It’s Not Just About the Product
At the Japanese launch of the GFX digital medium format camera system – in the historic city of Kyoto – the press event was kicked off by Fujifilm’s Chairman and CEO, Mr Shigetaka Komori. I’ve sat through a few of these things over the years and mostly all you get from the top man is fluff of little consequence. This is either because he hasn’t really got a clue what’s going on or there are bigger fish to fry than imaging products (often a small part of a much bigger business).
Komori-san is different. Yes, Fujifilm has lots of irons in lots of fires and apparently his attendance at the GFX launch was indeed considered a bit of a coup, but the reason became clear as he continued to speak. He became president of the company in 2000, which was the year the world changed as far as photography was concerned, and film sales went into free-fall. Panic ensued among the ‘traditional’ photo companies, but Komori held his nerve and, when chief rivals Kodak and Konica started unpacking the white flag, he recalls, “I committed to continue our photographic business in order to protect our ‘Photo Culture’”.
What he said next is the really significant bit. “I had a deep conviction that protecting, and even enhancing, ‘Photo Culture’ is one of the most important social duties for us as a photographic company.”
Of course, things still had to change, but Fujifilm has rather cleverly diversified on the basis of its photographic technologies; including into cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and health care. Then again, in 2008, the company faced another challenge as the consumer digital camera business was threatened by the rise and rise of the smartphone. Again, Komori-san refused to panic. When he was asked why Fujifilm wasn’t abandoning digital cameras, he replied, “Great cameras that can capture and deliver beautiful, inspiring and emotional photos will not disappear. The strong demand for that type of camera will definitely continue to exist. Fujifilm has the passion, technologies and knowledge to be a leader in this field”.
Notice something about his language? He talks of “conviction”, “passion” and “emotion” which are not words you hear all that often from a Japanese executive of his seniority. Of course, he’s also concerned about sales figures and balance sheets, but he’s got the pursuit of a philosophy and the pursuit of profits in the right order… and the right perspective. The original X100 was born out of this and, subsequently, the whole X Series has become one of this decade’s great success stories as far as digital cameras are concerned. Yes, the products themselves are good – you still have to get this bit right – but it’s the philosophy which informs them that bestows greatness on them. Beyond the design and the technology, there’s an insight and an integrity which are born of the desire… no, the word “conviction” is probably more accurate here… to achieve something much more purposeful than merely ‘move boxes’. And this comes from the very top. Wow!
GFX is anchored on the same values and will also undoubtedly benefit from the faith in its potential generated by the X Series’s impressive track record so far. Fujifilm clearly has great faith in its new baby too. In all my years writing about cameras, I have never seen so much effort and resources – simultaneous launch events were held in New York and London – put into the launch of medium format product, film or digital. The sales projections – unknown, of course – would make very interesting reading indeed. My own estimation is that GFX will double the digital medium format camera market in volume within two years. And I could be erring a bit on the conservative side here.
So, when Mr. Komori says, “GFX will start a new chapter in the history of photography and the camera industry”, he knows he hasn’t been wrong about any of this so far.
Incidentally, the GFX launch was held in Kyoto’s magnificent Nijo Castle complex, in an ancient hall… open to the elements on one side… unheated… requiring the removal of shoes… and in the middle of winter with snow still on the ground. In another first for me, the press kit was accompanied by handwarmers and a blanket! Small details… and one very big objective. Paul Burrows, Editor