Today, Fujifilm is the world’s largest photographic and imaging company; however, it has been a decades-long struggle, battling primarily Eastman Kodak for a larger share of the world’s photographic film market. Fujifilm has persevered, establishing itself as a leading manufacturer of film for still and motion-picture photography, videotape, audiotape and floppy discs. It also brought still cameras, including its highly successful disposable cameras, and camcorders, to the market as well as photofinishing equipment, paper and chemicals. It has also developed and manufactured other imaging and information products for office and medical use. Fujifilm is a recognized pioneer of the digital photography industry, with its innovative work on the CCD sensor (Charge-Coupled Device) and its popular line of compact cameras.
During 1934, Dainippon Celluloid Company, Japan's first cinematic film manufacturer, separated from its struggling photographic division. The new company was known as Fuji Photo Film Co., Ltd., and made and marketed motion picture film, dry plates and photographic paper. During its first three years, it was difficult for the company to create much brand recognition and, therefore, a sufficient share of the market. The causes were both external and internal. Knowing it could only solve its internal problems, Fuji focused on improving the quality of its products. It hired a German specialist to help with the research of emulsion technology. That proactive step resulted in the company introducing its first film product and a motion picture negative film during 1936. Because of the complexity of its production, the negative film proved to many in the Japanese motion-picture industry that Fuji was technically proficient.
Just before the start of World War II, Fuji had begun work on the development of a color film. The war intervened, however; and the Japanese government ordered Fuji to produce film for military uses, which precluded any further research of color film. Following the war, Fuji was able to recover and begin to export film and optical products to South America and Asia. When it came to the worldwide market for film and other sensitized materials, the company was at a serious disadvantage compared to U.S. and European manufacturers, and had very little share of these lucrative global markets. Fuji was able to return to the development of a color film, which it did during 1948. It would be the 1950s, however, before the company could make serious inroads into the amateur consumer market.
As with many businesses around the world, Fuji Photo Film Co., Ltd. benefited from the postwar boom, with its growing population and exploding consumer demand for a myriad of new products. The company’s position in the industry was solidified when the mighty Eastman Kodak agreed to permit Fuji to produce black-and-white amateur roll film with the same quality as film manufactured in the western world. From its stronger position, Fuji introduced its first amateur roll film during 1952, and three more black-and-white roll film products by 1958. This led to the company becoming the number-one manufacturer of consumer films in Japan during the decade.
Because of its rapid growth, Fuji was able to make more export agreements and open sales offices in many countries, including the United States. The company still had two major challenges: a reputation for a below-par film product and the behemoth known as Eastman Kodak.
Fuji addressed the first challenge by developing film and paper compatible with the processing systems most commonly used worldwide. It was 1966; however, before the company launched its first compatible amateur slide film, and then another three years (1969) before all its films, photo paper and chemicals fully matched with processing systems. The results were a significant upsurge in exports.
Overcoming the second challenge would prove to be much more difficult, as Fuji was about to enter the lion’s den: going toe-to-toe with Kodak in the United States to grab a share of this market. The outcome of the battle is detailed in Part 2 of this PhotographyTalk.com article.