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|Sigma are well known for their very competitively priced lenses and, more or less, dominate the independent AF arena. But when it comes to cameras they are less known. While most photographers are happy to buy a Minolta and stick on a Sigma lens, it seems that less consider a whole Sigma package. One of the reasons may be the lack of listings in the dealer ads if you dont see it, you wont buy it. Or you may have never seen a review and we can change that!|
We tried the Sigma SA-7 with 28-80mm zoom a 270 package that looks, on paper (or screen), extremely competitive in the market place. The camera has a Sigma mount, which ties you down to just one brand, but, as weve mentioned earlier, its the most popular brand so thats not an issue. Sigma also make one of the widest range of lenses too, from fisheye to super zoom so you wont get stuck for options.
|With batteries loaded, film ready to go and strap fully coupled this camera weighs just under 800g, which is light enough to be comfortable, but substantial enough to feel like a solid camera. It weighs about 50g more than its competitors, the Minolta Dynax 5 and Canon EOS 3000N, and a touch more than the similarly priced Pentax MZ-30.|
|The body uses the Zen style coating that weve come to expect from a Sigma product - a silky feeling, plastic material that offers a halfway look between plastic and metal. Its comfortable in hand and the matching 28-80mm balances well, making it a pleasure to hold. We have a separate review of the lens here.|
Controls, while a little plasticky in feel, are well placed and logical to understand. The top-plate has the shutter speed dial on the right and the drive mode dial on the left. Below the shutter speed dial is a switch to select one of the four exposure modes: program, manual, aperture-priority and shutter-priority.
The AE Lock is by your thumb on the right handgrip and the input wheel can be turned with ease using your index finger, leaving your left hand to do its usual job of supporting the camera and using the lens zoom ring.
There is no aperture ring on the lens, instead you rotate the input wheel to adjust. The competitors cameras dont have a shutter speed dial, so you would have to use the front input wheel for both making their cameras fiddly to use in manual, but easier in shutter-priority.
|Exposure settings are displayed on the top-plate LCD and inside the viewfinder. Once activated by half pressure on the shutter release button they stay on display for about six seconds giving you time to make adjustments. A flash warning symbol appears when the speed drops below 1/60sec, which suggests you switch on and use flash.|
|This is done by manually lifting the flash on top of the pentaprism. The flash has a range up to 3.5 meters with the lens set at 28mm and theres a strobe pulsing red-eye reduction mode to assist when taking pictures of people.|
Sigma lenses are renowned for excellent spec for your money and this philosophy is repeated with the SA-7 camera. The full tech spec can be compared with other similar models using our data tables in ePHOTOzines equipment section, but here are a few highlights.
For starters, few cameras at this price point would have a dioptre correction in the viewfinder. This helps those who wear spectacles to view the distant scene and read the exposure details within the viewfinder. The slider (pictured here behind the camera's hot-shoe) moves in click stops from 1.5 to +1.5.
The SA7 also has a depth-of-field preview button again a feature normally found in more expensive models.
The camera lacks the picture modes (subject-biased programs) that the other models have but thats no real loss as the programs are often very similar variations on normal program and its hard to see why these offer any real value.
Rare on a camera at this price point is an autobracketing feature with a choice of 0 to 3 stops bracket in half stop steps making it useful for negative and transparency users. Theres also a multiple exposure mode with a 1 to 9 exposure choice.
Another feature not found on many cameras is a variable self timer speed offering the usual ten seconds but also a two second delay which is very useful for tripod users who want to use a cable release and found there isnt a thread on the shutter. The Sigma uses an optional infrared control to fire the shutter remotely.
It has a moderate drive speed of 1.5 frames per second (fps). The Pentax MZ-30 is a touch faster at 2fps. The flash sync is one of the few features that isnt up with the best a basic 1/90sec. While this is acceptable for indoor photography, it can be restrictive for daylight fill-in flash.
In use the camera delivered a good set of transparencies, perfectly exposed and with good contrast and high degree of sharpness. The focusing rarely missed the mark and it handled a wide range of situations we threw at it. The metering can take the credit here - an eight segment system that never needed to be switched to centre-weighted. The focusing system is far better than previous versions and kept up with the action.
Having the exposure compensation button placed near your thumb makes it quick to activate and a flashing warning symbol, while annoying, does stop you accidentally leaving the compensation on after youve taken the shot. Trouble is it may end up being like a car indicator syndrome but you wont have anyone peeping their horn to tell you to switch it off!
|A straightforward shot that wouldn't tax any camera's metering system. Well exposed and sharply focused.|
|This shot, on the otherhand could have cause the camera to be fooled by the bright background but it's delivered a superb exposure, and without any extra effort.|
|Church interiors are difficult to expose correctly - you have the bright light coming from the windows and the dark interior. Here the pew is lit by the window behind me and the camera has balanced the two areas well.|
|The closest focus of the 28-80mm is 0.25m at the 80mm setting which would fill the frame with this rose. I stepped back to about 0.5m to allow some of the background to surround the rose|
|Using shutter-priority and a 1/500sec speed ensured the motion was frozen. The camera goes up to 1/2000sec if the lighting is bright enough.|
Sigma were troubled in the early days with sluggish autofocusing speed. The SA7 has put those days well and truly into the past. The new generation has fast, accurate focusing and becomes a true competitor to other budget priced models. The only down side is you are restricted to using a Sigma lens, but as Sigma has such a wide choice thats not a real limitation. If this will be your first SLR or you are moving from an old manual model its well worth a look. If you already own a camera with a selection of lenses and can buy a new body from your camera manufacturer the only thing that could sway you to this is the slightly higher specification.
Test by Peter Bargh