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Field review: Sigma 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN

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Field review: Sigma 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN

Introduction

The Sigma 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary lens is a very compact, lightweight standard zoom lens for full-frame and APS-C mirrorless cameras. It boasts a constant F2.8 maximum aperture across its zoom range and is available for both the Sony E-mount, as well as for Leica, Sigma and Panasonic cameras from the L-mount Alliance.

It’s aimed at photographers and videographers who want a bright walkaround zoom and the bokeh possibilities that a wide aperture brings but who don’t want the size, weight and cost typical of many F2.8 zooms. Travel and landscape photographers in particular will find its modest size and weight appealing, and it also offers potential as a portrait lens or for video capture.

Available now, the Sigma 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary carries a list price of $899.

All images edited in Adobe Camera Raw 13 with adjustments limited to white balance, exposure, highlights, shadows, white and black levels. Sharpening and noise reduction at ACR defaults.


Key specifications:

  • Mount: E-mount (Sony) or L-mount (Panasonic, Leica, Sigma)
  • Focal length: 28-70mm (42-105mm on APS-C bodies or with APS-C crop)
  • Aperture range: F2.8 – F22
  • Stabilization: None
  • Filter thread: 67mm
  • Close focus: 0.19m (7.5″) wide / 0.38m (15.0″) tele
  • Maximum magnification: 0.30x (wide) / 0.22x (tele)
  • Diaphragm blades: 9
  • Hood: Included
  • Weight: 470g (1.04 lb)
  • Optical construction: 16 elements in 12 groups (2 FLD, 2 SLD, 3 aspherical)
ISO 100 | 1/320 sec | F8 | 36mm | Panasonic S1R
Photo by Barney Britton

There are several alternatives to the Sigma 28-70mm F2.8, although only one of these is available for both the E-mount and L-mount: The Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art. It’s priced $200 higher, is 21.4mm (0.8in) longer and fully 75% heavier.

For the added cost and heft, the Sigma 24-70mm Art offers even better image quality and includes an 11-bladed aperture. It also provides a little extra wide-angle coverage and full weather sealing. If you can stretch your budget a little further, we find it’s a worthwhile choice.

ISO 100 | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | 42mm | Panasonic S1R
Photo by Barney Britton

Sony E-mount shooters also have access to the more affordable Tamron 28–75mm F/2.8 Di III RXD. It’s just 16.3mm (0.6in) longer, weighs 80g (2.8oz) more, and gives you a fractionally more powerful 75mm telephoto than the Sigma 28-70mm. It also offers full weather-sealing versus the mount-only sealing of the Sigma 28-70mm F2.8.

Yet despite coming in lighter and smaller than the Sigma, it’s $100 less expensive. But if portability is your primary concern and you don’t need all-weather shooting capability, then the Sigma’s length and weight savings are certainly enough to be noticeable.

The deep-pocketed and less size/weight-conscious may also want to consider the Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM ($2099.99) for E-mount or the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 24-70mm F2.8 ($2199.99) for L-mount. Both are not only significantly pricier but also just a little larger and heavier again even than the Sigma 24-70mm Art.

Compared to…

Sigma 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN | Art Tamron 28–75mm F/2.8 Di III RXD
Price (MSRP) $899 $1099 $799
Mount(s) Leica L and Sony E Leica L and Sony E Sony E
Optical construction 16 elements, 12 groups 19 elements, 15 groups 15 elements, 12 groups
Aperture diaphragm 9 blades 11 blades 9 blades
Weather sealed Yes, mount-gasket only Yes Yes
Minimum focus distance / max magnification 0.19 m (7.5) / 0.30x 0.18 m (7.1) / 0.34x 0.19 m (7.5) / 0.34x
Filter size 67mm 82mm 67mm
Diameter x Length
(no hood)
L-mount: 72.2mm x 101.5mm (2.8″ x 4.0″)
E-mount: 72.2mm x 103.5mm (2.8″ x 4.1″)
L-mount: 87.8mm x 122.9mm (3.5″ x 4.8″)
E-mount: 87.8mm x 124.9mm (3.5″ x 4.9″)
73mm x 117.8mm (2.9″ x 4.6″)
Weight 470g (16.6oz) L-mount: 835g (29.5oz)
E-mount: 830g (29.0oz)
550g (19.4oz)

Handling

As you might expect, the featherweight Sigma 28-70mm F2.8’s body is predominantly constructed from polycarbonate, although it does still have a metal mount and build quality is good. And while it isn’t fully weather-sealed like its nearest rivals, the mount still includes a seal that should help protect your camera body from the elements, if not the lens itself.

