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New: Best mirrorless cameras

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New: Best mirrorless cameras


Mirrorless cameras now dominate the interchangeable lens camera market, fifteen years after Panasonic introduced the first example. They include cameras designed for a wide range of photo and video pursuits, and models at everything from budget to professional price points.

We’ve used and tested just about every current mirrorless camera on the market and picked out what we think are the stand-out models. We’ll start with the most affordable models, then work our way up from there. In general terms, the more expensive ones are better, offering better image quality through the use of larger sensors, or higher resolution, faster burst rates or superior video capture. We’ll call out why we’ve made each pick and try to explain the advantages and disadvantages of each choice.

Our picks:


Best value: Sony a6100

24MP APS-C sensor | Hybrid AF with Real-time Tracking | 4K video capture

Photo: Richard Butler

Buy now:


What we like:

  • Excellent autofocus system
  • 4K/30p video recording
  • Tilting touchscreen LCD

What we don’t:

  • Less robust build quality
  • Rolling shutter ‘jello effect’ present in 4K video
  • Crop when recording 4K/30p video

The Sony a6100 is an entry-level APS-C mirrorless camera. It’s equipped with a 24MP sensor, a touchscreen for easy focus placement and Sony’s excellent autofocus tracking which makes it especially easy to focus on people and pets.

The a6100 is happiest if you prefer to point-and-shoot in an auto mode, supported by its very good autofocus. The wide range of lenses available for it give you somewhere to grow if you find yourself catching the photography bug.

The a6100 is the most basic model in the a6000-series and doesn’t feel quite as robust as its step-up siblings. It offers a lower-resolution electronic viewfinder, and twin control dials that are both thumb-operated. Its touchscreen flips upward 180-degrees for easy selfie framing and vlogging.

Sony’s autofocus system has been trained to recognize people and pets as subjects, and will follow them flawlessly throughout the frame. Coupled with the ability to touch the screen to place a focus point, it’s a system that will serve beginner users very well, whatever they’re shooting.

“The a6100’s autofocus can effortlessly track whatever you point it at”

The a6100 makes it easy to record 4K footage or slow-motion 1080 video. There’s a socket to connect an external mic but no way to connect headphones for monitoring. It can be set up for tap-to-track autofocus in video, too. There’s significant ‘jello-effect’ distortion in the 4K footage though, especially in 24p mode.

The a6100 is a good entry-level camera with a very powerful, easy-to-use autofocus system. We’re not huge fans of the kit zoom and the interface isn’t especially welcoming, but with a few settings changes, it can help you get excellent shots, easily.




Best APS-C mirrorless camera: Sony a6700

26MP BSI CMOS sensor | 4K/60p video capture | Fully articulating screen

Photo: Richard Butler

Buy now:


What we like:

  • Front and rear command dials
  • Excellent AF in stills and video
  • 4K/120p capture (with crop)

What we don’t:

  • No AF joystick
  • JPEG sharpening can be aggressive

The Sony a6700 is an enthusiast-level APS-C mirrorless camera built around an image-stabilized, 26MP BSI CMOS sensor. It includes an impressive collection of features for both photo and video shooters.

The a6700 might look a lot like the a6100 but it’s a much more advanced model with better build, greater capabilities in both stills and video, and more hands-on control points.

The a6700 has a thumb-and-forefinger dial interface missing from Sony’s less expensive models. It’s just slightly larger than previous models in the line, but in exchange, you also get a fully articulating display. However, it lacks the AF joystick found on many cameras in its class.

Autofocus on the a6700 offers class-leading subject detection and tracking capabilities. Combined with a dedicated ‘AI’ processor, it effectively tracks subjects around the frame even when shooting at the maximum 11 fps burst shooting rate.

“Excellent photo and video quality with best-in-class AF in stills and video make it an excellent choice for enthusiasts.”

The camera produces very detailed 4K video up to 60p with 10-bit color, with good rolling shutter performance. There’s also a 4K/120p mode, albeit with a 1.58x crop. Autofocus performance is top-notch, with a well-designed touch interface. It’s a strong option both for videographers and vloggers.

Excellent photo and video quality, best-in-class AF in stills and video, and a deep set of features to support both make it an excellent choice for enthusiasts. Sony’s E-mount also includes a good range of available lenses.




What are my other APS-C options?

Although the Sony a6700 is the most capable APS-C camera, if you consider autofocus performance, image quality and video capabilities, there are several other worthy contenders to the title. We like the combination of affordability and likeability of Nikon’s Z fc, now that there are a handful of prime lenses to use with it, and we respect the Sony-rivaling capabilities of several of Canon’s APS-C RF models.

