Sigma has revealed that the long-awaited full-frame Foveon sensor will not likely be ready until next year. Originally announced in 2019, Sigma has already faced several delays due to the complex design of the sensor and how it can be mass-produced.
Most sensors in the best mirrorless cameras (opens in new tab) and DSLRs (opens in new tab) use a Bayer filter array, where each photosite consists of a single light sensor in either red, blue or green to create a mosaic pattern. Sigma’s Foveon sensor uses a layered structure similar to film, where each photosite consists of three vertically stacked photodiodes, which results in a full-color readout at every individual site.
• Check out the best professional cameras (opens in new tab) and discover our favorite top-end flagship models
"I'm still researching pixel architecture with a small sensor," Sigma president Kazuto Yamaki told My Navi News (opens in new tab) at CP+ 2023 (opens in new tab) in Japan (by way of Digital Camera Info (opens in new tab)). According to the report: "Although it was prototyped once, it seems that there are technical problems and development is continuing again.
"However, if this is successful, it will be possible to start developing a full-size sensor as the next stage. There have been twists and turns, such as resetting development and changing partners, but President Yamaki still shows his intention to continue development. Depending on the status of this year's prototype, I would like to aim for next year's release."
The benefits of a Foveon X3 sensor over a standard Bayer sensor include better light-gathering abilities and zero color artifacts, so things like skin tones are more accurate. However, Foveon sensors are notoriously more difficult to produce and have been known to create more color noise in low-light environments.
Foveon sensors do already exist, but only in APS-C format. They were first used in the Sigma SD9 DSLR in 2002 but haven't been deployed in a camera since the Sigma SD Quattro was released in 2016. One of the reasons Foveon sensors are so rare is as they are much harder to make, harder to get right and often struggle at higher ISOs.
Despite the challenges Sigma has faced so far, Yamako is hopeful that 2024 will be the year of the full-frame Foveon X3 sensor. It's hasn't been an easy road for Sigma; it's already fired a sensor manufacturer, started from scratch and delayed the release date by three years (it was initially supposed to launch in 2020), so let's hope that persistence pays off and maybe next year we'll see a new Sigma fp (opens in new tab) or Sigma fp L (opens in new tab) with a full-frame Foveon X3 sensor.