And since it is so lightweight, balance is very good. Regardless of the mount variant you choose, it shouldn’t feel front-heavy on any body you might want to pair it with.

With no built-in image stabilization, there are only three controls in total: A pair of very nice, well-dampened zoom and manual focus rings and a focus mode selector switch on the left side of the barrel.

Up front, you’ll find 67mm filter threads. That’s the same size as used by its Tamron rival, while the Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 opts instead for a larger 82mm filter thread.


Autofocus and focus breathing

Autofocus comes courtesy of a stepper motor that drives just a single lightweight focusing element, and the result is swift and silent AF. It takes just one second or less to fully rack the autofocus from the 19cm (7.5in) minimum focus distance to infinity. The linear motors in the Sony 24-70mm F2.8 GM or Canon’s RF 24-70mm F2.8L may be a tad faster, but for most use cases, the Sigma’s autofocus is more than fast enough.

Despite its fairly close focusing distance, this isn’t a true macro lens. The maximum magnification of 0.30x (1:3.3) occurs at wide-angle, and if you zoom to the 70mm position, you’ll need to move back to 38cm (15in) from your subject, resulting in a weaker but still respectable 0.22x (1:4.6) magnification at telephoto.

ISO 100 | 1/1000 sec | F2.8 | 61mm | Panasonic S1R
Photo by Barney Britton

In terms of video autofocus, the Sigma 28-70mm DG DN has the potential to be a really great option. Not only does it offer silent autofocus drive and very nicely-damped manual focus, but it also has well controlled focus breathing. There’s only a bit at the 28mm wide-angle end and very little at all by the time you zoom in to 70mm.


Image quality

Life is all about compromises. With a bright, continuous aperture and minimal size and weight being the key elements of its design, it’s not surprising at all that the Sigma 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN’s image quality can’t quite compete with larger, more expensive alternatives like Sigma’s own 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art.

That said, the 28-70mm F2.8 Contemporary still offers solid image quality. This is especially true if you’re willing to stop down a bit, don’t shoot with an extremely high-res body or don’t need perfection in the corners. Let’s take a closer look.

ISO 100 | 1/80 sec | F4.5 | 49mm | Panasonic S1R
Photo by Barney Britton

Sharpness

Shooting wide-open at F2.8 (which you’ll quite likely want to spend much of your time doing if you’ve bought this lens for its bright maximum aperture), sharpness is very acceptable in the center of the frame at 28mm and remains pretty good even once you zoom in to the 70mm telephoto.

Stopping down to F5.6, we see a slight improvement in sharpness at wide-angle and a bigger improvement at telephoto, since the lens is softer wide open at 70mm than it is at 28mm. You’ll appreciate this improvement in sharpness more if you’re shooting with a high-resolution camera. We tested with both the 42-megapixel Sony A7R III and 47-megapixel Panasonic S1R; with a 24-megapixel body, that difference would be much less noticeable.

ISO 100 | 1/500 sec | F2.8 | 58mm | Sony A7R III
Photo by Chris Niccolls

Sharpness drops off a little at the corners on the wide end at F2.8, but stopping down to F5.6 gives a relatively flat field of focus and improved corner sharpness. That said, focusing in the corner yields higher corner sharpness than focusing in the center and stopping down, indicating a curved field of focus. Focusing in the corner and stopping down yields even better corner sharpness, as expected. The not-so-flat field of focus, at least in part, contributes to the peripheral softness when focusing centrally.

This might be an issue if you like to shoot landscapes (or brick walls) wide open but, practically speaking, stopping down the lens will yield decent edge sharpness. Meanwhile, if you need optimal sharpness off-axis, simply use an off-center AF point (rather than using the ‘focus and recompose’ method).

Results at 70mm follow a similar pattern, but with softer results overall, particularly at close focus distances. Wide open, portraits can often look a little dreamy.

