on November 18, 2012
Most people are not aware that when they buy a conventional (e.g. Canon or Nikon) digital camera, the sensor is what is called a 'Bayer array' and has a fundamental shortcoming: each sensor only recognizes one of the three primary colors (red, green, or blue). For example, in a 20 megapixel Bayer array, there are typically 10 million green sensors, 5 million red, and 5 million blue. Using a built in processor, each sensor element reports values for all three colors, by polling its neighbors and interpolating.
The Sigma Foveon cameras are all based on the idea that the above is fundamentally fudging the result, and a truly accurate digital camera ought to be measuring all three primary colors at each sensor location. They use Foveon sensors, with three overlapping arrays, one for each primary color. This closely mimics the way color negative film was designed.
My experience, having owned the Sigma SD9, SD14, and SD1, as well as each of the top line Canon DSLRs (including a 5D Mark II which I now use interchangeably with the SD1), and multiple large and medium format cameras over decades, is as follows:
Pros: There is an almost ineffable 'you are there' quality to SD1 images, more obvious to some than others. Much more tonal subtlety and detail because of the accuracy of the values at each sensor location. Much less need for sharpening, because of both the multiple sensor arrays, and the lack of need for an AA ("antialising" or "blurring") filter, which is required for Bayer array cameras. In resolution tests, the SD1 meets or even exceeds Nyquist theoretical resolution limits, not surprising. At its best this yields results that many of us find truly exciting. It requires the use of Sigma lenses, the best of which are extremely good and fully competitive with Canikon lenses, though perhaps not as rugged. This IS when used properly a 'poor man's medium format DSLR' and even an excellent substitute for the very cumbersome use of large format for landscape.
Cons: Like previous Sigma DSLRs, extraordinarily slow. Suitable only for RAW capture, and not supported yet by Adobe Camera Raw so you must use Sigma's improved but still very slow Sigma Photo Pro software. Lacking in dynamic range. Very noisy at higher ISO (perhaps 800 and above). Absolutely not suited to be your only all-purpose DSLR unless you work slowly and do exclusively landscape or still life. A very eccentric camera that requires a lot of patience and technical expertise.
on January 10, 2013
The ultimate Foveon-based digital SLR, loaded with features and of an excellent build quality. I gave it only 4 stars as it doesn't have "live view" of the image you plan to capture using its LCD screen, only the viewfinder. Its an unexpected omission and one I hope they correct in any future model.
on December 2, 2014
So far as I can tell, anyone that has actually used this camera loves it. The knockers seem to base their opinions on other people's reviews, or on sub-standard images that have been posted on the web and do not do justice to the camera's abilities. Unlike some reviewers that have only read about this camera I actualy own one and use it. I have been taking photographs for 50 years and this is the camera I have been waiting for. Nothing this side of a very large medium format camera comes close in image quality.
It has all the handling issues that have been reported, but they simply do not matter. It may not have the amazing AF, battery life and high-ISO capability of the latest offerings from Canon, Nikon and others, but they are good enough. In real life it is quite a nice camera to use, and the "issues" are not as intrusive as some reviewers would have you believe. It is an awful lot more practical than any film SLR ever was. Who remembers the days when we could only get 36 shots at a time on expensive film, and anything shot at an ISO over 400 was simply awful?
And why is it an issue that it does not shoot video? This is a stills camera. It is not intended to shoot video!
The alternative is a smaller and lighter DP1 Merrill, DP2 Merrill or DP3 Merrill. I chose the SD1 because it has Image Stabilisation, much better battery life (unlike some reviewers I get 300 shots per battery - but then I don't waste battery power by pixel peeping at every shot on the rear screen). With Sigma's 17-70 zoom I have the capability of all three DPx Merrills in one body - but as the lens is not precisely matched to the sensor as in the DP series that is at the cost of a tiny anount of distortion and CA at the extreme focal lengths. But it is only at the edges of the frame - unnoticeable at normal viewing sizes and in any case easily corrected in Lightroom. And of cours with an SLR I have access to a stack of other focal lengths and specialised lenses if I need them, and with a traditional viewfinder I have no worries about seeing an LCD screen in bright light.
