Behind The Scene — Q&A On Sigma’s Latest Cine Lens Line

Sigma Cine Lens Information — New Sigma Cine Lenses in the Wild at the ASC in Hollywood

After first announcing this year at IBC in Amsterdam, Sigma debuted the line of Sigma Cine Lenses domestically in early October at the ASC Clubhouse in Hollywood where local cinematographers could see the lenses in person. Starting with three zooms and five primes for the Canon EF, Sony E and cinema-PL mounts, the optics and barrel designs sport several feats of design including promised matched iris, focus and zoom ring placement across the respective lines. (See a photo of that at the link above as well as lots more photos from the event.)

There weren’t a lot of details so I set up an appointment to follow-up on questions I had with Takuma Wakamatsu, Cine Lens Project Manager for Sigma, based in Japan near the company headquarters in Bandai, as well as Marketing & Technical Representative for Sigma in the Northwest US, Patrick Santucci. The Cine Lenses are starting to see pricing, too. A two lens kit with 18-35mm and 50-100mm comes with custom PMC-11 Pelican case at $8490. Additionally, slated to ship this December, Sigma announced the first price points for two lenses in the Cine High Speed Zoom family at $3,999: the 18-35mm T2 and 50-100mm T2. (Similar focal lengths are also available in Sigma’s ART series of lenses at $799 and $1,099 respectively.)

Sigma Cine Lens Information — New Sigma Cine Lenses in the Wild at the ASC in Hollywood
Sigma Cine Lens Information — New Sigma Cine Lenses in the Wild at the ASC in Hollywood

On the exterior, the lenses differ with oversized barrels for a longer rotation and focus pull, which rotates 180º for focus as well as 160º rotation for zooming throw and 60º iris-rotation. Luminous paint replaces the standard markings with focus scales and there is dedicated lens support, which can be removed. Like their lines of still lenses, which are named as full frame (DG), APS-C (DC) and mirrorless (DN), the Cine Lens line comes in full frame (FF), as FF Zooms or FF Primes.

Super 35 zooms, also available in corresponding APS-C mounts for still cameras, will start as two focal lengths, the 18-35mm and 50-100mm, both at constant T2.0 through the zoom range. Amazingly, the iris and focus rings match across the line, including the S35 models, for fast lens swaps. Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki mentioned that Sigma symbolizes summation to his company during the presentation, no doubt in reference to this new endeavor. No pricing yet on the High Speed Prime lens lineup that includes a 20mm T1.5 FF, 24mm T1.5 FF, 35mm T1.5 FF, 50mm T1.5 FF and 85mm T1.5 FF plus 24-35mm T2.2 full frame zoom.

Sigma has released the short film shown during the ASC presentation, blur, created with prototype Sigma Cine Lenses and the ARRI Amira by Director of Photography Chris Saul. Now available for preorder at a variety of locations including Band Pro, the whole line has industry-standard 0.8m gear pitch for follow-focus gearing and will be available in Canon EF mount, Sony E and PL (for most of the models, no PL for the 24-35mm — With some surprising new information on the lenses and how they differ from Sigma’s extensive history of third-party still-lens solutions for Canon, Nikon, Sony and Micro Four Thirds cameras, find lots more in the rough transcriptions below!

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Sigma Cine Lenses - PL mount for ARRI Alexa Mini
Sigma Cine Lenses – EF mount for ARRI Alexa Mini

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Sigma Cine Lens Information — Interview — Takuma Wakamatsu — Cine Lens Project Manager Sigma

HDVP: CEO Kazuto Yamaki mentioned during the presentation at the ASC that Sigma is not as high in production volume on still lenses as Canon, Nikon or Sony, instead priding themselves on quality rather than volume. What are the kinds of things that Sigma offers during manufacturing that can quantify that statement? 

Takuma Wakamatsu:At Sigma we do things differently, we use a vertically integrated manufacturing where there is an open communication between all the divisions involved. This helps us solve issues and really allows us to create unique products that no one has ever created before. Our factory retains almost all stages of lens manufacturing as well, from the glass polishing to assembly. Keeping these processes in house helps us retain control over quality. All the lenses in our Global Vision and Cine lines are also individually inspected with our high resolution Foveon A1 testing machine before leaving the Aizu factory. This data is recorded and if a lens is ever sent back to Sigma, we can refer to the data on the lens before it shipped. We are always trying to improve and become better.  

