In an interview with Imaging Resource, Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki has announced that there is a new delay with Foveon sensor development. It sounds like the same old story we’ve been hearing since 2018, but it seems as if it’s not so much the technical challenges that Sigma is facing now. The technical development issues that have caused delays in the past seem to be resolved for the most part. It’s simply a matter of production.
The global silicon shortage has a lot to answer for across many industries, but that seems to be the only thing that’s really holding Sigma back now. Prototypes take too long to create and the sensor itself is still seeing development while waiting for those prototypes to happen. This makes them pretty much obsolete before they get close to production. But, it sounds like we’re close to full-frame Foveon becoming a reality.
In the interview, Yamaki-san was asked about the status of the new Foveon sensor, pointing out that it’s been a long and difficult process. It was confirmed that development had been shifted over from California to Japan, with Sigma working jointly with another company. But with the global silicon shortage, being able to actually produce sensors is proving to be somewhat tricky.
The first phase is a prototype of pixel structure. The second phase is a prototype of a pixel that has the same size as the final product’s (but the sensor size is smaller). Unfortunately, we are still waiting for the prototype. Our partner is now making the prototype. As you know, semiconductor makers are extremely busy right now. So there’s been a little bit of delay.
The technical issues faced by Sigma from as far back as the initial announcement at Photokina 2018 along with the impact of COVID and the global shortage have delayed things much further than many had ever anticipated. But those delays have meant that even after they figured out the technical issues inherent in Foveon design, by the time they were able to get a physical device in their hands, the rest of the industry had moved on.
The surrounding technology, not to mention the offerings from the competition, has become faster and far more capable. It reads like Sigma’s been forced to keep enhancing their designs before the current version of the chip is even ready to test, keeping them locked in a vicious cycle. The interview does note, however, that since checking back with Sigma, they’ve received test chips from the foundry that are now undergoing tests.
One particularly interesting question was whether or not we’d see phase-detect autofocus in the next Foveon sensor. While there was no solid “Yes!” and he says that a decision is still yet to be made, Yamaki-san believes that it needs to be implemented. Times have changed since the initial announcement. PDAF has become pretty standard across many brands and it likely will become expected in a Sigma Foveon camera if it hopes to compete outside of the small specialist market that was attracted to previous cameras, like the Sigma SD Quattro.
In terms of the autofocus performance, the phase detection is the best solution. So I personally believe we need to implement phase detection AF, but we haven’t made a decision.
Head on over to Imaging Resource to read the full interview. It covers lots of other interesting topics surrounding Sigma’s plans in all of their areas, but it seems like a full-frame Sigma Foveon camera is finally getting close to being a real thing.
[via Imaging Resource]