Cameras that still rely on the human touch

The Straits Times deputy tech editor Trevor Tan travelled to Taiwa, Japan to learn how Fujifilm's latest 102-megapixel medium-format mirrorless camera GFX 100 is made.
A technician putting the finishing touches to Fujifilm's latest medium-format mirrorless camera GFX 100 at Fujifilm's factory in Taiwa, Japan.
A technician putting the finishing touches to Fujifilm's latest medium-format mirrorless camera GFX 100 at Fujifilm's factory in Taiwa, Japan.ST PHOTOS: TREVOR TAN

Fujifilm's 102-megapixel GFX 100 is assembled by hand in the final stage of production

Japanese imaging giant Fujifilm is anything but mainstream. Not only is it diving deep into ultra-large image sensor technologies that few rivals focus on, but it is also heavily dependent on human workers instead of automation.

The image sensors in its latest medium-format mirrorless camera, the 102-megapixel GFX 100, are about 70 per cent larger than those in Sony and Canon's mainstream full-frame mirrorless cameras. The hefty price tag of the GFX 100 - $14,999 (body only) - explains why.

During a visit last month to Fujifilm's factory in Taiwa, Japan, where the GFX 100 is made, one thing stood out. The GFX 100 is assembled by hand in its final stage of manufacturing even though one would expect a high level of automation.

"We prioritise high quality, which we believe can be realised only by being handmade," said a Fujifilm spokesman as a technician manually mounted the GFX 100's ultra-large image sensor to its magnesium-alloy body in the background.

The GFX 100, available for sale in Singapore next month, is made up of close to 900 different pieces. Its five-axis in-body image stabilisation (Ibis) module alone consists of 110 parts, made outside of Japan before they are shipped to the Taiwa factory for assembly.

The application of leather skins to the camera grip and the compartment door for accessing the dual SD storage card slots is also done by hand.

Fujifilm's factory in Taiwa, situated 390km north of Tokyo, began operations in 1968. It now occupies around 227,000 sq m, or the size of 30 football fields. There are close to 2,000 employees working there.

Also known as the X Factory, it produces around 18,000 Fujifilm camera bodies and between 30,000 and 50,000 Fujifilm lenses a month on average.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2019, with the headline 'Cameras that still rely on the human touch'. Print Edition | Subscribe