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Ilse Jurriƫn : March 17th 2008 - 00:10 CET

Interview with Sigma lens manufacturer

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SigmaSigma interview at PMA : Sigma are famous and renowned as lens manufacturer. Sigma offer the solution for nearly every subject; whether it is a circular fisheye of 4.5 mm or a super telephoto zoom lens with a range of 200-500 mm and a large aperture of f/2.8. Besides their specialization in lenses, Sigma also manufacture digital single lens reflex cameras and have recently put a compact camera, the Sigma DP1, in the market. The latter had some hardware problems since its official introduction which delayed shipping of the model. The problems have now been solved and the DP1 is expected to be available from March 2008. Bas de Meijer couldn't wait to ask Kazuto Yamaki, Chief Operating Officer Sigma Japan, some questions.
Kazuto Yamaki, Sigma

Question : The Sigma DP1 is one of the most important new cameras. Sigma claimed its availability in the spring. Could you be more precise?

Answer : I think the Sigma DP1 will be available in March 2008.

Question : What are the reactions to the Sigma DP1?

Answer : They are fine. When we announced the Sigma DP1 on the Photokina show everybody was very enthusiastic. It took us a lot of time to finish the camera. I was afraid the enthusiasm might have dropped. But fortunately our regular and faithful customers decided to wait for the Sigma DP1. So I have a lot of faith. And I hugely appreciate our customer's patience.

Question : The Sigma DP1 is a niche product. What are its sales expectations?

Answer : That is a difficult question, even for me. I don't think the Sigma DP1 fits into any of the existing categories. We have to open a new market, a market that never existed before. We have a target of course but we are not sure yet.

Question : Do you think the delay has a negative affect on sales numbers?

Answer : Of course. A product should be put in the market at the right time. If we had launched the DP1 in 2007 we would have sold more of them. But we were determined to make the Sigma DP1 the best compact camera ever. That was our strategy. And if we can make the DP1 user happy, I think we can also make him excited about the successor to the Sigma DP1. Or get him interested in an Sigma SD14. It is important for us to make it the best possible camera.

Sigma SD14

Question : You just mentioned the SD14. What is the status of it? Do you stick to one model?

Answer : For now? Yes. Looking at it from a marketing point of view it is important to offer a whole line of bodies. From low to high-end. That way the consumer has the possibility to choose the right camera from the series. But we are not as big a camera manufacturer as Nikon or Canon, so for us it is hard to manufacture them all. We do intend to enhance our line, slowly but surely. It might be a subtle change but we will adjust the line gradually.

Question : We have used the Sigma DP1 for one night in Las Vegas and our first impression is a good one.

Answer : Thank you. I suspect the speed disappointed you somewhat. But on the other hand, we offer an extremely good image quality. It is not just a point and shoot camera. Most cameras can take hundreds of good pictures and maybe the score will be 85%. We wanted for the DP1 to only make excellent pictures, a 100% score. It takes time to make a good picture. I use the camera every weekend. I was disappointed with the speed at first. But it is requires a different way of photographing. It reminds me of taking pictures with a traditional camera. You had to think before taking a picture. You decide on the composition, on aperture and after that you take the picture. I think this is important. Nowadays everybody just shoots away. Emotions are no longer involved in picture-taking.

Question : So you can say it is similar to the Leica M-series?

Answer : I hope so. Hahaha.

Big Sigma Lens

Question : You offer extreme focal lengths. Like the Sigma 200-500 mm lens. Why make such an extreme lens? Is it marketing, showing off, or do you really expect a market for it?

Answer : The first demand for such a lens came from photographers, from sports photographers mainly working indoors. The light in sport centres is terrible, so they asked for a fast lens with a large zoom range. That is why we developed a 500 mm f/2.8 lens with zoom range. We showed it last year. But the main customers are photographers working in the astronomic photography. Not many people will go for this lens. It is a heavy one. You don't just take it with you like that. I expect most photographers to take the lens with them in the car to a specific location and set it all up on a fixed spot.

Question : You also offer extreme fisheye lenses. Maybe it's the same question; they have a rather limited use. You have a large fisheye assortment. Why so many and for whom are they really interesting?

Answer : First of all we have circular and diagonal fisheye lenses for 35 mm cameras. It was therefore a logical step to make lenses for smaller sensors. The basic idea of why we offer a selection of this size is that there are customers for it. Even being it is a small group, there are photographers really waiting for such a lens. A large group likes to work with panoramic pictures using QuickTime VR nowadays. We owe it to our customers to meet their demands. Secondly and that is basically our idea, the lens is the most important detail in photography. Not only as far as quality is concerned but also in relation to possibilities. A lens should deliver the highest possible quality. Even when the focal length changes, the picture becomes completely different. A different aperture will deliver a different picture again. It is our mission to enhance the arsenal of lenses so photographers can experience photography in every which way they like. Changing lenses has a bigger impact than trading an 8 Megapixel camera for a 12 Megapixel camera.

Question : The past two years, what have been the biggest changes on the field of lenses?

Answer : First of all the demand for image stabilization has increased tremendously. We have worked hard on it with our Optical Stabiliser System. A lot of effort has been put into development and manufacturing. So image stabilization is one of the most important factors of the last two years. Besides that, for digital photography we have to go back to the basis. Lenses for digital cameras should obtain a higher resolution, higher contrast and less distortion because the sensors are more demanding due to a higher resolution. On top of that a lens must be excellent on ghosting and flaring. We have put in a lot of effort to this basic lens technology.

Question : Cameras are getting more and more Megapixels for example if we look at the EOS-1Ds Mark III and the 24 Megapixel sensor Sony announced recently. Even fine lenses such as the Canon L-series, they can hardly cope with the high resolution. What are the main limitations? Is it the lens or the sensor?

Answer : It is not an easy task, it remains challenging. Technically spoken the lens needs a high contrast. For film and especially large formats a high contrast is very important. We have to look at the spatial frequencies. Spatial frequency tells you something about details in an object. If you have low spatial frequencies, it means there are fat lines, and at high frequency it gives thin lines. If the pixel pitch becomes smaller the lens should have sufficient solution capacity for such a small pixel. A lens nowadays should be suitable for both high as well as low spatial frequencies. And it is very hard to unite these two factors into a lens. For a middle format camera the lenses are mainly adjusted to the lower frequencies. Digital photography requires that both are good; the lens should also be suitable for an analogue body. Now that is a challenge.


Question : So at present the lens could be the limitation for the Megapixel race?

Answer : Yes, absolutely. Consumers often change from cameras. But they continue to use lenses. As soon as a new camera comes out with more pixels they swap their old camera for one with more pixels. They keep the lenses. A lens should therefore be ahead of a camera. We have to predict the future of a camera body and set a goal.

Question : Where will it end?

Answer : That's a hard question for me. Personally I don't like the tiny photo diodes. I think the pixel pitch has to be larger for the signal / noise performance. I don't want a camera with more pixels. But customers ask for them. And also the semiconductor industry wants more pixels. Personally I would like the amount of pixels remain the same and I would go for an improvement of the design. Like Foveon has done for example.

Question : Will Sigma launch a special range for the high-end DSLR such as the 1Ds Mark III?

Answer : At this moment there are no such plans. We do keep an open mind about the possibilities for it though. Basically we are trying to improve all our lenses to make them suitable for the highest level too. That way everybody, from amateur to pro, can decide on Sigma lenses. That is our mission.

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