ISO 100 | 1/1250 sec | F5 | 61mm | Panasonic S1R
Photo by Barney Britton

For most practical purposes, however, the Sigma 28-70mm is easily sharp enough. For portrait shooting, just make sure you use an AF point over your subject for focus to overcome any issues with field curvature, as you should with any lens and modern autofocus system. And for wide-angle landscape shooting, stopping down to F5.6 will help, and by the time you reach F8 or F11, you’ll be really pleased with the results.

Vignetting and distortion

When it comes to distortion, we need to discuss the Leica L-mount and Sony E-mount versions of the lens separately. That’s because if you’re an L-mount shooter, distortion is corrected automatically in both JPEG and Raw files, but if you’re shooting Raw on the E mount variant on a Sony body and using Adobe software, there’s (currently) no correction applied for distortion.

Distortion isn’t an issue for the L-mount version thanks to automatic correction, but Sony E-mount variants show some barrel distortion at wide-angle and prominent pincushion at telephoto.

Shooting on a Sony A7R III body, our samples show some barrel distortion noticeable at wide-angle, which changes to become quite prominent pincushion by telephoto. By contrast, our samples shot on a Panasonic Lumix DC-S1R show practically no distortion, thanks to automatic correction. Raw shooters of any mount who use Capture One have more options here, as it can use the embedded distortion correction metadata to correct the image.

Distortion isn’t an issue for the L-mount version thanks to automatic correction, but the Sony E-mount variant shows some barrel distortion at wide-angle and quite prominent pincushion at telephoto.
ISO 100 | 1/2000 sec | F4 | Sony A7R III
Photos by Chris Niccolls

Vignetting is not a concern for the Sigma 28-70mm F2.8. It’s only really noticeable at telephoto, and even there is minor and easily corrected.

Bokeh

There’s both good news and bad news on the bokeh front. The Sigma 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN’s bokeh has a really pleasing, smooth look to it, with only minimal onion ring effect and smoothly-rounded, step-free edges even when stopped down to F4.

For the most part, bokeh is very pleasing, with only very slight onion ring and a nice, polygon-free shape even when stopped down to F4.
ISO 100 | 1/200 sec | F4 | 70mm | Sony A7R III
Photo by Chris Niccolls

On the other hand, it’s quite prone to cat’s eye effect when shooting wide-open, giving the bokeh more of a football (or for non-Americans, rugby ball) shape the closer it gets to the corners. And that problem is not limited just to those corners but extends quite a long way towards the center of the frame.

While out-of-focus highlights start taking on a football-like shape fairly quickly away as you leave the central region of the frame, the good news is the effect is fairly modest until you reach the very edges and corners. Here, the effect is not so much cats eye as it is truncation of the optical cone due to mechanical obstruction (see the odd shapes in the image below).

Cat’s eye effect is quite noticeable when shooting wide-open and can appear quite a long way towards the center of the image frame.
ISO 3200 | 1/80 sec | F2.8 | 70mm | Sony A7R III
Photo by Chris Niccolls

Stopping down helps significantly, though it doesn’t entirely solve the problem at the extremes of the image. To be fair, this is an issue with most 24-70mm F2.8 lenses.

Overall, though, we really enjoyed the Sigma’s thin depth of field and ability to yield soft backgrounds that help draw your viewers’ focus to the primary subject, especially for portrait shots. And the falloff from out-of-focus to in-focus and back again is also rather nice.

Flare, ghosting and sunstars

The Sigma 28-70mm F2.8 turns in a decent performance when it comes to ghosting. Even when shooting into the sun or with it in the corner of the frame, there was only a little ghosting noticeable in the far opposite corner. However, flare can be an issue, and you may see a noticeable loss of contrast when shooting with a bright light source in the frame.

ISO 100 | 1/1600 sec | F2.8 | 70mm | Sony A7R III
Photo by Chris Niccolls

Sunstars are relatively pleasing, with 18 rays thanks to the nine aperture blades. They’re not as tight as they could be – each ray splits and diverges into two rays – and as expected stars on the wide end look better than those on the telephoto end where they can appear a bit ‘messy’.

ISO 100 | 1/40 sec | F16 | 28mm | Sony A7R III
Photo by Chris Niccolls

Lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration (fringing)

We didn’t see any major issues with lateral chromatic aberration for this lens. There’s a truly minute amount of it, perhaps 2-3 pixels wide on a 42MP image (that’s a half a millimeter on a 40″ x 60″ print) that clears up easily if you enable CA corrections in-camera or in your Raw converter.

