Same Lens, Different System
With the entire data of SIGMA SA mount interchangeable lenses as well as SIGMA lenses for Canon cameras packaged within its simple chassis, the SIGMA MOUNT CONVERTER MC-11 (known as the MC-11) has steadily gained notice since its announcement at CP+2016 in Yokohama, Japan and following its release in April two months later. By simply attaching a lens to the converter allows a lens to be recognized by the camera as if a ‘Sony E-mount body camera lens’.
The MC-11 allows the user the choice of an additional 19 lenses built for Sony E-mount cameras at one’s disposal. In addition, for those who already use a SIGMA lens system for a SIGMA or Canon camera, their lenses can be used on a Sony camera lens system without any additional hardware. The MC-11 is a converter that enables ‘the same lens to be compatible with 2 different systems’. These functions and possibilities have gradually worked their way into the hearts of photography enthusiasts worldwide thereby creating a new movement in the process.
Putting SIGMA aside for one moment, the question that has to be asked is why were Canon and Sony top of the list for the converter. Head of product planning at SIGMA, Yasuhiro Ohsone, a man knowledgeable on industry trends and how user’s think, reflected on the origin of the project.
“It must be remembered that this is just my feeling, but from what I gathered, and this is in regard to the so-called ‘high-end user’, camera bodies and their respective systems were used according to the situation – a Canon for a high-end DSLR type user, or a Sony for a mirror less camera. I feel that while there are many merits with DSLR and mirror less as well as demerits, these cameras are not treated as alternatives for people but as their main camera. Instead, however much technology progresses and any possible disadvantages and even advantages are eliminated along the way, I believe they are wholly different systems where no one system is going to be better than the other. That is why by truly breaking down the barriers would thus allow ‘combination’ to be the key. I am of the belief that this is the future for cameras.”
Towards a Practical yet Precise Solution
“What’s more, assuming a Sony lens has to be go with a Sony system and a Canon lens for a Canon one, users would need to acquire two of each lens. With around 10 lenses for one camera lens system would mean twice the investment. Of course as a lens manufacturer, we would be happy if you were to purchase even one more lens from us, but we thought about whether only doing that would make us satisfied. Simple math tells us that it would be a burden on the user. It’s not a surprise that if the price is not grounded in the real world, there would be a lack of sales and future maintenance. It is not our intention to have the joy of cameras and lenses beyond peoples’ reach, so first and foremost, a practical yet precise solution was required for the users.”
Maximize the Lens
Amid all this, it was during a regular development meeting at SIGMA where CEO Kazuto Yamaki raised the issue that was said to have been the impetus to develop a mount converter.
“To develop truly excellent products and service was essential to continue to receive support in what is a slowing camera market. The great products of today are the result of what the user wants. We aim to get the most out of these lenses, lenses that are precious to people, and what’s more, we want to surprise them and make them discover how much thought we put into our products. From this viewpoint, we wondered whether our company could redefine the already perfected mount converter. That was the pitch by the CEO Kazuto Yamaki. The idea ‘to convert the Sony E-mount with the premise of combining systems’ was born from that meeting.”
Achieving the ‘E-mount Lens’
To attach a lens to a different camera body system by way of an adapter is nothing new. The bridge (the converter) adjusts the Flange Focal Distance (FFD) (the distance between the mount and the sensor) on the mounts of different manufacturers. A great number are already available in the market today.
“This is the reason why there is no technological hurdle to overcome to make a product identical to what already exists in the market. It wouldn’t take much effort. However, since SIGMA launched ‘SIGMA GLOBAL VISION’ and with it aiming for the ‘highest level of products, service and experience’ in 2012, the development of a reliable ‘mount converter’ without comprising performance and quality definitely met our conditions. It is not just physically connecting together the camera and lens, but to bring a unique converter that is compatible with dedicated E-mount lenses, all-the-while maintaining its precision and accuracy. It is with this concept in mind that development began.”
