Sigma Musings (Long) - Where Goeth Thou?

Started 11 months ago | Discussions
rick decker
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Sigma Musings (Long) - Where Goeth Thou?
11 months ago

The predictions of Sigma’s demise in the camera market have been around for a long time. And, thankfully, all have been wrong to date. I don’t laugh at those who make this prediction or who hold this belief as it is one that is based upon logic. That is, if a company can't make money on a product, eventually they will give up that product or sell that product line. It is hard to argue with logic. We should be thankful that Spock doesn't run the company. The problem with this prediction is just that; it is based upon logic. In reality, emotions rule a lot more than logic in this world.

Although it is not widely known, it meant more to Michihiro Yamaki-san, the founder of Sigma, to be a camera manufacturer, than anything else, and to be able to compete with the likes of Nikon and Canon. Just as he started with low-cost lenses, he went into the SLR market with low cost cameras. He was a true visionary in that he foresaw the growth of the SLR market and the need for his products.

The digital revolution changed the game. The digital camera became much more important in the system than was the film camera. And, it was more costly, complex, and time consuming to develop and/or enhance. Furthermore, lens quality came under the microscope almost universally. It is easier to evolve a product if you are making money (with lenses). It is a lot harder to justify the effort and money if you are not making money (with cameras).

The combination of Sigma's early digital camera models and their sensor quirks condemned them from the start to being a niche camera. Performance was poor - battery life, autofocus, and color inaccuracy being the most notable issues. The chip was noisy and had blotching issues. Digital required better lenses. The camera became a lot more expensive and more complex to produce. Enhancements needed to make inroads into the digital camera market were too limited and too late. The quicker evolution of Bayer cameras, and their associated improvements in a wide variety of areas, sealed Sigma's fate. In a sense, Yamaki-san's time had come and gone. Concurrently age and health were taking their toll.

The new company leader, Michihiro’s son Kazuto, is from a different generation. A very good listener, and open to constructive criticism, he seems able to soak up ideas and evaluate their pros and cons. In his short time as CEO, he has shown he understands the industry and appears to be making good choices. He is a visionary just as his dad was. He was (and is) the driving force behind the DP series, the larger sensor, and the need to upgrade the quality of the lenses.

We know very little, if anything, about Sigma's financial numbers. So any assessments are very much just pure speculation. Does the camera business mean as much to Yamaki-san as it did to his dad? Are they losing money on the cameras and if so, how much. What role does the status of being a camera manufacturer and the sense of accomplishment play in holding onto the camera line? What impact has being a camera manufacturer and the associated publicity had on lens sales. The purchase of Foveon was not made without making a long-term commitment to cameras. No doubt they realized that any growth in the camera market would take time, innovation and money.

So what is Sigma wrestling with now with respect to the future? With respect to lenses it seems clear. A better quality of lens across the board. A commitment to being an innovator, as opposed to just a follower. With respect to the camera product line, it is not as clear. There is more money to be made in a camera that has interchangeable lenses than one that does not. Of the three camera types available to Sigma, DSLR, compact, and mirror-less, it would seem that compacts are the most vulnerable - one camera/one lens. DP camera sales in 2012 were not as strong as was expected. The DP3 may have been the final bell for the DP series. DSLRs, at the moment, are the safest. Mirror-less is probably the most risky. As of 2012, it is doing well in Japan and not so well in Europe and the US. However, if you look at the trend in consumer electronics, it is all ‘smaller and lighter’ so mirror-less should have a bright future. On the plus side for mirror-less, Sigma already has a line of lenses that can be adapted to a Sigma/Foveon platform. In addition, the DP series will have served as a ground-breaker and as proof for what a Sigma mirror-less platform has to offer. On the other hand, if Sigma does not move into the mirror-less, a DP camera either with zoom or with a wider prime would be a strong possibility. The zoom would have to be on a par with the 18-35.