There’s just a little bit of longitudinal chromatic aberration, visible as color fringing, around high contrast edges of slightly out-of-focus regions, but as you can see in the sample below, it’s not really anything to concern yourself over. It disappears immediately upon stopping down.

A little bit of longitudinal chromatic aberration can be seen as magenta and cyan color fringing around high contrast edges in the image above. It’s subtle enough to be a non-issue for the most part, and goes away as you stop down the lens.

ISO 100 | 1/400 sec | F@2.8 | 70mm | Panasonic S1R
Photo by Barney Britton


Conclusion

What we like What we don’t
  • Extremely compact and lightweight
  • Bright, constant F2.8 max aperture
  • Swift, silent autofocus
  • Minimal focus breathing
  • Nicely damped focus and zoom rings
  • Pleasing bokeh in most respects
  • Good center sharpness
  • Resists ghosting and chromatic aberrations well
  • Balances well even with smaller bodies
  • Affordably priced
  • Not fully weather-sealed
  • Corners look soft, especially at telephoto
  • Close-up telephoto portraits can appear dreamy due to softness
  • Somewhat flare-prone in some situations
  • Prone to ‘cat’s eye’ effect when shooting wide-open

At the end of the day, it’s important to bear in mind the target customer when evaluating the Sigma 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary. Can more money get you an upgrade in the image quality department? Absolutely, as always. But it’ll also come at the additional cost of a significantly larger, heavier lens. If you’ve got to pack it for air travel or carry it with you while out hiking or roaming around town on foot, that added size and weight will be a disadvantage.

ISO 100 | 1/100 sec | F4 | 45mm | Panasonic S1R
Photo by Barney Britton

Sure, it has some caveats in the image quality department. Most notably, corner sharpness isn’t stellar at telephoto while wide-open; close-up telephoto shots wide open can have a soft dreamy look, and it’s also quite prone to cat’s eye bokeh effect. But honestly, depending on your subjects, those may not be major concerns for you. And image quality is otherwise solid, with very good sharpness across much of the focal range, pleasing bokeh, and good resistance to aberrations and ghosting.

ISO 100 | 1/13 sec | F4.5 | 49mm | Sony A7R III
Photo by Chris Niccolls

The Sigma 28-70mm F2.8 is also well-suited to video capture, with swift and silent autofocus and nicely-damped controls, as well as minimal focus breathing. Its only other significant shortcoming is the lack of full weather-sealing, something offered by all of its nearest rivals. If you expect to shoot rain or shine, that may be a deal-breaker, but if not, then it represents an opportunity to save some money while getting better portability.

If you prioritize outright image quality and durability over size, weight and cost, we’d recommend the fully weather-sealed Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art. And for E-mount shooters who are more size, weight and cost-conscious but who need to shoot regardless of the elements, the Tamron 28–75mm F/2.8 Di III RXD also offers a compelling alternative if you can live with its more distracting bokeh.

On the telephoto end the maximum magnification ratio is 0.22x. Close-up subjects shot at 70mm can appear soft and dreamy.

ISO 250 | 1/200 sec | F2.8 | 70mm | Panasonic S1R
Photo by Barney Britton

But if what you need most of all is portability and you understand the compromises necessary to achieve it, the Sigma 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN is hands-down the smallest and lightest of the bunch and still offers solid image quality.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s also among the most affordable F2.8 full-frame standard zoom options for the E- or L-mounts. For the size, weight and cost-conscious, it’s definitely worthy of consideration.


DPReview TV review

See what our team at DPReview TV has to say about the Sigma 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C.


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Halide announces Kino, a “Pro Video Camera” for iOS

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Halide announces Kino, a “Pro Video Camera” for iOS


Lux, the team behind the Apple Design Award-winning photography app Halide, has announced Kino, an app that it claims will bring pro-level video tools to iPhone users.

The developers state that Kino is intended to give users complete control in both automatic and manual shooting modes based on some clever built-in logic. The app includes a feature called AutoMotion, which automatically sets a 180º shutter angle in order to create cinematic motion blur. An ‘Auto’ label turns green when the settings are just right, letting you know you’re good to go. If the camera can’t achieve a 180º shutter, such as when shooting outdoors in bright light, you may need to add an ND filter to allow the shutter to lock onto the correct angle.

