Interview with Mr Soga – the man responsible for the XF lens roadmap

Mr Soga
Mr Soga holding an X-Pro1 with XF16-55mmF2.8

The best thing about the CP+ show last month was getting access to people I wouldn’t normally have access to. One individual I was particularly excited about meeting and interviewing was Mr Soga – the man behind arguably the best part of the Fujifilm X system – the lenses.

We spoke about the new XF16-55mmF2.8 lens, as well as the roadmap update that was announced on the 10th February 2015. Here’s how the interview went:

Could you tell us what your job covers generally?

I am in charge of the lens product brand.

Ok, so are you responsible for the lens roadmap in general and final signoff to which lenses are added?

Yes, I am.

Starting with the newest lens to hit the streets, what was the overall goal when creating the XF16-55mm lens?

Our goal was simply to achieve the best image quality possible.

The cross section of the XF16-55mmF2.8
The cross section of the XF16-55mmF2.8

And what sort of photographer would you see using this lens?

The main images we expect to see shot with this lens are landscapes, portraits and fashion images.

Is there a specific reason why the lens does not have optical image stabilisation (OIS)?

Yes, there is a trade off relationship between OIS and image quality.

Lens shift caused by OIS can sometimes be seen in this focal length, 24mm-84mm (35mm equiv.). Since we aimed to develop our best flapship zoom, we have prioritised image quality and decided not to employ OIS for this lens.

Edit: added more information

OIS needs to move the lens inside to compensate for camera shake and as a result can cause loss of resolution in the edges of the image.

In long zoom lens such as the XF50-140mmF2.8, the angle of view is narrow enough to not show this negative effect of OIS in the edges.

However, the angle of view of the XF16-55mm, when set to the widest setting, is large enough for OIS to affect resolution at the edge of the image.

Considering this trade-off, because we wanted this zoom lens to start wide at 16mm and F2.8, and we wanted to best edge-to-edge quality throughout the entire zoom range, we decided to not employ OIS.

A question I’ve been asked a lot: was there a reason for the focal length overlap between the XF16-55mm and the XF50-140mm lenses?

We planned this product to be very useful lens for both landscape shooting and portrait shooting. 24mm (35mm equiv.) is good for landscape shooting. 84mm (35mm equiv.) is good for portrait shooting. We consider to include both focal length when developed.

Moving on to the products in the recent roadmap update, this new XF35mm F2 is a very interesting product. Is it aimed as a step up lens for an XC zoom user or would this be for the high-end Street & Reportage photographers?

This lens is aimed towards the professional or serious amateur photographer that wants to increase the mobility and speed of their photography. With the original XF35mm f1.4 lens, its speed was not as efficient due to its many lens elements moving together.

So this new lens would have increased focusing speed?

Yes that’s correct. We wanted to make a lens that could be the next step for a photographer who already knows and loves the quality of the XF lenses. We think of this lens as a mobility lens due to its clever design.

X1000024
The new XF35mmF2 will be smaller and lighter than the XF35mmF1.4. It will also have faster auto focus due to there being fewer moving lens elements inside

I understand that the newly announced XF1.4x tele-converter is not compatible with all of the existing lenses. Is there a reason for this?

Due the ergonomics of the converter, it physically will not allow other lenses to attach.

The design of the XF1.4 X TC means that it will only fit  on lenses that have enough space between the camera and the rear elements
The design of the XF1.4 X TC means that it will only fit on lenses that have enough space between the converter and the rear lens elements

Are there plans to create other sizes? For example a 1.6x or 2x?

This is very much a possibility, we may create a 2x converter in the future although this has not been confirmed.

Do you know what the aperture options are for the XF100-400mm?

This is still under consideration.

XF100-400 zoom lens
XF100-400 zoom lens

Related links

Fujifilm XF Lens roadmap – updated 10th February

The X100T – from concept to product announcement in seven short months

In February 2014, during my first ever trip to Japan to attend the CP+ Show in Yokohama, I was also lucky enough to be present at one of the early planning meetings for the X100T, along with a few carefully selected professional photographers – Yukio Uchida (Japan), Bert Stephani (Belgium), Gianluca Colla (Italy) and Kevin Mullins (UK). Each one of the photographers used Fujifilm CSCs for their work, but also an X100S for personal work, and some professional work where it suited. After spending a few days talking about how our equipment affects their working lives in a positive light, they were given very specific instructions to tell us exactly what they didn’t like about them.

Less than seven months on and I’m holding in my hands a pre-production version of a camera that was based on many of the subjects discussed in this meeting.

How do you make something “more perfect” ?

There were two sides to the meeting. First up, the Japanese developers worked through a list of their ideas to understand what the photographers thought of them.

I paraphrase of course but here’s kind of how the conversation went:

Developers: Do you want a full-frame sensor?
Photographers: No because the camera would need to be bigger and that would degrade the purpose of the camera

Developers: Would you like an f/1.8 or larger aperture lens?
Photographers: As above. No because the camera would need to be bigger.

