During our recent visit to the CP+ 2017 camera and photo imaging show in Japan, Amateur Photographer had an opportunity to catch up with Mr Kazuto Yamaki, CEO of Sigma Corporation. During our interview we asked a series of questions to find out more about Sigma’s latest lens releases. Mr Yamaki also commented on today’s currency fluctuations where the Japanese Yen remains comparatively strong versus the English Pound and US Dollar.

Interview conducted on the 24th February 2016 (13:00) at CP+ camera & photo imaging show 2017.

AP: How significant are the latest lens announcements for Sigma?

KY: These lenses are important for us. With these four lenses we can show our capability. We can develop very high quality lenses like the 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art and 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art, but we can also develop a relatively lightweight and compact lens like our new 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary. We want to show the customers our capability and produce a wide range of excellent products.

AP: How do you think the camera market is likely to be affected by currency fluctuations that make the yen comparatively strong vs the pound and dollar?

KY: I don’t think it impacts the actual sales. It affects our revenue and profit on the Japanese side.

Graham Armitage, General Manager at Sigma Imaging (UK) added by saying ‘Prices have already gone up since brexit and the pound devalued very quickly after the 23rd June 2016. It’s recovered slightly since. Our competitors have put their prices up, but we’ve managed to delay for as long as possible. We did put our prices up slightly in January. I think retailers are still holding onto stock that they brought at lower price, but eventually it will work its way through to the consumer. The retailer will sacrifice some profit and we (Sigma) will also sacrifice some profit.

AP: You’re clearly out to target full-frame users with the latest releases in the Art-series. Will Sigma continue to produce affordable lenses for amateur photographers and the general hobbyist?  

KY: Yes of course. We prioritize on high performance, high quality lenses more so than the affordable lenses, but this doesn’t mean we’ll forget amateur photographers, the hobbyist or these kind of users. We will continue Sigma’s contemporary range of lenses.

AP: The DSLR market continues to be challenged by the rise mirrorless. How does Sigma continue to sell lenses in such a challenging market?

KY: I think we need to adapt to the market trend so if customers choose mirrorless cameras more, we will produce lenses for them. We will adapt our services to the market trend.

AP: Sigma prides itself on producing lenses that are cheaper than its rivals. How much more challenging is this at the premium end of the market? 

KY: There are two reasons why we can reach high quality standards at reasonably low price. We have a basic organization with a very small marketing team, research teams, sales teams and so overall costs are lower than some of the big companies. The second reason is our factory, which can produce very high quality parts that require high precision. If we were to buy parts from suppliers it costs a lot. We can’t release such high quality products at the same price otherwise. If we maintain our organization structure I think we can continue producing a strong product lineup.

AP: There have been rumours of a Sigma 135mm f/1.8 since way back in 2013. Why has it taken so long to bring this lens to market?

KY: I don’t remember exactly, but the rumour was not correct. We started working on the lens after the rumours.

AP: You say it’s able to resolve more than 50-million-pixels. How much more are we talking?

KY: Our statement is that the 135mm f/1.8 is usable with cameras with a 50-million-pixel resolution. With regard to the centre resolution, it outperforms 50-million-pixels.

AP: So could it be used with a sensor that is possibly higher than 50-million pixels? 

KY: Yes.

AP: The 135mm f/1.8 isn’t equipped with optical stabilisation. What’s the rationale behind this?  

KY: We wanted to prioritize optical performance. If we’d implemented OS we would have to compromise performance a little bit. The other thing is that the lens would have become much bulkier if we had implemented optical stabilisation and we may have had to compromise the aperture down to f/2, possibly even f/2.8.

AP: The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art features a new, faster hyper sonic (HSM) motor. How has it been made faster?

KY: We have several types of HSM motor, and yes we’ve changed the performance. Even though we use a very fast motor you can’t expect a faster focusing speed because it’s a correlation between the motor power and the weight of the glass. On this lens the focusing glass is heavier than some other lenses. It may not be as super fast as other lenses, but if we’d used the existing motor for this lens the focusing speed would be considerably slower. To achieve faster focus we had to develop a new motor.

AP: What the reason for adding a focus limiter to the new Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art?

KY: The focusing glass moves across a large range. In some occasions photographers may not want the focus element to move from infinity to the closest focus distance. In this case customers can enjoy faster, quicker focusing.

AP: The new 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art lens is billed as the world’s first f/1.8 aperture wide-angle lens. Why is it important to have such a fast wide-angle prime in your lens range?