Another headline feature is Instant Grade, which takes advantage of Apple Log, available on the newest iPhone 15 Pro models. Apple’s camera app records Log footage in ProRes format, which creates large files and requires editing to finalize color; Instant Grade will allow users to apply color presets directly to Apple Log footage as it’s being captured and saves the recordings in the more efficient HEVC format, allowing for cinematic video straight out of camera. The app includes color presets from pro colorists, but users can import their own LUTs into the app as well.

Kino includes color presets created by professional colorists.

The app also includes advanced features, such as the ability to save files into either Apple’s Photos app or to a specific file location, composition guides, audio levels, USB-C storage compatibility, RGB waveform, manual focus with peaking, WB/AE lock, exposure compensation and a lockable user interface.

For beginners who may not be as familiar with a video-first workflow, the app will include free lessons on the basics of shooting video.

Kino is available beginning today at a promotional price of $9.99, though the company indicated that the price will increase to $19.99 “a few days after launch.”


Buy now:




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Sigma CEO talks market trends, the challenge of innovation and the future for APS-C

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Sigma CEO talks market trends, the challenge of innovation and the future for APS-C


Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki

Photo: Richard Butler

“All camera and lens manufacturers have to be innovative,” says Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki, but “technology competition among manufacturers may not always be beneficial to customers… Easier to use interfaces, compact and lightweight bodies for enhanced portability, or some other specifications might be more important.”

In the second part of a wide-ranging interview conducted at the CP+ show in Yokohama in late February, Yamaki talked about current state of the market, the need for innovation and the challenges of delivering that innovation.

State of the market

“Last year was not so bad,” he says, when asked about the state of the market: “It looks like the trend of the shrinking market has hit the bottom.” But he suggests this may not continue: “For the time being, many photographers are now switching from DSLR to mirrorless, which will sustain the market. However, after they switch to mirrorless cameras, I worry that the market could shrink in the coming years.”

“One reason for my concern is the increasing average price of cameras and lenses. I truly appreciate the passion of the customers who are still spending so much money on cameras and lenses. However, I’m afraid that not so many customers can afford such high-priced cameras and lenses, so we’re still trying hard to keep the retail price reasonable.”

“I’m afraid that not so many customers can afford such high-priced cameras and lenses”

“Especially these days, the younger generation takes huge amounts of photos with smartphones. While we can expect some of them to switch from a smartphone to a camera, many may find the price gap too wide, and challenging to make the switch.”

Yamaki also expresses concern about some of the tech trends he’s seeing: “Investing in the development of more advanced technology is crucial. However, it’s equally important to focus on our customers.”

“We’ve seen some cameras with very technically impressive specifications, but I worry that they’re not always capabilities that many photographers really need. Moving forward, I speculate that more user-friendly specifications might mean more to customers. Easier to use interfaces, a compact and lightweight body for enhanced portability, or some other specifications might be more important.”

The challenges of innovation

Sigma has launched some ambitious and unusual lenses in recent years, including the 14mm F1.4 DG DN. Yamaki describes astrophotography, for which it’s designed, as the most challenging subject.

Image: Sigma

He uses the recently announced 500mm F5.6 as an example of customer-focused innovation. “Canon and Nikon had similar lenses for DSLRs. They achieved it by using diffractive lens elements,” he explains: “Instead of using one powerful diffractive element, we used multiple special low-dispersion [SLD] glass. We used one SLD and three FLD elements. By using multiple special lenses, we could achieve a similar effect. That’s how we can make it so compact and lightweight.”

But this approach isn’t simple, he says: “It requires lots of very high manufacturing technology and skill, but because we have a very good factory and our optical designers trust the capability of our factory, we were able to go for this design.”

“In most cases, we are the first to use new types of glass, and once they see Sigma use that lens element, they start using it.”

“This trust is really, really important,” he explains: “Lens polishing is still a unique process that has a lower yield. Normally, in something like electronics, the yield ratio is something like 99.99996 percent, or something like that. But when it comes to lenses, for example, in our case, because our yield is so high, our yield ratio from the start of the process to the end is close to 90%. So if we plan to build 1,000 units of a specific lens, we have to start polishing 1,100 pieces, and during the process, about 10% of the lens elements will fail and have to be scrapped.”

