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Gear Rumors

Sigma CEO Confirms Foveon X3-Based SLR In The Works

By Anthony Thurston on June 1st 2015

Sigma has been making a name for itself with their Art series and the other global vision lens lines. But their cameras of late have been niche offerings with little wide appeal, and we have been longing for an ideal SLR-style camera to really give their latest Foveon tech a chance to shine.


In a recent interview, Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki confirmed that the company is, in fact, working on an SLR style camera based around their latest Foveon X3 sensor. This is the same sensor, more or less, found in their latest DP Quattro cameras.

“As the first camera to have the new sensor, we chose the dp because of the shockless body and the dedicated lens optimized for the ultra high-resolution capturing. Of course, we’re planning to use the sensor for the SLR SD body.” Yamaki said in his interview with Yodobashi.

In the past, a big hurdle for Sigma cameras was a lack of quality lenses – or at least a perceived quality. But now with the Art series and Sigma’s improved lens reputation, I could see more photographers being willing to shoot with a Sigma system – assuming the new body lives up to expectations.

[REWIND: Sigma’s New 24mm F/1.4 – First Impressions]

Sigma’s last SLR, the SD1, was released way back in 2012 before their Art lenses really started to raise Sigma’s profile. Personally, I think it would be smarter of Sigma to ditch the mirror and develop their next camera with an eye towards mirrorless. But that would likely require a new mount – and changing their lens development – so I can see why they may be hesitant to take that plunge.

What are your thoughts on Sigma’s next camera? Are you interested at all in shooting a Foveon sensor with that incredible art glass? Would you like an SLR or Mirrorless style of camera? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

[via Photo Rumors]

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Aidan Morgan

    I’ve been shooting with a Sigma DP2 Merrill for the past few months, and it seems that the major frustrations of using a camera with a Foveon sensor (poor low-light performance, terrible battery life, processing demands that mean up to several seconds wait time between shots) will be hard to engineer away – at least not without significant expense. The rewards of the Foveon sensor, though, make it worth my while. I find the notion of a Sigma DSLR compelling, although the price will probably outweigh my interest.

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  2. Stephen Velasquez

    Not interested one bit. Stick with making nice lovely primes Sigma.

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  3. J. Dennis Thomas

    Always with the “mirrorless”…

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  4. Rafael Steffen

    This might make Nikon and Canon start investing on this type of technology.

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    • Dave Haynie

      Canon has long been rumored to be developing a multi-layer sensor, and last summer, they filed some patents on this. One of them describes a 5-layer sensor… the top layer will contain UV light, filtering it out of the next layer (B+G+R). And the bottom layer is mostly IR. Which does suggest a pretty cool built-in IR-only mode would be possible.

      Sony also has a number of patents showing a 3-layer sensor. One of theirs includes a lens over the sensor, which claims to basically colminate light, ensuring it travels fully normal to the sensor surface (and thus, the ray hits all three layers square-on) no matter where the ray hits on the lens/sensor assembly.

      Samsung recently filed a patent showing some kind of color splitting technology similar to one Panasonic spoke of last year, using micro diachroic splitters to direct light to a traditional sensor, rather than filters.

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  5. Matthew Saville

    I think that their concerns about high ISO performance are less important than simply getting the system right in the first place. The folks who buy Sigma bodies / cameras are similar to the folks who buy Pentax cameras: devout followers who appreciate a craft, and the close-knit community and camaraderie of being a part of such a unique system.

    I think a DSLR system would be nice, but a mirrorless system, or a mount that is compatible with both, would be best.

    Sigma needs to get into the mirrorless lens game in a bigger way, admittedly, but they seem less interested in just re-mounting their existing DSLR lenses and more interested in actually creating mount-specific lenses. like they have indeed begun doing for Sony’s 1.5x E mount. (Which some people forget!) I’m in favor of creating E and FE mount lenses from scratch, because it affords the full potential of weight savings compared to just slapping a new mount on an existing optical design. Then again, the long flange distance of a DSLR is optimal for fast wide angle lenses, I hear, so maybe I shouldn’t expect a full-frame 24mm f/1.4 to get much lighter than the existing options from Rokinon and Sigma anyways. :-\

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    • Andrew Leinonen

      I agree, I think mirrorless is definitely the right answer for what they’re trying to do.

      My recommendation would probably be to use an APS-C sensor the same as they currently do, but with an active M4/3 mount to take advantage of the open standard and the superior lens selection. Most M4/3 lenses except for the cheap kit zooms cover APS-C with minimal vignetting already, as it is…

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  6. adam sanford

    Didn’t those nutty fixed-lens Quattro rigs suffer from very poor low-light performance? I recall seeing the Camera Store TV guys saying they had keep the ISO very low, and a tripod often was the best call for that camera as a result. That’s a non-starter for a great deal of what I shoot.

    In fairness, that same review did give high marks for ‘relative detail’ vs. what we perceive good detail to be in a ‘better-than-Bayer’ MP-count sort of way. Telling someone “it’s X MP but it really looks like 1.5X MP” is a hard sell, but they tried to show it.

