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The 7 Best compact zoom cameras

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The 7 Best compact zoom cameras


Updated Nov 23, 2023

Long gone are the days when all of us owned some kind of compact camera: the convenience and increasing quality of smartphones saw to that. But there are still some situations in which a compact can do things a smartphone can’t. In fact, there are several types of compact camera that each offer capabilities that aren’t easily replicated by even the best smartphones.

We’ll try to spell out what these capabilities are, and what the best compact camera is to provide them. Because there are definitely still some circumstances in which a compact camera still makes sense.

Our recommendations:


Long zoom cameras

Perhaps the greatest weakness of smartphones is their lack of zoom. Many of the best phones have a camera with a slightly longer focal length and then try to crop into their images and use AI algorithms to try to approximate the fine detail to give the impression of zooming, but this has its limits.

Dedicated cameras aren’t constrained by the need to slip into your pocket, which can afford them the space to have an optical zoom lens to gain you more reach than your smartphone can deliver. There can be a trade-off: the small sensors required to put lots of zoom in a relatively small camera will be outshone by the computational cleverness that modern smartphones will bring to bear on their images. But superzoom cameras can gain you the kind of reach that no current smartphone can get near.

Best long-zoom camera: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV

20MP 1″-type Stacked CMOS sensor | 24-600mm equiv. F2.4-4 lens | 4K video

Photo: Dan Bracaglia

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What we like:

  • Long, very sharp lens
  • Very good image quality
  • Impressive subject tracking
  • Excellent video quality and features

What we don’t:

  • Very expensive
  • Large and heavy
  • Some camera features locked while buffer clears

The Sony RX10 IV is a superzoom cameras with a large Type 1 (13.2 x 8.8mm) Stacked CMOS sensor and a 24-600mm equivalent F2.8-4.0 zoom lens. The large sensor gives it image quality up there with the best smartphones while the lens delivers a 24x zoom that smartphones can’t come close to matching.

The RX10 IV has been on the market for a while, so its autofocus isn’t as good as Sony’s newer cameras, but its fast Stacked CMOS sensor and excellent face detection system means it’ll track action very well. This combines with its ability to shoot at 24 frame per second to stretch its capabilities even further beyond those of a smartphone.

The RX10 IV offers a reasonable degree of direct control and customization, including a dedicated aperture ring, exposure comp dial and controls that can be kept silent for video shooting. It has a hefty, weather-sealed body along with a tilting touchscreen display and high-res OLED viewfinder.

“The RX10 IV offers a high level of competence across an impressively broad range of shooting situations”

The F2.4-4.0 lens means you can get a decent amount of light to the sensor at any focal length, which helps get the most out of the camera’s 1″-type sensor. The JPEGs’ color isn’t our favorite but the sophisticated sharpening and noise reduction mean they remain detailed even in fairly low light.

The camera’s oversampled 4K is some of the most detailed available and exhibits little in the way of rolling shutter. Mic and headphone sockets, along with a selection of tools to help judge exposure make the RX10 IV a very flexible all-in-one package.

The RX10 IV is an expensive camera but it’s also unique in its combination of zoom range, image quality, autofocus and excellent video with a lot of detail. It’s not the best possible solution to any one question but it offers a high level of competence across an impressively broad range of shooting situations.




Best ultra-zoom camera: Nikon Coolpix P1000

16MP 1/2.3″ BSI-CMOS sensor | 24-2000mm equiv. F2.8-8 lens | 4K video capture

Photo: Barney Britton

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What we like:

  • Focal range cannot be matched by any camera
  • Respectable image quality, given camera’s purpose
  • Raw support
  • Well-built, with logical control layout

What we don’t:

  • Large and unbalanced when zoom is extended
  • Lens is slow at long end, reducing sharpness
  • No touchscreen
  • Poor battery life

The Nikon Coolpix P1000 is a small sensor camera with a vast zoom lens. The Type 1/2.3 (6.17 x 4.55mm) sensor will be out-performed by a good smartphone’s clever merging of multiple images but the Nikon’s gargantuan 24-2000mm equiv lens is its selling point.

