Fujifilm has just announced yet another set of “Kaizen” firmware updates that will soon be available for the Fuji X-T2 and Fuji X-Pro2 cameras. This is a major firmware upgrade release consisting of a total of 33 (!) updates and new features, which is very exciting. It is nice to be able to go back to a camera and discover new things you can do with it – almost creates a feeling of owning something entirely new. After seeing the announcement (the details of which are provided at the end of the article), I thought about other camera manufacturers and what they could learn from Fuji.
Firmware updates might not seem like a big deal for some people, but they are very important for a number of reasons.
Why Firmware Upgrades Matter
Let’s start off with a question – when Apple or Google release major OS updates for the phone or a tablet you bought a couple of years ago, does that make you excited? I am sure the answer is a definite “Yes” and that’s for a good reason: we love getting more life out of something we already own. The same experience takes place when we get a major upgrade to our computer’s operating system that introduces new features. And if we don’t have to pay for those new features, it creates a subliminal bond, which basically translates to two key words that marketers love: value and loyalty. Knowing that you can buy a product that will only get better overtime makes you feel good about your purchase, which in turn, transforms you to a repeat customer and ultimately – a fan.
And that’s exactly how Fuji was able to grow a huge base of very loyal Fujifilm customers. Early on, the senior management of the company realized that if they make customer service top priority and fix any potential issues without releasing new gear or charging customers extra for those features, the company will win more customers in the long run. It has now been five years since the very first X-series camera was released and back then, many of us, including myself, were not very happy with the X system. In fact, my first review of the Fuji X-Pro1 was very critical of the camera and I remember rating it below “acceptable” – I even poked fun at the failures of the Fuji X-Pro1’s AF system. But in less than a year, Fuji transformed the camera into something completely different. So different, that I had to completely rewrite my Fuji X-Pro1 review. In the past, I never had to do that with any other camera – the X-Pro1 was the first. With each new camera release, I was getting more excited with what Fujifilm had to offer. So when the X-T1 was released, I made the decision to purchase the camera, as it suit my needs perfectly. Since then, Fuji has released a number of large firmware updates, making me feel good about my purchase. And each time I saw a firmware announcement, I would go back to my X-T1, update it, then play with the new features like I do when my iPhone gets a brand spanking new iOS update. In essence, that’s how a loyal Fuji fan is born every day…
I can’t remember the last time I was excited to flash firmware on my Nikon DSLRs. As I was writing my article on updating Nikon firmware, I realized just how boring those updates were. Since my Nikon D810 was released, I never even cared to go back and flash the firmware on it – it has been running stock 1.0 firmware for the past 3 years. Every time new firmware was released, all I saw was fixes for the things that I did not even give a damn about. No new features, nothing refreshing. Although I consider the Nikon D810 the best high-resolution DSLR on the market today (maybe with the exception of the Pentax K-1, although Nikon wins in the lens department), I somehow get more excitement from shooting my Fuji X-T1. As I explained in my Fuji X-T2 review, the camera I spent the most time with during the trip to New Zealand was the X-T2 – my D810 was only used for specific things like timelapses. The rest of the time, the D810 just sat in the bag. And I am not the only person who feels this way – ask any Fuji X shooter who shoots with two systems and you will hear pretty consistent, similar feedback. Fuji goes out of the way to make their cameras a pleasure to shoot with and when you couple the great ergonomics with a very friendly user interface and continuous firmware upgrades, it does translate to an overall better experience.
Continuous Software Development Creates Loyalty
Firmware and software upgrades matter. Loyalty is extremely important for any company. Sadly, the big camera manufacturers like Canon, Nikon and Sony just don’t seem to give a damn. And that’s why they are losing customers every day. Many of our readers have completely switched from Nikon, Canon and Sony to Fuji in the past few years and most of them don’t regret it, praising not just the Fuji X-series cameras and lenses, but the value they get out of their cameras with ongoing firmware updates. That’s pretty remarkable, but it makes me wonder about the state of the industry today. Nikon is in trouble and going through massive restructuring of the company, despite its 100 year anniversary. Canon is not in great shape either – if it was not for their printing, document management and other profitable business solutions, the company would probably be going through similar restructuring as well. Sony is an electronics giant, so it does whatever it needs to do to make more money.
But one pattern emerges among all three – they all seem to be far disconnected from their customers. What’s puzzling to me, is that they do not realize how easy it is to reach out to their customers. I have no problem contacting someone at Fujifilm and I always get an email response. Last night, I sent 12 suggestions for the Hasselblad X1D-50c and I got a reply within an hour from the company, with most of my suggested fixes either on their way or “on the list” of fixes. That’s truly remarkable. When visiting large photography conventions like Photo Plus, I get to talk to Fuji and Hasselblad executives and engineers, since they are on the floor, talking to their customers. Heck, I scored both interviews on the floor without prior appointments either! I have been attempting to talk to Nikon for the past 5+ years and all I get is a business card of a PR company that represents the company. I’m an NPS member and as many of our readers know, I write more about Nikon than any other brand on this website. I have never been contacted by anyone at Nikon. Ever. So when I see Nikon suffering today, I can see why – the patterns of a company that does not seem to give a damn are all there.