Time will tell, and I suspect the role of mirror-less and the DP line will be clarified by Photokina next year. And a new DSLR will be shown. But I have to admit that this is well... pure speculation!!!

mike earussi
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Re: Sigma Musings (Long) - Where Goeth Thou?
In reply to rick decker, 11 months ago

Rick, a lot of us are frustrated with the SD line because it does not seem to us that Sigma is that far away from having a decent competitive body. The resolution difference between Foveon and Bayer  has been solved and now all that is lacking is fast processing, a larger buffer and live view to have a really good product. So why did Sigma settle for what are obvious flaws in the SD1 and not push on to make a fully acceptable product? This is the question that constantly puzzles me and one I'm hoping Sigma will finally address in whatever updated SD body they produce next.

There is no doubt in many photographer's minds, even those who don't actively use it, that the Foveon produces a superior image at low ISOs. Even Sony, Canon, and Fuji (and maybe others) acknowledge this indirectly by their numerous patents trying to get around Sigma's patents, none of which have proved practical or they would be implemented.

So I hope Sigma doesn't quit as I think they're close to having a really successful product. But what's holding them up I don't know.

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OvinceZ
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Sensor evolution.
In reply to rick decker, 11 months ago

When I first heard about Foveon sensors some 10 or so years ago I felt that was the future. It seemed obvious this must be the best solution for light capturing sensors. So we waited and eventually saw some cameras released with the Foveon. Some of the images were superb but the size was limited. Yet there were followers who bought the product and endured the limitations of those offerings. The mood was buyer beware. This was not a proven technology.

Things changed when the SD1 was announced. Instead of penetrating the market it was seen as overpriced. Way overpriced. So they did not sell well. A year or so ago the SD1Merrill was introduced and at a fair price. Still limited by the Sigma lens mount. We wondered why this model wasn't released with all the mounts available. Heaps of enthusiasts might have bought one if they could have used their own lenses. Since Sigma was in the lens business there was no way they were going to release other mounts. What a shame that was. If the Foveon sensor is superior in landscapes and closeups then that will impact on the market and the word will be out and it would have made a huge difference.

Along comes the little DPM series and what a series it is. A real Foveon enthusiast might acquire all 3 models. Great value which includes the C sized sensor. Results have been mixed but I wonder if this has more to do with the quantity of photographers owning Sigma Merrills than anything else. If you have more people using a product some of them will deliver excellent results both in IQ and photographic quality.

So where to, Sigma? Those of us who have DPM cameras know the strengths and limitations. A quality zoom model is a must to compete in the market. A mirrorless would be even better. Having the DP3M is frustrating because it is great at some things but almost useless at others. Sometimes I can do panoramas but many times it is not practical. A model with something like 24-70 or 24-105 equivalents would be much more useful. The macro mode needs to be improved, too, so you can focus closer. The processor is not good enough and it takes too much time to review photos. I simply do not review many because it uses up the battery. I have ordered an additional 6 batteries and two chargers. That shouldn't be necessary. The DP3M isn't pocketable so a larger grip should have been made to include larger batteries.

Sigma need to not being seen as cheap and include lens hoods with kits.

At the moment the evolution of sensors sees Foveon as a minor competitor. If we remember how Apple was in a similar position years ago it is still possible that things might change in the future. The problem with reading the light at three levels in the sensors is all the wiring. That must cut down on the light reaching the red levels. I can't shoot at anything but ISO100 because of the noise. I haven't tried 200 yet but that might be okay. Still. this greatly limits what the camera can do.

If Sigma come out with a full frame Foveon sensor then it is a new ball game. If they offer other mounts then it will be a winner and have a future. Those of us who have seen what the Merrills can do are impressed and put up with querks, etc. The next two years will reveal what is going to happen.

Vince

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OvinceZ
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About mirrorless models.
In reply to OvinceZ, 11 months ago

It seems to me this would be a real winner for Sigma. Especially if released with different mounts.
However, it probably won't be produced because it would pretty much end any sales of the SD1M.

Still, they have to give the enthusiasts what they want and not what they will accept. At the moment the features fall short of what is available elsewhere. We all put up with it to get the Foveon and rightly so.

If I were starting out today I would get an SD1M and several lenses. Would be great to get the macro lenses for flowers and telephoto for distant subjects. Sigma are now making excellent lenses so it would not be a difficult decision. I own 3 Canon DSLRs many, many lenses, NEX7, and Olympus OMD. My investment in cameras and lenses is crazy. It just sneaks up on us. However, just about everyone else is in similar circumstances so having a camera that we can use the lenses we own would be wonderful and way less expensive.

