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The Sigma SD1 might not be a household name but some of you will certainly be familiar with it. Launched at Photokina in 2010, the SD1 was the first and only DSLR to show off a sensor based on an entirely new technology. Albeit akin to an APS-C format, the SD1’s Foveon sensor was capable of capturing three times as much colour …

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Re: Sample shots.

Great collection of sample shots! Really great!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sample shots.

Seems like some of the first digital shots to really enthuse me since my fave old buddy Canon-A1 possibly with Kodak Ektachrome or some nice Fuji film like Velvia, or any good film really.

The resolution and freshness seem way ahead on the Sigma, but the colors and everything else seem similarly charming like the A1. By charming I mean deep and intense, not half-assed like a faded print.

Especially similar to the original super-fresh condition secondhand Canon A1 I had with a stock F1.2 50mm that some Ned scrote nicked from Burger King in Edinburgh many years ago. I have another one now, but it's not the same and the lens seems it isn't anything as good ... a slightly different F1.4 50mm. Wahhh ;)

I still have the original's crazy-ass manual with new 1970s VW beetles and serious flared jeans everywhere. And proud descriptions of the automatic digital-table light computer / settings enabling electronic beast inside.

Me want Sigma ... well maybe. Movie mode would be a bonus, as would enough dough to buy it ;)

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Ru
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"The SD1 is a camera that will work magic in studio or landscape photography"

But will it work noticably more magic than a comparably-priced 35mm full frame dSLR? Nikon and Canon have set a pretty high bar. From past experience, they've got the edge in optical quality too. Problem is, of course, that it's bloody hard to see any benefit from a foveon on a normal RGB screen, especially an uncalibrated one. If you're shooting for t'interwebs, all that lovely technology is rather wasted.

Me, I'd get a decent compact for snapshotty things, and a nice old 645 or 6x6 medium format system for any serious print work. But then, I'm not a professional photographer.

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Facepalm

Re: "The SD1 is a camera that will work magic in studio or landscape photography"

"If you're shooting for t'interwebs, all that lovely technology is rather wasted."

Yes - this is a really good choice for taking pictures to embed in webpages....

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Re: "The SD1 is a camera that will work magic in studio or landscape photography"

I had an SD-14 which could produce astounding images at low ISOs and in bright light, but the noise issue and general mechanical unreliability with an overheating sensor and poor sealing made it an immensely frustrating camera to use. When it was good, it was better than any APS-C camera of the period, but it couldn't rival a full frame camera.

The biggest issue for anyone who thinks about switching to Sigma is that you are pretty much stuck with using Sigma hardware and software. Many stores won't carry lenses with the Sigma mount and the range is not huge, and as for the software - if you ever thought Adobe produced the worst software on Earth you haven't been unlucky enough to Sigma Photo Pro. Slow, buggy and incompatible with just about everything.

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Ru
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Meh

Re: "The SD1 is a camera that will work magic in studio or landscape photography"

"this is a really good choice for taking pictures to embed in webpages"

And yet this is precisely what a vast number of camera owners do. Funny, isn't it? And so they either have to be in possession of audiophile-grade credulity (of course a Foveon sensor generates better images... you can see it on my uncalibrated 1920x1080 TN TFT in glorious not-quite sRGB colour!) or they have to weigh it up against the full frame offerings from competitors which excel in every other way for an equivalent price.

So it appears to be aimed at photographers happy to invest in a new camera and new glass intending to make prints of images taken under favourable light or of static scenes. So that's a pretty small niche, and they'll still have to compromise on image quality by using digital instead of film. Tough sell, right?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "The SD1 is a camera that will work magic in studio or landscape photography"

I'm not sure I'd agree. I've owned Foveon cameras in the past and although the output is smaller than the marketing material would suggest, the images are some of the cleanest I've had from any camera, be it compact or DSLR (and with fantastic dynamic range). It's widely claimed (justifiably) that these images enlarge better than a lot of bayer sensor images because they're so clean (unless you go to high ISOs).