Software Development Does Not Stop
I have been fortunate to have had a tremendous career in Information Technology. I have been involved in many projects and I have personally participated in writing software, and later on in my career, managing large software and ERP projects. To date, I still write quite a bit of code – I maintain PL completely by myself and I continuously make changes and customizations to the core code. Some of my code has been integrated into a number of WordPress plugins, based on my feedback and modifications. So I do have quite a bit of experience when it comes to software development.
Based on my experience, I must point out that software development is a continuous process – its lifecycle does not end with the release of a product. If you look at any industry today, you will see that software modifications and upgrades take place all the time. Microsoft is known for its “Patch Tuesday”, while other companies follow up with different methodologies and timing to deliver their updates. Even on your mobile phone, you see constant updates to apps and operating system. That’s just the world we live in – with so many apps and tools available at our disposal, if a company releases something new and never actively maintains it, customers get unhappy and abandon the product. A good example of terrible software practice is Nikon’s recently released SnapBridge – software that was supposed to bring Bluetooth integration to cameras like the Nikon D500. To say that it was an utter fail is an understatement. With a mere 1 star rating (which recently improved to 1.5 stars) on iTunes and a slightly better 2 star rating on Google Play, it makes me wonder what kind of software engineers the company hired to make software work that bad. Nikon recently released firmware updates for its cameras to make the software work a bit better, but it has been many months since the cameras like the D500 with SnapBridge were released. Such poor timing does not benefit Nikon in any way. Sadly, Fuji’s Camera Remote app is not that far off either in its ratings, which shows that most camera manufacturers, including Fuji, have not gotten a good grasp of connectivity options and the world of app development. But that’s a topic for another day…
Software is something all camera manufacturers need to spend a bit more R&D on. And it should not be a one-off contract with a development company to make a single app! Ideally, software should either be developed in-house with proper resources, or it should be contracted out with a company that can provide continuous development and maintenance. It is a connected world out there and the sooner they all get on the same boat, the better. I can share my pictures on my iPhone instantly – one should be able to do the same when shooting with an expensive camera.
Now camera manufacturers might fight back with the above arguments, saying that ongoing software development is costly. That’s just a bunch of BS. Once software is written for a particular camera type, the same code can be recycled over and over again in the future iterations of the camera. When was the last time you saw a massive change in Nikon’s menu system? Do you think there is much difference in code between the Nikon D610 and the Nikon D810? The truth is, there isn’t much difference. The cameras run similar processors, have similar RAM and ROM memory and the features you see on a Nikon D810 could easily be transferred over to the D610, if only Nikon wanted to do it. How come the Nikon D810 has the “one-click zoom” feature and the D610 does not? It is pure marketing. It probably cost more time for Nikon engineers to remove that feature from the D610, rather than to leave it in the first place. And sadly, we see similar patterns in many new camera releases.
We have pretty much hit the innovation wall when it comes to sensor improvements, so naturally, we have seen camera manufacturers push out more features. But why not refresh existing cameras with more features? When Nikon makes new firmware updates, it would not cost the company a lot of money to push those same features to existing DSLRs. What it could cost them is a potential customer for a brand spanking new DSLR that will be announced later this year and that’s what the sales department does not want to hear…
At the end of the day though, think of how many photographers would be pleased with seeing new features on their cameras.
Fuji X-T2 and Fuji X-Pro2 Firmware Announcements
Now let’s take a look at what kind of improvements Fuji is going to deliver in the upcoming firmware updates:
X-T2 version 2.00 & X-Pro2 version 3.00 – due late March 2017
- Shooting RAW in Bracketing and Advanced Filters: The update enables you to use the RAW format when shooting not only in AE Bracketing but also in other Bracketing modes (ISO, Dynamic Range, White Balance, Film Simulations) and also in Advanced Filter modes.
- Extended ISO 125 and 160 selectable: The update adds ISO125 and ISO160 to extended ISO levels available.
- Programmable long exposure of up to 15 minutes: Long exposure in the T mode currently goes only up to 30 seconds. The update will allow users to extend it up to 15 minutes.
- ON/OFF for 1/3-step shutter speed adjustment (X-T2 only – already in X-Pro2): The update allows you to turn off the Command Dial’s function to adjust shutter speed by 1/3 steps in order to prevent unintended adjustments.
