Just a decade ago, taking pictures meant having your own camera — be it a point-and-shoot gadget or a full-fledged pro kit. But now that almost every smartphone comes with a capable camera setup backed by computational photography, how can camera-making companies like Nikon, Canon, etc. keep up? Well, according to Kazuto Yamaki, CEO of SIGMA – one of the world’s largest manufacturers of camera lenses – dedicated camera kits still have the edge.
Yamaki, who recently visited India to get an overview of SIGMA’s business, said that professionals, intermediate amateurs and hobbyists would always prefer to shoot with a professional camera kit rather than a smartphone.
“They are really interested in the high-end products. I have noticed that smartphone image quality has improved so quickly, but our main target customers are more interested in professional gear, cameras and lenses. I think we can coexist – smartphone and professional camera and lenses,” he said.
A big reason smartphones are catching up with DSLRs, at least in terms of instant image quality, is the magic under the hood known as computational photography. Basically, the smartphone’s image processor uses software to enhance the photos regardless of the actual quality of the lenses.
He likes computer photography
You’d think professional camera makers scoff at software that gives photographers an edge, but Yamaki says he actually advocates using computational photography to improve image quality. “Smartphones aggressively use technology in their imaging, which has greatly improved image quality. I think high-end cameras and lenses should use similar technology as smartphones,” he said.
To prove his point, he said that SIGMA already has mirrorless cameras in its lineup and will continually release new products that use this technology more aggressively. “Our target customers are photo/imaging enthusiasts, including professionals and amateurs. Our goal is to satisfy all these customers with the best quality products and services,” he said.
SIGMA’s market in India has grown by 20-25 percent over the past three years. This year itself it has seen growth of at least 20 percent. The lens manufacturer introduced SIGMA Global Lenses in 2012 and includes three lines – Art, Contemporary and Sport – with a total of 48 lenses. In 2016, the company also launched its CINE lenses, which includes 25 lenses in the FF Zoom, High Speed Zoom, FF High Speed Prime and FF Classic Prime categories.
India is one of the top 10 markets for SIGMA worldwide. SIGMA Prime lenses are the top-selling lenses in the Indian market, Art series lenses for mirrorless cameras have the largest market share compared to other products in India.
Primarily a lens manufacturer, SIGMA also offers a range of innovative digital cameras with interchangeable and integrated lenses, including the SIGMA fp series, SIGMA sd Quattro and SIGMA dp Quattro.
“We do some OEM business, it’s not our main line of work, it’s just a small part of our business,” he explained.
Focus on India
Yamaki originally planned to visit India in 2019, but then a typhoon hit his country. He pushed it back to 2020, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He was finally able to make it to India in October 2022 and is very pleased with the India story based on his visit – so much so, he says, that they have plans to expand here.
“Yes, we definitely have plans to expand the business in India. Currently, SIGMA’s Indian market is growing dramatically,” he said, adding that India is one of the top 10 markets for SIGMA globally.
That doesn’t mean the company is necessarily focused on increasing its physical footprint, however.
“We already have a reliable and trusted partner in India, so we have no plans to increase the number of distributors. I believe that together with the current distributor we can effectively expand our business in India. However, we will focus on the quality of products and services instead of increasing volume. As long as we maintain and deliver quality services, volume should follow,” he added.
A family business
SIGMA manufactures 100,000-900,000 units per year at its Aizu, Japan facility. Yamaki, a family business, said in the ’90s or early 2000s that they could move production abroad for lower labor costs, but they chose to stay in Japan to improve the quality of the product. “Analog technology requires a lot of experience from people, so we really need people who have worked for the company for many years. So we decided to stay in Japan,” he said, adding that they decided to stay in Japan also to protect their employees’ jobs.
Survive the chip shortage
As a family business, how did Sigma overcome the semiconductor shortage that is just beginning to emerge?
Discussing how the lens maker overcame the semiconductor shortage, Yamaki said suppliers, with whom the company has had good relationships for many years, prioritize SIGMA. “Besides, the engineers worked hard. When we determined that some semiconductors (components) would not be available for an extended period of time, they worked hard to change the design to be compatible with alternative parts. So we did everything we could to survive in such conditions,” he explained.
Yamaki said it is very challenging and the situation is improving a little. “We did better than other countries. We have a relatively flexible production system,” he said.
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