Sigma SD1 - Raw samples - More thoughts

Leica M9 Zeiss 50mm f/2 T* Planar
 Leica M9 Zeiss 50mm f/2 T* Planar

The Raw files from the SD1, kindly provided by photographers yesterday, illustrated both the virtues and the problems with this camera. Of course the main problem is the price! It is now available in the UK for a whopping £5,699!! You can buy 6 Nikon D7000's for that price. There's been enough discussion about the wisdom of Sigma's marketing strategy and I'm not going to do that again.

Initially yesterday I was very impressed with what I saw. The files when processed in Sigma Photo Pro looked very good indeed when I tried a few. However, having worked with them more and looked at more samples, there are more than a few problems. The colour is "odd". Considering the Foveon technology, with its 3 colour layers, is supposed to provide colour accuracy, I felt it should be better than it is. Many of the images have a pinky red hue thats quite difficult to get rid of. There's also a fair amount of highlight burn-out on some of the samples. Also there are some samples available that don't actually look that sharp.

When there is something close up in the frame, the camera produces quite breathtaking images, but with middle and far distance subjects, it seems to me that its nowhere near that good. This for example is where the Leica M9 really comes into its own.

Leica M9 Zeiss 50mm f/2 T* 
Planar
Leica M9 Zeiss 50mm f/2 T* Planar

One of the things that strikes me is the question of how much the sharpness and bite of the images has to do with the Foveon sensor(s) or the simple fact that there is no anti-aliasing filter. I said yesterday that the files I initially processed looked sharper and more detailed than Leica M9 files. While for some of them that is true, its a fairly easy process to get the M9 files to that level of sharpness. The M9 files also have a much nicer colour rendition, with deep rich colours.

Nikon D7000 10-24mm
Nikon D7000 10-24mm

I also experimented with some Nikon D7000 files. By adding some extra sharpening, I was able to get VERY close to the SD1 files. Incidentally, cranking up the sharpening on the SD1 files produced some very nasty results. Lots of sharpening "jaggies". I never got my D7000 files to look quite as crisp as the best of the SD1 files, but it was close. This, of course, takes account of the fact that the D7000 has an anti-aliasing filter.

There is the interesting question of what files from this Sony 16MP sensor would look like without an AA filter. My suspicion would be very good indeed.

Nikon D5100 16-85mm
Nikon D5100 16-85mm

So after some work, and working with a variety of samples, I'm somewhat less impressed than I initially was. This is of course the great benefit of having raw files rather than jpgs to work with.

The idea that the SD1 gives Medium-Format quality is to my mind quite misleading. Those samples that I worked with, clearly show that the SD1 falls some way short of that. Yes they interpolate very well, but then so do files from a Pentax 645, Leica S2 etc. Indeed so do files from cameras such as the Nikon D3X, Sony a900/850 or Leica M9. So, as far as I'm concerned, the larger sensors in these cameras have significant advantages.

Where it seems the SD1 is comparible with MF digital cameras, is in its speed of operation and functionality. Reports and reviews indicate very slow performance.

Some comments from the Luminous Landscape of the camera at:- http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/sigma_sd1_review.shtml

"This brings us to the whole topic of write speed. Just about every other DSLR made over the past five years can walk and chew gum at the same time. The SD1 can't. I've had it explained to me that the problem isn't so much the camera's write speed as it is the in-camera processing that X3 files require. So be it. But, this doesn't change the fact that as a consequence the SD1 becomes a much slower camera to work with than its competitors.

For the amatuer working slowly and patiently, doing landscape work for example, this may not be a big issue. But for someone shooting weddings, fashion, reportage, etc, not having access to the camera's main settings and controls during extended card saves can make the difference between getting the shots, and not.

One other annoyance. The battery indicator is inaccurate. It can be showing two bars, and then 20 frames later flashes red. Even though the SD1's battery life is pretty good, always have a spare on hand."

This wouldn't really be a problem for me, but for others it might be.

The bottom line is would I buy it if it was a reasonable price? Yesterday I would have said yes, but today the answer to that is no. The more files I processed, the less I was impressed. 

For me at least the SD1 has become somewhat of a dead end. Sigmas pricing has of corse been the main contributing factor to that, but looking at a variety of samples by different photographers gives a very clear idea of how a camera performs. Many, if not most, of the samples were representative of what I shoot, so I got a good indication of how it would work for me. I obviously won't be working with one myself, so these impressions are based on the work of others, but I think that I've got a pretty good idea of what it might produce for me. 

There's nothing there that means I'm in any hurry to dispense with my M9 or indeed my Nikons. Indeed the more I see of results from other cameras the more I think that the D7000 and D5100 are absolute bargains.

Nikon D5100 16-85mm
Nikon D5100 16-85mm