Sad news: Full-frame Foveon-based camera from Sigma no longer close to market

While more well-known for their lenses (especially their renowned Global Vision series, encompassing Art, Sport and Contemporary models), Sigma also has a strong history of innovation in the camera space as well. It seems that they’ve sadly hit a bump in that particular road, though :-/

At the Photokina tradeshow in Germany back in October of 2018, Sigma’s CEO Kazuto Yamaki unveiled ambitious plans to develop a full-frame camera based on Sigma’s own Foveon sensor technology. This news was announced alongside the new L-mount alliance with Panasonic and Leica, very shortly after Panasonic’s announcement that they had begun developing their full frame S-series of cameras.

We’ve learned that Sigma’s Foveon-based full-frame no longer appears to be likely to come to market any time soon. This a genuinely unfortunate development, as Sigma is one of the very few companies in the photo market supporting truly innovative sensor technology 🙁

Interestingly, while Sigma announced plans for a Foveon-based camera when the L-mount alliance was first revealed, their first L-mount camera was actually the Sigma fp, based on a conventional Bayer-array sensor. While using more conventional sensor technology, the fp represented an entirely different approach than the rest of the market was taking, dispensing with a mechanical shutter entirely, to result in an extraordinarily(!) compact body that seemed tailor-made for integration into sophisticated video recording rigs. I had the privilege of attending the launch event for the fp, and noted it as one of the most innovative full-frame camera designs I’d ever seen.

(We’re currently eagerly awaiting our test sample of the Sigma fp and a set of their L-mount lenses to use with it. Stay tuned for our initial report based on that, hopefully in the near future.)

The news of a Foveon-based full frame camera was well-received by fans of the Foveon sensor technology, known for its exceptional ability to deliver detailed images without the color artifacts associated with conventional “striped” sensor tech that relies on color filters over individual pixels to record color information. In an interview I had with Mr. Yamaki during the same tradeshow, he reported that the new camera would be “available next year” which would have put it coming to market sometime in 2019. That plan obviously never came to fruition, but many of us were still eagerly anticipating its arrival in early 2020.

Unfortunately, in a press release issued earlier by Sigma headquarters in Japan, Mr. Yamaki stated that the proposed full frame Foveon-based camera “would be infeasible within this year” and added that “we cannot say for certain when the full-frame Foveon X3 sensor will be put into mass production.”

It sounds like this involves pretty fundamental issues, because Mr. Yamaki goes on to say that they “have therefore decided that we should start over the project with a clean slate, putting the plan for this new camera back to the drawing board and going back to the development of sensor technologies.

This is sad news for all of us who have been rooting for Sigma’s Foveon technology; it’s a truly different and unique approach to color filtration, and images from cameras employing it have an arguably different “look” to them that some have called more “three-dimensional” than that from more conventional approaches.

It’s no surprise to any of our readers that we love new technology, both as prospective end-user photographers and also as deep-dive camera reviewers, so we view this news as unfortunate for fans of photography and technology both.

Fortunately, though, this shouldn’t have any impact on the production of Sigma’s lenses, especially their renowned Art series, so we don’t expect this to have a big impact on the company as a whole. It’s nonetheless sad news for the industry.

We don’t want our own perspective to shade the news, though, so here’s Mr. Yamaki’s own words, from the conclusion of the press release we received:

Since the earlier announcements, your excitement with the launch of a “full-frame Foveon” has been a tremendous source of inspiration and encouragement for us. Everyone involved in the project has pulled out all the stops to make it a reality. I would like to express my deepest apologies for failing to meet your expectations and having to share this disappointing news. I would like to emphasize that Foveon sensors are in a class of their own and that they are part of the identity of SIGMA cameras that embodies our ideals and philosophies. We are determined to continue dedicating ourselves to technology development to bring better image sensors to life.

I would like to once again express my sincerest gratitude to our valued customers for the strong support you have offered to us. On behalf of all SIGMA employees, I commit myself to you that we continue striving to live up to your expectation and prove that we are worthy of your trust.
I truly appreciate your patience and understanding.