Sigma SD Foveon First Impressions

I have set my expectations of the Sigma SD14 so very low based on my experience with the DP1s that I am actually impressed with Sigma's very old DSLR. I do have some serious criticisms as cameras go but overall this is not a bad camera to actually use. My first chance to use the thing was late afternoon yesterday. I had some meetings in the morning, then rain, and then some really whacky daylight/cloudy lighting conditions - not very pretty for shooting my typical StupidCrap™ test images.

Having received the Sigma 50mm 1.4 EX I just had to take a walk down the street and shoot something, anything. I will review the lens performance in a separate post for now, just the body and maybe a little on how it lives with the big 50. The camera is dead simple, not too many features, modes, gee-gaws, or special image settings. It has a knob that turns it on and controls drive mod, a knob with the familiar PASM exposure modes, a shutter release, a command dial, and a few buttons on the back for the normal things. While actually shooting you can ignore most of the things on the back - they really don't do much.

The camera is really really quiet compared to most every camera I have used in the last 20 years with the exception of the Leica. There is no perceptible shutter lag, and shot to shot performance is actually quite good as long as you do not fill the meager buffer. For normal people that take a shot or three and then move on to the next composition it is fine. If you need to shoot 50 frames really fast - not so good. Me - I couldn't care less as long as I can shoot when I press the button and the camera doesn't stop me from taking the next shot or maybe the one after that. If I can't nail what I want in two or three I need to re-think what I am doing anyway.

The focus performance in actually pretty good with the center sensor. Far better than I expected from my experience with the DP1s and bullshit you read in forums. Is it as good as a Nikon D3? No. I would put it somewhere better than when we all decided auto-focus was actually useful, say somewhere around an Nikon F4 or better. I will probably only use the center sensor myself - like the old days. The center sensor is the only "good" one, the others are not quite as good and they are kind of a pain to switch around. Unlike every other camera in the universe you don't use the joystick pad to change them - you use a button on the back and the command dial around the shutter button. Who cares, the focus screen is actually useful for manual focus. That was a surprise for me, I haven't seen that in an AF SLR in a long long time.

Metering seems fine in evaluative but for my style shooting I will probably end up using either center weighted or center spot most of the time. I have nothing against fancy multi=pattern metering but the reality of what I shoot is that I actually never just pull my camera out of the bag - turn it on and shoot with no thought as to what the light is and what the camera is pointing at. For me the ONLY thing multi-pattern metering does is provide for a chance that the meter will do something that I don't want it to do. In other words it is a variable for me - not a life saver. The interesting thing is that the center spot metering mode isn't really spot metering as most would describe. It's far more like a Leica M meter where it is a large spot that is not at all influenced by what is outside the area marked in the viewfinder. I may actually find that I like this as I am so used to it with Leica M cameras.

So here are the very first few shots from my walk down the street yesterday - most of them shot at F1.4 using AF in aperture priority mode. Maybe one or two at F 2 or F4. Random thoughts on camera performance and more importantly sensor performance accompany the StupidCrap™ test images. For the most part I just changed the WB of the images in Sigma Photo Pro. I have no idea yet what my work flow is going to be and the best way to process these files so please excuse the shoddy work. The files are pretty amazing.

Check out the color - fantastic. I shot them all on auto white balance. I probably won't do that again as most of them were wrong and random. The differentiation of the yellows is fantastic performance for a digital camera. Highlight rendering is great - pay attention to the whites in the upper left of the image above. This kind of stuff is a real pain in the ass with most digital capture involving a lot of fiddling around. With the Foveon it looks great out of the box.

This old dingy is almost buried and mostly grown over. No focus issues at all at F1.4. I focused on the top of the M in MD… Again the color and gradation is pretty fantastic. This is cliche at this point but it is really a whole lot like film rendering.

Some kayaks  and canoes at F1.4. Reds are good and great differentiation of greens.

Focus on the center leaf is great wide open. I don't think I will bother with fiddling around with formal focus test charts. As of right now I have confidence that focus issues will probably be my fault and not the camera/lens' fault. In real life calibrate all you want but unless you are shooting on a tripod taking great care when focusing close up at F1.4 any mis-calibration is just as likely to save the shot vs ruin it if making images handheld with live subjects.

Just wanted to see what varying degrees of fine texture looked like in varying degrees of focus. Looks pretty good to me. Awful image - good camera. This is the kind of thing that drives me insane with digital. Leaves and such at various spacial frequencies at various degrees of in/out of focus that look like dog-doo on digital seem to look good on the Foveon. Again - very film like. I am going to shoot this against some of that new Kodak Portra to compare. Maybe next week.

Let me leave you with this. I got this camera brand new for less than $400. It is a steal. Yes it has it's flaws, it's primarily a low light camera, has crappy auto-WB, useless AE-lock button but the rest of it seems to be a nice simple, well performing camera. It's also quiet as can be and takes what I consider to be fantastic pictures from an overall effect standpoint. I see a lot of the things that I like about film when looking at the Foveon images. The images look great up-sized to 18 megapixels even using the primitive "double size" function in Sigma Photo Pro. These images easily hold up to the likes of Nikon and Canon 10-12 Mpix cameras and exceed them in a few ways depending on how you like your tones rendered. I may actually buy the only other one available on Amazon before it't too late.

Here is one more image for consideration - again crappy image but shows me what I wanted to see. This is a "full size" crop of a tiny section of image that was cut out of an image of water that was up-sized to 18 Megapixels. Take my word for it, bayer sensor cameras anywhere near  10-15 megapixels have a very difficult time rendering b\subtle gradation like this at this level of magnification. If I have time I will try to shoot some compares that actually show this. If you have spent a lot of time looking closely at the way film and dozens of digital cameras render gradation like I have you will probably be able to see what I am talking about.

Click on the image to see it full size - any artifacts are due to Worpress re-re-re-re-re-compressing the original JPEG.

RB

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