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Sigma SD1 Body (IR Filter)
The Sigma SD1 is Sigma's update to their DSLR line and rather than a direct follow on from the SD14 / SD15, this camera has an all new 15.6 megapixel Foveon sensor. Each pixel records Red Green and Blue* and therefore Sigma call it a 46 megapixel sensor (15.6x3). The Sigma SD1 was first shown at Photokina 2010 (Oct) and then wasn't available to purchase till June/July 2011. The camera also had an RRP of £6199 including VAT making it quite an expensive investment! Over time, this price dropped to £4999 including VAT. More recently the price has been dramatically cut with the renaming of the camera as the Sigma SD1 Merrill, UK pricing is yet to be confirmed.
* compared to the typical Bayer sensor that records Red, Green, Blue, Green over 4 pixels.
Sigma SD1 Body Front Sensor (IR Filter removed)
The key feature of Sigma cameras is the Foveon sensor, a good explanation of how the Foveon sensor differs from the typical Bayer sensor, can be found here: http://www.sigma-sd.com/SD1/system.html or for a quick diagram, have a look below:
Due to the camera not featuring a Bayer sensor, the camera does not need a "Low Pass Anti Aliasing Filter" this should mean higher resolution being passed to the sensor, plus the Foveon sensor should be able to avoid capturing Moiré - this should benefit fashion photography or anything involving very fine textures.
The sensor is a 15.6 megapixel sensor with Red, Green, Blue (RGB) at every pixel, Sigma say that this makes it equivalent to a 30 megapixel (Bayer) sensor. However the camera outputs an image size of 4607x3400 which is a 15.6 megapixel image.
There's also a large section of "Philosophy" about the camera on Sigma's website with words and statements like "For ultimate image quality", "the Real revolution starts here" "Paradigm breaking" "Epoch making" and "Liberating". We'll be mostly looking at whether the camera is able to deliver the "Ultimate Image Quality"
- 46 megapixel 24×16mm APS-C sensor (1.5x crop factor)
- Lightweight magnesium alloy body
- Weather-resistant O-ring sealing connections
- Dual ‘TRUE II' image processing engines
- 11 Point Twin Cross AF Sensor
- ISO100 - 6400
- 77 segment AE metering system
- DDR III Buffer
- 5/6 fps continuous shooting (High=Full Resolution/Medium or Low)
- DDR III Buffer (7 shots High / 14 shots Medium / Low)
- 3.0inch screen (460k pixels)
- 98% optical viewfinder - dioptre adjustment
- Dust protection shield / IR filter (Can be removed for IR photography)
- Compact Flash Slot (x1)
- Built in pop-up flash, GN11 rating
Sigma SD1 Top
Handling - The SD1 is a solid camera with a magnesium alloy body, you can feel that it's made out of metal with quite a chunky feel to it. It doesn't feature softly rounded or smooth flowing lines, like the Sony Alpha A77 and if it's been out in the cold you can feel that when you pick up the camera. Once your hand gets used to the hand grip, it actually feels quite comfortable and the camera body isn't overly large. The grip gives a firm reassuring feel to the camera and you can feel confident knowing you have the camera firmly in your hand.
The camera doesn't feature a top LCD screen, neither does it feature eye-detection for the viewfinder, so while you can set the ISO while the camera is held up to your eye and you can see the ISO setting change in the viewfinder, it also, rather distractingly, switches on the back screen to show you the setting change there as well.
Sigma SD1 Ports
Menus - Colour coded menus are split into photo, playback and setup. Quick options can be set on the back of the camera using the main screen, you simply press the QS (Quick Set) button and then use the 4-way controller to change the settings, pressing QS again gives you a second set of 4 options. It works quite well and once you are used to using it, it's a very quick way of changing settings without having to scroll through menu options. These can't be customised, however due to the camera having a number of external buttons it was quite rare for me to need to change the QS settings.
Playback viewing of the images doesn't appear to show the best of the photos, with the colours looking washed out and scrolling through photos is sluggish.
Sigma SD1 Bottom Battery
Battery - The camera's battery life is not listed on the Sigma website. We were able to take just over 150 photos before the battery went flat. This is shocking for a DSLR which is normally expected to offer around 400-500+ shots per charge. A spare battery is a must!
