Little Kaizen for the X100S

So much of a user’s experience of a camera is driven by the firmware that runs it. For a while Fujifilm were doing a good job of frequently releasing firmware updates for their X-series cameras, even for some models that were discontinued. This process even had a name “Kaizen”, and was somewhat promoted as a key philosophy of the brand. Unfortunately, this didn’t apply to the X100S which I own.

Background

A little history. The X100S was announced in Jan 2013 and received its last firmware release, a medium-sized change, fourteen months later. Six months after this update, the the X100T was announced and that was the end of developments on the X100S.

While we have provided firmware upgrades for the X100S many times, now we have the X100T, we’re finished, no firmware upgrades [for the X100S] anymore.

The X100T isn’t a significant hardware update to the X100S. Some buttons and other controls were tweaked, the aperture ring is now 1/3 stops, but a lot of the changes were software and could have been backported to the 100S. For example, there were some autofocus features I would have liked to have, plus the desperately needed customisation of the Q menu[1].

The competition

Despite the earned reputation and Kaizen sales pitch, other manufactures have actually done better. Canon released a big update for the 7D three years after the camera’s initial announcement. Most impressively, this included increasing the buffer size for RAW shooting[2]. Olympus have occasionally done well. The E-M5 didn’t have much added post release, but last year the E-M1 received a major update, two years after camera announcement. This update included a new silent mode, better anti-shock, lots of video features and focus stacking.

Of course the 7D and E-M1 were still current products at the time of their latest, and possibly final, updates. Adding improvements through firmware can help extend the sales life of a camera at relatively low cost compared to a new hardware release, and if these features will appear on the replacement it’s likely a lot of the code can be reused anyway. Improving the products of existing customers is a nice side effect of this work, but is not the sole reason for it.

But this situation, and the mix of motivations, only happens because of the longer product cycles. The 7D was a live product for Canon for five years, and presuming the E-M1 is replaced this autumn it will have lasted three years. Compare this to the less than two years of the X100S. Once the X100T was the live product, further work on the firmware for the X100S could only be for customer relations, and in fact may work against the company as perhaps they were hoping some people would upgrade from the X100S to the X100T to access these features.

Fairness and future purchasing

I feel there are two fair ways of handling firmware and product cycles. You can have a short hardware cycle but backport changes where practical to older models. Or, you can have a long hardware cycle but only release updates while the model is current. Either way, feature updates for two-to-three years from announcement feels about right when you’re dealing with cameras costing around the £1000 mark. The problem with Fujifilm’s support of the X100S is that they did neither of these things and combined with the fact the replacement model is so similar, it’s easy to feel cheated.

I know there’s no obligation for any manufacturer to provide post-sales feature updates. And, yes, you should only buy a camera on what it does right now and not a vague promise of the future. And, yes again, other manufactures have done worse. Sony released the £2500 RX1 back in 2012 and since then have provided zero updates, and not because it’s perfect.

Ultimately, I think people do remember. I’ll remember Fujifilm short-changing the X100S amongst the excitement of the X200 release, and I’m sure RX1 owners will remember their experience when considering the RX1 II. Conversely, when Olympus announce the E-M1 II later this year I’ll remember that the E-M1 was not abandoned early.

  1. As it stands, I can adjust multiple, utterly pointless, JPEG-only settings from the Q menu, while the neutral density filter and flash compensation settings remain buried in the menus [Back]
  2. OK, maybe not as impressive as what the Magic Lantern team have squeezed out of the same hardware, but not too shabby [Back]