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Photokina 2018 Follow-up: the L-Mount Alliance

At Photokina 2018, SIGMA announced its move away from the SA-mount, a central and long-time element of its camera systems, in favor of adopting the L-mount standard, and the formation of the “L-Mount Alliance”, a collaboration with the camera and optics manufacturers Leica Camera AG and Panasonic Corporation.
In this column, SIGMA CEO Kazuto Yamaki talks about the prospects of the L-mount Alliance SIGMA’s unchanging manufacturing ideals and about his appreciation for users who support SIGMA.

photo:Kitchen Minoru

Announcing the L-Mount Alliance at Photokina 2018

Photokina 2018, held between September 26th and 29th in Cologne, Germany, is the largest trade-show in the photography and video industry. During the fair, SIGMA announced five new lenses, which were available to try out at SIGMA’s Photokina booth.
One other announcement – and one of the biggest in SIGMA’s history – SIGMA made was the start of our L-Mount Alliance, a partnership SIGMA entered with camera and lens makers Leica and Panasonic.

The L-Mount Alliance is an experiment by three camera manufacturers, each with a rich history of developing camera gear independently, to overcome the limitations faced as a single manufacturer and offer greater freedom thanks to the adoption of a shared lens-mount standard: the L-mount.
The three companies officially announced the beginning of the L-Mount Alliance in a joint press conference held on September 25, the day before Photokina’s official start.

The joint press conference held by Leica, Panasonic and SIGMA

SIGMA’s six announcements

The same evening, SIGMA held a separate press conference, announcing new products and outlining SIGMA’s future path with regards to the L-Mount Alliance to members of the press.

SIGMA’s press conference

During the press conference, SIGMA made the following six key announcements regarding the newly formed L-Mount Alliance:

  • SIGMA will release a full-frame Foveon sensor camera based on the L-mount in 2019.
  • All future SIGMA cameras will feature the L-mount. SIGMA will not develop any new SA-mount cameras.
  • SIGMA will continue to develop, manufacture and sell its lineup of SA-mount interchangeable lenses, including lenses currently on sale and in development.
  • SIGMA will release a mount converter allowing the use of SIGMA SA-mount lenses and Canon EF-mount lenses on L-mount cameras.
  • SIGMA will start the release of its L-mount lenses in 2019.
  • SIGMA will offer a Mount Conversion Service to convert a mount of SIGMA interchangeable lenses to use the new L-mount, beginning in 2019.
Overview of the compatibility offered by the L-Mount system

From the SA-mount standard to a new short flange back system

Moving away from the SA-mount was a big decision to make for SIGMA. In the following paragraphs, SIGMA CEO Kazuto Yamaki shares the circumstances surrounding the move.

“The story started with our discussing concepts for a new camera, following demands from our customers for a 35mm full-frame camera with our Foveon sensor technology. We started from the open question ‘which existing camera would be the most suitable model?’ and moved towards outlining a complete camera system, including its general structure and the mount it would use.

Until now, the camera with the largest sensor in SIGMA’s lineup has been the sd Quattro H, with an APS-H size sensor. Rather than using mirrors in its construction, the camera was built with a mirrorless design featuring a live viewfinder. However, by adopting the SA-mount we negated the possible benefits that a switch to the mirrorless design could have provided, from optical design advantages due to a short flange back distance to the overall smaller size of the camera body.

When we originally devised the sd Quattro series, mirrorless camera designs did not yet possess the market power they hold now, and we thought it wiser to prioritize comfort and usability for existing SIGMA customers and their SA-mount lens collection – which meant choosing the SA-mount.
However, since then the camera market has undergone a significant shift away from mirror-reflex cameras to fully embrace mirrorless camera designs. For our future cameras, we deemed it necessary to consider a fundamental re-design, including the possibility for a new mount system with a short flange back distance.”

The key question: What is the true benefit for users?

“Of course, a fundamental decision like creating an entirely new mount standard does not come easily. For us, developing new cameras has always been an aspect which embodies our fundamental ideals and philosophies as a company, and I believe nobody understands and appreciates this better than our customers.
As we continued our internal discussions, we came to the conclusion that a new mount system would offer us the chance to create a standard that would still hold potential ten, even twenty years from now – a fact that would ultimately hold great merit for our customers.
I feel that our commitment to approach product development from the standpoint of the customer has only deepened as a result of this discussion, especially with regards to scalability and future-proofing our products.”

“But even with future benefits in mind, ensuring that existing customers will be able to continue using their SA-mount lens collection is as important to us as the development of the new camera system itself.
We decided that one method will be to develop a mount converter which bridges SA-mount lenses and the new mount system. Considering our experience developing the Mount Converter MC-11 and its high popularity around the world, we hope that this solution will be met with understanding by our customers.
In addition to the mount converter, we will also launch a mount conversion service (something we have already offered in the past) and plan to do our best to keep the inconveniences of SA-mount lens users at an absolute minimum.”

Encouraged by SA-mount users’ feedback

“What helped us with our decision to adopt a new lens mount were not only technical reasons but also the feedback from customers of our SA-mount products. After we had released the sd Quattro series, we often came across comments asking for a shorter flange back distance. While we are aware that the comments do not represent our entire customer base, feedback asking for a ‘short flange back distance sd Quattro series’ and an appropriate adapter for the lenses was not uncommon.
It was a difficult decision for us, and we would not have made it if we did not expect the support of our customers. We approached it based on our guiding principles as a company and with the knowledge that we were already developing methods to support our existing SA-mount lenses.”

