Sigma’s White Whale Either 1/3rd or 2/3rds Ready

Feb 23, 2022 | Bodies, Rumors, Sigma, Software

It’s that time of year again, when the larger owls mate in the northern latitudes; when sap starts to course through the veins of maple trees; and when Sigma gives its annual update regarding its ongoing efforts to create a new type of Foveon sensor that’s actually worth putting in a camera.

The upshot: they’re soon to find out if the last two years of R&D brought them closer. Of the three major stages of sensor development, they’re currently deciding whether the prototype chip they’ve created – representing a shot of the second stage – is performing well enough to move to a full-scale prototype, the third stage.

Sigma is the underdog that’s easy to love. In addition to radically reshaping the lens market, pushing image quality up among all vendors, CEO Kazuto Yamaki brought forward his father’s dream to become a camera maker. Sigma does make cameras, but Yamaki embarked on a moonshot to push camera technology further, as he had helped with lenses.

The moonshot camera was to use a stacked sensor that would show full color information for each photo site. Four years ago, we were told to expect something two years ago, and then one year ago, the firm announced it was starting over.

Basic sensor technology research is really, really hard, and the small company embarking on it made progress, but not as quickly as the largest sensor makers were. What turned into almost half a decade of research allowed the competition to push out enough improvements – including stacked sensors – that betting the firm on a camera launch wasn’t a good idea.

Sigma had trouble with the data plumbing in the chip – the analog-to-digital converter (ADC) – very similar to problems Canon had in sensor development through the mid 2010s. Yamaki made comments last fall confirming this again, indicating that data read-out was one of the choke points.

Still, as recently as this past June, Sigma indicated we might see a camera coming out in 2022 or 2023.

The Sigma news release can be found here.

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