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Re: "The SD1 is a camera that will work magic in studio or landscape photography"

It's different rather than all round better. You have the microcontrast associated with medium format digital (which normally lack an aa filter), the ease of use of a dslr, luminance and colour are not interpolated but you get very poor high iso. I've heard it bandied about that this is about as good as a circa 30mp bayer sensor when you are comparing large prints but without the issues that come with pixels that small on a small sensor (diffraction).

The key reason this kills for studio and landscape is the colour reproduction, no moire and less diffraction for the detail. Does it replace a 1dx or 5d3 for say a wedding photographer or a sports stringer, no, is it an interesting option for a landscape photographer, even more for studio fashion work, yes ver much so. Even at 6k its just over half the price of a cheapo mfd camera.

I still love my old rz and film, but sitting on the lanai with a laptop and a bottle of wine beats the darkroom anyday. Then there is the drying cabinet, prepping the slides for scanning, scanning them then cleaning and archiving the slides.

Fwiw sigma also make some decent glass if you can get a good copy.

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Re: "The SD1 is a camera that will work magic in studio or landscape photography"

Scratch the comment re diffraction, just remembered this is apsc, so still pretty pixel dense. It's a shame they didn't make it 46mp/15mp and full frame. That would slay!

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Anonymous Coward

Unfortunately...

Unfortunately, still £1000 too much for my budget. :-(

Maybe Nokia will stick a Foveon into a Pureview phone? (Let's face it, nothing else is going to get them noticed)

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FAIL

SD1 Failure

IMHO the reason that the SD1 failed was that every with every month that passed, the launch date moved back about 3 months. By the time it was launched, years late, everyone else had something else Canon / Nikon / Pentax, etc. Personally I have Canon. Also the other CMOS / CCD sensors improved a lot in that time, but it seems that the spec for the Fovian sensor was set in stone and has not kept up. By now I have 3 camera bodies, but that is not where my investment is. I can change all the bodies, and all the lenses fit on the new bodies. I will generally keep a lens for (much) more than 10 years. The SD1 won't work with any of my Canon lenses, and even if I had a Sigma lens for my Canons, it still wouldn't work with the SD1. The price of the camera is almost nothing next to the cost of all the lenses.

Very, very poor low-light performance from all of the Fovian sensors doesn't help either, and even though this camera is cheaper than the first, it's still about the price of a Canon 7D or 5D MkII, but is built like the cheapest bottom end camera with controls requiring the vulcan death grip to press buttons and operate dials at the same time. I wanted so much to like the SD1 cameras when they finally came out, but they just make me think of the car of the same name; a footnote in history.

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Anonymous Coward

meh

Sigma cameras, le shudder. They tend to be shoddy, longterm unreliable, and poorly-supported. Give me a Nikon, Canon or even Sony any day (or hell, my old M6 and a nice film scanner).

They do have an insane foaming at the mouth fanbase who think they can do no wrong, despite bait and switch specs, sluggish performance, build quality and reliability issues. Generally the biggest drinkers of the Kool Aid seem to be people who produce horrible, clumsily tonemapped HDR, so maybe there is some brainwrong gwan there anyway (yeah, sounds like a wild generalisation, prey that you never encounter the supporting evidence, though).

However, not a bad review, trying hard to be charitable, and some nicely-executed test shots. I think I'd much rather have a D7000 or something for half the price, though. Getting a good clean in-focus image without tonnes of noise trumps the megapixel wars any day.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: meh

Argh, I meant "pray", that's what happens when you have a horrible coffee deficit.

Also.. beware the quoted resolution of those sensors, as well as the crappy low light performance.. and.. and...

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FAIL

Foveon sensor good, Lens bad

I don't see any part of any of these shots in good sharp focus. Another advert for why you don't want a Sigma lens. And the grain is surprisingly high on all above ISO100. I do wish for a good DSLR with any sensor that isn't bayer format though. This ain't it.