The enthusiasts read the reviews so the fact that few have purchased Sigma says a lot about where they stand at the moment. Sigma literally have to something different if they want more market share. Once you go Foveon you won't be satisfied with Bayer any more.

Vince

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SigmaChrome
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Re: About mirrorless models.
In reply to OvinceZ, 11 months ago

Hi Vince,

I don't know if you are aware that Sigma now offers a lens mount exchange service for its latest lenses. This means that you can send your A, C or S series lens off to Sigma and have the mount and internals changed so that it will work on your Sigma, Canon or Nikon DSLR. This is a big step for Sigma and proves they have been listening their customers. It may not be a perfect solution, but it is a step in the right direction.

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Shoei
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Re: Sigma Musings (Long) - Where Goeth Thou?
In reply to mike earussi, 11 months ago

I think Sigma as a company will continue to be profitable and will be around for many many years to come. The lens quality coming out for various platforms are now very good, they are being innovative (for example the USB dock) the pricing is competative and talking to stores - for the Canon and Nikon mount based lenses at least sell very well and are well stocked.

SD's and SA mount lenses were a different matter. Stores will generally only stock what has rapid turnover, which is not the SA lenses and SD camera lines. It was interesting recently in Singapore. I bought my lenses in Australia before travelling - so wasn't really after any more for now - but I learned the fastest way to get the pushy sales guys off my back in Sim Lim Square - was to ask if they stocked SA mount lenses They'd leave me alone at that point so I could get on with looking at tripods and heads. I only found one "old stock" SD1 with a 24-70 as a kit the entire time I was in Singapore ..... and no one carried any SA mount lenses.

The SD line is frustrating. The sensor is great, the shutter etc very good .... but the visible bells and whistles just aren't there and for the bulk of DSLR purchasers. Lets face it ... most entry level to mid range DSLRs never get out of Auto mode most of their lives and movie-mode is considered mandatory as the average purchaser doesn't want to carry a separate video camera for holidays.

This is not a good thing. As seasoned Sigma DSLR veterans we're all used to the love hate relationship with Sigma Photo Pro, We're annoyed by the lack of x3f support in Photoshop but we live with it, we're used to the slow writes to cards, we've become accustomed to the AF nuances and we're kind of ok with the other rough edges. But - while we're a loyal group of professionals and enthusiasts .... we're only a tiny portion of the market in general.

If the goal is to increase volume of sales to keep the SD line viable, maybe the next Sigma DSLR build shoud focus on the prominent annoyances (buffer size, processing speed, AF etc) more and less on the x3 sensor (which is already quite formidable at the SD1M's present price point). Effort polishing and smoothing a few of the "harsh" edges of the SD line should offer a reasonable bang-for-buck per development costs. Even just fixing the awkward bits of Sigma Photo Pro would be of huge benefit in making the system appealing to a wider audience.

Maybe there should also be an "entry level" x3 DSLR (SD16?) line maintained as an introduction to the technology ? Since the SD15 is being dropped that leaves the SD1M as the only DLSR offering - and IMHO it is not an entry level camera !!!!

Sigma DSLRs have an almost "cult" following and a very specific niche (heck - I've been hooked since the SD10) but entry to the system for beginners or enthusiasts transition from other systems is daunting given the secondary to IQ (but prominent) deficiencies.

great for "purists" but not so great for mass market.

As a counterpoint, the mass market is shifting away from traditional cameras ... and has been for some time so the market - while significant - in general is declining.

I'm personally hoping - as I'm sure we all are - that the SD line has a future.

Shoe

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Scott Greiff
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Re: Sigma Musings (Long) - Where Goeth Thou?
In reply to rick decker, 11 months ago

At this point in Sigma's growth and direction I just can't seeing them coming out with a refresh of the current SD line with simply bumped specs.  They need a platform that transforms their DSLR line as they've been transforming their lenses.

I could go on with this line of thinking, but I feel that it's pretty clear that slapping Live View on the SD1 will just not cut it. The mirror-box is dying. Professionals need video capability and speed. There are more compact alternatives on the market. Why is Fuji eating their lunch with cameras that make traditional Sigma users want to jump ship?  So many questions.  

