Guest post: Sigma SD1 update

Sigma SD1

Sigma SD1

This guest post is written by Bob van Ooik from X3magazine. You can visit also the original article "A wealth of Sigma SD1 info".

As a long time user of Sigma cameras the introduction of the SD1 is something I look forward to very much. Recently the CP+ fair was held in Japan and there Sigma released more info into the world through a new microsite and several formal and informal sources. Most of the info below is confirmed by one or more sources but as they are still developing nothing is set in stone.

One big rumor I would like to squash immediately. There is a lot of talk of Sigma wanting to release the SD1 end of February. As far as I know they never made this promise but they do aim for a (late) spring release. The body is basically done and could go into production soon but the firmware (on the bodies at the show) is still at version 0.5 and still needs a bit of work.

Sigma had 11 big sized prints on display in their booth. And they were according to several reports on the web, simply amazing. They also had the images on display on an iMac. According to Maro they were tremendous. He tried increasing the saturation in Photoshop and there was no chroma noise appearing. Kazuto Yamaki said that the Sd1 will be totally usable at iso400 and will be even quite good at iso1600, comparable to iso400 on the current cameras! The new recommended iso seems to be iso200 with iso100 taking over the place of the old iso50. Extended mode will go to iso6400.

The RAW files of the SD1 will quite big, around 50MB for a iso100 high resolution file. New is a RAW+JPEG mode where the JPEG will be around 7MB. Fast UDMA 6 cards are supported and probably needed for acceptable write times. The SD1 will see a return of HI (4800x3200), MED (3264x2176) and LOW (2400x1600) setting for RAW. To achieve that VPS (see will be used. Frame rate will be between 3.5 fps for HI to ca. 5fps for LOW.

A few other noteworthy points:

  • AF system has 11 points with twin-cross sensors and each sensor is equally sensitive.
  • The focus aid squares have been made much smaller.
  • Micro-adjustment of the AF will be available on a per lens basis.
  • Sigma does not and will not apply and lens corrections to the files in-camera.
  • In the viewfinder you can now see the number of pictures left before the buffer is filled.
  • The shutter is still very quiet, some say even quieter than the SD15.
  • The batteries used are the same as for the SD14/15.
  • A new enhanced version of the battery pack annex vertical grip is said to be in development.
  • Sigma might be considering developing tethering software for the SD1.
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  • Poki

    “Kazuto Yamaki said that the Sd1 will be totally usable at iso400 and will be even quite good at iso1600, comparable to iso400 on the current cameras!”
    => Well, I actually work very well with a 5D Mark II @ 3200 ISO.
    No need to say it’s hard to make the difference between 400 and 1600 ISO on my camera.
    And if you had a look at prints on the Canon booth at the Photokina, you’d have also been amazed. Sigma should focus on optics as they have prooved bodies are not their best field of work.

    • CRB

      I agree..

    • quote: Sigma should focus on optics as they have prooved bodies are not their best field of work.

      Neither are their lenses…
      Would i buy camera from company which built crappy yet expensive lens, motor burns out in 3 months, 4 months waiting for repair to have same issue right after 3h photoshoot? No thanks.

      • Eric

        how many pro sigma lenses have you had fail on you ? Everyone seems to hate on the off brand lenses, but very few have any valid complaints about them. Who cares….

  • CRB

    Sorry, but the article doesnt say anything new…all have been said on dpreview….

    • Daniel

      well, I don’t read dpreview, so I found this article informative

  • tiiper

    They say , they won’t release SD1 at the end of february but at the end of spring. But what does this mean, end of may? I’m looking for my summer cam, this would be to late!

  • Jeremy Porter

    It caught my attention at first when Sigma announced they will release this SD1 camera by the end of February. Alas, they fail to deliver their promise, so at this point my impression of Sigma is something highly unreliable. Who knows, they may delay the release date until next year or so and keep everything deadly quiet in the meantime. That’s the reason why I don’t really care about SD1 anymore atthis point.

  • jason

    Maybe sigma decide to make SD1 as an interchangeable mount camera (i wish), I just like their sensor’s colour reproduction.

  • ZDP-189

    No more Sigma bodies for me for a while. I converted my lenses to EF mount and put it behind me. If someone wanted to flog this to me they’d have to drop the price below a grand and throw in a decent lens. Of course, Sigma doesn’t see it that way, they’ll think it’s worth more than a 5DII.