Now that Sigma has priced this camera at a much for affordable level it is a wonderful picture taking machine for anyone that wants image quality comparable to (or better than) what can be obtained with medium format gear using a Bayer sensor, but in a much smaller package and at a much lower price.
UPDATE: May 2016. I have revised my opinion a little. The SD1 is still a great camera and can produce stunning images that are in some ways "better" than those from a conventional sensor. But the drawbacks are more annoying than they first seemed. Within its sphere of competence this is an outstanding camera, but it is made less useful and somewhat annoying. The slow write speed, slow AF, weird colours and noise at high sensitivities, and lack of support in Lightroom/Photoshop which means having to use the buggy SPP to post-process (or one of the niche image processors) .
The bottom line is that most of the time I end up using my Canon DSLRs which are fast and versatile enough to tackle virtually any subject in any conditions. The superiority of the SD1 in those fields where it excels is probably not enough to justify the inconvenience and cost of having two camera systems.
on April 1, 2014
The Sigma SD1 can give out-of-this-world results in terms of resolution & Clarity...but you have to accept some shortcomings. The operation and write times are from a bygone era...and users of modern super fast cameras will be frustrated. The high ISO performance is nothing to write home about with noise getting really ugly at and after ISO 1600. The worst part is probably the proprietary raw format which is not supported by any of the popular raw converters and you are stuck using the archaic Sigma PhotoPro.
Now that I have gotten the bad stuff out of the way - let me tell you that this is one of the best Cameras I have ever used, in terms of image quality and handling. The grip is absolutely the most comfortable I have ever held...superb. Sigma's unique Foveon sensor, when coupled with great Sigma lenses such as the 70-200 EX OS or the 8-16 DC EX can produce pictures that are, to repeat myself, out-of-this-world. There is depth and clarity that will make it difficult for you to go back to the regular Bayer-based APS-C cameras. And the color of the images is something unique...especially the blues, yellow and greens. The images pop with superb contrast and grading. The B&Ws are amazing too.
So, in summary, if you are willing to accept a few quirks and are prepared to wait for common operations like previewing the image you just clicked, then this camera will give you a picture taking experience that is different and ultimately satisfying in terms of sheer image quality. Isn't that why we shoot pictures?
A solid 4 stars.
on March 18, 2014
Disclosure: I own and use four Sigma DSLR camera models and lenses exlusively.
No 'casual' photographer should consider Sigma cameras unless they're willing to take the time and effort to learn how to use them. Like many things, you can't just pick up Sigmas, start taking pictures, and get great results. Once you've learned, you'll be able to get wonderful pictures, but those shots will require some post-processing skill. The best results are obtained by shooting in the 'Camera Raw' mode. Sigmas are NOT well-suited for action or low-light photography (requiring high ISOs).
Sigma DSLRs use a proprietary lens mount (as most manufacturers do) and therefore only Sigma lenses are directly useable. They currently make 40 different ones, and as you might expect, some are excellent while others are not. Some other makes of lenses can be used with the proper adapter, but their use usually precludes features like auto-focus and lens aperture control
There's a really good forum for Sigma users on the 'Net at DPReview. Many there are willing to help others
on April 17, 2013
If you are willing to put up with converting raw files in the supplied software, then you will get incredible resolution as long as you don't go past ISO 200. So shooting hand held is really only possible in very good light. You can get a lot of punch out of the color too, but only if you use the mind-numbing Sigma Photo Pro 5 software. Jpg's have a strange color matrix applied to them. Not standard at all....they do not look real. Sigma Photo Pro 5 is so slow you'll only want to correct a couple of things (e.g. white balance) and then export as .tiff and use Lightroom or some other mainstream post processing product.For what you pay, and the inability to use mainstream software, the the requirement to use Sigma lenses, I am not sure I would recommend this camera, even given its current price point. For about the same money you can get a Nikon D600 (which I also have...and much prefer).