Free From the “Mount”
“To create lenses optimized for the E-mount was not difficult as the basic specs of the E-mount were in the public domain. Moreover, as SIGMA had by then been developing and manufacturing their E-mount lens, we had become much acquainted with the aperture sequence and communication protocol of the E-mount. So there was little possibility of unexpected flaws in the lens arising due to changes on the camera’s end. Simply put, as well as retaining the optical performance of the lens, the control and smooth accuracy of functions like the AF and AE has to guarantee a level of precision to the point that a camera perceives the lens to be that of Sony E-mount lenses. Confidence in its reliability was had from the outset among the engineers and also for those in product design. There was this feeling that if we could realize a converter that is fully compatible with SIGMA as well as both Canon and Sony mount lens systems, there would be an impact that would create a paradigm shift in the industry. Freedom of choice was within reach after having been restricted, even for ourselves; by the ‘mount’ that binds the lens system.”
Between the Manufacturer’s Ideal and User-friendliness
“At a time when the mechanisms of cameras were not as complicated as today, a level of compatibility and kinship could be maintained that overcame any differences in systems, no matter the brand of lens. All it took was a simple installation of an adapter on the mount. This ease contributed to the rise of SLR and DSLR cameras. But when built-in motors, CPUs, encoders and switches in lenses came along, it was heading to the point where they were only there to optimize each manufacturer’s specs. Camera manufacturers by nature each have their ideals and policies. If there are manufacturers that pursue performance through the latest specifications, there would also be manufacturers that want their products to stand the test of time. By placing focus on quality and function to build relationships with users, it has become standard practice within the industry to place system development above everything else. I believe that the ‘mount’ is a key to the manufacturer’s identity. If the mount represents the contribution made toward user’s convenience, you could say that customization represents the pursuit of what the manufacturer had in mind.”
For the “Rights of the User”
As the mount carries the identity of the manufacturer, voices were raised from our engineers at the beginning as to whether it was a good idea to undertake something considered so drastic.
“I reckon there was nobody who thought this idea through more than Yamaki CEO, and in my case I would be lying to say I had no doubts. At that time users were limited to build a lens system around the camera body. But if we were to make this converter real, the user would not be dependent on the mount but free to build a ‘lens orientated system’ based on how good or bad the lens is. I’m not necessarily saying that the mount should be disregarded completely but at least the choice is left to the user. And even though it wouldn’t be the answer to everything, in regard to the concept, we thought that approach would be a very important move. We came to the conclusion that this product was what the world needed. Above all, we were assured by the fact that the biggest beneficiary of this product would be the user.”
Power to the People
Eventually, we received the words of encouragement that we needed from the boss.’ As this is a new project, don’t be afraid of failure. Let’s show the world what we can do’. Truth is told, in the case of SIGMA, there was a greater possibility that customers who desired ‘combination’ would purchase both lenses if we were to produce an E-mount lens instead of a converter. We still want to target those people (laughs). That way we could save money on developmental costs (laughs). However, handing back power of equipment choice to the customer with a mount converter proved to be the way to go, allowing them to ‘arrange the system according to their own judgments and needs and show what new value and possibilities could be experienced’. The reason behind this is the concept behind SIGMA to ‘maximize the asset of the lens’. In fact after seeing the response we received, we felt we had made the right choice.”
New Value for the Future
The MC-11 is backed up by great build quality, often praised by others as “SIGMA Quality”. The bayonets are made from brass and the chassis from aluminum die casting. Flocking in the dust and water resistance prevents internal reflections inside the camera.
“Even the boss, with a wry smile, exclaimed to me that ‘the cost is too high, we can’t make any money from this’. Admittedly our concern was the quality of the materials and processing, the reason being we were not in a position to make compromises on the performance side. Plastic is not quite the material you would imagine for a small device to take on the weight of the lens and camera body. However cheap and quickly you manufacture, without any rigidity in the converter would make the optical axis come loose. That was the situation we had to avoid. They had to be installed at the optimum level of precision with no backlash, as well as meeting the high photographic standards that professionals expect. To use any Sony E-mount lens without any worries for the user was the benchmark.”
As with the ‘Mount Conversion Service (MCS) in 2013, the MC-11 originated from SIGMA’s concept that “the lens is an asset”. Users put in a precious amount of time, energy and investment into constructing their lens system. So to reward them more for their efforts and build a lasting relationship for the future, we want them to experience new discoveries, surprises and joys through the greater possibilities that are waiting. The door is open to contribute to our future developments.
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Entered SIGMA in 1987. Has worked in the development of optics and mechanisms as well as collaborating with many companies. Became head of product planning in 2013.