It’s Not Just About the Prod­uct

ProPhoto - - FIRST FRAME -

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

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