SIGMA’s approach to manufacturing
For our manufacturing, we believe there are things more important than any of the technologies involved.
One is the constant will to explore and challenge new technologies and innovations.
Then, in order to turn these challenges into reality, there is our manufacturing base in Aizu; engineers who constantly explore technological innovations; skilled workers who continue to pursue accuracy and perfection.
The interaction of different departments, skills and technologies is the engine behind SIGMA’s unique products and manufacturing.
Original, innovative products and services, made possible by the sum of core technologies.
SIGMA’s core technologies are separated into three broad categories: development, manufacturing at our Aizu factory, and services. Together, they are the source of our digital cameras, lenses, accessories and software. SIGMA’s unique products and services make use of inspirations and ideas that cannot be achieved within the confines of single branches but only through interactions between different specialized fields. Also, by handling each process — from research to development, manufacture and after-sales service — ourselves, SIGMA is able to accumulate a wealth of expertise and experience, which again helps us develop new ideas and technologies.
SIGMA product manufacturing flow
SIGMA product correlation chart
"Small office, big factory"
This phrase accurately describes SIGMA’s unique production system and has been one of our fundamental principles since our foundation. Many of our products begin by following ideas such as “here’s a lens we would like to make” or “this would be the perfect product for us to create.” A highly-developed manufacturing technology is an indispensable requirement for turning such ideas into reality. A sharp sense of creativity paired with the power of a rich manufacturing system able to give shape to new thoughts. At SIGMA, this balance is an integral part of our corporate philosophy.
From single components to delivered product
Head office and manufacturing base in close contact: the merits of a closely-linked business chain.
SIGMA’s production system is completely based in Japan: our compact supply chain is concentrated in the Tohoku region and almost all manufacturing, processing and assembly takes place at our manufacturing base in Aizu. This is an extraordinary setup in an industry that mostly favors “global procurement”, in other words sourcing the cheapest parts from around the world. Why do we insist on manufacturing domestically, despite higher costs? Because we believe such a domestic system to be an essential factor for creating unique and high-quality products.
The direct, face-to-face communication made possible by having our manufacturing site, our head office and our supply chain based in one single country also enables a speedy and meticulous product development. And because the same people are consistently involved in our manufacturing processes, they are able to accumulate a wealth of experience, knowledge and know-how from which new ideas and innovations can spring.
These are merits that cannot be acquired with money alone, and we believe them to be our greatest asset. That is why a domestic, fully integrated production system is so important to us.
face-to-face communication that enables a speedy and meticulous product development
Lenses and cameras.
Original technologies that embody our philosophy
Following the constant improvements in resolution and multi-functionality of digital cameras, interchangeable lenses are also expected to deliver ever higher performance. Rapid technological advances are difficult to achieve. Instead, innovation is built on optical design, which relies on an accumulation of technology; on software that constantly needs to catch with with the latest technologies; and on mechanical design that brings everything together. Technical know-how as well as engineers with experience are an integral part of each step.
Camera development is the other foundation of SIGMA’s manufacturing. With unique cameras such as the Quattro series and its Foveon sensor — the only sensor with vertical color separation in the world — or the small, lightweight full-frame fp series, SIGMA has established its own unique image processing, software and mechanical design technologies.
Above all, designing and manufacturing lenses and cameras — the two fundamental tools of photography — allows us to constantly consider, examine and re-examine the essential fun and pleasure of taking pictures from the standpoint of the photographer.
Lenses and cameras. The pillars of SIGMA’s business principle and philosophy of photography.
SIGMA - The scenic route to perfection.
At SIGMA, we insist on the highest possible manufacturing quality for each of our products.
Our motivation, as ambitious photography enthusiasts, is our heartfelt understanding for the passionate photographer and our deep sympathy for their mission to record and to express themselves.
We would like to introduce you to a standard of quality unattainable by a mere emphasis on efficiency and productivity, by sharing a few select vignettes from our manufacturing factory in Japan’s Aizu prefecture.
“Like water through a river”
– a sentence from Michihiro Yamaki, SIGMA’s original founder.
Whenever Mr. Yamaki visited the factory in Aizu, he made sure to confirm whether all operations during the production process were running smoothly.
500 different models
There currently is no one unifying mount that works for each interchangeable camera mount system in the market. As a result, according to the model numbers of our manufacturing plan, we produce about 500 different lens variations at our Aizu factory.
A small bump between Tokyo and Aizu
SIGMA’s spherical lenses are manufactured with an impeccably accurate surface roughness (i.e.., the degree of roughness compared to an ideal, smooth surface) of merely 2 micrometers. If we created a lens with a diameter of 300 kilometers — the distance between Tokyo and Aizu — the largest bulge would measure less than 2 centimeters.
From 10mm to 198mm
The largest single lens manufactured by SIGMA is the front element of the APO 200-500mm F2.8 EX DG, with a diameter of 198mm. Applying the lens coating is an eight hour long process.
In contrast, the smallest single lens used in any of our products is the 7th element in the 8-16mm F4.5-5.6DC HSM zoom lens: it measures only 10mm.
Three minutes, three letters
With the introduction of SIGMA GLOBAL VISION in 2012, we have started engraving a three-digit code onto each of our lenses. In addition to clarifying the release year of each model, we hope the number helps our customers develop a bond with their product, a little like vintage wine.
The three letters atop each model are engraved using a very small end mill. The process is undertaken with great care and requires around three minutes.
Bayonets without compromise
Our brass bayonets are manufactured with thick chrome platings, to ensure a quality finish without any scratches.
We have adopted trivalent chromium into our production process as soon as it became industrially possible. The trivalent chromium perfectly answers our needs to create plating film without surpassing 0.5 micrometers in thickness. Abandoning the highly toxic hexavalent chromium allows us to be more considerate of our workers’ health and our factory’s effects on the environment.
“Five more micrometers!”
When designing and producing molds, the mold’s finishing is reviewed in thorough detail. For the fine-adjustment process, we commonly work in units of micrometers (0.000’001m).
A1 with data of all shipping lenses
Each individual lens that has been shipped since the introduction of SIGMA GLOBAL VISION in 2012 has been measured and quality controlled with the A1, SIGMA’s very own MTF measuring device. Precise measuring data for each individual lens is stored in our facility in Aizu.
Painted by hand
The components of our products that cannot satisfyingly handled by machines receive their finishing touches by hands. For example, the complex inner structure of the filter holder socket of our 500mm DG OS HSM | Sports lens is hand-painted, piece-by-piece, by a worker in our Aizu factory. Another example are the tripod mounts of our large-aperture lenses: each of them is painted by hand.
Beyond measuring capabilities
We pay great attention to the processing technologies used to manufacture the molds for parts that require absolute precision, such as the lens cells. With manufacturing deviations never exceeding more than 0.002mm, the accuracy of the machines at our Aizu factory is superior even to state-of-the-art ultrahigh precision 3D measuring devices. We are committed to utmost precision during each step of the process, even beyond the reach of modern measuring capabilities.
Our quality control department ensures optimal performance and visual appearance of each of our products. But they also control for crucial qualities not easily quantified in numbers, such as the smoothness of the zoom and scaling rings. Our evaluation standards are very strict, to the point where products can be dismissed because “the ring doesn’t quite feel right.”