on June 19, 2014
I really wanted to like this camera. I find the idea behind the Foveon sensor appealing. Most cameras use a Bayer sensor, with the individual pixels laid out like a checkerboard - every alternate one green, with the remainder divided equally between red and blue. Since each pixel detects only one color, the software interpolates the other colors from adjacent pixels. The Foveon, on the other hand, has all three colors at each pixel location. So technically, this camera isn't really 46 megapixels - it's 15.3 megapixels. The Bayer sensor is something that sounds terrible in theory, but in practice, it works pretty well. Although Sigma fans will insist that the Foveon produces more accurate color rendition, a decent, modern Bayer sensor will have almost identical performance. I checked the Foveon website (Foveon is now wholly owned by Sigma), expecting their sensors to be used in high-end cameras like Hasselblad or Leica. However, except for what looks like an industrial application (the link was broken), Foveons are only used in Sigma cameras. The one in the SD1 Merrill wasn't even listed. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with Foveons, but the fact that no other camera company feels the need to use them speaks highly of the Bayer sensor.
I also like the Sigma's infrared filter, which doubles as a dust protector. Most DSLRs risk letting dust get onto the sensor whenever the lens is changed. Sigma's solution is so simple, I can't figure out why no one else has copied it, especially on the new mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras where there isn't anything at all between the sensor and the outside environment when the lens is off. This setup also makes infrared photography so easy that anyone with a Sigma would be missing out if they didn't try it at least once. Digital sensors automatically detect infrared light, and require filters to block it, but the typical setup doesn't allow them to be removed easily. But removing the filter on a Sigma and replacing it with a visible light filter is only slightly more involved than changing a lens filter. For someone doing a lot of infrared photography, it's almost worth getting a Sigma just for this.
These features, unfortunately, don't make up for the many problems with the Sigma. The LCD screen is easily the worst of cameras in its class, but then, you're supposed to be looking through the viewfinder, anyway. Also, the whole point of a DSLR, aside from the interchangeable lenses, is having knobs to adjust shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and white balance quickly, instead of having to root through menus to find what you want. With knobs, you don't have to take your eye away from the viewfinder, once you learn to make adjustments by feel. In addition, whether it's a limitation of the Foveon sensor or something else, Sigmas need a lot of light. Above 400 ISO, quality suffers, but low light performance is supposed to be another advantage DSLRs have over point and shoot cameras.
The main problem is that it only takes the Sigma lenses that are made to fit Sigma cameras. Although Sigma is one of the largest aftermarket lens makers, if they ever decide to stop making DSLRs, you're going to have a bunch of lenses that won't fit anything else. Supposedly, Pentax lenses fit Sigmas, but I'm not sure if it works the other way around, and even if it did, the range of Canon and Nikon cameras and lenses is really the only choice for anyone who isn't planning on keeping the same camera for the rest of their life. DSLRs are notorious for becoming obsolete almost as soon as you buy one, but once you've collected the lenses you want, it's not a huge investment to just upgrade the camera body. With Sigma, you run the risk of ending up with an orphan.