  • Webelieve

    The Foevon sensor is amazing. I have a dp2s that I keep around with my 4×5 LF gear. It takes stunning photos. I have to agree, Sigma cameras do that their quirks, but you can’t knock them for doing something completely different. I hate to say it but the foevon sensors captures the kind of detail and clarity with large format film, which i shoot 70% of the time. I have a 5dmk2 I keep around for cheaper budget shoots, it does the job. But sometimes I feel that lacks character st times.

  • amien

    exactly. That’s why all landscape & portrait photographers should have a very close look at that new SD1 camera. People often wine that it will not ne able to shoot well @ 3200 iso : so what ? Digital medium format nor film does. Here is all the purpose of that camera : shoot film-like colorfull and crisp detailed pictures. If only Sigma was planning of relasing a Nikon mounted body, I invested in many great Nikon + Sigma glass…

  • ZDP-189

    They say: 45-50MP RAW files. 7MP JPEGs. Takes 10 secs to write that to a UDMA-6 card. Re-viewing RAW files in camera so slow that they offer a smaller RAW format to be workable.

    Remember that the actual detail is on a grid 4,800×3,200 (equivalent to an EOS 500D which can do 3.4 fps). If you multiply this x3, the bargain basement, 2 year old, discontinued Canon would still be 10x faster than the SD1 (as opposed to 30x) which is so new that most of the buttons don’t work yet.

    I call this the “Foveon Curse”. A surfeit of data per area of resolution.

    • Danni Coy

      I read the above article as saying that the adjustment raw data is more to do with software processing than on camera raw file size. However the camera will support pixel binning which allows a selection of a number of different raw sizes this does speed up writing time and also improves low light image quality – since it effectively makes the photosites larger. If I can get sharp 12×18 prints out of the SD14 (haven’t tried larger yet) then using a smaller raw size under most circumstances should be acceptable.

      As for the frame speed make sure you are comparing apples to apples. It takes 10 seconds to write a file to card – this is the speed that the camera functions at only after you fill the buffer. We still don’t know how many images the buffer can hold.

      As for curse – It depends on what you want your camera to do. Bayer cameras do get about 1/3rd more luminance data for the same sized raw file but in my experience it does seem to capture fine detail better. It handles colours differently saying it is better is a bit like saying that slide film is inferior to negative film because it has less latitude. They just give different results have different strengths and limitations.

      I will probably upgrade when it comes out provided it isn’t worse than the SD14- I already own a collection of SA mount lenses.

      I don’t expect anybody who needs high frame rates and high ISO to flock to this camera but not everybody is that type of photographer.

  • peter

    all you noobies care about is high iso, burst rate, an bokeh. lol

    • ZDP-189

      ISO? I mostly shoot remote flash or set up strobes when it counts, but Sigma has to do better than its previous offerings. I shoot Ricohs daily and am comfortable street shooting at ISO 64-154, but I need at least 400ISO for indoor candids.

      Burst? I need to take one photo faster than one every 6-10 seconds, or I’d shoot 4×5.

      Bokeh? Nobody but you mentioned bokeh.

      Some of us are hardly noobs. I am a Sigma apostate. I used to shoot Sigma DSLRs, but felt I overpaid, felt scammed by Sigma’s resolution claims, was frustrated with slow speed and the badly built camera died on me before its time. I have heard that other models since have all shared the same foibles. The SD1 shows all the signs of repeating the pattern.

      What was your experience of shooting DSLRs like?

  • Oliver Sabel

    To most average Joe out there they won’t give a darn about how good the quality the SD1 can deliver and how “film-like” or how detailed the image it can produce. The ease of use, speed, battery life, high resolution back LCD screen and low light sensitivity are one of the number one priorities that average consumers are seeking for when buying an SLR camera in which Sigma has none of those to offer, not to mention who knows when the SD1 will actually be released (*as of this point of writing -February 25, 2011*). The only good thing about Sigma is thier sensor, that’s it.

    • Omar

      really?? I must not be an average joe, image quality is the ONLY reason for me to buy a new camera. I certainly wont get one because theyve arranged the buttons to a more user friendly position. Thats stupid. Resolution of the rear LCD? There are people who actually change their cameras for a higher resolution rear LCD model?? Thats even stupider. Everybody talks about high ISO and then they go and buy a 1Dmk4 or nikon D3s and never shoot above ISO 1600 (which is why I still have my plain D3. And dont say its not so cause Ive seen MAYBE a hand full of ISO 50k and even less ISO 100K (google it and count them, youll see), its a miracle to see an ISO 12k going around. Ive never owned a sigma, but if it out-resolves full framers like people who ACTUALLY where at photo k say, Im getting one.