Speed - We tested each camera's performance at focusing, shutter response, shot to shot time, continuous shooting etc and have posted the results below. To test this we took 6 or more shots and calculated the average, so that consistent results were produced.
|Sigma SD1||Sony A77|
|Wide - Focus / Shutter Response||0.4||0.1|
|Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response||0.45||0.15|
|Switch on Time to Taking a Photo||3.8||0.7|
|Shot to Shot (without flash)||0.6-0.8||0.4|
|Shot to Shot with Flash||0.9||0.8|
|Continuous Shooting (JPEG)||5fps (7 shots)||
7.5fps (14 shots)
12fps* (14 shots)
|Continuous Shooting (with Flash)||1.1||0.6|
|Continuous Shooting (RAW)||5fps (7 shots)||
7.5fps (13 shots)
12fps* (14 shots)
Shooting JPEG Fine images you can shoot 7 shots before slowdown, using a Sandisk Extreme Pro (90MB/s UDMA 6) card a shot could be taken every 2 or 3 seconds. JPEG Normal was just as slow with shots being taken with gaps of 1.5 seconds between them and sometimes as slow as 3.5 seconds. Shooting RAW, it was possible to shoot 7 shots before slowdown and after the shots had been taken there was a delay of 5 to 14 seconds between following shots. Once the buffer is full it is therefore best to wait for it to be completely clear before starting continuous or rapid shooting again and clearing the buffer can take a long time, with the camera taking just over a minute for it to write the photos from the buffer to the memory card shooting RAW and JPEG Fine (worst case scenario).
EQDB, click to view medium size images, or click "Hi-Res" to view the JPEG files. RAW files are also available for processing in Sigma Photo Pro (a free download is available from Sigma's website), however, please be aware that each RAW file is around 45mb each! The Sigma SD1 was tested with the Sigma DC 18-50mm 1:2.8-4.5 DC OS HSM Lens and the latest camera firmware version 1.04 (available from Sigma).
Sigma SD1 Merrill Sample Photos
RAW processed with SPP and Photoshop 1/60 sec | f/8.0 | 50.0 mm | ISO 100
JPEG VIVID 0 sec | f/0.9 | 18.0 mm | ISO 100
RAW processed with SPP and Photoshop 1/200 sec | f/7.1 | 18.0 mm | ISO 100
JPEG 0 sec | f/0.9 | 50.0 mm | ISO 100
RAW to JPEG (SPP, Photoshop) 1/250 sec | f/8.0 | 50.0 mm | ISO 100
Sample Photos: The portrait shot is very sharp, with the lens set to f/8.0 and using the pop-up flash although to get the best colour from the image, it is necessary to process the image using Sigma Photo Pro and then Photoshop from the RAW file. Using the RAW files it's also possible to correct the underexposure. The shot of the building on a bright sunny day shows the JPEG image as overexposed, but with the RAW file it's possible to correct this and then produce a correct exposure.
The infrared shot of ivy was taken using a Lee Filters IR gelatine filter in a Cokin P Gelatine holder.
Sigma SD1 Merrill Lens test images
JPEG 0 sec | f/0.9 | 18.0 mm | ISO 100
RAW saved as JPEG (SPP) 1/200 sec | f/7.1 | 18.0 mm | ISO 100
JPEG 0 sec | f/0.9 | 50.0 mm | ISO 100
RAW saved as JPEG (SPP) 1/250 sec | f/7.1 | 50.0 mm | ISO 100
Trees RAW to JPEG (SPP-new) 1/60 sec | f/3.5 | 18.0 mm | ISO 100
Lens Test: The camera performs well with the lens provided, however we found that the best results were when the lens was stopped down to f/7.1 or more. Purple fringing and chromatic aberration is high in the photos of the trees shown but not overly excessive in other shots.
Sigma SD1 Merrill ISO test images
RAW to JPEG (SPP) 1/15 sec | f/4.5 | 50.0 mm | ISO 100
RAW to JPEG (SPP) 1/30 sec | f/4.5 | 50.0 mm | ISO 200
0 sec | f/0.0 | 50.0 mm | ISO 400
RAW to JPEG (SPP) 1/80 sec | f/4.5 | 50.0 mm | ISO 400
0 sec | f/0.0 | 50.0 mm | ISO 800
RAW to JPEG (SPP) 1/100 sec | f/5.0 | 50.0 mm | ISO 800
0 sec | f/0.0 | 50.0 mm | ISO 1600
RAW to JPEG (SPP) 1/160 sec | f/5.6 | 50.0 mm | ISO 1600
0 sec | f/0.0 | 50.0 mm | ISO 3200
RAW to JPEG (SPP) 1/250 sec | f/7.1 | 50.0 mm | ISO 3200
0 sec | f/0.0 | 50.0 mm | ISO 6400
RAW to JPEG (SPP) 1/320 sec | f/9.0 | 50.0 mm | ISO 6400
ISO (JPEG vs RAW): Shown here are the JPEG files straight from the camera as well as RAW files converted to JPEG. Opening the RAW files and adjusting the white balance displays images that are immediately better in regards to noise reduction and colour accuracy. The best way to get good results from this camera is to shoot RAW at all times. However, the problem then is that you will need to use Sigma Photo Pro (shown below) to convert them to JPEGs before using them on the internet or in another photo editing package. ISO performance is acceptable between ISO100 to ISO400 and above this you will need to use RAW to get usable results from ISO800 and ISO1600. Above this setting is best avoided due to excessive noise, even when processing the RAW files.