Fujifilm’s X-S20 is also worth considering if you’re looking at APS-C cameras

Photo: Richard Butler

But it’s the Fujifilm X-S20 we think deserves most consideration, if you conclude the a6700 isn’t for you. We think it’s a pretty good-looking camera, and one that shoots great video, as well as attractive stills. Touches such as the AF joystick make it that bit more engaging and enjoyable to shoot with, than the Sony.

Its autofocus tracking isn’t anything like as reliable as Sony or Canon’s latest cameras, but where it really shines is in the selection of lenses available for it. Fujifilm makes a broad selection of prime lenses and the excellent 18-55mm F2.8-4.0 OIS zoom, that’s significantly better than the lenses bundled with most of these cameras. Third party support is strong, too, meaning the camera can grow with you as your photography develops.


Full-frame mirrorless

Full-frame cameras (those with image sensors the same size as traditional “35mm” film) offer the opportunity for better image quality than smaller formats, simply because they have a larger area on which to capture light. However, you don’t get something for nothing: even if you can find an affordable full-frame camera at a good price, the lenses needed to make the most of it will be larger and will typically cost more than the lenses for APS-C or Four Thirds sensors. Broadly speaking there’s a balance to be struck between image quality, size and price, which is worth contemplating before you make the assumption that full-frame is the best (or even ‘better’) format.

Best budget full-frame mirrorless: Canon EOS R8

24 MP full-frame CMOS sensor | 4K/60p 10-bit video recording | 8 fps burst shooting

Photo: Richard Butler

Buy now:


What we like:

  • Great image quality
  • Very good AF subject detection and tracking
  • Good starting price

What we don’t:

  • No in-body image stabilization
  • Short battery life
  • No AF joystick

The Canon EOS R8 is a surprisingly capable compact full-frame mirrorless camera that has the features and image quality of Canon’s EOS R6 II at a much lower price.

The EOS R8 has a comfortable grip and twin dials, giving a good level of direct control. There aren’t many buttons so more committed users may want to move up to the EOS R6 II, rather than rely on the quick menu for changing settings.

Autofocus is the R8’s strong suit: tracking and subject detection are simple to use and very effective. There’s no AF joystick, so you’ll have to use the touchscreen or select a subject and recompose. Battery life is very limited for an entry-level full-frame camera, though it can charge over USB, at least.

“If you’re partial to Canon and are new to full-frame mirrorless, the EOS R8 is a great place to start your photographic journey.”

The R8 shoots attractive video, including 4K footage at up to 60p. The lack of in-body stabilization means you’ll need a stabilized lens or a tripod to get the best results.

Photos are on par with more expensive full-frame cameras, with great high ISO performance, detail-preserving noise reduction, and Canon’s pleasing JPEG colors. The 40 fps burst mode is prone to rolling shutter distortion, reducing its usefulness for capturing action.

The EOS R8 offers the image quality and many of the features of Canon’s more expensive models but battery life, viewfinder resolution and lack of sensor stabilization are part of the price you pay for that. The RF mount is still fairly new so it’s worth researching your lens options before buying, but an adapter allows the use of EF DSLR lenses if you have them.




What are the other entry-level full-frame options?

We also think the Nikon Z5 is worth considering, if you’re looking for a comparatively affordable way into a full-frame system. It’s older than the Canon and its autofocus tracking and video capabilities lag somewhat behind as a result. Like Canon’s RF system, Nikon’s Z-mount lens system is also somewhat short on affordable lenses to pair with an entry-level camera, though Nikon has allowed a couple of other brands to make selected lenses for the system.

What really makes us bring it up here is its usability. The Z5 has a larger, higher-resolution viewfinder, much longer battery life, in-body image stabilization and an AF joystick, all of which can make it a rather more enjoyable camera to shoot with. Definitely worth a look.


Best mirrorless camera under $2000: Nikon Zf

24MP full-frame BSI CMOS sensor | Full-width 4K/30 video, cropped 4K/60 | Stabilization rated to 8EV

Photo: Richard Butler

Buy now:


What we like:

  • Distinctive design with direct controls
  • Effective subject recognition
  • Strong stills and video features

What we don’t:

  • Weight and minimal grip can become uncomfortable
  • Slow MicroSD second slot
  • Few custom buttons

There are some exceptionally good cameras in the $2000-$2500 price category, but few of them are as eye-catching as the Nikon Zf. While the styling is distinctly 1981, the performance is much more contemporary, with very competitive autofocus and the strong balance of stills and video capabilities that we’ve come to expect from a camera at this price.

