This past monday, Sigma Corporation of America announced at Photokina in Germany that they are restructuring their lens lineup. In short, they have created three categories of lenses: Contemporary, Art and Sports. They call it Sigma Global Vision. My first thought was that this was pure marketing, but a worthwhile concept. To be blunt, with all the lenses on the market, it’s difficult to figure out which lens is ideal for your needs. Even in Sigma’s own line, there are a few over-lapping lenses. But I was curious…surely reorganizing the lines doesn’t warrant a big closed-door, invitation only announcement spun off one of the biggest photo industry events in the world. My hunch was rewarded: Sigma’s plan is brilliant and refreshing – it’s amazing no one else has thought of it before. The Sigma Global Vision could really change the way we think about lenses. And if they aren’t already, Sigma’s competitors should soon be scrambling to find a similar vision.
So why does this all blow my mind, and why do I think it should blow yours? Well, I wasn’t going to let you hang there, was I. I will outline briefly below.
On the Surface…
At the moment, Sigma has only announced three new lenses, one for each category. But Sigma will be building off of this in the future. In general, we can expect all of these lenses to have the build quality and precision that we would expect in any Sigma lens. And I would expect the price points (which have not yet been released) to be competitive in the marketplace versus similarly featured lenses. But these lenses will have a differing design philosophy than you may be used to, and the entire lineup has a few neat features that set them apart (which I will get into separately). But let’s look at each of the categories:
- Contemporary – This category will contain a wide range of lenses comprised of mostly zooms – standard zooms, telephoto zooms, wide-angle zooms. According to Sigma, the goal is to keep the size and weight of the lenses manageable without sacrificing optical performance. Though they haven’t stated the fact in the press releases, I suspect that many of your entry-level lenses will be found in this category as well. The first lens announced in this category is the 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM, which is a pretty nice walk-around lens, one that you’d probably keep mounted most of the time. You will note that it is not a fixed aperture lens, so I expect it to be priced more economically. But that’s a pretty nice max aperture at 17mm for a zoom. If the price is right, it will be a good lens.
- Art - This line is targeted to the artistic shooter. The first lens announced in this category is the 35mm F1.4 DG HSM, a prime lens that is at that ideal focal length for most digital shooters (a 35mm on a cropped sensor camera closely resembles the feel of 50mm on a full-frame camera). The max aperture of F1.4 makes this a fast lens and is plenty wide to get the buttery bokeh on wide-aperture shots. But I am expecting more to come out of this category in the future. Allegedly, this category will also contain shot-specific lenses such as ultra-wide angles and fish-eyes. I would also expect that most of the lenses would have fixed apertures. It’s probably safe to say that Sigma’s higher end lenses will fall into this category.
- Sports - Despite the name of the, I don’t think sports shooters will be the only ones interested in this line. As a whole, fast longer range zoom lenses will fall into this category. Case and point, the first lens announced in the Sports line is the 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM (a photo of which is at the top of this article). A fixed aperture at that focal length is impressive enough. But this line will also feature something unique: The ability to change focus speeds and focus limiters on the fly by pressing a button on the lens body.
Each of the lenses will be branded with their respective categories (C, A or S) so there is no confusion as to which lens you are holding. I don’t see the categories as defining their use. I think Sigma’s intent was to disclose the design intent behind each lens. In the end, I would expect any photographer to have a mix of lenses from across all three categories depending on their own shooting style. Those Sports lenses are going to be long-reaching, and so maybe a nature photographer or even a landscape photographer will find great use for them. I guess my point is that the categories don’t really much matter to the end-user. But it does help in the selection process, and it does help you understand the advantage of each lens by category.
Now if I were to see the specs on these lenses on the surface alone, I’d say they were all great lenses. And I expect that there are many great lenses to come. But these specs are not the only reason I’m excited about the Sigma Global Vision. There’s more…
USB Dock and Software Tools
Now here’s the part that I find really cool about the Sigma Global Vision: They are offering a USB dock and software tools so that the consumer – not just the factory – can hook up the lenses to update firmware and tweak focusing parameters. You may not think much about it, but most modern lenses have simple but essential on-board computers. These tiny computers make sure that the lens can focus accurately and quickly from day to day. The firmware is the on-board software that makes this all happen. If Sigma updates their lens firmware – perhaps to fix a bug or to improve their focusing algorithms (that’s a good thing) – you can easily update your lenses yourself. You won’t have to send it into the factory. But you will also be able to tweak your focusing parameters.
Ideally, I believe Sigma is expecting you to maintain your lenses with this software and dock, and I imagine most would. But think about it from a tweaker’s perspective: You now have more control over your lens than you ever had. I don’t know how much we’ll be able to control at this time…but wherever there’s an interface, there is a geek looking to exploit it. Let’s start at a basic level…if you’re a fan of soft-focus or you like the look of a plastic lens, you may almost be able to trick your lens into focusing that way all the time if you tweak the focusing parameters the wrong way (because wrong can be right in the artistic world). Maybe you can do that. Moving up to more geeky endeavors, I wonder if there will be programmer out there that learns a way to gain access to settings that only the factories were intended to access. Maybe we could hack our lenses into doing bizarre things. Now obviously, I suspect this would void some warranties, and I’m sure Sigma wouldn’t condone such behavior. But think of the possibilities? This is a long shot, of course, but stranger things have happened and I’m sure someone out there will at least try.
If it wasn’t apparent already, I’ll admit it: I’m really excited about the possibilities of the Sigma Global Vision. Sure, there are only three lenses offered at the moment under this new reorganized structure. But I think each is a fantastic lens suitable to carry the flag for all the great new products to come from Sigma. I believe the concept as a whole is only going to lead to bigger and better benefits for the consumer. It’s not about making it easy to pick a great lens for your needs. It’s about having a clear design intent on the part of the manufacturer. Instead of trying to create the best all-around lens, Sigma has clearly stated that they are going to focus on specific aspects depending on what category the lens is designed for. That seems like such a nuanced perspective, but it’s really not: It means – and communicates – that Sigma had a clear design intent from the very beginning. It means that we, as the consumer, can have every faith that a lens from this structure was designed with the very specific goals or our potential shots in mind. The user-control aspects – the USB dock and the software – is merely the icing on the cake.
I’m really looking forward to the future of the Sigma Global Vision. I expect to see great things in the future.
And yes…we will do our best to see if we can get our hands on some of these lenses as they become available.
Editors Note: All photos are courtesy of Sigma Corporation of America.