Fujifilm, X-Series firmware and the idea of Kaizen

I have no way of knowing, without considerable effort, whether or not Fujifilm updates firmware more often than other camera companies, but it seems to me, from gliding around the internet, that Fujifilm is known for frequently updating their X-Series firmware.

While waiting in line to try out the new X-100s and X 20 at CP+ in Yokohama the other week, I was talking with Richard Butler of DP Review about Fujifilm’s firmware updates. Although I didn’t mention it at the time, during this conversation the idea occurred to me that Fujifilm’s actions regarding firmware might be a tangible manifestation of the idea of kaizen. I thought today I might briefly expound upon this.

While talking with Richard, I brought up the possibility (as in, speculation, not an established fact) that some manufacturers might be reluctant to update firmware, as it represents, in a sense, an admission that things were not correct or perfect at the time of product release. It can certainly be interpreted as such. Consumers can at times be critical when firmware is updated, questioning why problems had not been eliminated before product release.* It was at this point that I reflected (to myself) that an understanding of the idea of kaizen might help explain repeated firmware updates and to mollify those with objections to this process.

I’m not really qualified to comment on Japanese business practises or the Japanese language,** but kaizen basically is the business philosophy of ‘continuous refinement or continuous change for the better.’ My iOS dictionary (“Imiwa?” – based upon Jim Breen’s JMdict project) defines kaizen as “betterment, improvement.” It then expands thusly, “kaizen (Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement).”

The word itself is made up of two kanji (Chinese logograms used in Japanese writing). See photo below.

  1. kai / arata (on & kun readings respectively): reformation, change, modify, mend, renew, examine, inspect, search.
  2. zen / yo: virtuous, good, goodness.

From the above, it can be seen that, linguistically, kaizen contains no implication of the idea ‘continuous.’ This is understood as being an integral part of the process however (once you accept the word as representing a ‘philosophy’ – something which is also not implied in the word itself).

One of the key points of kaizen is that these continuous efforts at improvement are applied everywhere, not only to problem areas. Thus, everything is (hopefully) improved, even the parts that are already good.

Wikipedia offers a good and reasonably short overview of kaizen, including its interesting, post WWII, US occupation origins.

Kaizen, as practised by Japanese companies, is an overreaching approach, applied or practised by every single worker, at all levels, system wide. Thus, strictly speaking, I’m not sure that firmware updates in of themselves are an example of kaizen. However, the frequent refinement of the firmware itself most probably is, and Fujifilm can only be applauded in extending this concept out to cameras already in the hands of consumers, rather than waiting for the cycle of new generation releases.

If nothing else, an understanding of kaizen might offer a convenient framework for interpreting why Fujifilm frequently updates firmware, rather than attempting to ‘get it right’ the first time round. It was ‘right,’ now it’s ‘more right.’

* having said that, I’m sure most people are delighted to have their firmware updated.

** at first, considering my truly abysmal ability in this area, I was reluctant to expound on the Japanese language. However, when I contrasted this with the fact that I’m blogging about a camera that I don’t even own, it didn’t seem so absurd after all.

Typed with the help of Pearl Jam’s Alive and The Eastern’s Hope and Wire & The Letting Go

_1180956 Kaizen Kanji 1

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17 thoughts on “Fujifilm, X-Series firmware and the idea of Kaizen

  1. There’s a phrase used in the U.S. that may explain these firmware updates to improve & fix problems.
    It’s called Law-suit. ; )

  2. I have had an X100 and XE-1 since their launch and whilst I love both cameras they were launched flawed. Whilst the updates have made them they cameras they should have been upon launch it doesn’t excuse Fuji from launching them as they did. I don’t know if this is because of pressure to release and bring in revenue or that they weren’t tested as thoroughly as they should have been. To me it felt like I had been give a beta product and as a paying customer that isn’t my role.

    Just ask yourself this……….had either of these cameras been you car and it had had the same number of recalls and upgrades would you be happy?

    I know I wouldn’t.

    • “… launched flawed.”???
      I don’t know, but my X-E1 took beautiful images straight from the moment I purchased it. The main reason why I bought this camera! That and it’s weight icw exchangeable lenses is exactly what I wanted an knew I would buy when I purchased it. Nothing more!

