In a recent video interview, published to YouTube, Sigma Corporation CEO, Kazuto Yamaki, confirmed the company is working on a full-frame Foveon sensor that will make its debut – at least in prototype form – by the end of the year.
The 17-minute interview covers an array of topics, including Sigma’s strategy throughout the pandemic, its plans to continue supporting DSLR users and other topics. One of the more interesting tidbits, however, comes around the eight-minute mark, wherein the host asks Mr. Yamaki if there’s any update on the company’s three-layer Foveon sensor.
In response, Mr. Yamaki says ‘We are still working on it […] and are working on the prototype of the three-layer X3 sensor […] that should be available sometime this year.’ He goes on to say ‘the Foveon X3 sensor is not a very versatile sensor,’ specifically pointing out its low-light performance, ‘but if there is a good amount of light, that camera can create very beautiful and impressive photos.’
|Sigma CEO Mr. Yamaki, pictured in the company’s factory in Aizu, Japan.|
These ‘beautiful and impressive photos,’ as Mr. Yamaki says, are the byproduct of the proprietary three-layer design Sigma’s Foveon sensors use. Rather than the Bayer filter mosaic most conventional sensors use, which consists of arranging Red, Green or Blue color filters atop each photo sensor, Foveon sensors capture light with different energies at three different depths in the sensor, then reconstruct the red, green and blue information. This structure results in full color detail at every pixel, and eliminates the softness that comes from the demosaicing process used to fill in the color gaps in the Bayer design.
Since first announcing its efforts on full-frame Foveon sensor back in 2018, Sigma has hit a number of roadblocks that have set back its efforts. In 2019, we spoke with Mr. Yamaki, who detailed the challenges the company faced in scaling its Foveon sensor technology to full-frame cameras. In the interview, he explained the difficulty of improving the various aspects of sensor performance like high ISO performance and color gradation in the process of making the sensor larger. It wouldn’t be until around a year later that we received a second update on the full-frame Foveon sensor, and it wasn’t good news.
|Color spectra derived from Raw images, with Foveon (top) showing much smoother red-to-green transitions and greater ability to capture violet tones that exist beyond the blue filter that the three Bayer cameras can capture.|
In its February 2020 announcement, Sigma said it had to go ‘back to the drawing board’ with the entire camera and specifically pointed out that it needed to work on ‘the development of [Foveon] sensor technologies.’ Another year later, in February 2021, Sigma published a further update saying it had terminated its contract with the sensor manufacturer with whom it had been working on the Foveon sensor and was ‘fully engaged in research and development of the project.’
It remained radio silence for another year until February 2022, when Sigma said it was on the second of a three-stage development process, wherein it was evaluating small-sensor prototypes with the same size pixels as a full-frame version would use. The third and final stage, according to Sigma, consisted of evaluating prototypes that use a full-frame Foveon sensor with the same specs the mass-produced version will use, including the AD converter. It was in this stage, Mr. Yamaki said where Sigma would also ‘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.’
Considering Mr. Yamaki’s statements in the video, it sounds as though Sigma is at least in the latter parts of Stage 3, if not entirely through it. It’s unclear whether Mr. Yamaki is referring to having only the sensor done by the end of the year, or a fully functioning camera, but the Foveon hype train continues to roll and looks more promising than ever.