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Only the Foveon concept isn't particularly good

The colour filters on a bayer sensor can be designed to replicate the colour response of the human eye, in which there is a large amount of overlap between red and green. A Foveon sensor can't do this because of the way it separates the colour. Imagine a monochromatic orange light. A bayer sensor will pick some up in each of the red and green channels, which will tell the camera that it's recording orange. A Foveon sensor will record it in either the red channel or the green channel, depending on the wavelength, and can't know that it's all gone wrong. It's like a 3CCD, and those are going out of fashion too.

Additionally, despite the marketing material that suggests that Foveon records red/green/blue in its three layers, it's actually recording white in the top layer, yellow in the middle and red in the bottom. It then introduces large amounts of noise as it performs the maths required to turn this back in to red/green/blue.

And that's completely ignoring the complete dishonesty in marketing it as a "46MP" camera.

You probably don't actually want Foveon, although Sigma does make some good lenses.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Foveon sensor good, Lens bad

Actually, the sensor is a lot worse in practise than you'd imagine, and certainly isn't the resolution claimed. Also, the low light performance is shockingly poor.

The sensor is interesting, but it's half-baked. It might be interesting to speculate about how good it would be if made by someone like Sony (whose sensors turn up in various other brands), and if that would have made it better. However, Sigma generally provide shoddy implementations and somewhat misleading marketing material.

Any of the "big three" vendors will sell you a better and more reliable camera that takes better pictures for half the price.

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Re: Foveon sensor good, Lens bad

"Any of the "big three" vendors will sell you a better and more reliable camera that takes better pictures for half the price."

Safe for the "better pictures" part, this it quite true.

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While I'm at it

The Foveon "46MP" sensor captures 15MP of spatial information, and results in images with about the same level of detail as a 30MP bayer sensor, once the bayer sensor's done its demosaic thing.

So for the same output level of detail, the data storage and processing requirements are 50% greater for the Foveon sensor.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Foveon sensor good, Lens bad

Depends, if you like horrible colour pattern noise, and stone age luma noise performance, then sure, the pictures are loads better from a Foveon sensor.

Also, Sigma's history of horrible binary processing blobs making support quite second rate in digital darkroom software keeps them firmly in the "toytown for people stuck in the HDR hole" league, even if the quality and handling issues didn't do this.

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I've been critical of some Reg camera reviews in the past - top work on this one.

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Anonymous Coward

GPS? HDR? Pano?

At those prices, can this (or any other) camera do

* GPS based geo-tagging of the picture, either with a built-in GPS or with an external GPS and Bluetooth?

* Automatic high dynamic range capture (it can leave the actual combining to an external system, so long as that system can be other than Windows)

* Automatic panorama assist (again, the stitching can be done externally)

Yes, to quote Mr. Mercury, "I want it all, and I want it NOW" - I want a large form factor sensor with good low light performance, lots of lenses, standards based image capture, HD video, HDR, Pano, GPS - and a pony! and all for $500 or less. Yes, I know I'm not likely to get everything on my list, but those are some issues for The Reg to consider in a review.

You want a good test case for a camera - show me a camera that can do the Grand Canyon justice, then do justice to Carlsbad Caverns.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: GPS? HDR? Pano?

Can see where you're coming from but you know from a Limey point of view the Grand Canyon sets our teeth on edge a bit, as everyone and their dog from over here "does" the canyon in the same way that they would "do" Disney World. But we don't do it like Evel Knievel, sadly ;)

I could mention a typical example being my brother-in-law trying to get "unique" footage from it with a *video* camera but people might think I'm being catty - I mean, you know, stills might be better as it "doesn't move".

Carlsbad caverns look cool .... thanks dude, I never knew before :)

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Are you sure?

Interesting camera... Okay, interesting sensor.

