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The man behind X-series design

As the head of design for the Fujifilm X-series we have a lot to thank Masasumi Imai for.

He’s overseen the design development of all models including the original X100, the X-E2 and, his own personal favourite, the X-T1. During the very busy photokina 2014 show we were able to grab 15 minutes with Imai-san to ask him about his inspiration, the current range and what we can hope to see in the future.

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On a day-to-day basis what does your job involve?
Every day I think about design. I am in charge of the exterior design team, comprising five product designers and three GUI designers.

When an X-series camera is designed, what comes first, the interior design or the exterior?
Normally, designers will start by sketching the design of a camera, but Fujifilm is completely different to other companies. All three teams will meet; the brand team, the design team and the development team and all aspects of the camera are discussed all the way through the process. All aspects of the camera complement each other.

How long before a model comes to market would you start talking about it?
That depends on the model, but typically one year. An upgrade will be quicker – from the X100 to the X100S, for example – but that’s only because a great deal of time was spent on the original concept.

Is the design of the X-series what is making it so popular?
I think so. Although I am the design manager, many people decided that we should go for this traditional design style. It has always been a team effort.

Where did your original inspiration come from?
My father had a film camera and he used to tell me not to touch it. He would say: ‘This is very important and very expensive.’ But I wanted to touch it and this helped me realise the importance of creating a camera that users wanted to pick up and use. When I discussed this with my colleagues, they confirmed similar experiences. This wasn’t purely my Japanese colleagues, but also those in the USA, the UK and many other countries. They all said the same thing. I thought this was a great reason to create a camera that evoked these feelings.

Where do you get your ideas now?
Everywhere! I love to listen to music, drive cars, drink, eat and go to the movies – all these things give me ideas that can be put into camera design.

Do you have a favourite X-series camera?
That is a difficult question, but I think I like the X-T1 Graphite Silver edition the most.

One of very few criticisms of the X-T1’s design was that the buttons on the rear quadrant were too recessed. How do you feel about those comments?
When the X-T1 was designed we were aware that, due to the small size of the camera body, it was possible to press the buttons accidentally, so we made them more convex to prevent this. This is the reason for them being more recessed into the body. We didn’t change the design on the Graphite Silver version, but we did improve the operability of the buttons, making them easier to press. We are always looking to optimise and improve our manufacturing processes in this way.

One thing that Fujifilm does very well is listen to customers. How does that process of listening and then implementing the ideas work?
We get lots of feedback from customers. We split all the opinions into different categories, such as operation, image quality and design so we can consider each set individually. It’s very important to do this as customers sometimes suggest changes that we have either dismissed or not considered. The grip we launched for the X100 series is a good example. We didn’t think it was needed, we initially felt it would make the camera too much like a digital SLR and not like a rangefinder. But many people asked for this so we went ahead and produced it.

How will X-series cameras develop in the future?
There are many possibilities. One option would be to modernise the existing camera styles, another would be to go for an even more traditional style. Internally, we are going to concentrate on our APS-C X-Trans sensor and make sure there are many lenses and accessories that complement it. There could be a full-frame model in the future, I don’t know, but we started as a film company and this means we’re used to working with different formats.
Viewfinder resolution will undoubtedly increase going forward, as well as the speed – the current scanning frame rate is 54 frames per scan, but we want it to be over 100. This will help it look even more like an optical viewfinder and, in fact, exceed it.
We do intend to keep producing models at the current rate, so there will be plenty more to come from Fujifilm – our teams are very busy!

27 replies »

  1. To all Fujifilm X-series team and Imai-san in particular.
    Although I’m not a professional photographer, I take hundreds of shots per week in my business as a Real Estate surveyor. I purchased the original X100 a few years ago and persevered with its few shortcomings – until firmware v2.1 was released. I love the image quality produced by this wonderful camera, which is usually close-by (I use a wrist strap) for those ‘moment’ shots. The looks and quality of this camera are wonderful – it’s a real pleasure to own and use and has encouraged me to develop my composition skills. I have also bought an X-E2 with the 18-55mm lens, aiming to add a few critical lenses later. This camera is technically superb, though perhaps not as classy as the X100. Once again, the image quality is way ahead of anything I’ve been used to, allowing serious use of cropping for re-composition.
    I love being part of the X-series ‘revolution’. You are bucking the trend by producing good-quality equipment at affordable cost, but also listening to customers & professionals resulting in continual development through hardware & software upgrades. This creates customer loyalty.
    Thank you for all your hard work.

