Photography News 07

18

Profile

INTERVIEW

BIOGRAPHY

Graham Armitage

AGE: 61 YEARS IN THE PHOTO INDUSTRY: 38 CURRENT LOCATION: Letchworth Garden City LAST PICTURE TAKEN: Mount Fuji and a full moon from my hotel room in Shinjuku, Tokyo, early morning before flying home HOBBIES? Studying Ebenezer Howard and the Garden city movement (only joking! But I do seem to be unduly involved with his life’s work). Hill walking, reading, sailing, listening to music and eating out with friends WHEN YOUWERE YOUNGER, WHAT DID YOUWANT TO DOWHEN YOU GREWUP? I wanted to be an archaeologist but didn’t get a place at Southampton University. Phew, what a lucky escape! DOGS OR CATS? Dogs TOAST OR CEREAL? Cereal EMAIL OR PHONE CALL? Phone call as I’m a slow typist. Discerning photographers couldn’t believe that a tiny camera that looked like a point-and-shoot compact could produce such stunning results. The dimensions also caused our designers problems in cramming all the sophisticated and power-hungry components into such a limited space. The new dp Quattro design looks like nothing else on the market and handles just like an SLR. The design seems to have split opinion but at least people are talking about it and it does look business-like and capable of producing great quality photographs. Sigma cameras feature the self-developed Foveon X3 sensor. This uses an entirely different method for detecting light [every pixel records red, green and blue light] compared with your competitors, what was the reasoning behind that decision? Michihiro Yamaki (Sigma’s founder and former president) was a very keen photographer who believed that digital images were very ‘flat’ and carried none of the depth and emotion that film could capture. Meanwhile a like-minded team of experts at Foveon were working on a way to recreate the total three-colour capture, which leads to film-like qualities. They eventually decided to embed three layers of colour detectors in silicon and developed the Foveon X3 sensor. Sigma and Foveon worked together, each bringing their own special knowledge and expertise to the project. Eventually Sigma bought out Foveon and the work to recreate the special film-like quality so loved by Mr Yamaki goes on. WithdecliningsalesofDSLRsandCSCs, thatmeans fewer cameras onto which to fit your lenses, so what’s the biggest challenge for Sigma? The sales of both DSLRs and CSCs are considerably down in the UK but the truth is that it is the entry level in both categories that is suffering. Our customers however are enthusiasts who understand that lenses are a crucial component to improving their photography and therefore buy additional lenses for their more sophisticated cameras. These customers are not in decline, indeed our business has grown over the last two years. What are your future ambitions for Sigma? I would like Sigma’s unique position as a family owned company competing against huge corporations to be recognised. We are innovative, lean and proactive and punch far above our weight. Small doesn’t mean insignificant. Sigma has a great future.

Founder of the UK arm of Sigma, GrahamArmitage answers PN’s questions on everything from innovations in technology and design to the company’s controversial court battle over patent infringements

Can you introduce yourself to PN readers please? I am the general manager of Sigma Imaging (UK) Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Sigma Corporation of Japan. I founded this company in 2001 but before that I’d worked with Sigma’s UK agent since 1978. What have been some of the stand-out moments for you during your career at Sigma? The first time I visited Sigma’s state-of-the-art factory in the beautiful volcanic region of Aizu Wakamatsu and saw the complete process of designing and manufacturing a camera lens. There have also been several technological advances that I enjoyed witnessing, such as Sigma developing the first mini- zoom lens, the 39-80mm, which heralded a huge change in standard lenses. Sigma has remained relatively successful in an industry that has been hit by some particularly hard times. Why do you think that is? As lens technology has become ever more sophisticated, the vast majority of our competitors have fallen by the wayside. Sigma has specialised in lens design and manufacture, has not been tempted off into non-photographic fields and has constantly invested in new technology and machinery. Nor has Sigma opened manufacturing plants elsewhere, but concentrated on one ever-expanding factory in the Fukushima prefecture employing only experienced and committed Japanese craftsmen. Over the years our market has become ever more niche but specialist and it is very resilient to general economic downturn in the market. Your Art lenses have been well received by critics and consumers alike. What do you think the reasons for their success are? Kazuto Yamaki, the son of our founder and former president, is now at the helm and his Sigma global vision concept has seen the introduction of a new era in lens manufacture. Our team of very talented lens designers has begun pushing out the barriers of what’s possible in three ranges: Art, Sport and Contemporary. The 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM (Art) is the first fixed f/1.8 aperture zoom lens in the world but not only that, it seems to be universally accepted as an excellent and groundbreaking optic. The same designer is responsible for our 35mm f/1.4 DG (Art) lens and is currently working on a brand new 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM (Art) lens which we expect to set new standards of sharpness. What’s the lens you would love to have in your range that you don’t already have? We have almost 50 focal lengths in our range currently,

but there is always room to introduce more. I think a full-frame equivalent of the 18-35mm f/1.8 lens would be appreciated by the ever-growing number of photo enthusiasts who are using DSLRs with full-frame sized sensors, or a 24-200mm type lens with a fast aperture. It seems some lens makers are less concerned about aberrations like distortion and fringing, expecting such problems to be cured in software –what’s Sigma’s viewon this? Sigma designers are putting even more effort into producingverywellcorrected lenses.We liketobeopen with our customers and supply lots of information and data on the lens construction of each of our lenses, plus MTF charts and graphs showing distortion and vignetting. The parent company is planning to supply much more detail on optical performance in the near future. Of course, modern post-capture software is very useful and can only improve things. Recently, Sigma has been ordered to pay $14.5 million in compensation to Nikon over a patent infringement on image stabilisation technology. What will be the impact on Sigma’s ability to compete in thatmarket? Sigma is disappointed with the outcome of the court case as we would never intentionally infringe a competitor’s patent. It was a highly technical case open to different interpretations and we have won similar cases in the past but have chosen not to publicise these. The sum of ¥1.5 billion is only a fraction of the original claim and, whilst not a welcome expense, will not prevent us from continuing in our mission to supply superb lenses at affordable prices. Sigma’s flagshipSD1Merrill has, unlike themajority of competing models, been designed without HD movie capabilities and Live View. Can you tell us why that is? Our first priority above all else is to produce the very highest image quality from both our lenses and cameras. The SD1 Merrill is capable of producing breathtakingly sharp images but is not equipped with all the ancillary extras that most other DSLRs have today. We admit that our system is not the fastest or most convenient on the market, but if the photographer is truly dedicated to top quality pictures with a film-like quality then only the Foveon sensor can produce that. The dp Quattro is a radical step away from the traditional concept of a compact. What was the thought process behind this reinvention? I believe that by designing tiny compact cameras we were in danger of sending a mixed message.

The dpQuattro looks like nothing else on themarket andhandles just like an SLR. The design seems to have split opinion, but at least people are talking about it

π To find out more, go to www.sigma-imaging-uk.com.

Photography News | Issue 7

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