A question of trust

“That’s the reason why other companies hesitate to use new glass elements. They are uncertain about the yield ratio. In most cases, we are the first to use a new type of element, and once they see Sigma use that lens element, they start using it. I’m very happy to play such a role. Sigma is kind of the guinea pig in the lens industry: they use Sigma as an experiment, and if we prove it, they use it.”

This commitment to pushing the use of new glass types reflects Yamaki’s wider vision of the company’s role. This can be seen in the ambitious lenses it’s recently introduced aimed at astrophotography, he says.

“First of all, I believe it’s one of Sigma’s missions to create niche products. If we only concentrate on standard products and release lower-priced versions, it’s not good: we would not be able to contribute to the development of the photography culture. As a lens manufacturer it’s our mission to develop such niche lenses that satisfy a specific target group.”

“Secondly, most lenses are so good, maybe much better than people’s expectations. But only astrophotographers are never satisfied: they’re so keen for quality! They’re looking at the shape of stars in the corners. Star images are the toughest, most challenging subject, or let’s say, the most nasty lens chart. You can see all kinds of aberrations in star images. That’s why we want to show what we can do with our capability. So lenses for astrophotography is my personal strong passion to show the capability of Sigma’s technology.”

The future of APS-C

Yamaki says the audience for its I-series of full-frame lenses, such as the 17mm F4 DG DN pictured, is similar to that for the DC DN range of APS-C primes. However, it doesn’t sound like there are plans for I-series-style versions of the DC lenses.

Image: Sigma

With all this talk of niches, we steered the conversation towards the DC DN primes. We wanted to know whether he sees the users of these lenses as distinct from those of the mid-priced i-Series full-frame primes, which feature metal bodies and aperture rings.

“I see they are very similar customers: those who value compactness and image quality. These customers often live in big cities and use public transportation a lot. So they cannot carry around big, heavy equipment in the car. They have to carry it around in their bags.”

Despite this, it doesn’t sound like there are any plans to refresh the DC DNs with more i-Series-like designs: “Those who want full-frame can use the I series lenses, while those who are happy with APS-C cameras can use the many lightweight DC DN lenses,” he says.

But, while we won’t expect APS-C primes with aperture rings for X-mount or the Nikon Z fc any time soon, Yamaki’s comments about his commitment to APS-C bode well, given the announcement that it’ll make lenses for both Nikon’s Z mount and Canon’s RF system:

“Our plan is to have a relatively complete range of lenses for APS-C sized sensors.”


This article was based on an interview conducted by Dale Baskin and Richard Butler at the CP+ show in Yokohama, Japan.



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Sigma CEO talks market trends, the challenge of innovation and the future for APS-C

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Sigma CEO talks market trends, the challenge of innovation and the future for APS-C


Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki

Photo: Richard Butler

“All camera and lens manufacturers have to be innovative,” says Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki, but “technology competition among manufacturers may not always be beneficial to customers… Easier to use interfaces, compact and lightweight bodies for enhanced portability, or some other specifications might be more important.”

In the second part of a wide-ranging interview conducted at the CP+ show in Yokohama in late February, Yamaki talked about current state of the market, the need for innovation and the challenges of delivering that innovation.

State of the market

“Last year was not so bad,” he says, when asked about the state of the market: “It looks like the trend of the shrinking market has hit the bottom.” But he suggests this may not continue: “For the time being, many photographers are now switching from DSLR to mirrorless, which will sustain the market. However, after they switch to mirrorless cameras, I worry that the market could shrink in the coming years.”

“One reason for my concern is the increasing average price of cameras and lenses. I truly appreciate the passion of the customers who are still spending so much money on cameras and lenses. However, I’m afraid that not so many customers can afford such high-priced cameras and lenses, so we’re still trying hard to keep the retail price reasonable.”

“I’m afraid that not so many customers can afford such high-priced cameras and lenses”

“Especially these days, the younger generation takes huge amounts of photos with smartphones. While we can expect some of them to switch from a smartphone to a camera, many may find the price gap too wide, and challenging to make the switch.”

Yamaki also expresses concern about some of the tech trends he’s seeing: “Investing in the development of more advanced technology is crucial. However, it’s equally important to focus on our customers.”