My suggestion for Sigma is to take the plunge and come out with a full frame, mirrorless model. In the days of film, the only option for being able to see exactly what was going to go onto the film was a SLR. The LCD screen renders the complexity of the mirror and pentaprism unnecessary, except for occasions when extremely precise focus control is required. A mechanical shutter is also unnecessary since the sensor can be activated electronically to far surpass anything a mechanical shutter is capable of. However, most mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras seem to be aimed at the amateur market, probably because professionals are still wedded to the mirror and pentaprism setup that is a holdover from the film era. Canon or Nikon isn't going to sabotage their own product line by releasing a high-end mirrorless camera that neither professionals nor amateurs will want, but Sigma could. It would also be a great opportunity for them to introduce a full frame sensor. I would suggest dropping down to 30 megapixels, about halfway between the Merrill and the 14 megapixel SD15. 14 megapixels on a Foveon is really 4.6, not quite enough today. 6 megapixels is probably the lowest number a modern camera could get away with, and for what most people use digital cameras for, 10 megapixels (translating to 30 on a Foveon) is plenty. That may seem abysmally low in this day of the megapixel wars, where a manufacturer can simply cram more pixels onto the same size sensor and fool everyone into thinking they've accomplished a significant upgrade. The advantage of a 30 megapixel full-frame Foveon would be larger pixels and better low light sensitivity. And it should have knobs to adjust everything.
Of course, this isn't going to happen - Sigma will either stuff yet more pixels onto the same size sensor, or more likely, will drop its DSLR line to concentrate on point and shoots. Or, they will give up on camera bodies altogether and limit themselves to lenses. So the Sigma camera is a destined to remain an oddity, its main appeal being to those who want an alternative to Canon and Nikon, at a higher price, with lower performance, and less versatility.
on July 16, 2013
As a photographer and retoucher who has had to retouch the raw files from this camera I've developed a few points I would love to discuss with sigma. First of all I'm a huge fan of this camera, but working with the files from it I quickly decided I will never buy it due to some glaring issues.... I hope sigma reads these reviews because this is what I want them to see.
I want to buy your camera. I want it bad, its resolving power is amazing and I love its color, but I won't touch this camera until it is supported by third party raw software. Other manufacturers work with third party developers, I think you should too..... because your Photo Pro software is completely unusable. And stop claiming these cameras have triple the megapixels they actually do. Yes, I agree they have 3 times the resolving power, but they simply don't have those pixels in the final image. I understand you think this doesn't make a difference...... but it does..... stop it. Make a sensor that's at least 25 honest megapixel, 30 would be preferred, and spend some time making sure it's not the worst high iso performer anywhere on the market. And this is a minor gripe, but it would be nice to have this sensor at full frame. It's a shame that a direct image sensor isn't being made with large photosites that can really show what a direct image sensor can do. Believe it or not a dynamic range of 5 stops just isn't enough anymore. If you fix these things I guarantee you I will buy one immediately, but until then I'm going to stick to a camera that makes sense for a professional.
on October 10, 2013
good stuff maybe but no
Raison d' etre...bec of dp1 merrill
which is ALSO half size foveon sensor...
( or did i get the spec wrong !?!?! )
if sigma was going for spacious SLR body like this
sd1 merrill, would have been MUCH BETTER engineering
and common sense MARKETING to make it
FULL SENSOR or even BIGGER than full sensor
at this price,
it makes no sense, and no wonder it aint selling so hot...
idiotic decision on sigma....shame, tsk tsk.
they actually thought this camera will sell in numbers !?
some in sigma aint seeing straight at all.
Try dp1 merrill...can be had for less than usd 800...
same half frame sensor, foveon type.
Perhaps...one day... sigma will MAKE FULL SENSOR
and one more , if they have any PRO market sense...
BIGGER THAN FULL SENSOR also...
with Huge batteries, attached on bottom, like this sd1.
the darn thing can take more than 200 shots per battery charge
on full frame or ( dream on.... 6 x 6 format foveon sensor !?)
we shall be waiting some time...
before they wake up one day...
not toooooo late tho.
better marketing is needed for dp1 merrill series too.
NO ONE KNOWS abt these cameras...
these are not like any camera from other makers...
they are FOVEON SENSORS with excellent ( slide - like ) colors
and what not...
you will NOT believe your eyeballs when u make fujicolor paper
prints at 20x30 inches, even on these half frame thingies
do TRY...at a shop , take your sd card,,,,
and PRINT on normal fuji paper, but BIG
this is the real way cameras were to take certain fotos, like nature, etc.
best of luck to all
have fun !