Sigma: Foveon Sensor Failed; Back to Drawing Board

Feb 19, 2021 | Bodies, News, Sigma

In the effort to actually produce its Foveon layered sensor design, Sigma came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t practical. Due in part to a “fatal defect,” the long-anticipated new Sigma camera body is officially cancelled, with Sigma indicating in a public statement that it is starting sensor design development again from scratch.

Perhaps more significant than the design flaw, Sigma indicated that merely fixing the problem wouldn’t be good enough because “we cannot provide the value that can meet the expectations of the current customers with the previous specifications.”

In the years since the last Foveon sensor was released in a Sigma camera, so much has happened that has heightened the minimum sensor performance bar. Sensors are expected to have phase detection autofocus points on them so that they can avoid the relatively terrible autofocus of other methods. 20 megapixels of resolution – once the professional standard – is either no longer adequate, or at least no longer optimal. The speed of readout for a professional-class camera has to be fairly instant. All of these developments are not only new, but probably unexpected for designers putting together initial specs in in 2016. The Sigma full frame foveon sensor was originally to bow in 2019, and shows the great danger deadline slippage can have on market reception, as the market’s expectations evolve.

Sigma consistently has been a paragon of openness about its development difficulties relative to other manufacturers. CEO Kazuto Yamaki has been direct in interviews, at trade shows and in prepared statements, making this camera design project a come-from-behind story capturing the interest of many. His statement and video on this latest announcement are consistent with this narrative.

Hopes of the Sigma FP revision perhaps having the new Foveon sensor are now dashed. That new camera – if indeed it exists – will likely have a version of the CMOS sensor the original FP sported.

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