The small sensor means image quality isn’t the camera’s strength, but its frankly ludicrous zoom reach means it can photograph distant subjects in a way no other device (smartphone or dedicated camera) can.

The P1000 is a large camera that weighs a substantial 1.4kg (3.2lbs). We found it can be difficult to compose a photo at 2000mm equiv since the stabilization can’t fully correct hand movement. A ‘snapback’ function quickly zooms out so you can locate your subject. The P1000’s fully articulating LCD, is not touch-enabled. Connectivity to smartphones works well.

“When it comes to zoom power, there’s no camera that comes close to Nikon’s Coolpix P1000”

The P1000’s image quality depends greatly on the focal length. Photos are generally on par with other small-sensored cameras, with pleasant colors and a bit too much noise reduction. It offers Raw, though, so you can choose your noise/detail balance and modestly brighten shadows. Heat haze, coupled with the lens’s slow maximum aperture limit image quality at the longest focal lengths.

The P1000 has very good video quality for a camera with point-and-shoot roots. It can capture 4K video at 30p (with no crop) as well as 1080/60p and time-lapse/super-lapse clips. There’s a manual exposure mode, a zoom microphone and a socket for addition an external mic. Electronic Vibration Reduction is available at 1080p and below.

When it comes to zoom power, nothing comes close to Nikon’s Coolpix P1000. Whether it’s taking a portrait from 2 blocks away or getting up close and personal with a bird in the distance, this lens can do it. That said, while other cameras can’t match that lens, many will offer better image and video quality for the same money, especially those with larger sensors.





Compact superzooms

Another class of camera that offers the kind of zoom range that a smartphone doesn’t is the compact superzoom, also known as travel zoom cameras. These feature 10x or more zoom ranges (much more in some cases) in relatively small, convenient bodies. The downside is they typically use very small sensors that, without the sophisticated image combination that smartphones regularly do in the background, only offer their best image quality in good light. Canon and Panasonic (which invented this type of camera) still make compact superzooms, so if what you need is a bit more reach from something pocketable, this is what you’re looking for.

We haven’t had a chance to try Canon’s SX740 HS, with its 40x zoom, but it’s a continuation of a series that has always produced attractive color from cameras with simple, user-friendly interfaces. The small sensor and very slow aperture at the long end of the zoom mean it’s going to be a camera for outdoors and good light only, really. Similar things can be said of Panasonic’s 30x zoom ZS80, though this no longer appears to be available in Europe.

Best compact-superzoom: Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS200

20MP 1″-type BSI-CMOS sensor | 24-360mm equiv. F3.3-6.4 lens | 4K video capture

Photo: Dan Bracaglia

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What we like:

  • Good balance of zoom and size
  • Built-in EVF
  • 4K video capture

What we don’t:

  • Soft lens
  • 1.5x crop when recording 4K video
  • Some may be bothered by ‘color tearing’ on EVF

The more expensive Panasonic ZS200 (TZ200 in Europe) is based around a larger Type 1 (13.2 x 8.8mm), which is four times larger than the one on the cameras mentioned above. The zoom is a more modest 15x, but that’s more than enough for most photography, and it shouldn’t be as readily embarrassed by your phone, when it comes to image quality.

The ZS200’s metal body is well constructed and easy to grip thanks to rubber-like material on the front and back. The touch interface is responsive and the camera offers twin control dials: one top plate and one around the lens. Some users might find the field sequential EVF bothersome. But overall, the camera is easy to operate and customize.

