5th Year of SIGMA GLOBAL VISION
It was at Photokina 2012 where SIGMA, newly branded under ‘SIGMA GLOBAL VISION (SGV hereafter), told those assembled of its reform of all its products and business operations. With this, all of SIGMA’s interchangeable lenses were consolidated into 3 development concepts: ‘Art (performance priority, specialized image quality)’; ‘Contemporary (total optimization, high performance)’; and ‘Sports (full-spec, excellent motion capture)’. The first models from each line were also introduced: the 35mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art, 18-200mm; F3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM | Contemporary; and the 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | Sports, declaring the ‘future’ direction SIGMA had in mind. Today, this range has expanded to 26 lenses. 2013 also saw the announcement of the Foveon sensor installed dp/sd Quattro series of digital cameras, with 6 cameras released so far. Joined by related accessories and software, the philosophy behind SIGMA’s approach to photography and craftsmanship is reflected in ‘system’. The fall of 2016 also brought the ‘SIGMA CINE LENS’ series – lenses designed specifically for movie cameras, at ‘IBC’ in Amsterdam. With 8 lenses currently available, SGV has spread beyond traditional photography. (Figures as of April 2017)
Takashi Niitsuma, manager of the Marketing Department that bridges the products with the market, gives us an insight into 5 years of effort with SGV. “We have received a warm response with the release of each new product, but it was a mountain to climb to get to this point. 5 years ago, the moment Kazuto Yamaki took over as CEO of SIGMA, he announced that the course of SGV was ‘not just renewing our entire product lineup, but having a brand that offers something new by re-imagining the idea of “craftsmanship” as well as the way we do business. A look of sheer dread came across my face when I heard that (laughs).’ “We then went ahead and discontinued our top end ‘Ex Series’ for ‘premium quality across all brands’. This design concept and standard meant an entirely new category had to be created. This felt like too much of a gamble as this was not taking our usual path but heading toward something unprecedented, away from what the industry was doing. On the other hand, we had doubts how much of an impact a relatively small manufacturer like ourselves could make, even with the will to do it behind us”. The high-end route that was taken with the EX series had gained a solid reputation from local and international markets in both performance and business since the early 2000’s. Niitsuma was well aware that “reform” then was too great a risk; “I can say this now, but you could say I had serious misgivings, that I was opposed to it (laughs). Thankfully the first 3 products in the line immediately received a positive response, and it wasn’t long before we felt that this could go well. But everyone in the company, even the subsidiaries, had felt unsure in the beginning”.
Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone
The man who made the decision, CEO Kazuto Yamaki, said at the time: “Actually I was more worried than anyone, unsure as whether to go all in with this, or stay safe. Speaking for myself, considering where the market is heading and the size of our company, I was certain that SIGMA would not become a beloved brand if we had stayed ‘comfortable’. I felt things would come to a standstill sooner or later. However, since the camera and lens market like to stick to certain traditions, there was a fear, expected, whether discontinuing a beloved product for the purpose of proposing a completely new concept would be welcome with open arms”. “Nonetheless, I had the sense for a while that the camera market had already peaked; were the market to shrink, there would be no risk if we made a unique and attractive brand. I felt that with our size and the groundwork laid at SIGMA, to change direction and push ahead would surely be worthwhile. Ultimately, asking myself if this is the road to pursue the ‘best craftsmanship’ helped overcome my reservations, so we went ahead and started all over again”.
Pride in Work, Pride in Products
“I myself am not an engineer, but none the less that feeling to make great products is within me. I want our staff – driven and passionate – to aim high and pursue ‘craftsmanship’ they can be proud of. Happiness comes with each and every product, taking each one on like they are a work of art; a feeling we want the customers to have too. With this in mind, when thinking about which route would bring ‘satisfying, high quality work’, the only conclusion was that there was no other choice but to undergo a reinvention, the result of which has led to our current products’ reputation, and become the foundation of our attitude and image as a manufacturer” Yamaki explains.
“In the case of SIGMA, concept defines our development – perhaps challenging production to go beyond what may be possible, creating work that exceeds expectations along the way. For example, take our SGV line of lenses; even though we mentioned these features of ‘premium performance and quality management for all lenses’; ‘excellent quality, fine finish’; and ‘flexible yet high resolution customization’, it is the fruit of the ‘satisfying work’ of our staff. To create distinctive products that carries the heart and soul of everyone involved, we want to hand down that attitude we have towards our craft to our customers, and bring them the joy we have. It makes me very happy to to hear wonderful things said about SIGMA; this is the best thing to emerge from the past 5 years.”
In that sense, the biggest change that SGV brought was not just on design, manufacturing and quality assurance, but redefining the relationship SIGMA has with customers through the products. “Of course we seek performance and quality in our lenses and cameras, but by expanding that into a ‘system’, we focused on developing related accessories, software and services that would make our cameras a more valuable asset to our users. These include: the ‘mount conversion service’ that allows you to keep using your SIGMA lens when you change the camera body; the ‘USB DOCK’ to fine tune lenses; the mount converter ‘MC-11’ to use a lens system on different camera brands, and so on. They are developed for the benefit of the user in mind. This is how SIGMA would show users how we want to be a
To Take Photographs
The camera market has changed greatly in the past 5 years; exactly as we foresaw at the dawn of SGV. Advances made in smartphones and apps – along with the current ease of photographing – has forced manufacturers to look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves what photography means and how its equipment is seen by others. The design concept of our booth at this year’s CP+2017 in Yokohama, Japan, was ‘The Scenic route of perfection’, sending a clear message that we were moving away from the road we normally take. “CP+2016, and also the previous Photokina basically followed the same pattern as previous years, but on this occasion we took new steps. As well as wondering what message we wanted SIGMA to convey, we wanted our latest and upcoming products and contents available to be tried out by visitors to our booth, let them find the camera they are looking for, to deliberate with themselves the particulars they want. That time and effort put in for the purpose to take photographs tends to be avoided by most. However, taking photographs is what they love none the less; they understand and cherish the equipment to take that image, so we want to increase those users who share that, regardless where the market is heading. For those who have an eye for value, our mission is to think of and create products and services, where we then convey that into a message for them”. (Niitsuma)
Challenge Without Fear
“We have received a favorable reception from customers and from the market too; however, I still feel that this response comes in part from not being seen as an equal to the more larger, more productive manufacturers. Mastering the more challenging aspects of craftsmanship and working on our weak points is the way for this to become a brand where SIGMA is the first choice for customers”. “The future will force us to new horizons; but no matter where photography and video is in our lives, we want to be there when that time comes. Even then, we have to make a point to continue evolving; never content and forever challenging ourselves”. (Yamaki)