source. I would think that’s the end of the story but these guys put a lot of work into achieving the most beautiful lens flare possible when flare is unavoidable. 

We were presented with the question: “Which five lenses should we design next?”. This triggered a lengthy discussion. Eventually we settled on a mix between exciting primes and zooms that would make the system a lot more complete with options for different budgets. I’m sure that Fujifilm has more things to consider than the opinions of four crazy photographers but I’m convinced that we’ll see some of the things we discussed in future developments. 

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The success of the X-series has started with the original X100. We had the honor to talk to the guy who designed it and he explained the whole process from the first mock-up to the final camera. To illustrate the level of detail they went into, he had to choose between 100 shades of silver to find the one that looked best. 

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We also met the designers of the X-Pro1 who also illustrated how function came first and then they added the right style. 

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We were shown all the ideas they started from and even the moodboards they used to get into the right “zone” when designing these cameras. 

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After another long exciting day, we said our goodbyes to a bunch of new friends, I’m sure we’ll stay in touch.

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Throughout our visit, we were given the chance to give feedback on top-secret prototypes in various stages of development, from early ideas to almost production ready products. We didn’t have to sign any NDAs or contracts but I’ll leave the honor of announcing new products to the people who design them with so much passion (so dear rumor sites, there’s no reason to keep e-mailing me). But I can tell you is that the future of the X-series looks very exciting. 

 This was definitely a trip of a lifetime and every photographer’s dream. I hope that with these blog posts I was able to share this experience with all of you and I can ensure assure you that we all made sure that your voice too was heard at Fujifilm Japan. Thank you for your input and to Fujifilm for listening to all of us. 

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