After 131 years great American photographic icon, Eastman Kodak, filed for bankruptcy. Some might say that Kodak never made a successful transition from traditional film to digital cameras, but that’s not exactly correct, because American inventor, Steven Sasson, created the first digital camera for Kodak. I think the Economist put it more accurately, explaining that Kodak had become a “complacent monopolist,” enjoying its profitable film franchise and not keeping up with changing market trends. While Kodak invested in marketing, Japanese competitor FujiFilm created even better films, diversified through acquisition, and changed its business model to attack digital photography directly and with strength.
As Kodak struggles for survival, FujiFilm is enjoying a renaissance period of innovation. For Nikon and Canon, FujiFilm’s innovation with sensors, the heart of any digital camera, poses a genuine threat. Only the future will reveal whether FujiFilm can make serious inroads against established competitors, but there is no question the company will push Nikon, Canon, and every other digital camera manufacturer to make fiercely better products. As a photographer myself, I think it’s great.
In 2011, FujiFilm released the X100, a small, lightweight camera with outstanding image quality. Despite usability quirks and missing features, the camera became an instant and viral hit among photographers.
For those accustomed digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras from Nikon and Canon, the X100 is a breath of fresh air – it just feels natural to use. One photographer called the X100, “the greatest digital camera ever made and may just be the greatest camera I have ever owned.” Another said, “The images I get from my Fuji X100 are nothing short of amazing.”
I purchased an X100 and absolutely loved it until last week, when I unceremoniously dumped this small camera wonder. Why, you ask, did I get rid of the beloved camera? Because FujiFilm just announced a replacement, called the X-Pro-1. This new machine promises even better image quality than its predecessor, while retaining small size and adding the flexibility of interchangeable and high quality lenses. It’s a winner and I’m in line to buy one immediately on release.
As Kodak fades, FujiFilm embodies a new generation of photographic technology driven by genuine innovation rather than strict adherence to marketing formulas. A powerful lesson is hidden in this story.