The Zf gives the choice of using the dedicated control dials or customizable command dials. In most respects it copies its well-polished control system from other recent Nikons. Not everyone will enjoy the angular early 80’s handling but it handles just as well as the cameras it resembles.

The Zf’s autofocus is impressive, with both subject recognition and AF tracking both working well. It’s perhaps not quite as confidence-inspiring as the latest Sony cameras, but it’s not far off. It’d be nice to have an AF joystick but the rear control pad does a decent job.

“The Zf’s looks may date from 1981, but its performance is completely contemporary”

The Zf has a very solid video feature set. Oversampled 4K/30 and cropped 4K/60 is standard for this sensor, but the Zf also adds a waveform display that’s especially useful for exposing its 10-bit Log footage.

The Zf uses a very familiar 24MP BSI sensor that has underpinned numerous cameras in recent years, and the results are predictably good. There’s plenty of dynamic range and enough detail capture for all but the most demanding applications.

The Nikon Zf’s performance lives up to its looks. It’s not as comfortable to hold for long periods as more modern designs, but it’s also distinctive and engaging in a way they’re arguably not. We’re still completing our testing, but it hasn’t disappointed yet.



Best mid-priced full-frame mirrorless: Canon EOS R6 II

24MP Dual Pixel AF CMOS sensor | 40fps burst shooting | 4K/60 from 6K capture

Photo: Richard Butler

Buy now:


What we like:

  • Simple, powerful AF for stills
  • Fast 40fps shooting with continuous AF
  • Excellent battery life

What we don’t:

  • AF less reliable in video mode
  • SD cards limit burst duration
  • E-shutter can distort fast-moving subject

The EOS R6 Mark II is Canon’s second-generation full-frame enthusiast mirrorless camera, and is based around a stabilized 24MP Dual Pixel CMOS sensor.

The Canon EOS R6 II stands out from strong competition by doing everything really well. Its autofocus is only a fraction behind the Sony a7 IV, but its video is better, with less rolling shutter and no need to crop to achieve 4K/60p. This gives it performance ahead of the Panasonic and Nikon offerings at this price, and its ergonomics are a match for the best of them. It’s just a really all-round solid package.

The R6 II has a substantial hand grip and well spaced controls that pair with a simple touchscreen interface and logically-arranged menu system. It fits comfortably in the hand even with larger lenses.

The EOS R6 Mark II is a great stills and video camera, with fast burst shooting being its standout feature.

Autofocus performance is consistently reliable, even when capturing images at 40fps. A wide variety of subject detection modes and a surprisingly clever ‘Auto’ detection mode allow the camera to choose appropriate AF areas and algorithms for many commonly-photographed subjects.

Video is substantially improved over the original R6, with full width oversampled 4K up to 60p, and greatly improved thermal management. Video autofocus still has a tendency to jump to the background, requiring the user to continually redirect the camera to your chosen subject while filming.

Rolling shutter is surprisingly well controlled in 40fps electronic shutter mode, though like most of its peers, the R6 Mark II drops to 12-bit capture, reducing dynamic range. In the less fast modes, the image quality is excellent.

Aside from the maximum burst rate, the Canon R6 Mark II might look like a minor upgrade from its 2020 Camera of the Year precursor, but the impressive number of small improvements add up to one of the most well-rounded full-frame cameras in its price range.




The mid-priced rivals

There are plenty of other cameras worth considering, in the around $2000 price category. The Canon and Nikon are the real stand-outs, but you’re unlikely to regret your decision, whichever you opt for. The Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 II would probably be our choice if you want to shoot both stills and video, despite it having to crop in to capture 4K/60, which the Canon doesn’t. It’s the level of supporting tools that makes it so videographer-friendly, with a wide variety of capture formats, waveform displays and the ability to set exposure as shutter angle making it stand out. The S5 IIX is even stronger in this regard, with the ability to record very high quality video straight to an external SSD.

Sony’s a7 IV is also a solid enough choice, with excellent autofocus and slightly higher resolution capture than its peers. It’s the smaller, less expensive a7C II that we prefer, though. Its autofocus is a generation newer and it’s appreciably smaller than its rivals. The viewfinder is small and there’s no AF joystick though, which are the main reasons it’s not one of our main picks.


