The Sigma SD Quattro - The Foveon sensor gets a camera to do it justice.

Sigma cameras for the Foveon sensor haven't had a particularly illustrious history, The early SD's were DSLR's culminating in the SD 1 with it's ludicrous release cost (£6000+ !!!) which was quickly dramatically reduced in price and a selection of DP compacts. All have been slow to operate with the poorest battery lives of virtually any digital camera. The Quattro compacts, with admittedly great image quality, were fixed lens cameras and you had to buy a set of them to get a decent range. They also had no built in EVF's. To say that they were somewhat of a trial to use is an understatement. I bought a few of them, loved the unique IQ from the Foveon sensor, but ultimately got so frustrated with the grinding slowness, the clunky operation (and the same from Sigma Photo Pro, now the only software to edit the raw files), plus the fact that they were somewhat expensive and poor value for money, that I usually had them for a while and sold them.

But now I have the SD Quattro mirrorless camera and finally (FINALLY!) the Foveon sensor has a camera to do it justice. Now lets not get too exited here. This is no Olympus E-M1 Mk II or a Nikon D5. But (and it's a big BUT) it's a very competent, very efficient mirrorless camera that pretty much (well actually all the way) addresses the issues of the previous attempts to find a workable and welcoming home for that incredible sensor. And it cost me, with the 30mm f/1.4 ART 'kit' lens, £899. 

So what's new? Well there is now an EVF, not the greatest but it works. There is focus peaking and image magnification with this for manual focusing which works well. With the added battery grip, which I also bought, I can now load up the camera with three batteries and that seems to last a days shooting for me. AF is accurate and again while not the fastest it's very useable. (See YouTube video further down the page.) processing the images is also much faster and the interminable wait to use the camera again after taking a shot is now thankfully a thing of the past. 

The camera is big, but not especially heavy, though when fitted with various Sigma ART lenses, that will change! The design is rangefinderesque and reminds me of my Leica SL (Typ 601). Layout and menus are comfortable and easy to navigate respectively and while some find it ugly, I actually love the look. I also love the handling as it has a huge grip. So this is all good news for Foveon fans, of which I am definitely one. And this is the only camera I have considered buying since going exclusively Leica, which of course is no longer the case. 

Now some might complain about the SD Quattro and DSLR's and the best mirrorless cameras will certainly be faster. However, Sigma have closed the gap quite dramatically here and I certainly have no complaints. Plus it is important to realise that this is not a camera for high-speed, handle anything shooting. Foveon sensors are sensational at low ISO's (of which more later) but even with the improvements in this new camera, anything above ISO 320 is pretty noisy and if you are interested in this camera you'll want to take advantage of it's strength anyway. And this is -  (Please note I chose my words VERY carefully here) The best image quality I have ever seen, at low ISO's ,of any APS-C AND Full Frame camera I've ever used as well as some Medium Format Sensor cameras. 

This new sensor is jaw dropping in terms of sharpness and resolution. Absolutely incredible. Now in the past I've not been convinced by Sigmas inflated MP claims. Because the Foveon is three sensors in one they have always multiplied the base resolution x 3. And that has usually proved a claim too far. They are at it again with the SDQ, proclaiming that this is a 39MP sensor, when 'normal' size is actually 19.6MP. However, you can set the camera up to output 39MP jpgs. and these are simply amazing. Below is a 100% sample of one of those jpg's.

This is what comes straight out of the camera, no software upsizing, so added sharpening, no levels alteration or in fact anything at all. Now I could shoot raw and process via Sigma Photo Pro, but when the in camera jpgs. come out like this, why would I bother? Incidentally if I choose this S-Hi jpeg option I can't shoot raw files anyway. Above in the image samples you can see some panoramas, stitched together from multiple shots in PT Gui and you imagine what they look like. Some of the images I created were close to 1GB and the hyper reality resolution was breathtaking.

Now the SDQ with the capacity to produce images like this is a camera to be taken seriously. And who needs MF when an APS-C sensor will do this? As I indicated high ISO's - forget it. This is a camera that needs good light or a tripod. But then I rarely go higher than base ISO anyway. To be honest I'm actually quite shocked as to how good this camera is, both in terms of operation, efficiency and of course this astonishing image quality. Now I don't imagine that it's going to top any best seller lists and the market for this is actually quite small. But when serious photographers get to hear about it and get to see what the combination of the Foveon sensor and some of those seriously sharp Sigma ART lenses can do, then I think Sigma may actually have, in their terms, a success.

And that ability to use the Sigma ART range is actually the master stroke that Sigma have pulled off. As you can see from the camera images above the body looks like it has an adapter built out in front of it, which in essence I guess is what it is. This is to allow what are essentially DSLR lenses to be mounted on it. And I'm sure everyone is aware is what the reviewers are saying about the current Sigma lenses. The 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50 and 85mm f/1.4 lenses are getting rave reviews. And I have to say the APS-C 30mm f/1.4 kit lens I took the images with is pretty incredible as well. Now why on earth Nikon and / or Canon haven't done this is beyond me.

Olympus, Panasonic and Fuji have finally realised that mirrorless isn't about competing with smartphones ( A 'battle' they will surely loose anyway) it's about utilising the advantages of not having an SLR design and producing cameras that aren't hand (man) bag fillers but 'real' 'proper' picture taking machines that inspire those who want to take their photography beyond the snapshot level. Up to now Pentax with the hideously ugly K-O1 are the only ones to go this route, but Sigma have realised that finding a way to put their newly developed 'super' lenses in front of their Foveon sensor produces results second to none. 

Now there's a choice to be made here. Do you want to pay around £800 for a Sigma SD Quattro or ten times that for a Fuji or Hassleblad 'portable' MF mirrorless camera? When at low ISO's you probably, from the samples I've seen, wouldn't notice any differences in IQ anyway. And if you are considering either that or the Fuji MF, then I urge you to somehow get your hands on the Sigma SDQ to see if that does the job for you. As an outdoors, good light, low ISO, travel / location / landscape / architecture stock photographer, I know that the Sigma SDQ is the right choice for me. 

And this Sigma definitely won't be heading for ebay anytime soon.