“To our customers using SIGMA SA-mount cameras and lenses”
– a message to SIGMA’s customers released together with the press conference

Forming the L-Mount Alliance

“While we approached the development of a new lens mount system, Panasonic contacted us with the news that they were working on a mirrorless camera with a full-frame sensor. Panasonic would have to adopt a new lens mount system for their new camera, and this gave the impetus to talk about a possible collaboration with each other.
In the beginning, we approached the idea with a certain reservation. The impact on our company would not be a small one; we had already begun research into developing our own lens mount, and entering into a collaboration meant abandoning the progress we had made. I myself am a rather cautious person, and I want SIGMA to continue on its own unique path, creating products that no other company dares thinking of.
However, approaching the situation from the customers’ point of view, it is clear that a camera system with a wide applicability offers great advantages. And with this in mind, we made the decision to start talks with Panasonic. As we began our evaluations together, Panasonic shared the news that Leica also uttered interest in a collaboration. I was convinced that a collaboration like ours would only grow in strength the more options it offers our customers.”

Towards the adoption of the “L Mount”

“I think that seeing the merit in surpassing “the boundaries of a single manufacturer” was influenced by the experiences we have made developing our cine lens lineup and our MC-11 adapter, which we released in 2017. We developed the MC-11 based on the principle that the adapter will allow our customers a new degree of freedom in their selection of camera bodies, and in the world of cinema it is an entirely matter-of-fact process to select lenses, camera and accessories for a shoot part by part, each from completely different makers.
Companies should not lock their customers into their own system; rather, the customers should have the freedom to select their own, preferred gear. A system offers its users an additional benefit if it features a high expandability. I think we were able to arrive at this way of thinking precisely because our approach – the company’s as well as my own – has undergone great changes compared to the old days.”

“Now, how did we arrive at the L-mount as the shared system for our alliance?
Originally, we had the expectation that we would create an entirely new mount system. During our discussions, Leica proposed the idea that the L-mount, used for example by the Leica SL (2015) and other cameras, might be a viable option. And indeed, the mount proved to offer the right technical advantages, from the length of its flange back to the diameter of the mount and the general flexibility it provided. Rather than creating an entirely new mount we agreed that adopting the existing L-mount standard meant great technical specifications as well as additional benefits for the customers, and we began detailed preparations for our collaboration.”

Diverse choices from three distinct manufacturers

“One key point that I find interesting about this alliance is the fact that we are three companies with very distinct aims and ideas.
Panasonic, for example, is one of Japan’s leading large-scale manufacturers. At the same time they possess the courage to drive innovation and develop new technology for the camera market – such as the world’s first mirrorless camera. And it would be no exaggeration to say that Leica has been creating cameras since cameras have been invented. They are a legendary company which has always created products according to their own philosophy and convictions.

SIGMA, too, follows its own distinct path that differs from Panasonic’s and Leica’s. We have always aimed to create unique lenses and cameras that none of our competitors offered on the market. Even with the scale of our business, quickly developing a range of cameras to satisfy many different target markets is not an easily achievable goal, but thanks to the power of our alliance our customers are offered a new wealth of options. This new flexibility will make it easier for us to concentrate on products that are more original and more representative of SIGMA’s ideals.
I expect that this alliance, in which three manufacturers with very distinct backgrounds, goals and product lineups join forces, will lead to much more interesting and far-ranging results than a competition between companies with similar intentions could offer.”

Of equal importance: the path that led here & the road ahead

“One role I think SIGMA will have in this alliance with two other inimitable companies would be to expand the diversity of the L-mount system through a unique lineup of lenses. Another would be to push forward into areas that the other two companies, in their role as camera manufacturers, would never approach. In my point of view, by developing a type of camera that has simply not existed before, we would help make the L-mount standard an even more unique, appealing system.”

“I also expect that this alliance will make SIGMA a more attractive choice for customers who have not yet used any of our cameras. For example, if they were interested in our Foveon sensor in the past, the SA-mount might have been a high hurdle to take, since it meant adding another lens mount standard to their collection. But by adopting the L-mount standard, whose applicability reaches beyond the limits of one single manufacturer, I think that this barrier is torn down, making it easier for interested customers to try out new technology.”

Continuous innovation without fearing change

“I think the industry is currently undergoing a bigger change, especially regarding the way photographers take pictures and use their gear. There is a cycle that has been repeating throughout the history of cameras. The needs of photographers influenced the products that manufacturers developed, the new gear in turn influenced the way photographers operated, leading to new demands, and so on. And considering that both technology and photographers still undergo changes, and in the face of the monumental shift from SLR cameras to mirrorless cameras and the unforeseen changes that may result from it, I want to continue exploring all conceivable options for possible merits, and I have the confidence that we will succeed in this approach.”

“In order to keep creating new values, it is vital to continue pushing forward rather than be content with your achievements, even if you managed to succeed with your ambitions – a lesson we also apply to our SIGMA GLOBAL VISION, launched in 2012.
‘Manufacturing, driven by joy and passion, in order to create products of true value for those who love photography and video.’
This attitude drives and will continue to drive SIGMA’s work. It means that we have to take our approach towards experimentation without dismissing any possibilities seriously. I would like SIGMA to continue being a company that does not fear change and that tackles challenges in its own unique way, with flexibility and sharpness, as they are posed by the demands and values of the current times.”

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