I'm a bit unsure about your choice of competition though. The D300s is way cheaper, can shoot faster, has more focus points (50+, with 15 being cross) can shoot video and will last way more than 200 shots on a single charge. The SD1 only wins on image quality at base ISO, and quickly loses that advantage in the real world. It's a bit of a one trick pony. 40 lenses sounds like a lot, but compared to the number available for Canon, and Nikon's huge back catalogue (they didn't do the Canon trick of changing their mounts for digital, so old lenses still fit) it's nothing.

It sounds like it is best aimed at replacing a D3x or D800. Unfortunately although both those bodies are more expensive than the SD1, they both trump it on everything but base ISO image quality. That might be the most important thing in a studio, so maybe it might make in-roads, but then there's the investment in changing all your lenses. And a camera is only as good as the glass on the front, and from my experience Sigma's stuff isn't as good as Nikon's.

So from a technical point of view it is an interesting sensor. From a real world, grab camera, shoot anything, point of view it's too restricted.

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Anonymous Coward

"they didn't do the Canon trick of changing their mounts for digital, so old lenses still fit)"

Strange I've had two Canon digitals 300D & 550D and the lenses I have are all the usual EF lenses - they have introduced extra lenses that only fit the digital range.

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re: "they didn't do the Canon trick of changing their mounts for digital, so old lenses still fit)"

It wasn't digital Canon changed the mount for and Nikon didn't. It was autofocus.

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The EF mount was used on both film and digital cameras. It replaced the FD mount which was film only. EF-S is digital only - but only because they only do digital now - the EF-S is actually for APS-C sensors, it's about sensor size rather than film/digital.

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Unhappy

Too niche to survive?

I have extremely fond memories of my SD9, in fact it was my first DSLR, and I got some amazing shots with it, and certainly the clarity could not be beaten, even though the resulting images were "only" 3 and a bit MP in size. I still have some prints blown up to A2 size that look better than 8MP shots from my 20D and 1D

I can't help feeling that the x3 tech would have been better suited to one of the big players who could have positioned it as a niche in their existing product lines, rather than Sigma to go it alone with a very limited range of lenses and virtually nowhere for the line to go. That said, when I moved to Canon, I almost exclusively bought Sigma lenses again, so who knows.

I would love a cheaper Foveon sensor camera but as long as Sigma keep churning them out, I am unlikely to ever switch back.

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Boffin

My View

Foveon -> Great until you push the ISO (landscape & Studio good, Sports bad) this is the nature of the beast, 100% of the light hits the sensor in a tradition DSLR, but not when light has to pass through sensor layers.

Sigma lenses -> ELD based lenses are very, very good, but they also produced a lot of dross, this harmed their reputation, but kept them afloat by volume, just be careful what you buy.

I'm a Canon L bigot now, the only non L glass I have is a 10-22 EFS (as there's nothing else that performs as well for the money, £300 when I got mine). But in I would definitely buy (the right) Sigma, in fact I rememer a really great 300mm APO sigma that I had on my Minolta film camera.

I love the idea of infra-red, but it's a bit of a gimic rather than mass appeal (maybe some niche wildlife purpose?), if (for example) you do astro photography you'd want something built for the job like the Canon 60Da.

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Go

Very well

At first I'd like to say that this is one of the better reviews I have read on your site and I have been here for a long time. Well done.

In terms of image quality, Sigma's Foveon is probably the most compelling technology available in the consumer frame of budget at this time. I have been shooting a DP1 for several years now and it is not going anywhere – unless maybe I compliment it with a DP2M, which puts the SD1M's sensor into a compact body, together with some of the best glass Sigma can make. Foveon is capable of incredible results and once spoiled by it you will look at almost any Bayer system with a pinches of pain. Some of that pain comes from Sigma's cameras having some … unique aspects like write speed and iso capability that you have live with – but also from knowing that they will allow you to produce pictures of a quality that is hardly attainable with anything else in their price range. They are not for everybody or any shooting style and they do not try to be.