KY: One of our target customers are those who enjoy astrophotography. If you use an f/2.8 lens for this type of photography the exposure time can often be as long as 30 seconds. In this case the stars can move and you can’t capture them as a circular shape. If you use a lens with an aperture of f/1.8 the exposure time can be shorter than 15 seconds at ISO 3200. Using a slower lens than f/1.8 for astrophotography usually requires you to use an additional accessory like an astro tracer, which is quite difficult to use and time consuming to setup. With the 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art lens you can just mount the camera on the tripod and shoot excellent astrophotography images.

AP: So you think it’s going to be a very popular lens for astrophotographers?

KY: I think so. It’s a revolutionary lens for them. We assume that these photographers shoot with a wide-open aperture. Some photographers suffer performance issues at wide-open apertures so we believe it’s very important to achieve an excellent performance at f/1.8.

AP: Do these latest releases complete the lineup of Sigma Art prime lenses?

KY: We’ve introduced many prime lenses since the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. I have not decided yet, but in the future you may see more prime Art lenses being added to the range.

AP: The 24-70mm f/2.8 DG HSM OS Art is claimed to be more weather resistant. Can you tell us more about this?

KY: The lens uses a dust and moisture resistant seal around the lens mount. From now, yes, we will feature the moisture resistant seal on our lenses.

AP: How difficult is it to create a lens like a new 24-70mm f/2.8 DG HSM OS Art?

KY: The standard zoom lens has to cover a very wide angle of view. The coverage of wide angle of view on this lens is about 50 degrees and in the case of a wide angle zoom lens or telephoto zoom lens the angle of view is much smaller. This is why it’s quite difficult to make.

AP: Your saying that the Nikon mounts of your new lenses feature the recently debuted new electronic diaphragm. Can you go into more detail?

KY: Traditionally Nikon controlled the aperture mechanically. There was a lever to control the aperture. We’ve put a motor inside our lenses to control the aperture meaning it operates similarly to the EOS system.

AP: Out of the four lenses Sigma has released here at CP+, which do you envisage selling the most of?

KM: At CP+ most of the audience are made up of photo enthusiasts so I think the 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art and the 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art will be very popular with them. I have met with some dealers in Japan and they’re very interested in the 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary. Many manufacturers offer 70-200mm lenses and bulky 100-400mm lenses. This lens bridges the gap.

AP: Does anything have to be changed internally within the 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary to give it a pleasing fluid motion when it’s operated by push/pull?

KY: Typical users who use this lens will use it to shoot moving subjects, sports, wildlife and aviation subjects. For them the push/pull action makes it quicker than the twist rotation. There is no significant difference internally but we have paid attention to ensure smooth operation.

AP: What’s are photographers asking you to make next?

KY: Customers expect very popular lenses like a 70-200mm f/2.8 and 14-24mm f/2.8. These are the requests we often get from our customers. Sigma’s motivation is to develop unique lenses that have never existed before in the market.

AP: How important is it that Sigma plays an active roll in the Cine market as well as catering for still photographers?

KY: Many stills photographers have started shooting video, so strategically it’s very important for our products to appeal to both audiences.

AP: Tamron has released affordable, optically stabilized lenses in recent years. Can we see Sigma doing the same in the future?

KY: Right now we don’t have such a plan, but nobody knows about the future. It could be one of our options.

AP: Can we expect Sigma to revisit the consumer lenses area of the range next? 

KY: I think we have to and we have to do that, yes. My son is now thirteen years old and he’s started getting interested in photography. He checks the reviews on the internet and he’s interested in buying a Sigma lens but says they’re just a bit too expensive for him.

AP: Last time we spoke you mentioned you could see DSLR and mirrorless cameras running side-by-side in the future. Do you still feel the same?

KY: I don’t think mirrorless cameras can be as good as DSLR’s for moving subjects. If you shoot fast moving subjects then DSLR still has the edge. For this segment, DSLR is very strong. Mirrorless does have its benefits though – focusing is accurate and you can get instant feedback for white balance and exposure, which remains a huge advantage over DSLR. I think the majority of interchangeable lens cameras will be mirrorless in the future, but this doesn’t mean DSLR will die.

AP: What’s Sigma’s strategy for the remainder of 2017 and looking ahead to 2018? 

KY: Basically we continue with our current strategy, which is to deliver very high quality products and innovative products. Looking forward we will release more mirrorless lenses compared to today.

CP+ 2017 camera and photo imaging show report 

Visiting the CP+ 2017 camera and photo imaging show in Japan was a great opportunity to see many of the major players in the market exhibiting their latest products. You can read our roundup of what we saw on the opening day by reading our CP+ 2017 Day One News Round-up. To check out what we came across on day two of the show we have also posted a CP+ 2017 Day Two News Round-up.