“We’ve seen some cameras with very technically impressive specifications, but I worry that they’re not always capabilities that many photographers really need. Moving forward, I speculate that more user-friendly specifications might mean more to customers. Easier to use interfaces, a compact and lightweight body for enhanced portability, or some other specifications might be more important.”

The challenges of innovation

Sigma has launched some ambitious and unusual lenses in recent years, including the 14mm F1.4 DG DN. Yamaki describes astrophotography, for which it’s designed, as the most challenging subject.

Image: Sigma

He uses the recently announced 500mm F5.6 as an example of customer-focused innovation. “Canon and Nikon had similar lenses for DSLRs. They achieved it by using diffractive lens elements,” he explains: “Instead of using one powerful diffractive element, we used multiple special low-dispersion [SLD] glass. We used one SLD and three FLD elements. By using multiple special lenses, we could achieve a similar effect. That’s how we can make it so compact and lightweight.”

But this approach isn’t simple, he says: “It requires lots of very high manufacturing technology and skill, but because we have a very good factory and our optical designers trust the capability of our factory, we were able to go for this design.”

“In most cases, we are the first to use new types of glass, and once they see Sigma use that lens element, they start using it.”

“This trust is really, really important,” he explains: “Lens polishing is still a unique process that has a lower yield. Normally, in something like electronics, the yield ratio is something like 99.99996 percent, or something like that. But when it comes to lenses, for example, in our case, because our yield is so high, our yield ratio from the start of the process to the end is close to 90%. So if we plan to build 1,000 units of a specific lens, we have to start polishing 1,100 pieces, and during the process, about 10% of the lens elements will fail and have to be scrapped.”

A question of trust

“That’s the reason why other companies hesitate to use new glass elements. They are uncertain about the yield ratio. In most cases, we are the first to use a new type of element, and once they see Sigma use that lens element, they start using it. I’m very happy to play such a role. Sigma is kind of the guinea pig in the lens industry: they use Sigma as an experiment, and if we prove it, they use it.”

This commitment to pushing the use of new glass types reflects Yamaki’s wider vision of the company’s role. This can be seen in the ambitious lenses it’s recently introduced aimed at astrophotography, he says.

“First of all, I believe it’s one of Sigma’s missions to create niche products. If we only concentrate on standard products and release lower-priced versions, it’s not good: we would not be able to contribute to the development of the photography culture. As a lens manufacturer it’s our mission to develop such niche lenses that satisfy a specific target group.”

“Secondly, most lenses are so good, maybe much better than people’s expectations. But only astrophotographers are never satisfied: they’re so keen for quality! They’re looking at the shape of stars in the corners. Star images are the toughest, most challenging subject, or let’s say, the most nasty lens chart. You can see all kinds of aberrations in star images. That’s why we want to show what we can do with our capability. So lenses for astrophotography is my personal strong passion to show the capability of Sigma’s technology.”

The future of APS-C

Yamaki says the audience for its I-series of full-frame lenses, such as the 17mm F4 DG DN pictured, is similar to that for the DC DN range of APS-C primes. However, it doesn’t sound like there are plans for I-series-style versions of the DC lenses.

Image: Sigma

With all this talk of niches, we steered the conversation towards the DC DN primes. We wanted to know whether he sees the users of these lenses as distinct from those of the mid-priced i-Series full-frame primes, which feature metal bodies and aperture rings.

“I see they are very similar customers: those who value compactness and image quality. These customers often live in big cities and use public transportation a lot. So they cannot carry around big, heavy equipment in the car. They have to carry it around in their bags.”

Despite this, it doesn’t sound like there are any plans to refresh the DC DNs with more i-Series-like designs: “Those who want full-frame can use the I series lenses, while those who are happy with APS-C cameras can use the many lightweight DC DN lenses,” he says.

But, while we won’t expect APS-C primes with aperture rings for X-mount or the Nikon Z fc any time soon, Yamaki’s comments about his commitment to APS-C bode well, given the announcement that it’ll make lenses for both Nikon’s Z mount and Canon’s RF system:

“Our plan is to have a relatively complete range of lenses for APS-C sized sensors.”


This article was based on an interview conducted by Dale Baskin and Richard Butler at the CP+ show in Yokohama, Japan.



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