There are many, many caveats but if you know what you want and these camers fit your bill, they will not stop giving.

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FAIL

Re: Only the Foveon concept isn't particularly good

" A Foveon sensor will record it in either the red channel or the green channel, depending on the wavelength, and can't know that it's all gone wrong."

Apart from sodium vapour lamps, no naturally occurring colours are single wavelengths. So an orange light, which actually spreads all the way from say 450nm to 700nm, to varying degrees, will be picked up by both the red and green channels (maybe even the blue, a little). You should be able to calculate a fairly accurate CIE XYZ coordinates from that, which is all you need for colour reproduction.

Otherwise, not interested. Any camera costing more than £200 is too much for me.

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Re: Only the Foveon concept isn't particularly good

Not from a purely RGB data you can't

Imagine an object on the reddish end of green.

In a bayer chip the filters overlap, just like your eye's response, so it will record say 80%in green and 20% in red.

In the foveon (or a 3chipper) it will show up in the green data only - you could add some of this signal to the red, but you don't know if this object was blue-green, pure green or red-green so you don't know what percentage to add to simulate the leak.

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Re: Only the Foveon concept isn't particularly good

The monochromatic orange was an extreme example to illustrate the problem based on the human eye's red/green overlap.

In practice, if you have two objects that look to the human eye like they are the same colour under a particular light source, but have very different spectra (i.e. metamers), a 3CCD or Foveon will make them look different, and there's no way around that. Meanwhile a well designed bayer filter array doesn't have this problem.

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Devil

Re: Only the Foveon concept isn't particularly good

I must admit it was a good point that someone mentioned earlier.

There they are these photography enthusiasts that spend £7000+ on a 30+ megapixel digital camera, the finest lenses, going to great lengths to capture that perfect shot, then spend hours tweaking it further in £1000 worth of Photoshop.

To then have to shrink it down, post it up on a website for us to all see via our crappy 6bit TN 1366x768 laptop screens or smartphones. Perfection!

Thanks for all the effort but a pic from a £200 point and shoot would have done most likely.

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Pattern noise

The crop isn't admitting to the ISO it was shot at, but that image of City Hall is showing some pretty nasty pattern read noise (horizontal lines) along with red/green blotchiness.

Sorry, but given that Sigma gains only about a 20% resolution advantage in normal circumstances compared to a Bayer sensor (i.e. you'll get about the same detail out of an 18Mpix Bayer) but the latest generation of Bayer sensors will absolutely kill the Foveon at high ISO, and will give better colour accuracy to boot, there's no way that I'd consider one of these. The idea that Foveon doesn't need an anti-alias filter is a crock also. You don't get colour moire patterns, but you get aliasing artefacts, false detail and all sorts of other horrors.

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FAIL

Cityscape

If I was seriously considering buying one these cameras that shot of the cityscape would put me right off. It's not even the heavy blurring and lack of contrast, it's the sensor's inability to render accurate colours. Look at the full size image and consider the sky and water. The sky seems to change randomly from blue to purple and the water is either green or blue. I can only assume this picture was taken at crazily high ISO but even so it's a poor effort from a device asking 1800 quid.

I'd be disappointed if my phone (Atrix 4G) took pictures that bad let alone 1800 quid's worth of supposedly-pro-grade SLR. Anybody considering one of these should save themselves a load of grief and get the 5D plus 50mm F1.4 or the 7D and the 24-70L. Nikon probably do stuff that would equally blow the SD1 out of the water but I've only used the Canon gear.

And despite what the Sigma marketing department would have you believe the SD1 is a 15MP camera not 46.

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Seriously considering one of these

This is an amazing camera and not shooting over 400ASA is no hardship to anyone used to using film. It is possible to change the mount on the camera to accept Leica R lenses so lenses might not be a problem.

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