HDVP: You have roughly 150 in-house engineers just for optical design? With digital design, why is there still a need for so many in-house optical engineers? What are the different aspects of lens design that they’re working on? 

Takuma Wakamatsu:Our 150 engineers work on optical, mechanical, electrical and software related tasks – not just optical design. The reason why we need a lot of engineers is design capacity. As you know, our new product development is the fastest in this industry so we need as many engineers to develop several products at the same time.

Other aspects of lens design are ghost reduction (nicknamed the “ghost busters”), coating design, testing optical performance, and a lot more. Our employees use many tools and specific software that fit for what they want to simulate or analyze.

Sigma Cine Lenses - matching gearing for follow focus and lens swaps
Sigma Cine Lenses – matching gearing for follow focus and lens swaps

HDVP: Sigma is saying these will meet 6K and even 8K resolution. What is Sigma finding in terms of line pairs per millimeter or other MTF and chart measurements that meets the needs of 6K and 8K resolution?
Takuma Wakamatsu:We can not publish this yet.
HDVP: Matching iris and focus across an entire set of primes and zooms, including Super35 and full frame models, is an almost insurmountable feat. What were a few of the many design challenges there? 
Takuma Wakamatsu:We faced many problems. As you know, with 18-35mm and 50-100mm F1.8 DC OS HSM, original location and diameter of each ring of still lens is completely different.
In addition, we should put a linear Iris ring. So we designed 8 lenses and at the same time our engineer worked to adjust the structure of each lens in 100% new concept.
If we did not use this concept, the professional build quality would not have been obtained.
HDVP: On the exterior, the lenses differ with oversized barrels for a longer rotation and focus pull, which rotates 180º for focus as well as 160º rotation for zooming throw and 60º iris-rotation. “A completely updated mechanical structure” refers to this barrel construction or is there more to that?
Takuma Wakamatsu:The updated mechanical structure also refers to the weather sealed and metal construction of the lens along with standardized position of gears, set front diameter of 95mm for Mattebox use, and other points including lens support foot, engraved luminescent paint, etc. The new construction also utilizes high-resolution encoders that enable more accurate lens data that is communicated to the camera body compared with still lenses, and it contains a completely new electronic substrate that provides compatibility with cinema cameras.
HDVP: At an increase of cost of $3,200 and $2,900 respectively, what are the differences between the 18-35mm T2.0 and 50-100mm T 2.0 in comparison to the Sigma ART 18-35mm f/1.8 DC and 50-100mm f/1.8 DC at $799 and $1,099? 
Takuma Wakamatsu:The construction of the lenses is very extensive and varies greatly from the still versions of our lenses. This combined with the service system for professional users has increased overall product price. 

Sigma's 100% New and 100% Retained philosophy for the new Cine Lenses
Sigma’s 100% New and 100% Retained philosophy for the new Cine Lenses

HDVP: The new Cine Lens families are based on several flagship Sigma ART still-lens focal lengths, which are also produced at the same Sigma lens factory. What are the differences in design and manufacturing between ART still lenses and these new lines of Sigma Cine Lenses? 
Takuma Wakamatsu:The optical design and coatings of these lenses are the same. The manufacturing is very different due to the rugged and durable construction of the cinema lenses. We prepared several new tooling machines for cine lenses especially for making gears of each rings. We also bought laser engraving machines for laser marked scale of rings and letters.
HDVP: Why is there no planned PL mount for the Cine FF Zoom Line even though the full frame image circle would cover APS-C and Super35 sensors? Is that just going to be the 24-35mm or will the entire promised Cine FF Zoom Line range lack PL versions?
Takuma Wakamatsu:This problem is only for the 24-35mm lens so far. It comes from optical design. The diameter of this lens is larger than internal diameter of PL mount. If we can make another lens that can support PL, we will make it.
HDVP: What is the 100% New and 100% Retained philosophy behind the design of the Sigma Cine Lens lines? 
Takuma Wakamatsu:Sigma retains the optical design of its award-winning still lenses but takes great effort to create a construction that fits the needs of modern DoPs and videographers. Today, these people seek a product that will not hinder their creative vision and we believe that the state-of-the-art cine lens construction paired with our highly popular still lens designs account for the 100% new and 100% retained concept. 

