My Great Disappointment: An Open Letter to Fuji

Now that I have been shooting with the 5D Mark III for a few days, people have started asking me about the Fuji Xpro-1 again–am I excited about it, when am I expecting it, etc. etc. I was excited about the camera. Really, really excited. More excited for it than even for the new 5D, if you can believe it. But then I started to hear things about it, and the release date got pushed back, and the 5D Mark III was announced. My enthusiasm faded. And this is why…

Dear Fuji-folks,

Let me start by saying that you make great products, both digital and analog. I have enjoyed your films in the past, and your sensors have been innovative and clever. The x100 was incredibly promising, and the Xpro-1… well, it got me more excited than any other camera I have ever heard about ever. Like ever ever. You promised the image quality of a 5D Mark II in a camera the size of a Leica M9. It looks hip, it looks purposeful, and it’s light. You announced three great prime lenses to launch with your camera, and you pitched it to folks like me–wedding shooters, pros, advanced amateurs, serious enthusiasts. Whatever labels you want to apply, you pitched the Xpro-1 to people who are serious about image-making, and want cameras that can act as extensions of creative will.

I can’t do clunky, I can’t do quirky, I can’t do frustrating, no matter how good the final product is. Yes, I realize that ANYTHING I use is lightyears easier to use than what my forefathers used, but this is now and the photographic landscape has changed. The expectations have changed. The game has changed, and continues to change. We are writing the new history of photography, defining it through our images, exploring new boundaries and pushing new limits. It is an exciting time, to be sure.

My question is simple: why do you create a product that is so extraordinarily promising, and then cripple it with a fatal flaw? What is that flaw? Well, it’s your autofocus. I don’t even have the camera, you’re thinking right now, ready to tell me how I can’t possibly know. But here’s the thing: if it’s slow enough to create doubt, it’s probably too slow. And if it were JUST the autofocus, I might say okay, Fuji, your product isn’t perfect, but it’s an incredibly cheap and competitive alternative to a Leica, and so I’ll just use it like a Leica and focus manually. I’ll go all purist and change the way I shoot. I value lightness that much. I am so, so, so incredibly tired of carrying 20+ pounds of camera gear around on my shoulders and back for weddings. So tired. Seriously.

BUT! You’ve crippled the manual focus too! It’s not damped, mechanical, precise. It’s clumsy, electronic, slow. You’ve put this fantastic camera in limbo, neither awful nor great. But you promised great. You promised that you’d taken the time with this camera (6 years of development, I think?). The shape, the lenses, the sensor, the build, the price. They all promise quality, seriousness, purposefulness. You pitched this camera to me, Fuji. Do you hear that? Everything about this camera speaks directly to me–I am the perfect customer for this camera. But I’m telling you I’ve cancelled my order, and I have a competitor’s wares in my sights. Are you listening, Fuji? Because I’m giving you some marketing feedback here.

For casual shooters, this camera may well be all that they’d hoped. But for those of us who earn money from their photography sometimes, or all the time, we need to be able to trust our equipment. We need to know it will work, we need to know that it won’t struggle to focus. At a different price point, or pitched to a different audience, the Xpro-1 might be perfect. It will be popular, I’m sure, because of all the people who will put up with its quirks. But remember, there are some of your perfect customers who will be buying something else because you didn’t pay attention to some of the things that matter most.

I will continue to lug around my 5D Mark III and my 1D Mark III because in spite of their size, they are marvelous tools. I can trust them, I know they will work. And in place of the Xpro-1, which I’d originally hoped could replace my Canons altogether, I will be looking at the likes of the Olympus OM-D, EP-3, or Panasonic GX1. They have the lenses, and even though their image quality isn’t quite as good, it’s good enough. You see, they are pitching to the right audience and delivering on their promises. I don’t need bleeding edge image quality out of an OM-D if I have a 5D3 also. And I can have both because Olympus is cheaper, and there are even cheaper alternatives. Also, they have a wide range of lenses to suit my needs. They have a more complete system, and a more complete ecosystem. They balance size and quality, features and price.

Fuji, I hope that you are listening. I have a sizeable investment in Canon and its 35mm DSLR system. I would gladly/happily/instantly drop it for something that could promise 90% of the performance in a smaller, lighter, more discreet package. I’m serious. The price isn’t even the deciding factor. But it HAS to work WITH me, Fuji, not AGAINST. I shouldn’t have to adapt to it, find workarounds, whatever. In this class, it’s gotta be classy.

If you’re listening, and you can address these things, you’ll gain a customer. I’d bet you’d have even MORE people lining up. You could be a serious contender. Until then, I’ll keep marveling at all the amazing choices we have today, all the marvelous photographic machines we have at our disposal. We are making history, and I’d love for you to be a part of it.

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