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Sigma interview

Dennis Hissink
Photokina report
Wednesday 11th, October 2006
Posted by: Dennis Hissink

It has been a while since we last spoke with Kazuto Yamaki, Chief Operating Officer, from Sigma Japan. I think it was since last PMA 2006 where we talked about the new FourThirds system lenses and Sigma's future in the digital SLR market. At this Photokina Sigma unveiled some very interesting products, and this time those are not only lenses. We took some time to set up a Q&A session at the booth from Sigma, and asked Kazuto Yamaki about Sigma's new digital SLR camera; the Sigma SD14 and their interesting DP1 high-end digital compact camera. Both cameras are of high interested among our readers. Unfortunately we have to wait for some time to get our hands on a full production model of the DP1 camera.

Sigma interview

Question : Since our last meeting a lot of interesting new announcements have been made, especially at the Photokina show. Sigma has some interesting news on the Booth. Can you please tell us more?

Answer : Thank you. First of all, we have the new Sigma SD14 digital SLR camera which is an important new camera and the successor to the SD10 / SD9 models. But perhaps even more interesting is the Sigma DP1. It's a compact camera with a big sensor, the biggest in today's digital compact camera industry.

Question : The Sigma DP1 is indeed very interesting. You have a pre-production sample on display now. When can we expect to see the Sigma DP1 shipping to the dealers?

Answer : We expect that the DP1 will be on sale around February 2007, maybe even in January. This is our goal and of course with PMA 2007 in sight…

Question : Who will be the typical user of the Sigma DP1?

Answer : With the DP1 we are aiming at the professional photographer, or to be more accurate, the serious photographer. That is also why we have put the big size Foveon sensor in the Sigma DP1. It is the same as in the SD14, so is the same size and has the same characteristics. Serious photographers don’t want to carry a big SLR around all the time, so many of them are searching for that one perfect digital compact. However, they do want the same quality as with their digital SLR camera. The Sigma DP1 may also be interesting for users who want to experiment with the Foveon sensor. They don't need to buy a whole new system to see what this special image sensor is able to produce.

Question : Why is the DP1 only equipped with a fixed 28mm lens, why is there no optical zoom and brighter lens, like a f/2.8 lens, for example?

Answer : It is a compromise. If we had increased the aperture, the lens would have been much bigger and we would not have been able to integrate it into a compact sized camera. The same goes for a zoom lens. The sensor in the Sigma DP1 is big, much bigger than other digital compact cameras. To achieve good quality the lenses must be designed so that the light rays fall straight onto the sensor. With smaller lenses, the rays hit the sensor at an angle. If we want the rays to fall straight on the sensor, the lens has to be very big. This makes the Sigma DP1 less compact. Our first goal was to develop a compact digital camera. A digital zoom may just do the trick in combination with the Foveon image sensor. There is enough resolution, so it may work out just fine. However, the Sigma DP1 is our first compact camera. We will of course try to find other solutions, which we may integrate into next generation of digital compact cameras.

Question : The Sigma DP1 is using the same sensor as the SD14. Does this mean that de DP1 will be able to shoot RAW?

Answer : Yes, the Sigma DP1 compact camera will be able to shoot in RAW format. Remember we are aiming at the serious photographer and RAW is a must in this kind of camera. To convert the RAW images to JPEG format, the DP1 will be delivered with the same software as the SD14. We will even improve the software!

Question : Talking about the Sigma SD14. What is the biggest change with the Foveon sensor? And why did it take so long to produce a follow-up to the SD10 / SD9 models?

Answer : For Sigma it was a really intensive project to develop a camera like the SD14 DSLR. We received enormous feedback from our SD-user groups all over the world, and I have to say that I am really impressed by the high-skilled and dedicated feedback. Together with Foveon I enjoy the fact that the Sigma SD14 camera was created by the joint efforts of and cooperation between the SD-user groups, Foveon and Sigma. Because the Sigma SD14 uses a totally different image sensor, we can't just pick an ordinary component and had to be very careful when designing the components for this special concept. To accomplish this, Foveon has made a tremendous effort to improve the Foveon X3 sensor. Remember the CCD and CMOS sensors are more then 30 years old, whereas the Foveon technique only exists for six years. This shows that Foveon has done a great job in a very short time.

