Sigma is in the Second Stage of Prototyping a New Foveon Sensor

Sigma has announced that it is currently on stage two of three in prototyping its new full-frame Foveon sensor. The company says that if Stage 3 goes well, it can start to verify its mass producibility.

Roughly Three Stages of Initial Development

Sigma’s CEO Kazuto Yamaki explains that the development of the three-layer image sensor, otherwise known as the Foveon sensor, is currently underway. That development process can be broken down, roughly, into three stages:

  • 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.

Sigma confirms that it has completed the design simulations of the Foveon sensor and that it should function as intended. The company is currently in Stage 2, where it is prototyping the design on a much smaller sensor than the full-frame sensor that it hopes to make available in a finished camera.

Yamaki says that based on the evaluation results of that prototyped smaller sensor, Sigma can decide whether to proceed to Stage 3 or go back and re-prototype Stage 2. This explanation seems to indicate that Sigma does not have to go all the way back to the basic design phase if something does not go as planned in 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,” Yamaki writes.

“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.”

Troubles with the Foveon Sensor

Sigma’s Foveon sensors use a proprietary three-layer structure in which red, green, and blue pixels each have their own full layer. In traditional sensors, the three pixels share a single layer in a mosaic arrangement and the camera “fills in” missing colors by examining neighboring pixels.

Since each pixel of a photo is recorded in three colors, the resulting photo should be sharper with better color accuracy and fewer artifacts.

Unfortunately, the development of the full-frame Foveon hasn’t been going smoothly. The company has been working on it since 2018, but in early 2020 indefinitely delayed the sensor. A year later, the company announced that it was forced to scrap all efforts it had made to that point and start from scratch.

Sigma at least appears closer to making the full-frame Foveon a reality, but is still clearly a ways off yet.