“Ultimately, the ZS200/TZ200 is is the furthest-reaching Type 1 pocket camera on the market”

The ZS200 captures 4K UHD at up to 30p, but a 1.5x crop means it’s noisier than many of its competitors and prevents any wide-angle shooting. Dropping down to 1080p results in better quality with just a slight crop when using the 5-axis ‘hybrid’ IS system. Autofocus has to hunt in low light situations and some rolling shutter is visible if there’s any vibration present. There’s no option for external audio, which is a drawback.

Ultimately, the ZS200/TZ200 is the furthest-reaching Type 1 pocket camera on the market, and its combination of (so-so) 4K capture, touch-based interface, EVF, and twin control dials make it both versatile and easy to use. The cost of having all of that zoom power is a lens that isn’t always sharp across the frame. If you’re willing to trade some image quality for zoom reach, then the ZS200 is worth considering.




Waterproof cameras

Waterproof cameras are another specialism that smartphones can’t necessarily displace. Many flagship phones are waterproof to a decent degree but you shouldn’t try to submerge them to any appreciable depth. Waterproof cameras also tend to be pretty rugged, designed to withstand a lot more mistreatment than a phone will withstand, meaning you can carry them with you at all times, without ever having to worry about it. Great for bikers, climbers and custodians of small, inquisitive but necessarily careful children.

Best waterproof camera: OM System Tough TG-7

25-100mm equiv. F2.0-4.9 lens | 12MP Type 1/2.3 sensor | Waterproof to 15m (50ft)

Buy now:


What we like:

  • Bright, wideangle lens
  • Built-in GPS, compass and manometer
  • Raw image capture allowing creating edits
  • Range of accessories

What we don’t:

  • 12MP is fairly low
  • Lens isn’t very bright at long end
  • Limited battery life
  • Relatively expensive

The OM System Tough TG-7 is a rugged, waterproof compact with a 25-100mm equivalent zoom lens. It is fully waterproof down to a depth of

The OM System isn’t the only rugged waterproof still on the market, nor the cheapest, but it has several major factors in its favor. The first is that it lets you shoot Raw images, which gives you the ability to correct the white balance, which even the best cameras tend to get wrong when shooting underwater. Another factor is that there is a range of accessories for the TG-7, including a light guide that directs light from the built-in flash into a circle around the lens, letting you illuminate close-up objects.

“The TG-7 is relatively expensive but packs in a host of useful features that help it stand out”

Beyond this there are a few details that different users may find handy: it has an unusually wide-angle lens with a bright maximum aperture, helping the performance underwater and in low light. It also has a built-in GPS, compass and pressure sensor that lets you log your adventures. These all add up to a camera that’s worth the added expense, we feel.



Vlogging cameras

Smartphones are great for vlogging, but a dedicated vlogging camera can shoot better quality video, have more sophisticated microphones (and provide options for connecting better mics), and can autofocus very reliably, dependably delivering YouTube-ready footage.

Best vlogging camera: Sony ZV-1 Mark II

20MP Stacked CMOS sensor | 24fps burst shooting | 4K/30p, 1080/120p video

Photo: Shaminder Dulai

Buy now:


What we like:

  • Low rolling shutter
  • 3-way mic array
  • Touchscreen interface for vlogging

What we don’t:

  • Limited body buttons/dials
  • No stabilization for stills
  • 8-bit color not ideal for grading

The Sony ZV-1 Mark II is one of three ZV-1 models and is by far the best. Its wide-angle 18-50mm equivalent F2.8-4.0 lens is ideally suited to self-shot video. Its excellent autofocus includes options such as ‘Product Showcase’ that focuses on the presenter, unless an object is held up to the camera.

A vlogging beast for smartphone users wanting to upgrade to a dedicated device for more control over exposures, file workflow, sound and optical zoom without a large learning curve.

The ZV-1 Mark II is primarily touchscreen-controlled to allow control while vlogging or shooting selfies. It’s lightweight and easy to hold but has limited control points if you want to take more manual control.

