I started working at SIGMA in late 2019 with a great deal of enthusiasm about the future. At the time, my boss happened to include the words “when you visit Japan” in a sentence, and quite honestly, I don’t remember hearing anything else. I had always wanted to travel to Japan, the less-traveled areas in particular, but for a variety of reasons, it never did come to pass. And then, of course, COVID-19 dropped in early 2020, and the premise of world travel really seemed like an impossibility.
That would all change in late 2022, when I finally had the opportunity to travel with colleagues to a conference in Tokyo, with a side trip to the SIGMA factory in Aizu. With a mountain of pandemic-era paperwork in hand, I landed in Tokyo with a smile on my face… but a tickle in my throat. I tested positive for COVID the very next morning.
Needless to say, that trip was a bit of a bust. Thankfully, 2023 brought with it a new opportunity to visit our friends at HQ, and after avoiding nearly all human contact the week before leaving, I once again made it to Japan, this time in much better health! There was a lot to look forward to, and as an unashamed tourist, I would be taking many, MANY photos. The question was… which camera and lens to use?
My equipment of choice for travel photography
For this trip, I really wanted to travel light, leaving the full-frame gear at home. One small camera, one small lens, one small shoulder bag was all I wanted to bring. After way too much deliberation, I chose the Fujifilm X-S10 – compact, light, IBIS, and a helpful swiveling touchscreen – paired with the incredible little SIGMA 18-50mm F2.8 DC DN | Contemporary lens.
Available for Sony E-mount, Fujifilm X, and L-Mount, the tiny 18-50mm is a great companion for travel and everyday photography on APS-C format cameras. I personally favor zoom lenses, because most of my photography is photojournalistic in nature. I really just want to capture the moment, and leave the high art (and multiple prime lenses) to the professionals. The 18-50mm F2.8 DC DN | Contemporary is right up my alley… sharp, fast, versatile, and fits perfectly in any small camera bag.
The SIGMA 18-50mm shines in any situation
My trip began in Yokohama, where I attended a conference with international colleagues. The oceanfront setting was perfect for utilizing this lens’s F2.8 aperture to its fullest, with beautifully illuminated nighttime views, and cloudy, moody morning skies.
The wide open aperture also showed its utility when shooting close up, providing nicely blurred backgrounds when I wanted it. I spent the majority of my time in Yokohama shooting near 18mm to capture the bigger picture, but when I zoomed in for the occasional closeup or to frame something with bits of foreground, the lens gave me the subtle separation I wanted, without having to change lenses.
Office life at SIGMA Japan is worth photographing
Next was the recently-constructed SIGMA corporate office in Kanagawa Prefecture, where the sleek, modern design of the product line was clearly reflected in the minimalist surroundings. Even so, nature had a presence at the workplace in the form of a rooftop garden, the perfect place to enjoy some sunshine, an energizing breeze, or to ponder the next SIGMA lens!
Unfortunately, this part of the trip was remarkably short, because next on the itinerary was a 5-hour bus journey to Aizu, a region of Japan known for its more relaxed pace of life, its connection with nature, spectacular scenery, and of course, the SIGMA factory.
Exploring nature in Japan with the perfect hiking lens
The SIGMA 18-50mm F2.8 DC DN | Contemporary handles city life with ease, but it’s a great choice for the outdoor adventurer, too. We settled at a hotel just north of Aizu, along the gorgeous Lake Hibara. After a much-needed rest, I woke at 4:30AM to greet the sunrise and walk off some of the calories consumed in recent days. Even though I had only a few hours before the scheduled factory tour, I was not disappointed.
My morning hike started along the lake shore, where the blue tones of the very early morning light and slight layer of mist made the extremely still water of the lake appear dreamlike. The nearby ponds and marshes offered even more gorgeous colors and textures as the sun began to peek above the horizon, which gave me an opportunity to try out some sunstars!
Across the road from the lake, a small trail caught my eye, and I came upon a forest path and a series of scenes that were simply unforgettable. From a decaying memorial placed deep within the woods to the unspoiled turquoise ponds, every view was breathtaking. I was so happy to be able to have an unobtrusive, lightweight camera and lens on hand so I could both enjoy the immediate experience of this place, and take home images that I can share and enjoy forever.
Touring the SIGMA Aizu factory
By mid-morning, my colleagues and I were at the SIGMA Aizu factory, first established in 1973 in Bandai, Fukushima Prefecture. It has grown quite a bit since its humble beginnings, and I was astonished by the size and scale of the factory. In particular, I was amazed by how many vastly different processes are carried out in the same facility, and how precisely everything must be coordinated to manufacture products efficiently. Of course, this “vertical integration” is a major part of why SIGMA is able to keep costs low, stay family-owned, and ultimately provide affordable products with high quality control. It’s all done in-house. The house just happens to be massive.
The SIGMA 18-50mm F2.8 DC DN | Contemporary once again proved its worth, fitting nicely in the pocket of my mandatory SIGMA-issued lab coat (keeping outside contaminants to an absolute minimum is a theme throughout the facility). As I toured the factory, I was torn… do I shoot wide and show off the huge rooms of manufacturing equipment? Or do I zoom in for more intimate shots? I did a little of both, but my favorite photos are the closeups that show off the parts, machinery, and most of all, the employees who work diligently, and with intense local pride, to make the best product possible.
Heading home with unforgettable memories
Back in Tokyo after another 5-hour bus ride, I was ready for a nap, and quite frankly, a cold beer! The nap never happened, however, as the nearby Kokyo Gaien National Garden and surrounding streets lured me back out of my miniature hotel room with a few more sights that I couldn’t pass up.
The beer, however, most certainly did happen, and was the perfect way to cap off a week that was more than just a business trip. As I sat in that alleyway bar with my fellow SIGMA America friends, I reflected on how much I was privileged to see over the past few days, and how many wonderful people were a real, integral, everyday part of this company. I’ve always been a bit of a SIGMA nerd, even before I started working here, but meeting the faces behind the brand was really inspiring. SIGMA isn’t just a faceless “brand” – and I suspect this is the case with many other smaller companies – it’s a family. Yes, business is inherently difficult and profits have to be made, but in the end, this is a company that was literally created by the current CEO’s father to support the jobs of another company that went out of business, and that sense of purpose is evident in the company to this day. The pride and care that the factory and office staff exhibit in their work is reflected in the quality of the product, and as a photographer, it’s especially encouraging to see this in person.
The best part? I was able to capture lasting memories of this trip with ease, thanks to a camera and lens combo that was small, lightweight, and offered excellent quality, no matter the situation. Combined with the Fujifilm X-S10, the SIGMA 18-50mm F2.8 DC DN | Contemporary was quite simply the perfect lens for the job. I can’t wait to bring it to my next destination!