- Full-range ISO adjustments with the Command Dial (X-T2 only): With the update, set the ISO “A” position to “Command” to adjust ISO sensitivity across the full range, including extended ISOs, with the Front Command Dial.
- “AUTO” setting added for the minimum shutter speed in the ISO Auto setting: The update adds an AUTO option for the minimum shutter speed in the ISO Auto setting, that allows the camera to automatically define the minimum shutter speed according to the focal length of the lens attached.
- Faster “Face Detection AF”: The update enables the use of Phase Detection AF for faster performance in Face Detection AF.
- Improved in-focus indication in the AF-C mode: The update reduces focus hunting in the AF-C mode, making it easier to track a subject.
- Addition of a smaller Focus Point size in Single Point AF: The update adds a smaller Focus Point size in Single Point AF, bringing the total number of available sizes to six. The new smallest size facilitates pin-point focusing.
- Addition of “AF Point Display” (X-Pro2 only – already on X-T2): With the update, you can choose to have AF Points constantly displayed in Zone AF and Wide / Tracking AF, making it easier to track a subject.
- Addition of “AF-C Custom Setting” (X-Pro2 only – already on X-T2): The update adds “AF-C Custom Setting” for specifying focus-tracking characteristics. Choose from five presets according to your subject’s type of movements.
- Addition of “Portrait / Landscape AF Mode Switching” (X-T2 only): The update allows you to specify separate AF mode and AF point settings for portrait orientation and landscape orientation.
- Change of focus frame position while enlarging it: The update allows you to move the position of focus frame while enlarging it in Single Point in the AF-S mode or in the Manual Focus
- Activation of the Eye Sensor in video recording (X-T2 only): The update allows you to use the Eye Sensor during video recording to automatically switch between EVF and LCD.
- Change of ISO sensitivity during video recording (X-T2 only): The update allows you to change ISO setting during video recording.
- Re-autofocusing in video recording: With the update, half-press the Shutter Release button or press the button assigned to “AF-ON” function during video recording to re-do autofocusing.
- Display live histogram during video recording (X-T2 only): The update allows you to display a live histogram during video recording.
- Optimization of external microphone’s input level (X-T2 only): The update optimizes external microphone’s input level (lower limit revised from -12dB to 20dB) to reduce white noise when an external microphone with preamp is connected.
- Addition of “Eye Sensor + LCD Image Display” in the View Mode: The update gives the “Eye Sensor + LCD Image Display” option in the View Mode that allows you to shoot through the viewfinder and check images on the LCD, just as you would with an SLR.
- Shorter EVF display time-lag (X-Pro2 only – already in X-T2): The update shortens EVF’s display time-lag in the AF-C mode so that you will not miss a photo opportunity.
- Constant “Dual” mode display (X-T2 only): With the update, the small window in the Dual mode stays on even when you half-press the shutter release button.
- Automatic vertical GUI for LCD (X-T2 only): With the update, when you hold the camera in the portrait orientation, the camera will automatically display the GUI on the LCD in the same orientation.
- Name Custom Settings: The update allows you to assign a specific name to Custom Settings 1 – 7.
- Copyright information in EXIF data: The update allows you to register the photographer’s name and the copyright holder’s name in advance so that the camera automatically adds the information to EXIF data for each image.
- Voice Memo function: The update enable you to record 30-second “Voice Memo” clips in the Playback mode.
- Extended AE Bracketing: The update extends AE Bracketing from the current 3 frames +/-2EV to up to 9 frames +/-3EV.
- Addition of “Shoot Without Card” mode: With the update, you can have the “Shoot Without Card” mode turned OFF so that the camera can not shoot when there is no SD card inserted.
X-T2 version 2.10 & X-Pro2 version 3.10 – late May 2017
- Support for computer tethering via Wi-Fi (X-T2 only): The update adds support for computer tethering via Wi-Fi.
- Addition of “All” AF mode (X-T2 only): With the update, select “All” in the AF mode so that you can select the AF mode and Focus Area size by only using the Command Dial.
- Function extension for “Shutter AF” and “Shutter AE” (X-T2 only): With the update, you can specify different settings for AF-S and AF-C in “Shutter AF” and for AF-S / MF and AF-C in “Shutter AE.”
- Addition of “-6” and “-7” to EVF’s brightness setting: Additional options of “-6” and “-7” to the “EVF Brightness” setting so that, even in an extremely low-light condition, the brightness of the EVF does not distract you from shooting.
- Switchover of the main and sub displays in the Dual Display mode (X-T2 only): The update allows you to switch between the main and sub displays in the Dual Display mode.
- Function assignment to the Rear Command Dial: With the update, you can assign a specific function to be activated when the Rear Command Dial is pressed.
What do you think? Please share your comments below!