Why Sigma can make better camera lenses for less

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It might not be common knowledge for amateur or consumer photographers, but one of the world’s largest camera makers wanted to buy Sigma – and was rejected.

The reason Canon wanted to purchase the Japanese lens maker, is because Sigma took a bold step in reorganising its lens line-up and developed products in three different categories: Contemporary, Art and Sport.

“We take the best balance of trade-offs like specifications, optical performance, size and weight in the three categories,” Sigma president Kazuto Yamaki told htxt.africa.

And then there is of course the price. Sigma has somewhat become known as a lens maker whose high-quality products cost significantly less than Nikon or Canon. “[For the categories] cost is definitely a factor. I came up with the idea of the three categories, and developed lenses based on each of them,” he explained.

If Sigma makes good enough lenses that Canon wanted to buy the whole company, how is it possible for them to sell the lenses at such a low price point?

Well, according to Yamaki, the key here lies in where the lenses are made.

“The big names [in cameras] make their lenses outside of Japan. Sigma makes their lenses in China and Vietnam, but makes the components in Japan through a local procurement process,” Yamaki said.

He explained that Sigma’s plant is in northern Japan, and all the companies that provide them with the materials are family-owned and all within a small radius in the region.

“If we had to do it through someone else, it would cost a lot more. The costs can be absorbed through the company, and doesn’t get passed on to the consumer. Also, all of the suppliers are located in the northern Japan.”

In terms of the staff, 25% of the workers in the Kawasaki office are not engineers, which means that the overwhelming majority of them are, and focus on things like optical design, mechanical design and firmware.

Even though the company is based in Japan, is does have a South African growth plan.

“Photos are widely popular in the country, and South Africa is one of our most important markets. SA acts as a springboard into Africa, and right now we are exploring where the growth opportunities are from here. South Africa is also the bulk of where Sigma products go, as it supplies Namibia and surroundings.”

One might think that being in the digital camera business now is a bit of a tricky one, since mobile phones have taken over a huge chunk of how people take picture.

But Yamaki is quick to point out that Sigma hasn’t seen a downturn in its business because of mobile phones, as the core of its business aren’t interested in taking pictures with mobile phones.

“Our target market is DLSR customers, and among those are the photo enthusiasts who still buy camera bodies and lenses. Actually, our business has been growing for the last three years at a steady pace. That says a lot about Sigma as a manufacturer, since all the other makers have had declines in sales,” he explained.

But even with good financials and products strong enough the whet Canon’s appetite, things don’t always go according to plan. One of the biggest problems that Sigma has to counter-act, is the notion that cheaper products must mean inferior quality.

“We need to correct the prejudice over Sigma. It is still a challenge for us, but when you use the product, you will realise that the lenses are exceptional – your whole perception of the brand will change,” Yamaki concluded.



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