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    • Stan Rogers

      Yes, it is in the nature of a Foveon-type sensor (brand name or not) to require more light than a Bayer (or similar) sensor. That’s not going to go away, ever. The Quattro is better than the Merrill in that regard because they’ve allowed some “slippage” in the colour layers — the luminance (blue) layer allows them to reconstitute colours and details better than a colour filter array — but you still need enough photons to get a statistically-good representative sample to each of the layers, knowing that the layer above will *always* block/capture photons you’d really like to have seen make it to the lower layer. But to get the same level of detail out of the same number of sensels using a colour filter array (Bayer) you’d need to use a four-shot camera (like the Hasselblad 50/50c MS, or the similar arrangements that are making their way into the sensor-shift-stabilized small cameras these days). The Foveon-type sensors will probably never be part of general-purpose photography, or at least not anything that leans even a little bit on high-ISO performance. Physics simply won’t allow that. So if you need high-ISO performance, this won’t be the camera for you, no matter how well it shines at lower ISOs.

      The gain in actual detail you do get, though, is a lot more than “1.5x”. The current Quattro is objectively sharper at a given image size than a D810; that’s entirely down to the Bayer array and the need to interpolate colours. The sensor is small (1.5 crop), so you get increased depth of field for a given object size (in the finished picture) at a given aperture. Not great for the bokeh bunch, p’raps, but great for product and landscapes and that sort of thing — you really do get something very like the lower-rez (30-40MP) medium format look *without* paying the medium format price (in dollars or in depth of field).

      Now, if they can keep the price down this time (the original SD1 was a ridiculous $10K at introduction), and maybe work a tilt-shift or two into their lens repertoire…

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    • adam sanford

      Stan — as always, an education on technical matters. A scholar and a gentleman, thank you for the post.

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    • Kyle Stauffer

      Adam, my thoughts exactly.

      Stan, thank you for your in-depth comment/responses. Much appreciated and I’m always learning something new!

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    • Paul Monaghan

      STAN ROGERS, great write up.

      I personally love the foveon sensor, I find it hard looking at a bayer raw now as I can see how much detail and stuff is missing plus I feel Foveon images have more of a 3d feel to them (especially the Merrill).

      It’s not the easiest system to use, shooting events is hard not just because of the iso limitations but also the raw workflow being much slower so I still have my Pentax stuff for when I’m shooting lots of images or high iso but as soon as I can the sigma’s are pulled out.

      Infact my walk about now is a DP1M(18mm) and DP3M (50mm) and for my studio mostly always my DP3M while my Bayer camera gathers dust.

      I would personally love to see a SD2? although I would much rather have a 35mm Merrill sensor (around 20mp) to go with sigma’s ART lens :D

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    • Dave Haynie

      Foveon sensors have always had light sensitivity issues. This is somewhat counter-intuitive — after all, there’s no color filter array… no color filter at all. The trick is making each sensor area very thin, so that the natural absorption of silicon is used to suggest color. So the top layer, while responding to most light, has blue peaks (425nm) at about twice that of the green (550nm) response and maybe 4x that of the red (650nm) response. The second layer peaks at green, dropping off to about 50% at far red and practically nothing at far blue. And the final layer peaks at red (650-675nm), drops to half at green, and contains very little blue light.

      So you can think of this as taking in unfiltered light, but the need to use the silicon itself as the filter means each of the three sensor layers is much less sensitive, being so thin (and particularly for the red layer, deep). Plus, you have some of this capture working against you — part of the light captured by the middle layer is red, which has to be subtracted to get green, and similarly, the red and green components have to be subtracted from the top layer to get blue. So basically, upper layers steal useful response from the lower. Originally, at least, Foveon kept the magic formula to themselves, no one else could process their raw files.

      In past versions of the Foveon chips, they really suffered on low light on the middle and bottom layers — enough that most weren’t recommended for use above maybe ISO800. And it was kind of a weird failure, since the top layer was still producing clean output when the lower layer got really noisy… so you had odd chroma noise, different than a Bayer sensor when it’s failing in low light.

      In the new chips (Quatro family), they have full resolution on the top layer and 1/4 resolution on the bottom layer… so in short, you have four blue samples for every green or red. So in video terms, it’s not a 4:4:4 color sensor, it’s 4:2:2, sort of. Still no interpolation needed.

      It also didn’t help that, until the Quatro sensors, Foveon chips were smaller than APS-C, even Canon’s, at a 1.7x magnification factor.

      And then there’s the Sigma/Foveon marketing department. So for their 16Mpixel X3 chipped cameras, they liked to claim it was 48Mpixel. Which is complete BS… it has 48 mega-subpixels, only 16 mega-pixels. Companies that don’t trust their customers to be intelligent bother me — lying about it doesn’t improve a customer’s understanding. And yes, some technologies are hard to sell.

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    • Aidan Morgan

      I thought the Camera Store guys were a bit unfair in their assessment of the Sigma DPs. Perpetually groaning over changing batteries and insisting on a tripod struck me as playing up the issues for the sake of a laugh. Sigmas are actually a lot easier to work with than people say. Mind you, its uses are limited – low ISO, relatively still subjects and so on. Architecture, landscape, still life and so on.

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