The Canon EF-native or PL Sigma 50-100mm T2.0 on Canon Cinema EOS
The Canon EF-native or PL Sigma 50-100mm T2.0 on Canon Cinema EOS

Sigma Cine Lens Information — Interview — Patrick Santucci — Marketing & Technical Representative Patrick Santucci Sigma

HDVP: Well, let’s jump right into it. At the ASC you guys unveiled the 100% new and 100% retained philosophy. Can you sort of explain what that refers to?

Patrick Santucci:Yeah, so what we did is we took the optical design, the coating, the lens elements, we took all of that from our still chart and what we did is we put it in brand new construction for cinema-use.

We did a ton of market research with DTs in Japan, DTs in Los Angeles and so, when we were designing the structure of these lenses a lot of it was considered focused row. We had the option to do 300 but from our market research we ended up doing 180 because there’s a lot of people were going after this, run n’ gun,things like that were considered, so it’s “100% New” in that the construction is completely new, but “100% Retained”, as in the same optical design, same lens coating, same lens elements. As they come through our factory, the glass is being polished down. One direction goes through the still side, one direction goes to the cinema side now. That’s the concepts for that.

HDVP:So what are sort of the differences between one going to the cine side and one going to the still side?

Patrick Santucci:Same glass, so it’s more of just dividing it between where those elements are needed. But again, same glass and everything at the still stuff so there really isn’t a difference.

HDVP:So the 18-35 is on the still side, the art lens, is pretty much the same as the 18-35 t2.0 on the cine lens?

Patrick Santucci:Yup.

HDVP: So, you have a huge difference in price, though so what’s justifying the difference, construction and what else?

Patrick Santucci:Yeah, the construction, the weather sealing, the amount of work that goes into each lens, all the different standardized gear positions, the size of the lens all matter. We use a really premium metal so the cost goes up because of the amount of work and the amount of … the construction of the lenses is going to cause that to go up.

HDVP: Okay. You guys are producing approximately 90,000 still lenses a month and so that’s selling roughly a million a year. What kind of numbers are you anticipating for the cine lenses? I mean, obviously enough to spur this new market segment.

Patrick Santucci:Initially, I don’t really have an exact number. 200 hundred, I think, per month for every lens but it’ll go up depending on how we’re received in the market. We’ve talked to a few dealers already and said we can move that amount no problem by ourselves and that was just one dealer so it really depends. We’re going to give it until NAB and then we’ll have the full lineup and whether that increases or not, I’m going to suspect that it’s going to go up pretty drastically, but right now it’s just a few hundred pieces a month as we’re starting out and it’s the market.

HDVP:And are people already ordering?

Patrick Santucci:Yes.

HDVP:Oh, that’s great.

Patrick Santucci:I know they’ve got a bunch of orders already. Right now they’re only available for order in the U.S… and Japan and then during NAB, we’ll open it up worldwide when we have the full lineup. So far, so good (laughs).

HDVP: I know that Nikon offerings are a huge offering for Sigma still lenses. Why are you not offering an F-mount on these cine lenses?

Patrick Santucci:Again, that comes back to market research. A lot of these people that we’re trying to reach out to don’t really shoot Nikon for this kind of video work. It’s much more Sony E Mount, it’s much more Canon, about 70%, looking into it, and then the PL mount was kind of our way of saying, “We’re serious about this”.

HDVP:: Okay. Which is also your APSC line, right? So, it’s perfectly matched pretty much. It’s the same optical construction and everything?

Patrick Santucci::Yup.

HDVP:And then, similarly, then why no PL mount for the cine FF zoom? Is that going to be the entire range or is it just the 24-35?