Developers: Would you like a tilting screen?
Photographers: As above again.

At this point you could see that the Japanese product developers are getting a bit nervous. How can you further evolve and develop a product if the users of the product are already perfectly happy with the existing one?

Developers: Does it need an Electronic Shutter?
Photographers: Not sure… what would be the benefits?
Developers: Shooting much faster shutter speeds, even with the aperture wide open – no need for the ND filter

OK finally we have our first TICK!

Developers: Would you like better movie functions? More frame rate options, manual exposure control?
Photographers: Yes, as long as it doesn’t have any effect on the camera’s ability to shoot stills

And another TICK. We’re really cooking now.

Developers: What about Wifi?
Photographers: Would be useful, as long as the camera doesn’t get any bigger

Developers: How would you like to be able to use manual focus while shooting OVF?
Photographers: We’re listening…

The developers pulled out a concept modified X100S with a special LCD panel installed outside the Optical Viewfinder. They went on to explain how this LCD display would actually be inside the camera and the user can switch on or off the ability to fine-tune the focus without switching from OVF.

I’ve had a go with this on the pre-production version and I can really see the value. I’m a big fan of coloured focus peaking so to be able to have it while looking through an OVF is really nice. It’s quick to toggle on or off, much faster than switching between OVF and EVF, so you can pay attention to the frame and just check the focus when you need it.

They then went through a pretty long list of changes / enhancements etc… of which a lot made it into the X100T I’ve got in my hand.

“We will consider”

In my experience, one thing that Japanese people hate to do is to outright say the word “no”. Every suggestion for a change to any of our cameras always gets one of these two responses:

  1. “We will do this” – this actually means “We have already done this”
  2. “We will consider” – And they do!

Next up in the meeting it was the photographer’s turn to suggest changes, all of which met one the answers above. Here are a few things I remember our guests asking for. This is not to say that these were not already in consideration by the development team.

  • Ability for the user to customise the Q menu – check
  • Standardise the main layout of the camera controls – time will tell on this but the X100T button layout is more like the X-T1 than the X100S, particularly on the user’s right thumb.
The rear controls of the X100T are more like an X-T1 than an X100S
The rear controls of the X100T are more like an X-T1 than an X100S
  • Various different film types to be considered to be added to the list of Film Simulation modes – Classic Chrome making it into the range
  • More Function (Fn) buttons – check
  • Black version available at launch – check
  • Everything above, but retain the same size, shape and pretty much weight as the X100S and X100 – check

It’s not to say that the entire product was built from that one single meeting. Of course not. The team in Japan do an amazing job considering requests from Fujifilm staff and professional photographers all over the world. It is this constant ability to listen to feedback and then build on it that makes this an incredibly exciting and rewarding place to work.

On top of these changes, here are a few others that I’ve heard customers ask for that have made it in:

  • Allow users to select the AF area with the 4-way controller, without pressing the Fn Key.
  • AUTO ISO “profiles”
  • Ability for Exposure compensation to still work when the camera is in M mode, as long as the ISO is set to AUTO
  • Aperture ring moves in ⅓ increments.
  • Increase the grip on the manual focus ring

And finally some nice changes that made it over from the X-T1:

  • Coloured Focus Peaking
  • Remote shooting / wireless image transfer
  • Awesome updated GUI that rotates based on camera orientation
  • Interval Shooting
  • 3 stops Exposure Compensation
Here's what my X100T will look like when I get it. Much love for the WCL-X100
Here’s what my X100T will look like when I get it. Much love for the WCL-X100

Conclusion

The whole experience opened my eyes to what an amazing company it is that I work for. Staff and customers alike have a voice that is constantly helping to shape future development to produce the perfect products.

Many of these changes have been added to already-released cameras via free firmware updates. In my opinion this is a great move by Fujifilm as we are relatively new (this time round) to the professional end of the market and building trust is very important to help us gain a good reputation.

But whether we’re able to update existing models, or evolve the models with newer, improved versions, the reason it is working well is because everything is being carefully developed based on what actual users want. I’ve now seen this with my own eyes, and hold the proof in my hands.

改善 (kaizen) – Good change.

Come and see the X100T

The Fujifilm X100T will be available to get your hands on in the Touch & Try section of the Fujifilm stand at Photokina 2014 – Tuesday 16th September to Sunday 21st September at the koelnmesse Trade Fair and Exhibition Centre in Cologne, Germany.

http://fujifilm-x.com/photokina2014/en/whatson-touch-and-try.html

Oh and I’ll be there too if you fancy coming along and saying hello 🙂

Links

X100T
Learn about the new X100T camera
Read the X100T announcement

X-Photographers website’s
Kevin Mullins
Gianluca Colla
Bert Stephani
Yukio Uchida