Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Fuji Longevity

I've owned and used a lot of cameras over the years. Starting out in professional photojournalism at 19, I cut my teeth approaching cameras as the tools that they are: to be used, and not pampered. Covering multiple newspaper assignments a day, getting the image is what counted. Cameras and lenses are replaceable—moments are not. My Canon F-1N was brassed and dented not long after it was out of the box. The Nikon F3 was more durable, but it too lost its paint. Lenses focused fast and smoothly the more they were used, but the markings were worn off. In the days of film, it was routine to carry two or three cameras at a time, and they all got banged together in the field, or when tossed in the backseat of the car. For all the abuse, they worked. For all the drops and knocks, I never had to replace a camera or lens because of failure or damage from daily use. Even my 30 year old Leica M6's are still working great. Moreover, the knocks and nicks were the sign of being a professional—only posers babied their gear.
That dependability largely continued with digital equipment, even though digital cameras were made mostly of plastic instead of metal. My Canon 10D held up well, and only fell into disuse because of sensor quality improvements. Lenses I've had for decades still worked with the new bodies, though. With it's larger sensor, my Canon T5i is still in use.

Godspeed, old friend.
I made the switch to the Fuji X Series a little less than two years ago. At that time I purchased a new XE-1, and a new X100s. Neither was cheap. The XE-1 was $1300, and the X100s was $1,300. 
For the price, I expected durability, and for the most part, the cameras have functioned well. But less than two years on, they both have suffered flaws which aren't acceptable for their price point. 
For some time now the XE-1 has suffered an intermittent shutter lock up. While shooting, the shutter will get stuck, requiring battery removal and fiddling with the camera until it starts working again. This appears to be related to the charge on the battery. But it's a mission critical flaw that Fuji should fix with a recall. The XE-1, despite having an older version of the EVF, still uses the sensor of the newer cameras and should continue to be serviceable for some time to come. This flaw is serious, and has led to too many missed moments.
The backup plan, of course, is always to have another body. For this, I relied on the X100s. That is, until the diopter wheel quit working, leaving me with a blurry EVF. I've read of other diopter issues with the X100s, and it appears that the problems are related to fragile (read: substandard) parts which can cause the adjustment wheel to fail. This is not merely an annoyance: a blurry viewfinder makes a camera useless.
Although I don't baby the Fujis, their size makes it easy to handle them without abuse. Neither have been subjected to the treatment of my film cameras or the Canon digital bodies, and yet both have failed. Although there is no good time for cameras to fail, both Fujis conspired against me while I was on assignment in the Middle East, where repair was not an option. 
I've mailed off the X100s to get an estimate, and I'll update this report as I get information back from Fuji. For now, though, color me disappointed. My "cheap" Canon has endured more and longer than my expensive Fujis, which doesn't leave me happy. 
For now, the X Series has a monopoly on size, function, and features that isn't rivaled by anyone other than Leica. Accordingly, I'll repair or replace the Fujis because despite these hiccups they remain the most capable cameras I've ever owned. But it would be unfortunate for Fuji to neglect its quality control simply because it has little to no competition.

UPDATE: 4/20/15 After a week of waiting, I got an email from Fuji saying that they had received the camera. A provided link let me see the estimate of $381.60. Ouch
A new X100s is $850. That's a bit more than twice the repair costs, but it would get me a new body without two years of other wear and tear, as well as a year's worth of warranty.

The leap to the X100t is about $900 more than the repair costs. It's the same sensor and same lens (but for the 1/3 stop increments, which is a lovely touch, but not something I would make much use of). I wouldn't use most of the changes to the camera (like the chrome jpeg filter that's getting so much chatter), but I wouldn't mind that three stop exposure compensation over the x's two stops. But what the X100t buys is at least the hope of support, where the X100s is an orphan.

As it stands, though, I'm leaning toward getting a new X100s. Considering that this diopter fix is $400, I'm sure the next thing that fails on a camera that's been battered around five countries in the last two years isn't going to be any cheaper. It seems like the smarter money is to replace the camera, and not upgrade to the X100t.

UPDATE 4/22/15 I considered going gray market. Abe's of Maine has an X100t (from God knows where, but still made by Fuji) for $950. That would be the upgrade plus the idea of the two repair costs.
But the agonizing over it for two days leads me to believe it's a bad idea. So today I approved the repair costs. It's a painfully large amount for the repair, but it's the cheapest option at this point.
I'm disappointed in the whole process thus far. 

UPDATE 5/1/15  I got the X100s back today. The diopter works again. According to the invoice, Fuji "replace[d] the lens unit, inspected, and cleaned" something on the camera. I'm unsure what the "lens unit" entails and I'm unsure what was "inspected and cleaned."
Although it's the same camera I sent to them, I found it curious that the firmware was downgraded, and all the settings were reset—including the shutter counter. I'm unsure the implications of all that. I don't know if some of the technical software Fuji uses resets everything, or whether other parts were replaced. No explanations were provided.
This could well be an American experience. From what I read on other blogs, Fuji UK is a wholly different experience: UK buyers get a free cleaning and inspection after a year, the warranty is longer, and apparently the communication is better. Same with Fuji Canada and Fuji Australia, where the warranty is two years instead of the one year USA warranty. I'm unsure why American buyers get the short end of the stick, but in this global economy, it's unconscionable that some buyers get treated better than others solely on the basis of their nationality.
I remain dissatisfied with the whole experience. I love the X100s, and I'm happy to have it back in hand. I really hope, however, that Fuji works on their customer service experience. These are premium cameras at premium prices (with premium repair costs), and the service isn't matching.