    Liked by 3 people

      • Design is there, built quality is not. Rubber coating falling off on X-T1 is a regular thing after 6 months of gentle use. I was expecting a work horse inside and out. Fuji tneeds to take care of built quality. Look at any Olympus camera for example. That is called built quality inside out ! If your guy is doing bad job at Fuji Quality Control Line, I am willing to replace him/her at half of his/her sallary. I didn’ expect that from Japanese famous engineering.

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  2. I lust so much for a X100T, but the fixed 35mm POV always holds me back. I am a dedicated 28mm for the work I do. I know there is a lens converter to widen the view to 28mm, but the larger camera profile is what I am getting away from. Will there ever be a wider, 28/21mm, or shorter, 50mm, X100 series cameras?

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  3. Imai-san and his team can be sure they’ve created objects of desire! I’m lusting for an X-T1 Graphite Silver as a very overdue replacement for my trusty Canon G11. The main thing that holds me back is that I haven’t seen the same kind of stunning naturalistic shots of plants – especially macro shots of flowers – as I have with the more expensive Canons and Nikons.

    I feel completely confident that Fuji is a great choice for portraits, street photography and much more – and it is so portable, which I love, but can the X-T1 capture the natural looking colours that are so difficult in flower photography (blues, reds, crimsons)? My G11 can’t needless to say! If you could do a post – or a series of posts – on this subject you’d make this garden lover very happy.

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  4. I bought an X-T1 recently, I used to have a Leica M9 but for my photography found its limitations too much and with regret went back to Canon. I now feel in the Fuji series I have all the IQ that I wanted plus the super “comfortable” feel of a camera that belongs in my hand and is an extension rather that just a tool. Thanks to all on the design team!

    Bill

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  5. I will love to have XT1 graphite, though I own XE2, a fabulists camera pairing with my 1.4/35.
    But can not decide between X100T and that. I will love to see, Fuji came out with X100 T body with interchangeable lens. OH that would be a killer one. Or better even, X pro with full frame (and high breed viewfinder), which I presume on the way.

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  6. Fuji & Masumi Imai,

    I want to thank you for your ability to innovate and make novel and beautiful new sensors like the EXR and X-Trans. Both sensors are unique in the market, and both provide a look and feel distinct from everything else.

    I’ve been a Fuji fan/user since my first camera, an s7500, which I converted to full spectrum. I also have a full spectrum hs25exr and a X10 without an anti-alias filter. I gifted the absolutely stellar X-A1 to my girlfriend to replace her Canon, and sometimes borrow it. I’m in awe of its performance given the low cost. Exceptional camera.

    Aside from great sensors, design, and lenses, one of the things your company seems to do better than others is provide firmware which improves the features of a device. The x10 and x100 getting the platform v2 firmware was great evidence of that.

    I’m asking that you do not abandon the current X-Series cameras when you roll out the platform v3 firmware (manual video controls, classic chrome, etc) to the X-T1 and X-E2. Each X-Series camera has a ton of dedicated fans who you would turn to lifetime fans if you treated them right that way.

    In specific, the X-S1 feels like you’ve abandoned it as it never even got platform v2 updates when the x10 did. It is a unique camera with a lens that can truly do it all. It should be updated as your company has yet to make a successor that fills the needs that the X-S1 does.

    Failing that, will there be an X-S2 with an APS-C sensor? Will you instead adapt the wonderful lens concept from the X-S1/HS Series into an XC/XF lens so that those who want the stellar noise and detail properties of the APS-C X-Trans bodies can still work with a single lens that covers very close macro, fairly wide angles, and great telephoto?

    The HS-Series lens has spoiled me terribly. It is just so perfect… I never, ever have the “wrong” lens. Sure, a prime or another shorter telephoto may be brigher/sharper, but with the lens concept of the X-S1/HS-Series, you have the ability to shoot any situation and subject very well without carrying a bag of glass. I believe it complemets the ethos behind the slim, do anything mentality of the X-Series cameras.

    Thanks,
    Brett

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  7. Hi all,

    I am happy owner of X100, at the moment Black Limited Edition; and joy to shoot with this camera never stops (this is my second X100 camera). The equivalent of 35mm is perfect and having this camera for few years now, I have realized why this was kind of “dreamers shooting lens in a past”. Everything about this camera is great, but of course you know that. Actually, you guys in Fuji have changed and improved what I might do too, but still…. I will jump to next X100 model probably next year or so, and I will keep “the old one”. That is how original X100 pictures works for me…. perfect.

    Happy that you have followed your dreams too, and give us camera that feels in our hands like the old film ones, my next step will be either X-T1, or the the one I am still waiting for to show up, X-Pro2.