The ZV-1 Mark II is a big improvement on the original thanks to a more selfie-video-friendly zoom range. Video footage and autofocus are both very good. It is a camera that thrives in auto modes, making it best suited for users seeking a simple-to-use camera.



Enthusiast compacts

The final niche in which it’s difficult for a smarphone to compete is for enthusiast photography. No matter how good smartphone image quality gets, it’s difficult for a phone to provide the feeling of connection to the process of taking photos that an enthusiast compact with lots of direct controls can offer.

We’ve picked three cameras with large sensors that deliver good image quality, zoom lenses and direct controls. Both Sony models have built-in electronic viewfinders, for shooting when it’s bright outside, again giving a more pleasant experience than trying to use a smartphone.


Best enthusiast compact: Canon PowerShot G7X III

20MP 1″-type stacked CMOS sensor | 24-100mm equiv. F1.8-2.8 lens | 4K/30p video capture

Photo: Dan Bracaglia

Buy now:


What we like:

  • Nice grip and well-placed controls
  • 4K/30p recording with live streaming to YouTube
  • Fast burst shooting

What we don’t:

  • Lens is soft at wide-angle
  • Limited battery life
  • Contrast-detect only autofocus

The Canon PowerShot G7X III is an enthusiast compact built around a 20MP Type 1 (13.2 x 8.8mm) Stacked CMOS sensor with a bright 24-100mm equivalent F1.8-2.8 zoom.

The large sensor, and zoom that covers a really useful range help set it apart from a smartphone but it’s really the clicking control dial around the lens and the dedicated exposure compensation dial that help you feel you’re in the driving seat of the photo-taking process that makes us enjoy it so much.

“If you’re after a pocketable high-quality compact, the Canon G7 X Mark III is well worth a look”

Though it’s jacket-pocketable, the G7 X Mark III has a decent-sized grip and feels secure in the hand. The ‘clicky’ control rings around the lens and on the rear of the camera give good control over aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and the exposure compensation dial on the top plate is a nice touch. The touchscreen interface on its tilting 3″ LCD is polished and responsive.

Overall, we’re impressed by the upgrades on this model. The Mark III brings improved video and continuous shooting performance while maintaining excellent controls and a competitive price point. If you do a lot of wide-angle shooting, there are options with better lenses, but if you’re after a pocketable high-quality compact, the Canon G7 X Mark III is well worth a look.




Also worth considering

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VA is also worth a look, offering a short, bright 24-70mm equivalent zoom. This is a little shorter than the one on the Canon but we’ve found it to be more consistently sharp, on the units we’ve tested. It has a pop-up viewfinder, adding to the appeal but also to the price. The Sony’s autofocus is faster and more dependable than the Canon’s but we prefer the handling of the Canon, thanks to its exposure compensation dial and clicking front control wheel.

Best do-it-all compact: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII

20MP 1″-type Stacked CMOS sensor | 24-200mm equiv. F2.8-4.5 lens | Hybrid AF system

Photo: Dan Bracaglia

Buy now:


What we like:

  • Industry-leading autofocus
  • Excellent image quality
  • Oversampled 4K video

What we don’t:

  • User interface can be overwhelming
  • Low light performance limited by slow lens
  • Slippery grip
  • Expensive

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII is built around a 20MP Stacked CMOS and a long, flexible 24-200mm equivalent lens. It’s not as bright at the long end as the zooms on the Mark VA or the Canon G7X III but it provides a lot more reach, still in a compact package.

The RX100 VII is the most capable pocketable camera ever made

The RX100 VII has a limited number of direct controls, but offers extensive customization for making the most of them. A touchscreen can be used for choosing a focus point or initiating AF tracking in video. The camera also includes the single-press pop-up viewfinder we liked so much on its predecessor.

The RX100 VII is easily the most-capable compact camera on the market thanks to its great image and video quality, fast shooting, versatile lens and a highly-capable, easy-to-use AF system, though all of that comes with a high price tag.




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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