      That Fuji is putting out updates, only makes it even better. These updates are not being done, because the camera was flawed in the first place. It’s just to make it better!!! KAIZEN as the OP calls it…

      If you do compare it with cars:
      Don’t buy a Volkswagen and expect it to drive like a Ferrari! The VW will drive very well, straight from the factory. The spoiler and better exhaustion pipe are the firmware that will make it drive a little bit faster and keeping it better on the road. Except VW will let you pay extra for it, and will only release the upgrades 2 years later, whereas Fuji will release the firmware the moment they have an improvement for it’s customers, FOR FREE.

      I’m sorry to hear you had your camera recalled multiple times, which obviously not a very nice experience… but the upgrades should make you a more happy person, instead of giving you the feeling you bought a beta product!

  3. Common sense should be enough. These days we expect it. One day we’ll get just what we once had, decent cameras with good ergonomics and design. We’ll use it for many years, imagine.

    Since this post is very nice, I’d like to balance it. After all kind words from X-pro1 users and one constant suggestion, Fuji still owes the lowest shutter speed setting for Auto ISO mode. Or at least explanation why there is none.

    I (we?) may be grateful for some things, but not for all — not thinking in PROGRAM mode.

  4. Firmware update is now unfortunately(for us) a need of various brands.
    Yes ,probably we have in a lot of products(not just cameras) a sort of “beta release” of firmware,caused by the complexity of algorithm working in CPUs used, to solve, in this case ,light.
    Thousands of customers anyway find issues faster than few lab researchers and the importance is the regular and effective update.IMO

  5. Credo che il continuo affinamento del firmware nella filosofia del termine kaizen sia da ammirare, gli utenti di una già buona fotocamera, non sono abbandonati, la Fuji pensa continuamente a loro, e a come migliorare la loro esperienza d’uso….

  6. Pingback: Fuji’s idea of Kaizen, or why Fuji frequently releases firmware updates | Fuji Rumors

  7. “Fuji Photo CEO Shigetaka Komori managed to break longstanding Japanese corporate traditions, while Kodak was slow to change due to its executives’ “mentality of perfect products, rather than the high-tech mindset of make it, launch it, fix it”. Wikipedia

  8. Pingback: Fujifilm's Frequent Firmware Updates and the Philosophy of Kaizen

  9. I own a Fujifilm X10, a camera with which I have been delighted the whole time I’ve owned it. However, my example did manifest the ‘orb problem’, and following Fujifilm’s instruction here in the United States, I returned it to the service facility in New Jersey.

    They did not return mine: They replaced it with a brand new one ! And on the day it arrived, they published the Firmware Update 2.0, which I downloaded into my camera. This was a terrific gift, as it added the Q-Menu and the Art Filters, as if I wasn’t already very happy to have recieved a brand new camera.

    Some will take the position noted above, along the lines of ‘why didn’t they get it right the first time’ . . . . I look at it that Fujifilm is trying their very hardest to satisfy their customers, and the updates tell me that they are still looking for ways to make the product even better long after the design was finalized, the prototypes were signed off, and production and shipping began. This makes me feel a certain connection with them I do not get from other products. I’d note, however, that their updates often are improvements or additional features: In this way, I don’t feel like they are simply trying to ‘fix mistakes’.

    Whether or not this is properly called ‘kaizen’ is beyond me, but whatever it is, I certainly appreciate it, and am a huge Fujifilm fan because of it.

  10. I own a Fuji X100 and I am delighted by the firmware updates. Nothing is perfect, most certainly no innovative product is perfect the 1st time over, so why not improve? We install software updates in our computers all the time, why not in cameras?

    I have no need to buy a whole new upgraded camera such as the X100s. One thing that WOULD push me towards a new Fuji purchase in the future is if Fuji kept releasing software upgrades for the X100, which would show they are attentive to their current customers.

  11. Pingback: A sort of gear review: The Fuji X-series | My Blog

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  13. Pingback: Fujifilm and the Idea of Kaikaku | Fujifilm X-Series Thoughts

  14. Pingback: Fujifilm & Kaizen Revisited | Fujifilm X-Series Thoughts

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