Best high-end mirrorless camera: Nikon Z8

46MP Stacked CMOS sensor | 20fps Raw, 30fps full-size JPEG shooting | 8K/60 and 4K/120 video

Photo: Richard Butler

Buy now:


What we like:

  • Superb autofocus
  • Fast shooting
  • Excellent video

What we don’t:

  • Large, heavy body
  • Relatively low-res (though fast) viewfinder
  • Not all subject detection modes equally good

The Nikon Z8 offers essentially all the capabilities of Nikon’s pro-focused sports camera, the Z9. It’s somewhat larger than its immediate peers, but its combination of resolution, speed, autofocus capability and video features means it will support you in just about anything you ask of it.

The Z8 has a large, comfortable grip with well-placed controls. There’s a good level of customizable controls and ergonomics that match the pro-focused Z9. The viewfinder resolution is low but the brightness and lack of lag make it one of best-suited to action.

The Z8 can be set to track whatever’s under the AF point and does so dependably. It can also prioritize recognized subjects near the AF point if you prefer. 20fps Raw shooting or 30fps full-res JPEG capture (with pre-burst option) make the Z8 very rapid.

“The Nikon Z8 is one of the best cameras we’ve yet tested, combining fast shooting, great AF, strong video and top-notch IQ”

Video quality is excellent with a choice of Raw and 10-bit gamma/compressed formats with up to 8K/60 or 4K/60 derived from it. There’s also a less-detailed 4K/120p option. Tools such as waveforms and dependable AF make it easy to shoot with.

Image quality is excellent, with high detail levels maintained into fairly low light. JPEG color is attractive and the there’s no sign of degradation if you use the more compressed Raw options.

The Nikon Z8 is a hugely capable all-rounder, combining resolution, autofocus performance and video capabilities not seen before at this price. It’s not a small or light camera but it makes you feel ready for anything, photographically while you’re carrying it.




Compact high-resolution: Sony a7CR

61MP BSI CMOS sensor | 4K/60p video with 10-bit color | Dedicated ‘AI’ processor for AF system

Photo: Richard Butler

Buy now:


What we like:

  • Big camera features in a small body
  • Outstanding AF performance
  • Auto Framing video mode

What we don’t:

  • Small, low-res viewfinder
  • No joystick control
  • No fully mechanical shutter

The Sony a7CR takes most of the features of the more expensive a7R V and provides them in a smaller package. The viewfinder is disappointing for such an expensive camera, but nothing gives you so much image quality in such a small, capable package.

The a7CR is impressively small for a full-frame camera. The addition of a front control dial improves handling significantly. Notably, there’s no joystick for positioning the AF point, and the viewfinder is small and very low resolution for a camera costing this much.

Autofocus performance on the a7CR is very good and is helped by a dedicated processor for crunching complex machine learning-trained algorithms. Subject recognition is quick, and the AF system tracks subjects tenaciously around the frame in either stills or video. 8 fps burst shooting with continuous AF results in a dependably high hit rate.

“If you’re looking for maximum resolution in a travel-sized body, the a7RC is tough to beat.”

The a7CR captures 4K video at up to 60 fps. The most detailed, oversampled footage results from a 1.2x crop of the sensor, which makes it challenging to maintain wider focal lengths. Auto Framing mode uses AI algorithms to mimic the way a camera operator might punch in on subjects, keeping them framed and in focus.

The a7CR’s 61MP sensor can capture a lot of detail, putting it ahead of most full-frame rivals; though it is a little noisier in low light. JPEG colors are pleasing, and excellent sharpening makes the most out of the 61MP sensor. Raw files provide plenty of latitude to pull up shadows at base ISO.

The a7CR delivers impressive results for its size. It essentially provides the same level of image quality, and most of the same features, as Sony’s a7R V, but in a smaller package. In exchange for the small size, you make a few compromises, like no AF joystick, but if you’re looking for maximum resolution in a travel-sized body, the a7CR is tough to beat.



What are the other high-end options?

Just about all the cameras in the >$2500 price bracket are, unsurprisingly, rather good. We go into a little more detail about their relative merits in our ‘High-end camera buying guide.’ As at any price, the key things to consider are what types of photography you plan to do (and hence, which features and capabilities are most important to you), and whether the lenses you need are available at a price you’re willing to pay.


Why you should trust us

This buying guide is based on cameras used and tested by DPReview’s editorial team. We don’t select a camera until we’ve used it enough to be confident in recommending it, usually after our extensive review process. The selections are purely a reflection of which cameras we believe to be best: there are no financial incentives for us to select one model or brand over another.



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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.”


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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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