ISO800 RAW processing in Sigma Photo Pro 5.2 (click to view full size)
Using Sigma Photo Pro can be quite time consuming, if you use the 100% view, as changing any of the noise reduction options causes the software to revert back to an overview of the image with another delay when you want to view the image at 100%. Other changes are also quite slow with the program taking a while to respond at times. Saving files, whether saved as JPEG or TIFF is slow as well, even on high specification machines.
Sigma SD1 Merrill White-balance test images
Tungsten Preset (JPEG) 0 sec | f/0.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 100
Tungsten light RAW to JPEG (SPP) 1 sec | f/8.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 100
Fluorescent Preset (JPEG) 0 sec | f/0.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 100
Fluorescent light RAW to JPEG (SPP) 1 sec | f/8.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 100
White Balance Performance: JPEG results shown next to images processed through Sigma Photo Pro and saved as JPEG. Using the RAW file and adjusting the colour using the grey card produces much better results.
JPEG vs RAW - To get the best results, images need to be processed with Sigma Photo Pro from the RAW file. The JPEG images are a poor representation of what you can get out of the camera unless you are shooting in controlled lighting. It is possible to adjust the JPEG images and try to correct them, however this is generally more difficult and the results don't have as much richness as images converted from RAW. There is a large amount of dynamic range available from the RAW files including the option to recover shadow or highlight areas that are totally lost in JPEG files.
There are no digital filters or effects built into the camera, however you do get the choice of the following seven colour modes: Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Portrait, Landscape and available when shooting JPEG: Black and White and Sepia. It's also possible to alter the contrast, sharpness and saturation settings.
Video: The SD1 does not feature a video mode.
Value For MoneyHalf way through reviewing this camera, Sigma announced that it is to be relaunched as the SD1 Merrill with a price of roughly $2399 - compared to $6300 for the Sigma SD1. The UK price of the Sigma SD1 is £4999 inc vat, however Sigma has not yet announced a UK price for the Merrill version. The cameras are identical apart from the name. The original £5k price put the camera into direct competition with the latest (and greatest) professional full frame cameras from Nikon the Nikon D4 and Canon, the Canon EOS 1D-X. While the new price puts it into competition with cameras like the 24.3 megapixel APS-C sensor Sony Alpha A77 and full frame 36.3 megapixel Nikon D800. The camera comes with a wide neck strap - which is a nice improvement over the more standard neck strap, but with such a high original price, you almost expect the camera to come in a special limited edition presentation box.
For nearly £2300(tbc) / £5000 you would want to know you are getting the ultimate camera ... the Sigma SD1 promises "the ultimate image quality"... and if you shoot RAW and master processing the images with Sigma Photo Pro and possibly another editing package, then the camera is capable of creating some great looking photos which are especially impressive for fine detail and textures. The 15.6/46 megapixel images can quite easily match the images from Bayer sensor cameras such as the 24.3 megapixel APS-C Sony Alpha A77. We used the Sony Alpha A77, with 12fps shooting, Full HD video and numerous other features and options that the SD1 simply doesn't have and the speed difference and ease of use of the Sony (all with great JPEG output straight from the camera) was clearly noticeable.
Sigma / Foveon fans believe the images from these cameras have a 3D / Lifelike image that Bayer sensor cameras simply can't match. Whether it's worth the additional effort and time in processing the RAW files through Sigma Photo Pro depends on your personal workflow and amount of images you need to process. We found it horribly time consuming even just converting the small amount of images shown in this review when compared to other RAW shooting cameras.
However due to good handling and excellent image quality combined with the new significantly lower price, we would recommend this camera, as long as you are fully aware of the issues presented with the camera.
|The Sigma SD1 is capable of taking excellent photos IF shooting RAW and with the new lower price is worth investigating.|
Sigma SD1 Merrill ProsFoveon Sensor
Weather sealed magnesium body
Removable IR Filter / Dust Shield for IR Photography
Very high pixel level detail
Strong colour available from the camera
Noise on JPEGs
Sigma SD1 Merrill Cons
Only 1 Memory card slot (unlike other Pro cameras with dual slots)
Lacks top LCD screen, or eye detection
Lacks video mode / live view
Sigma Pro Photo 5.0 Raw Conversion software slow
Slow to write to memory card
Poor battery life
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Sigma SD1 Merrill Specifications
|CCD pixels||46Mp (Megapixels)|
|Sensor Type||Foveon X3 CMOS|
|Sensor Size (width)||24mm|
|Sensor Size (height)||16mm|
|Shutter speeds shortest||1/8000sec|
|Shutter speeds longest||120sec|
|ISO sensitivity||100 - 6400|
|Video FPS||No Data|
|Optical Zoom with Video||No|
|Battery Type||BP-21 Lithium Ion|
|CIPA Rating||No Data|
|Box Contents||Li-ion Battery Pack BP-21, Battery charger BC-21, USB Cable, Video Cable, Neck Strap, Eye Cap, Body Cap, Eyepiece Cap, SIGMA Photo Pro Disc, SD1 Instruction Manual|