    It will be nice to meet you again 🙂 now on this pro level. Cheers.

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  8. Thank you Fuji and Imai-san for creating such an amazing camera. My Fuji X100 has become the companion of capturing memorable moments with such elegance. I am looking forward to seeing what Fuji brings next.

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  9. One comment on the recessed buttons on the X-T1. I put Sugru (a kind of silicone-clay’ish material) to get the buttons to be higher and stand out more from the back of the camera like this:
    https://erohne.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/how-to-improve-the-function-buttons-on-the-fujifilm-x-t1-with-sugru/

    I’ve surely shot 20-30.000 images with it the last 8 months or so, and haven’t had one accidental buttonpush because of my raised buttons. I raised them with Sugru to feel where they actually are when shooting without having to remove the camera from my eye.

    Cheers,
    Eivind Rohne

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  10. I agree tactile response and button location are very important .. I hate having to look at my camera to figure out where my adjustment buttons are.. I would prefer different shapes and feel for critical adjustment buttons .. So I can keep my eye on the scene . And let my thumb do the majority of the tactile interaction with the buttons..
    Maybe get a blind person to help with tactile design..
    Btw I have an x-e1 and x-t1… Love both for different reasons.. The EVF is a real treat .. Thanks

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  11. Having owned: X100S, X-Pro1, X-T1, X-E2, and now an X100T I can say that the Fuji film design team has hit on a winning formula.

    Thanks to you for a great set of cameras!

    Like

  12. I’m a recent (2 months now) convert to the fuji system. After having all the rest, I can say I’ve finally found the camera I’ve been looking for… the X-Pro2. Too bad it’s not out yet but till then I’m loving the X-E2. Just picked up the 56mm 1.2 and it’s a dream. Thank you Fujifilm team!

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  13. hi imai-san and team,
    i have been a fuji x series user for about 2 years now, and am very happy and satisfied with its performance and output. i did not give it much notice until that eventful day at a birthday party where i met a x100 user and he showed me his camera and the images from it. i liked what i saw, did some research, and bought an X-e1 not long after. and its been a magical and fun photographic journey ever since. the x-series have a few quirks (or should i say characteristic), but learn to work around them, and you will be rewarded with great images. i am just a bit miffed that i bought an additional x-e2 and the x-t1 came out not long after 😦 .
    kudos to you all x-series team for a job well done. keep up the good work.
    wishing you all a merry christmas and happy new year.
    ciao.
    ken

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  14. Thank you for the fantastic interview! I’ve been using an X100 since November 2011 and still love it for all of the reasons most photographers do. I’ve also used/own and X100s and X-E1. Recently, the X-T1 was added and wow, what a stunning camera. Thank you for all you do!

    A few items of feedback:
    1) It was mentioned that there were ideas about modernizing or going even more “retro” / analog in design. It’s the analog legacy look and feel to the X series that really helps set them apart ergonomically, functionally and aesthetically. Please do not modernize it to be more in line with the other manufacturers (specifically Sony & Panasonic). Keep this unique quality and enhance it if needed. The analog feel is “special” in today’s world of “computers with a camera on board”. Your cameras are camera first and foremost.

    2) I have a Q3 2014 production X-T1 and the buttons seem to be improved (black version), I find them okay for my use 🙂

    3) Video, video, video. Thanks for the upcoming firmware update. Video is still the only remaining hesitation I have of letting go of ALL other camera systems. Right now, the biggest issues are continuous AF in video, the non-standard external microphone jack size (why?) and the fairly intense moire in videos (that is absent in stills). I’m sure the X trans presents video challenges but this is a key thing to address as we all move to hybrid photography.

    Thanks!!!

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  15. Hi Mr. Masasumi Imai,

    big thanks for for the camera you and your team have developed. You have done a wonderful job by designing cameras with dedicated controls. That`s the layout a camera should have. Every other layout, like cameras with a PASM-dial have transformes these cameras into a picture-taking computer.

    I was hooked the first time I saw the x100. I passed the wonderful X-PRO1 in favour of the X-E1, only because of the diopter adjustment for the viewfinder. And I love this camera and the pictures I am intuitively be able to take with this little gem.

    If there is one thing I could beg for that it hopefully would be implemented an all X-Series cameras; or at least the future models. That would be a fully functional exposure compensation in ALL modes where at least ONE component of the exposure triangle (time, aperture, ISO) is set to AUTOMATIC.

    Please make my wish come true! That is the only design flaw I have to work around when using Auto-ISO.

    Otherwise carry on with your brilliant work!

    Cheers,

    Jens

    Like

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