-Scott

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Kendall Helmstetter Gelner
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Other mounts don't matter, Sigma has already addressed
In reply to OvinceZ, 11 months ago

OvinceZ wrote:

<...>

Things changed when the SD1 was announced. Instead of penetrating the market it was seen as overpriced. Way overpriced. So they did not sell well. A year or so ago the SD1Merrill was introduced and at a fair price. Still limited by the Sigma lens mount.

Over time the "limitation" of the Sigma lens mount has dropped significantly. At this point for 99% of shooters there is no "limitation" because at any given focal length the Sigma lens is the one you'd be buying for any system anyways. Sigma has, through innovation in lenses, created more value in the SA mount too.

We wondered why this model wasn't released with all the mounts available.

"We" did not, because most people already knew of the fate of Kodak and Fuji that tried such a strategy. It's a dead end, and results in camera systems that try it dying. For many reasons, it's not practical.

But Sigma has addressed this issue - you can now convert SA mount lenses to another mount if you need to, so buying really good glass for a Sigma camera makes a ton of sense even if you are not sure about the camera itself (and that means for Canon and Nikon bodies too!). Building CAMERAS with other mounts doesn't work. Making the mount on the lens not matter is a far more realistic and useful approach to the problem, because it lets people move between camera bodies as they once could with film.

Heaps of enthusiasts might have bought one if they could have used their own lenses.

Doubtful, because Canon and Nikon would always undercut them on price and features unrelated to image quality (See: Fuji & Kodak). The Foveon chip is about subtle improvements of results, not something that means much to the mass market.

Along comes the little DPM series and what a series it is. A real Foveon enthusiast might acquire all 3 models. Great value which includes the C sized sensor. Results have been mixed but I wonder if this has more to do with the quantity of photographers owning Sigma Merrills than anything else. If you have more people using a product some of them will deliver excellent results both in IQ and photographic quality.

If you see excellent results from all cameras at times, even if irregular, that means they are capable of excellence period. Of course any given camera is going to take shots that are bad because the photographer messed up. I have a ton of said shots myself. Or perhaps you simply don't like the style in which a given person photographs, always possible.

So where to, Sigma? Those of us who have DPM cameras know the strengths and limitations. A quality zoom model is a must to compete in the market.

Compact zooms are being eaten alive by cell phones with digital zoom. People don't want compact cameras these days any more than than they demand portable MP3 players.

The only way compact systems can survive cell phone advancements is to maintain quality significantly above any cell phone - which the DP series does. The DP series is among a handful of cameras that can actually still do well against the advancements in cell phone cameras.

A mirrorless would be even better. Having the DP3M is frustrating because it is great at some things but almost useless at others. Sometimes I can do panoramas but many times it is not practical. A model with something like 24-70 or 24-105 equivalents would be much more useful. The macro mode needs to be improved, too, so you can focus closer.

All of these things mean you need an SLR with more traditional lenses. An SLR (as we know it) does not have to have a mirror. But all of your wishes are not as well served by a small compact camera with a zoom, as they would be with a camera roughly the size of the SD-1.

The processor is not good enough and it takes too much time to review photos. I simply do not review many because it uses up the battery.

Reviewing photos does't really consume much battery. What consumes battery is having the camera on and sensor active. Make sure you have auto-power off set to a very small timeframe, and turn off the camera after shots if you do not plan to review.

I agree that the delay to review a photo is pretty long. That is the one area of the DP cameras I'd love to see improvement in.

Sigma need to not being seen as cheap and include lens hoods with kits.

I think instead they need to move away from "kits" and more into lens bundles with serious lenses (all of which come with lens hoods).  (although it's notable they do not include a lens hood with the DP cameras, I'm not really sure how many people find them important - mostly I do not use them myself).

<...>

If Sigma come out with a full frame Foveon sensor then it is a new ball game. If they offer other mounts then it will be a winner and have a future. Those of us who have seen what the Merrills can do are impressed and put up with querks, etc. The next two years will reveal what is going to happen.

I don't think either of those things needs to happen, because they already have in other ways. Sigma is introducing lenses that let you shoot on a crop factor camera just as you would a full frame. Sigma is letting you change the mount of the lens, not the camera. Sigma is giving you everything you ask for, just in a different way than you expected.

