Press Releases Sigma

SIGMA Updates Development Status of its Full-Frame Three-Layer Foveon Image Sensor

How long does it take to design a new sensor? Well, we’re getting an idea based on the time it’s taking to design a new full-frame Foveon X3 sensor. Back at Photokina 2018, SIGMA announced the development of an L-mount mirrorless camera equipped with a full-frame Foveon sensor. Then, at CP+2019, they shared their plan of releasing the camera in 2020. After all, they’re just increasing the surface area of their APS-C Foveon sensor to full-frame size, right? How difficult could that be? Turns out, there’s much more to it, they were way too optimistic, and the marketing people were way ahead of the engineers.

For those new to Foveon sensor technology, a Foveon sensor is composed of three layers that allow it to capture full color detail (red, green and blue) at each pixel location. A Bayer sensor (which most other cameras use) records information about only one color (red or green or blue) at each pixel location. The Foveon sensor can thus capture more realistic color images.

On February 2020, Sigma admitted facing difficulties, and “decided that we should start over the project with a clean slate, putting the production plan for this new camera back to the drawing board and going back to the development of sensor technologies.” It was the full-frame Foveon X3 sensor that did not meet expectations.

A year later, February 2021, they were, for all practical purposes, at a standstill: “we are fully engaged in research and development of the project, led by our head office, and are reviewing specifications to ensure that we will be able to satisfy the expectations placed on this project. While we have not proceeded to the development of a camera body yet, we will continue to do our utmost to create a camera in which we have full confidence.

We are now February 2022, and the latest update is that “development of the three-layer image sensor is currently underway” and, out of the three development stages, “we are currently in the process of creating the prototype sensor for Stage 2.” They’ve passed Stage 1, which means that, based on simulations, they have some confidence that their new full-frame Foveon X3 design will work. They are now prototyping the sensor to test its performance in real-world situations. You can read about the three development stages below.

It’s amazing that SIGMA has not given up yet on developing and producing the full-frame Foveon X3 sensor, plus a full-frame mirrorless L-Mount camera to house that sensor. The full-frame mirrorless arena is currently pretty much fully occupied by Sony, Canon and Nikon, plus Leica and Panasonic. Is there place for another player? Can SIGMA not only produce the full-frame Foveon X3 sensor but also a full-frame mirrorless camera that can compete with existing (and coming) competitors? Negative consumer reactions to existing SIGMA cameras should give them pause to carefully rethink their camera design philosophy to ensure they will have a camera worthy of housing such an innovative sensor.

Another big question is: If the full-frame Foveon X3 sensor makes it to production and its innovative technology gives it a leg up existing sensor technology, will the other two major players in the L-Mount alliance (Leica and Panasonic) adopt the sensor into their full-frame mirrorless cameras? SIGMA is betting their full-frame Foveon X3 sensor will allow them to successfully compete in the full-frame mirrorless arena.


Development Status of the Three-Layer Image Sensor

Dear SIGMA customers,

First of all, thank you very much for your continued support and interest in our products.

SIGMA would like to share the development status of the three-layer image sensor as of February 2022 by the following.

The development of the three-layer image sensor is currently underway with the strong leadership of SIGMA’s headquarters in collaboration with research institutes in Japan. The stages of development can be roughly divided into the following:

  • Stage 1: Repeated design simulations of the new three-layer structure to confirm that it will function as intended.
  • Stage 2: Prototype evaluation using a small image sensor with the same pixel size as the product specifications but with a reduced total pixel count to verify the performance characteristics of the image sensor in practice.
  • Stage 3: Final prototype evaluation using a full-frame image sensor with the same specifications as the mass products including the AD converter etc…

We believe that these three stages are necessary in the development, and we are currently in the process of creating the prototype sensor for Stage 2.

Based on the evaluation results of the prototype sensor, we will decide whether to proceed to Stage 3 or to review the design data and re-prototype “Stage 2”. When we proceed to Stage 3, we will verify the mass-producibility of the sensor with research institutes and manufacturing vendors based on the evaluation results, and then make a final decision on whether or not to mass-produce the image sensor.

Although we have not yet reached the stage where we can announce a specific schedule for the mass production of the image sensor, we are determined to do our best to realize a camera that will truly please our customers who are waiting for it, as soon as possible.

Once again, I would like to thank all of you for your continued support of SIGMA. We will continue to strive for technological development to meet your expectations and trust.