Patrick Santucci:Just the 24-35 because of, there’s a distance in the flange. It just wasn’t large enough to support that, it was too narrow, so that’s an issue. We would love to do that but it’s a design issue that we can’t overcome.

HDVP: That’s weird. And then, Sigma actually does re-housing themselves, right? And you can do mount conversions?

Patrick Santucci:Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s re-housing. You send it to us and we’ll swap out from whatever available mount. If you’re shooting Nikon and you switch to Canon, you can send it to us, you can keep the same lens, same serial number, and we’ll swap it over to Canon and vice-versa, but the mount has to be available for purchase. It couldn’t be a mount that we don’t make and then ask us to switch that. We aren’t capable of that. The same goes for our Cine stuff too. It’s not a user-friendly situation because we’re small, but due to our dealers, who are asking questions, we’re figuring this out for our dealers and service centers, you will be able to send it back and switch between Sony E Mount, Canon, and PL.

FF High Speed Prime Line of five Sigma Cine Lenses
FF High Speed Prime Line of five Sigma Cine Lenses

HDVP:What about the people that already have, like, already bought this $1100 dollar lens, the art lens, are they going to be able to re-house or are they going to have any sort of rebate situation?

Patrick Santucci:Not that I am aware of right now. That might change but we’re still so new to this and, again, it’s a very small team.

HDVP:Yeah. It is.

Patrick Santucci:So, that might change but I can’t say for sure right now. That’s kind of on the back burner until we can start shipping lenses.

HDVP:: I mean that actually might be enticing to the guys that you’re looking at, you know what I mean?

Patrick Santucci: It’s a good idea and it’s been mentioned but we’ll see. I’ll have to ask about that. I’ll follow up with you about that.

HDVP:And then you guys also do mount adapters too, right?

Patrick Santucci:Yeah we do one, it’s a Sony E Mount to, it’s our Canon mount or our Sigma mount will connect to our converter for Sony E Mount. It’s called the MC-11, it’s a phenomenal little adapter. It does all the Sony functionality, so: eye-detection, continuous eye-AF, if you have stabilization in the lens and the camera body like most Sony’s do. It will actually work with both stabilization systems. We make one adapter, it retails for $250 bucks and if you look on the back of a Sony E Mount cinema lenses it’s actually a built-in MC-11.

What I recommend to people who jump because a lot of the guys I was speaking to jump between Canon and Sony, depending on what jobs they’re doing, you can always buy the cinema lens in Canon mount and use that adapter and put it on your Sony system. This way, you get the best of both worlds, you don’t have to pay for swapping mounts or anything.

HDVP: Then can these guys change the mounts themselves in the field? I forgot to mention that, or ask that…

Patrick Santucci:No, no. It’s much more of a dealer. I’m pretty sure, like, local vendors will help us out with that. We’re still figuring that out as well but it’s definitely going to be something that you have to bring in to a facility to do. It’s not a consumer-friendly operation.

HDVP:Why is that? Because of all the electronic communication, or?
Patrick Santucci:Yeah, it’s that and, I guess, just the construction of the lenses they deem is too complicated for just an easy swap-in/swap-out. That might change, I’m not really sure but again, we’ll have to look at that in the future.

HDVP:They’re saying that these are 6k and 8k resolution ready. I know that Larry Thorpe at Canon says 80 line pairs per millimeter is roughly 4k, depending on several factors. Does Sigma have numbers or charts that they’re going to be publishing on what kind of line pairs per millimeter that the resolution for these lenses is matching?

Patrick Santucci:I believe we’re going to start publishing that information. There’s nothing out yet from what we’ve been told, I haven’t seen anything, but what we’ve been told is still it will support 8k pretty much no problem. I’ll see if they have any documents ready that I can send you.

HDVP: I actually sort of wanted to talk about the fairly uncommon features that you managed to match the gearing across the entire line, including on the super 35 models. How did they manage that? What were sort of the challenges of the exterior construction there?

Patrick Santucci:We tried to keep it as light and compact, so combining that with the standardized gear positions was difficult, I believe… We have just a killer team over there in Japan doing this. Getting through all these challenges was definitely not an easy feat. It took us three years to develop and start manufacturing them. But yeah, keeping it compact, lightweight as possible for most situations along with all that standardized functionality was definitely a task to overcome.