What Sigma needs to do is iterate on the cameras it has, and bring the SD camera up to the level of quality the DP cameras enjoy (and a round of processing/writing boosts all around). Then they just wait for cell phones to gnaw away at competitors and absorb profits from other companies through brisk lens sales.

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Kendall Helmstetter Gelner
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Re: About mirrorless models.
In reply to OvinceZ, 11 months ago

OvinceZ wrote:

It seems to me this would be a real winner for Sigma. Especially if released with different mounts.
However, it probably won't be produced because it would pretty much end any sales of the SD1M.

Which is exactly why such a camera would be a new SD-1M, using the same SA mount of course.

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Roland Karlsson
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Re: About mirrorless models.
In reply to Kendall Helmstetter Gelner, 11 months ago

Kendall Helmstetter Gelner wrote:

OvinceZ wrote:

It seems to me this would be a real winner for Sigma. Especially if released with different mounts.
However, it probably won't be produced because it would pretty much end any sales of the SD1M.

Which is exactly why such a camera would be a new SD-1M, using the same SA mount of course.

Ouch! Pentax  tried that trick with K01. A mirror less with an SLR mount.

The try was not a success.

Now, of course, the K01 could have been cheaper, slimmer and lighter and having a real grip.

But no - I think mirror less cameras need to have a short registration distance for the mount. Which means new lenses. OK - you can use the SLR lenses with an adapter. And maybe SA to ML-SA mount will preserve the functionality 100%.

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Roland Karlsson
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Re: Sigma Musings (Long) - Where Goeth Thou?
In reply to Scott Greiff, 11 months ago

Scott Greiff wrote:

At this point in Sigma's growth and direction I just can't seeing them coming out with a refresh of the current SD line with simply bumped specs. They need a platform that transforms their DSLR line as they've been transforming their lenses.

I could go on with this line of thinking, but I feel that it's pretty clear that slapping Live View on the SD1 will just not cut it. The mirror-box is dying. Professionals need video capability and speed. There are more compact alternatives on the market. Why is Fuji eating their lunch with cameras that make traditional Sigma users want to jump ship? So many questions.

Don't know really.

As far as I have heard, the mirror less does not go so well really.

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ArvoJ
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Re: Other mounts don't matter, Sigma has already addressed
In reply to Kendall Helmstetter Gelner, 11 months ago

Kendall Helmstetter Gelner wrote:

Over time the "limitation" of the Sigma lens mount has dropped significantly. At this point for 99% of shooters there is no "limitation" because at any given focal length the Sigma lens is the one you'd be buying for any system anyways. Sigma has, through innovation in lenses, created more value in the SA mount too.

Yes and no.

I agree that almost every needed lens is produced in SA mount (TS ones excluded), in very good quality.

At the same time what is availabilty of SA mount lenses? I would suspect than in most countries it is essentialy zero. (Same for cameras.) I can tell from experience - we here in Estonia have one Sigma reseller, some years ago they had most popular SA lenses in store, one copy of each. I bought three of these (at good discount, because for two years no one has interested in these), maybe someone got other three (I know at least one more SD14 owner here) - and currently they even don't list SA mount lens on their website anymore. (They list SD1 with original price however... Sure this camera is not stocked.) Old egg and chicken problem.

About genereal question - what kind of cameras Sigma should produce in future - very hard to guess. My thoughts, probably unreasoned:

  • Medium format camera - too little demand for these, need to design new lens for it.
  • High-end DSLR (SD1M successor) - probably yes, esp with same sensor.
  • I personally would be interested in some SD15 successor - but general public probably wouldn't buy yet another low- (or medium-) end DSLR. Everyone has got some cheap C, N or P DSLR (with green mode - full auto) already and they won't buy anything from other manufacturers.
  • Mirrorless (EVIL) system - technically very challenging (esp image processing part - people will use every possible lens with these cameras) and there is very strong competition; so seems to me that demand for these cameras is declining.
  • DP series with fixed lens - if they can reduce power drain and processing speed, then maybe; I personally would be interested in camera with 10mm lens (15mm eq on 35mm).
  • DP series with zoom lens - technically challenging, would eat fixed lens DP market share.
  • DP series with dual (or triple) focus lens - a bit easiear to develop than zoom, I'd be interested, but people wouldn't exactly understand such lens. Or...?
  • Compact camera - like said everywhere, smartphones fulfill this niche already.
  • Smartphone - almost impossible; power constraints are too hard.
  • Video camera - well, just impossible
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HBowman
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SIGMA going FF/MF
In reply to Roland Karlsson, 11 months ago

I agree that SIGMA should move to a FF/MF system... in parallel with the actual APS-C system.

