Sigma’s Full-Frame Foveon Camera is Still at Least ‘a Few Years Away’

Sigma Foveon Sensor

Sigma’s long-awaited full-frame Foveon sensor, the heart of a new camera that began development in 2016, is still at least a few years away, and the company’s CEO adds that its arrival is not guaranteed, PetaPixel has learned.

In an interview with PetaPixel, Sigma’s CEO Kazuto Yamaki explains that it hasn’t moved past stage two of three in the sensor’s development — a stage it has remained in since 2022.

“We’ve found the potential manufacturing partner, but we have not reached an agreement with them. So to be honest, the product stage is still the same. We are still in stage two,” Yamaki says.

In this stage, Sigma is prototyping a sensor that is a bit smaller than full-frame but uses the same pixel architecture that the final product will have. Yamaki says that Sigma tested a previous prototype last year and found some errors. While it has corrected those errors, it is now waiting for the next prototype to confirm that there are no other problems.

Yamaki tells PetaPixel that prototype should arrive by mid-year.

“This test chip is very important because we are testing two things. One is a new pixel architecture, but I think that part is not so challenging. The most challenging part is a new manufacturing process.”

At that point, if no other issues are discovered, Sigma can move on to the next stage, which is coming to an agreement with a manufacturing partner. However, the project does not get any easier at that point.

“Actually the most challenging part is to find the manufacturing partner,” Yamaki says. “We make most of the parts — almost all parts required for camera and lenses — but we cannot make the sensor, so we need to find the right manufacturing partner. And we have not found it.”

Yamaki explains that Sigma had a manufacturing partner at one point — back when it was making Foveon cameras — but no longer works with them. Its attempts to find a partner to replace that one have been unsuccessful.

“Back in 2016, we made a contract with a new manufacturing partner, which [is] based in America, and we developed the new sensor. But in the middle of development we found some fundamental issues in pixel architecture and also [the] manufacturing method that we were studying. That’s why we stopped the project and transferred the development,” Yamaki explains.

That was in 2020 and is why Sigma had to go “back to the drawing board” and restart the project.

“And then we brought the main development site from U.S. to Japan. Now our engineers [are] working on it, but because of COVID, [it was] very difficult to communicate with the manufacturing partners. And also you might remember that there are serious silicon shortage problems,” he adds.

“So they were so busy to catch up the demand so they could not start the new project.”

With the entire timeline laid out like this, it’s easy to see now why it has taken so long to get to this point. Further, even in the best-case scenario where the current prototype is perfect, the Foveon camera is still a ways off. When asked about a timeline, Yamaki responded: “at least a few years, minimum.”

However, as disheartening as it might be to hear that, Yamaki promises that he and his team are not giving up.

“We announced the project of the full-frame Foveon sensor in 2016, if I remember correctly. So it’s already eight years. So people, our customers, are patiently waiting for the announcement from us. So I think we need to be very open and honest to those customers,” he says.

“Please know that our engineers are still working hard to make it happen,” he adds.

Even so, the future of the full-frame Foveon camera is not set in stone.

“But right now, I personally cannot guarantee to go to mass production at this moment, but the engineers are still working hard.”

Image credits: Sigma