CNBC-TV18Nov 18, 2022 18:52:29 IST
Even a decade ago, taking pictures meant having a dedicated camera – whether it was a point-and-shoot or a full professional kit. But now, with almost every smartphone having a capable camera setup backed by computational imaging, how can camera manufacturers, like Nikon, Canon, and others, keep up? Well, according to Kazuto Yamaki, CEO of SIGMA—one of the largest camera lens makers in the world—custom camera groups are still ahead.
Yamaki, who recently visited India to evaluate SIGMA’s work here, said that professionals, advanced amateurs, and hobbyists always prefer shooting with a professional camera kit on a smartphone.
“They’re really interested in high-end products. I’ve realized that smartphone image quality is improving very quickly, but our main target customers are more interested in gear, professional cameras and lenses. I think we can coexist — a smartphone, a camera and a professional lens.”
One of the main reasons smartphones are seen as catching up to DSLRs – at least in terms of instant image quality – is the magic under the hood that is computational photography. Basically, a smartphone’s imaging processor uses software to improve images regardless of the actual quality of the lenses.
He loves computer photography
One might think that professional camera makers scoff at software that gives photographers a chance, but Yamaki says he’s actually in favor of using computational photography to improve image quality. Smartphones make powerful use of technology in image creation, which has greatly improved image quality. I think high-end cameras and lenses should use technology similar to that used by smartphones.”
To prove his point, he said that SIGMA already has mirrorless cameras in its lineup and will continually release newer products that use this technology more aggressively. Our target customers are photography/photography enthusiasts, including professionals and amateurs. Our goal is to satisfy all of these customers with the best quality products and services.
Sigma’s market in India has grown at a scale of 20-25 percent over the past three years. This same year, it saw growth of at least 20 percent. Lens manufacturer introduced SIGMA Global Lenses in 2012 and consist of three lines – Artistic, Contemporary and Sports – with 48 lenses in total. It also launched CINE lenses in 2016, which includes 25 lenses in the categories of FF zoom, high-speed zoom, FF high-speed prime, and classic FF prime.
India is one of the top 10 largest markets for SIGMA globally. SIGMA’s best-selling prime lenses in the Indian market, Art Series lenses made for mirrorless cameras have the largest market share compared to other products in India.
Also primarily a lens maker, SIGMA also has a line of all-in-one and interchangeable lens digital cameras, including the SIGMA fp series, SIGMA sd Quattro, and SIGMA dp Quattro series.
“We do some OEM business, and it’s not our main line of business, and it’s just a small part of our business,” he explained.
Focus on India
Yamaki was initially planning to visit India in 2019, but then a typhoon hit his country. He pushed it back to 2020, but then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. So he finally made it to India in October 2022, and based on his visit, he’s very happy with the India story — so much so, he says, that they have plans to expand here.
“Yes, we definitely have plans to increase the business in India. Right now, the Indian market for Sigma is growing a lot,” he said, adding that India is one of the top 10 markets for Sigma globally.
However, this does not necessarily cater to the company focusing on increasing its physical footprint.
“We already have a reliable and trustworthy partner in India, so we don’t have a plan to increase distributors. Together with the existing distributor, I believe we can effectively expand our business in India. Having said that, we will focus on quality of products and services rather than increasing volume. And as long as we We maintain and provide high quality services, the scale is to follow.
SIGMA manufactures 100,000-900,000 units annually from its factory in Aizu, Japan. Yamaki, a family-run business, said that in the 1990s or early 2000s they could have moved manufacturing overseas with lower labor costs, but decided to stay in Japan to improve product quality. Analog technology requires a lot of experience in people, so we really need people who have worked in the company for many years. So we decided to stay in Japan,” he said, adding that they decided to stay in Japan as well to protect the jobs of their employees.
Survive the lack of chips
Being a family owned company, how did Sigma manage to overcome the semiconductor shortage, which was only showing signs of abating?
Speaking of how the lens maker is dealing with a semiconductor shortage, Yamaki said suppliers, with whom the company has had good relations for many years, have prioritized SIGMA. “Also, the engineers worked hard. If we found that some semiconductor (component) would not be available for a long time, they worked hard to change the design to be compatible with replacement parts. So we did everything to survive in such conditions.
Yamaki said it was very difficult and it’s getting a little better. “Compared to other countries, we have done better. We have a relatively flexible production system,” he said.