HDVP:: And then, so, similarly, the motors and the servos in the art line, these are the exact same motors and servos that are going to be in the cine lens line?

Patrick Santucci:No motors, everything is geared.

HDVP::Everything is gears, okay, so it’s quiet?

Patrick Santucci:Yeah.

HDVP:Okay. But there are motors and servos in the Art line of still lenses? Because of auto-focus and everything right?

Patrick Santucci:Yes.

HDVP:So that’s another main difference right there?

Patrick Santucci:Yes, that’s what you get, huge difference.

HDVP: And you have 180 degree focus pull now?

Patrick Santucci:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup.

HDVP:Which is obviously nothing compared to what the art series is. I don’t know what the – do you happen to know what the rotation on those lenses is?

Patrick Santucci:It kind of varies from lens to lens.

HDVP: But these are all matched, right? Every one of these cine lenses?

Patrick Santucci:Yeah, they’re all matched, yeah.

HDVP:Yeah. That’s a very, very cool achievement. You were mentioning that you did a lot of market research, sort of what are the things that you guys were asking?

Patrick Santucci:The focus rotation was one thing. What people wanted in terms of weather-shieldimg, so, we wanted to make them as rugged and weather-shielded as possible because people tend to be a little rough with their gear.

Color-match, so every little lens is color-matched and from what we’ve seen tends to be pretty neutral, so, it’s definitely something that helps in post. We wanted everything, particularly with the primes to be much more consistent than what’s out on the markets, so everything from our 20 up to our 85 is all 1.5.

These are all things that people really came to us and said that they really wanted. They worked really closely with the Japanese DOP who is super influential and even, like, starting this conversation and he took them through a list of, you know, what he wanted and what he would want to be seen for these lenses: some consistency in the aperture, color fidelity, the whole nine-yards.

HDVP:The t-stop is T1.5, for example?

Patrick Santucci:Yup.

HDVP:Which is relatively close to the 1.8 aperture that you see in the art lenses. So are these actually being optically matched to t1.5, or is that still sort of a relative measure?

Patrick Santucci:We didn’t change anything, that’s just the light transmitting, so that’s just how they perform off the bat.

HDVP:Okay. I mean, the apertures – so the 18-35 is a F1.8 and then the 18-35 is a t2.0. So that’s the same relative light transmission, right? Like, you guys aren’t measuring light.

Patrick Santucci:Yup.

HDVP:Measuring specifically T/2.0 across the line?

Patrick Santucci:No, no.

HDVP:Okay I just have one more question (*editor’s note: clearly not my last question). With the 95mm front barrel dimensions, was that purposefully to match, like, Zeiss master primes and to match all these matte boxes and everything that’s already out there?

Patrick Santucci:Matte boxes and it goes in line with… I’m trying to keep it compact and lightweight and then they were very specific to say that some have the larger 114mm. They’re realist in that the concept might come up that there might be degradation to image quality because it’s not as large but they’re like, but nothing was affected by it by keeping the matte at 95. So, you get a smaller lens, it works for all matte box systems across our line and then just get the image quality up – perfect.

HDVP:So I know you guys are invested in the Foveon sensor, I actually wrote a couple articles on Foveon sensor for a few photo magazines several years ago. So is that sort of like, what’s handicapping the live-view capabilities? Are you guys ever going to come out with a video-capable camera?

Patrick Santucci:You know, I wish I knew the answer to that question. We had video capabilities in some of our older cameras and it’s a just a challenge and I think our challenge right now is much more of getting through the high ISO issue and just making our cameras a little more user-friendly. They’re wonderful if you have specific uses. It’s happening in technology but I think videos are just on the back burner for us in terms of the Foveon sensor. I honestly would think that high ISO issue is much more something to overcome first.

HDVP:I think we’ve touched on everything. Is there anything else you want to talk about or add? Or is there anything I didn’t ask you about?

Patrick Santucci:It’s a 1-year warranty from country of purchase. We’ve added a few more dealers now including Duclos and Samy’s…