Reviews

Sigma SD10


When I tested this cameraās predecessor, the Sigma SD9, I was displeased that it was so obviously a digital back grafted onto a film SLR camera. Apparently I was not the only one to raise issues with the SD9, and it seems that Sigma has listened and incorporated many improvements in the new SD10. My main beef with the SD9 was the necessity to use two totally different battery types to run the camera, one kind for the camera body and another for the digital back. The SD10 uses only one battery type to run everything, CR-V3 Lithium cells. It uses two of them in a battery holder that slides into the bottom of the camera. You can also use 4 AA cells or a dedicated AC adapter. Although not available for my test, I think I would have preferred to have run the camera from the optional Battery Grip, which holds four CR-V3 or eight AA cells and allows for a more comfortable grip when shooting vertical photos. Without this optional grip I found shooting verticals, which I do most of the time, awkward.

The most important innovation of the Sigma SD10 is the incorporation of Foveonās latest X3 image sensor. This new sensor produces a 10.2 megapixel output, 3.4 megapixels in each color channel. Unlike conventional sensors that use mosaic pattern and interpolation software to produce full color images, Foveon goes their own way and produces sensors with three layers of photosensitive silicon receptors. These are stacked on top of each other just like the emulsion layers in a color film. Directly recording colors at all pixel locations provides much more accurate colors and no artifacts from interpolation, according to Foveon. Foveon also claims higher resolution from their sensors.

All of this sounds really great in theory, but what about in practice. Although I had some qualms about the design of the camera, my earlier tests with the Sigma SD9 convinced me that Foveonās sensor design was capable of producing excellent image quality. I was even more impressed this time around. I was only able to do a couple of shoots with the camera if I was going to finish this article in time, so please donāt consider this an in-depth evaluation. It is more of an appetizer than a main course. The first thing I realized when shooting the largest sized images (2268 X 1512 X 3) was that I could outrun the camera very quickly, and I ended up having to sit and wait for the camera to write to the memory card and catch up with me. The specifications say I should be able to shoot one image every 1.9 seconds up to six frames, and thatās about what I got in my tests. But what it doesnāt tell you is that you then have to wait quite a while before you can shoot again. I found this constant interruption of the flow of my shoot very annoying. Of course choosing one of the two smaller image sizes (1512 X 1008 X 3 or 1134 X 756 X 3) speeds things up, but I wanted the largest possible images for my tests. I could not find anything in the product specifications about the buffer memory size, but whatever it is it should be made larger to prevent this problem. Of course those who do not do their photo shoots in a rapid-fire way like I do may never run into this particular problem.

The Sigma SD10 records images only in its native RAW file mode, producing files with the XF3 suffix. By now I am so used to viewing camera RAW files with Photoshop CS that it did not occur to me that Photoshop CS could not open XF3 files. Alas, it canāt, although Adobe says they will release a new plug-in late this year to allow Photoshop CS to read XF3 files. I wish Sigma and Foveon had spent their time developing a Photoshop plug-in to read their files rather than their own somewhat clunky Photo Pro file browser. Before I could work on my images in Photoshop I first had to batch process them in Photo Pro and convert them to either JPEG or TIFF. This takes 30 seconds to a minute each, so it is a lot of down time waiting before you can work on your images. If I were seriously considering buying a Sigma SD10, I think I would wait until Photoshop CS can directly work with the files, as I found this process of having to use Photo Pro first somewhat ridiculous.

How about image quality? Is it good enough to make up for the hassle of getting at the images? The answer has to be a qualified yes. Images shot in my studio with studio flash and images shot outdoors under an overcast sky showed exceptionally good color rendition and particularly good flesh tones. I really didnāt need to tweak the color or contrast as I so often do with other digital cameras. The images reproduced here with this article are straight images, with nothing done to them other than resizing for magazine repro. They are exceptionally good by any standard. I would have no hesitation in using this camera for serious commercial photography based solely on image quality and size.

The SD10 offers ISO equivalent settings from 100 to 1600. Note that I found ISO 200 ideal for general outdoor works, with ISO 400 an option for dimmer light. I would only use ISO 1600 when I just had to get the picture and could live with the relatively high noise levels present at that speed.

The GUI for Sigma/Foveonās Photo Pro browser allows you to view FX3 files from the SD10 and convert them to files that you can work with in Photoshop or other similar applications. I would have been much happier with a Photoshop plug-in than with this stand-alone software that is just one more thing to learn. Most of us would be doing our final work on our files in Photoshop anyway.

öBob Shell




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