Sigma lenses are manufactured in Aizu, Japan. Almost every component, from tiny screws to large diameter front elements are made in-house.
Aizu is 300 km north of Tokyo: two hours by high speed Shinkansen and then a scenic hour on a local railway. The train winds through high mountain passes and follows the foot of 5,968′ high Mt. Bandai. It looks like Sun Valley (3′ shorter) rising above jade-green rice paddies. The skiing in winter is superb, as is the sake from the many Aizu breweries that benefit from the pristine mountain water and plentiful rice. Lake Inawashiro, fourth largest in Japan, is a few miles away.
This is the land of the real-life last samurai, upon which part of the Ken Watanabe-Tom Cruise film was based. Tsuruga Castle in Aizu was one of the last holdouts, and in 1868 fell to Emperor Meiji’s troops. Many of Aizu’s families were exiled to northern Japan where they endured many years of suffering. The story is told in a popular NHK TV series, Aizu: Land of the Last Samurai.
NHK describes the television series: “The skills to survive a tough environment and to care for others thrive in Aizu. From parents to children, from predecessors to successors, the pride of Aizu is passed down. The spirit of samurai from ages ago still lives on.”
This culture of hard work, attention to detail, and tenacity is shared today by the 1,400 workers of the large Sigma factory who build approximately 1 million photo lenses each year. The 54,757 sq m factory is nestled at the foot of Mt. Bandai in a forest of emerald-green cypress.
Kazuto Yamaki is the CEO. “Small office, big factory,” he said, referring to the company’s smaller head office near Tokyo and the massive manufacturing facility in Aizu. In this era of outsourcing and offshore production, it is encouraging to see Mr. Yamaki’s determination to keep manufacturing and jobs in the company his father created in 1961 and the Aizu factory he built in 1974.
Sigma still photography lenses come in Full Frame (DG), APS-C (DC) and Mirrorless (DN) — mostly with EF (Canon), F (Nikon), and E (Sony) mounts that can be interchanged at Sigma service centers. The flagship lenses are the Sigma Art series, primes and zooms characterized by their large F1.4 aperture, high resolution, high MTF, and beautiful bokeh. Sigma Art Lenses have been described in respected still photography reviews as “spectacular” “superb build quality,” and “impressive optics.”
We’ll continue this article with a full factory tour in an upcoming edition.