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Sigma releases update on the development of its three-layer full-frame Foveon image sensor

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Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki.

Sigma’s ongoing Foveon full-frame sensor development project has run into many issues. In February 2020, Sigma announced that it was going back to the drawing board with its full-frame Foveon sensor and would be restarting development from scratch. About a year later, it announced it was fully engaged in research and development and asked for patience from its fans. Yesterday, Sigma released another update, sharing that the development of its full-frame Foveon sensor is still underway and that progress has been made.

Sigma’s CEO, Kazuto Yamaki, writes, ‘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.’ Yamaki continues by outlining three primary stages of the sensor’s development, including repeated design simulations of the new three-layer structure to confirm expected performance, prototype evaluation using a small image sensor with the same pixel size as the full-size, full-frame image sensor, and final prototype evaluation using a full-frame image sensor with the same specs as the mass-produced version, including the AD converter. Sigma is currently in the second stage.

‘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,” said Yamaki. ‘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.’

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.

Given the ongoing work, Sigma cannot publicly comment on when stage 3 will commence and when the new full-frame Sigma camera will be ready for production. We also don’t know all the specifics of the image sensor that’s being tested. Originally, Sigma said it would be a ’60MP’ image sensor (20 megapixels times three). The sensor will incorporate Foveon’s 1:1:1 structure, meaning that the sensor will record full color at each pixel location, using three separate capture layers. This is an integral part of Foveon’s appeal and core technology and allows Foveon sensors to deliver greater color resolution than Bayer designs.

It’s also part of what makes the new full-frame sensor so difficult to develop and why Sigma has had to restart the design process with a new manufacturer. Add in different challenges due to the pandemic and supply shortages, and it’s easy to see why Sigma has missed its original 2020 release window.

The good news is that progress has been made and that Sigma remains committed to a full-frame Foveon camera. We hope to learn more soon.

Press release:

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.

Kazuto Yamaki
Chief Executive Officer, SIGMA Corporation


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