I Think they can do it, even if it is a gamble. BUT, they do have a good marketing approach, and probably the funds to do it.

Tweaking the current APS-C line by adding strong electronic for quickness and a live view is mandatory.

That said, they have the choice. Foveon is a good way and an awesome technology. They should be able to build a 22MP 48x36mm sensor with a 16 bit output, a body to go with, some lenses to start and a wide variety of adapters to adapt other brands lenses.

If they do it, be sure (even if the price is stratospheric) that many pros will move to this system, more than the few ppl who moved to pentax 645D. The 16 bit output is very important.

It will be a niche market, for sure, very few sales, but foveon have a reputation and studio/product photographers do not mind shooting at low ISO.

But, if they don't do that, they simply can jump on a FF DSLR (14 or 16bit), they will be clients for sure and the lenses are coming soon

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Roland Karlsson
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Re: SIGMA going FF/MF
In reply to HBowman, 11 months ago

HBowman wrote:

I agree that SIGMA should move to a FF/MF system... in parallel with the actual APS-C system.

I do believe that Sigma wants to reuse their own lenses for system cameras.

So - as long as Sigma do not make medium format third party lenses, I do not believe they will consider a medium format system camera. Might be wrong - but ...

When it comes top good FF lenses - I am not up to date regarding Sigma's offering. Do they have a substantial amount of FF good quality lenses?

I Think they can do it, even if it is a gamble. BUT, they do have a good marketing approach, and probably the funds to do it.

Tweaking the current APS-C line by adding strong electronic for quickness and a live view is mandatory.

That said, they have the choice. Foveon is a good way and an awesome technology. They should be able to build a 22MP 48x36mm sensor with a 16 bit output, a body to go with, some lenses to start and a wide variety of adapters to adapt other brands lenses.

If they do it, be sure (even if the price is stratospheric) that many pros will move to this system, more than the few ppl who moved to pentax 645D. The 16 bit output is very important.

It will be a niche market, for sure, very few sales, but foveon have a reputation and studio/product photographers do not mind shooting at low ISO.

But, if they don't do that, they simply can jump on a FF DSLR (14 or 16bit), they will be clients for sure and the lenses are coming soon

As I said - I have really no knowledge regarding Sigma FF lenses. So ... why not ...

In principle I think you are right. The Foveon concept is superior per pixel. And to make a 60x3 MP camera for medium format would just blow anything else away. And to make a 30x3 MP for FF would be very impressive.

In practice those sensors would be VERY expensive though. Which might be a problem.

And ... it would be very irritating if there pops up a medium format 150 MP Bayer sensor just after the 60x3 MP Foveon sensor was launched.

Its a tough world.

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hexxthalion
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Re: Sigma Musings (Long) - Where Goeth Thou?
In reply to rick decker, 11 months ago

we all know where Merrills fail -> higher ISO, that's the only reason why it's a niche cam in our bags. if they improved high ISO performance there wouldn't be any need for additional system in our bags. i'm not saying that we must be able to shoot in the dark, but good ISO3200 would be more than enough. I use my DP2M only up to 400, if I know that my final image will be B&W i might push to 1600 (so far 4 shots out of 2000)

that's why itd is usually complimented by fuji's x-pro1. when on holidays (with holiday weather = sun) i use mainly DP2M but when evening approaches i need to switch to fuji.

i'd be happier if i could use confidently DP2M up to 1600 for colour and have that 3200 ability for indoors.

but that's probably too much to ask as we are already getting something what competition doesn't offer -> excellent IQ on base ISO (and maybe +2 stops on top of that), but that IQ far exceeds anything else in the same category.

 hexxthalion's gear list:hexxthalion's gear list
Fujifilm FinePix X100 Sigma DP2 Merrill Fujifilm X-Pro1 Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D Fujifilm XF 18mm F2 R +11 more
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