Sigma SD14 - Some Foveon Love On The Cheap

And today we haveā€¦

Some Foveon love. Specifically for my dirt cheap Sigma SD14. As mentioned before this old beast, that I aquired new in the box for a song, has three things going for it.

  • It has to be one of the quietest cameras ever made, maybe the quietest SLR.
  • It has extremely simple and direct controls, yes some of them like AE lock are hopeless and leave you wondering what the designer was thinkig, or what drugs he might have been influenced by. In any case the important ones are simple and direct.
  • It has a Foveon - crazy sharp with no anti-alias filter - unique in it's rendering of color and tonal gradation. God I wish they would figure out how to make the latest Sigma SD1 chip cost somewhere in the neighborhood of reasonable. That and how to jamb it in let's say an old Olympus XA body or something instead of the torture device that is the DP series.

In any case my SD14 and two lens kit was reasonable enough and produces enough of the Foveon goodness that the zealots opine over to make me happy with my purchase. I thought that I would revisit an image I snapped last month to demonstrate some of the camera's characteristics when paired up with two different RAW processors, Adobe ACR 6.x and the infamous Sigma Photo Pro - aka - SPP. Like all things Foveon SPP is extremely strange, especially that different versions exhibit very different image processing characteristics depending on the camera model that produced the RAW file. Not only that but in many cases some of the older SPP versions produce results on some camera models that many consider better. As I found out from the Sigma community, it is fairly common to keep a bunch of different versions of SPP to get the particular RAW processing flavor you happen to like for your particular camera(s).

In this case I processed the RAW using SPP 5.0 - the one released for the SD1. I did not shoot the exact image using multipe cameras so this is a subjective comparison at best but hopefully will give you a feeling of why people go through the hassle of using Sigma cameras and more specifically the hassel of using Sigma Photo Pro.

Up first we have the latest ACR 6.

Yes the color is idioticlly bold - at least the primary colors are with muted colors staying muted. This is characteristic of Foveons in general to varying degrees. If you think the primary colors are over the top in this version - you should see the default conversion. This one is using a passport color checker profile for the SD14. As for other manipulations in ACR, I put in some recovery as the default ACR gamma was blowing out the white shirt in the upper middle of the frame. I put in just enough recovery to bring that shirt back and just enough black point to make the very darkest areas true black. Everything else is default.

Mext up is SPP 5.

I cannot remember ever using any of the defaults in SPP - ever. This one had no blown highlights but I did a very similar adjustment to get a tiny bit of true black in the darkest area of the image. I also used the color balance tool to approximate the neutral rendering and skin tone hues in the ACR version.

The overall contrast in both versions are similar, the midtone contrast level is similar but not identical and obviously there are contrast curve variations all over the place if you look at the histogram. As always I will probably play with settings in ACR attempting to mimic the SPP rendering characteristics that I like. Based on my experience doing this for other cameras I will get pretty close but there will still be some things that SPP just does better.

Sharpening on both images was minimal and done post resize using the same parameters in Photoshop as well as the JPEG production to elminate those types of variations. Both version show you some of the Foveon characteristics that are unique. The SPP rendering shows them off a bit more. Crazy sharp, interesting color rendition where primaries pop and more muted tones stay natural, Kodachrome had this characteristic to some degree and was one of those things that made color look great even though the overall saturation was relatively low, some specific colors just had some sort of boost relative to others.

The SPP rendering also displays the "weight" or "solidity" a bit more that is a little hard to pin down but film does so well compared to a lot of digital, that no matter how accurate the digital color seems somehow "thin". You can also see how SPP deals with highlights differently than ACR - even with the recovery added into ACR look at the little girls hair. Yes, yes I ramped the recovery way up and I tried reducing the exposure slider in ACR, etc. It is not a simple thing to match the highlight rendering without throwing everything else way way off. Of course I will continue to play with it as I would much prefer not to have SPP in any of my already convuluted work-flows.

A few things that I can confirm about Foveon sensors based on comparisons with countless other digital sensors. The files do upres better pixel for pixel. The overall rendering of color, tone, and highlights is a bit more film like with not a bunch of screwing around. Skin is rendered a bit more film like as well without spending a whole lot of time messing about in post. The primary reason I jumped into Sigma land again was for the way it rendered skin. Do I still like Kodak Portra better? Especially in medium format? Yes. Is the Sigma a bit closer to my mind's eye without a lot of fussing in post? Yes to a degree and until I get ACR parameters figured out - SPP seems to be an essential ingredient in delivering those characteristics.

If any of you are actually curious to see any of the pixel peeping kind of stuff from the SD let me know. I will be happy to post full size images and even up-res'd images for your pixel-peeping pleasure.


Ps. This little girl was intriguing she would shift moods in a heartbeat. Here we see "the handing out of the prize candy" to all the little kids. Somehow this put her in the mood you see for a bit.

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