Question : Have any other features of the Sigma SD14 changed or required special development?

Answer : Well, yes. We have now three CPUs integrated in the Sigma SD14 digital SLR. There is one for the image sensor, one for the camera and one for the digital interfaces. It is the first digital camera to use three separate CPUs to do a variety of processes.

Question : Sigma is one of the partners of the FourThirds System. Why did Sigma not choose for a FourThirds SD14 camera?

Answer : Yes, we are a member of the developing group of the FourThirds System. But we already had the SD9 and the SD10 and were working together with Foveon before this system was announced. Showing commitment to SD-users is part of our philosophy. We don't want them to have to invest again in a complete new system. The users of the SD-cameras are very dedicated and loyal. There are a lot of communities and users all around the world who come together to meet and share their experiences. We at Sigma really appreciate this kind of feedback and are grateful for this commitment. The users play a very important role in development. Let me tell you something about the background of the project SD14. Originally, the codename for the Sigma SD14 project was Cooper. Ok, at first this name was because of a band. I like to listen to pop music a lot and when I had to come up with a name, I thought of Kooper. Then other people corrected it, saying it supposed to be Cooper with a C, though the name of the band was Kooper. When we were discussing the name of the project at Sigma, we concluded that Cooper was a perfect name. Cooper can also be read as an abbreviation of cooperation. By this we mean the cooperation between Sigma, Foveon and the user. These three groups were responsible for creating the Sigma SD14 digital SLR.

Question : When the Sigma SD9 was on the market the digital SLR market was relatively small. At that time it was a lot about technique, and Sigma was one of the brands who came up with a new digital imaging solution. Back then you had to explain the technique of the Foveon sensor, but only to a small group of consumers. Today, the digital SLR market is booming and the number of (potential) SD-users has substantially increased. Does this mean you have to explain the Foveon technique again, I mean in the same way you did a few years ago?

Answer : Indeed, this is a big challenge. We have to explain the technique. How it works, why we choose this particular technique and why we can guarantee better image quality. But at the same time we don't want to explain too much or go into too much depth. We don't show much technical information on our website. Instead we have decided to show the results of the Foveon technique. Let the consumer decide about the image quality, because in the end this is what is most important. We believe in this technique otherwise we would not invest our time and money in this project. We will soon be providing samples for downloading via the Sigma website and then people can make up their own minds. Our user group is a very dedicated group of people. It is also a very mixed group of users; most of them are highly educated people. Not only in photography, but we have also got to know philosophers, historians, etc. It is very interesting to discuss our philosophy with our clients.

Question : When will the Sigma SD14 be available, at what prize and what kind of market share do you expect?

Answer : Our goal is to make the Sigma SD14 DSLR available in November 2006, worldwide. The price has not yet been finalized, but we think it will be around $1600. We actually don't have a real market share in mind right now, but of course we hope that many people will buy our cameras. Our first priority was to offer the SD-user groups an upgrade to an improved and higher quality platform.

Question : Let's talk about Sigma lenses for a while. What sort of response was there to the lenses for the FourThirds System?

Answer : We are receiving very positive responses to the lenses. We have many pro photographers in our user groups. They want more lenses to maximize the possibilities of their systems. And of course we can offer them the right solution.

Question : During our last meeting, at the PMA 2006, we talked about Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). At that time your official comment was that OIS was an important feature in lenses and that it had your interest. Today you have introduced a new lens with OIS; the Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS lens. What can we expect to see in the near future?

Answer : Our strategy is to extend, that is why we have developed our own OIS. The Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS lens we introduced today will be available next year, as we are still developing the OIS in the lens. You can expect to see more Sigma lenses with OIS in the near future.

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