  • Paul Simon

    I’m too spoiled by the ease of use my Nikon camera has to offer, so although this Sigma SD1 sounds somewhat interesting when it comes to image quality, I would better stick with my faithful Nikon. Thanks very much.

  • Arthur G.

    I will keep my Canon camera, thanks.

  • ZDP-189

    This what I mean by Foveon’s being a curse:

    (1) Foveon X3 RAW files are 3 times the size of that from a raster sensor as they encode RGB not just one colour per pixel. 21MP EOS 5DII CR2 is about 25MB. 4.7MP(x3) Sigma DP1X files are 15.4MP. This is slow to process, slow to write, slow to read, bulky to store and memory and processor intensive to post-process. That’s why Sigma digital cameras have always struggled to maintain a snappy shooting tempo. As the sensors get bigger, the data handling is ever more intensive. I know cards and processors are getting faster, but Sigma find themselves in new territory here, pushing about as much data as a H3DII or S2 MF camera. Yet those cameras have unlimited in camera processing budgets and can do an image in one point something seconds, vs the ten or so seconds reported for the cripplingly slow SD1.

    (2) Foveon X3 sensors are hellish expensive to make. Cost rises exponentially with size. that’s why they’re still 1.7x-1.5x crop factor, despite Sigma’s best glass being full-format. The probability of a duff pixel is not just 3x, it’s exponentially more too, so test-fails at the lab will be more common. Cost increase per sensor size rises faster too. The DP series that has a cult following is a good idea because 4.7MP detail is sufficient for most things we do, those few sensor sites are spread across an APS-C sensor, so sensitivity is good and diffraction is less of a problem (plus, there is no Moire filter) combined this means detail is good for a 4.7MPx3 resolution. However, you can’t enlarge it quite like a 11MP LX-3 (almost but not quite). Now remember that 4.7MPx3 sensor cost a lot more to make than the 11MP sensor.

    Together, these add up to a curse. And the SD1’s higher resolution makes it worse. Sigma are too far along with Foveon X3 to abort it. They’ll have to tough it out.

    I’ll finish up by saying there is light at the end of the tunnel. Most users don’t need more than 15MP. Sensor manufacturing, cards and in-camera processing is developing all the time. In about 3 years they will have caught up to where Sigma needs them to be, if Sigma’s Foveon division doesn’t get dumped before then.

    In the meantime, I may yet eat my words and buy a SD1 if reports of a sub$1700 price point come true. That will mean second hand units will be on the market at $1000 around Christmas. I am considering forking out $1000 for a ‘experimental’ conversion of my 400D to monochrome by stripping the AA, microlenses and CFA. A second hand SD1 offers all of that at the same cost, plus of course glorious colour. I’d just need to get that horrible Sigma body mount swapped to EF so I can use better lenses, plus the Sigma lenses I’ve converted to EF.

    One thing’s for sure though. I’ll be all the more disappointed with Sigma if they flunk with the SD1. There’s still time to get it right – or pretend it was a hoax!

    • amien

      just 1 question :

      Aren’t they any powerfull computer chips capable of processing those raw files much faster ???

      • ZDP-189

        (1) Canon, Nikon, etc. seem to be much faster than Sigma at in-camera processing. How they do it is their trade secret, obviously.

        (2) Some things like CF card writing are limited by card write speeds. The slow 10s times are based on CF cards with UltraDMA Mode 6 (maximum data transfer rate of 133 MB/s ). I understand Sigma hope to be able to support UltraDMA Mode 7 (167MB/s) but it’s not certain and would not be all that much faster. UDMA 6 cards represent the fastest commercially available cards, ones rated 800x speed and higher.

        • amien

          yes but I mean computer chips are so fast today, why not using a small but efficient chip with powerfull mother board ?

          • ZDP-189

            Dunno mate, but the Sigma sounds like it is definitely speed limited.

  • peter

    ill stick with my Hassy H2.

    • Omar

      why are you here even??

  • Tom

    I am a noob. However, I’m a noob with the money to buy Sigma SD1 if I want.

    Why would I want to buy Sigma SD1? Pros and Cons:

    + Foveon Sensor
    – Speed
    – Full HD video (lack of)
    – Ergonomics: Screen
    – Varying quality of lenses
    ~ Lowlight ISO
    ~ Hand Ergonomics (I have quite a big hands)

    And yes, also the fact that none of my friends has a one does affect me. I got friends from both Nikon and Canon camp, each with their own arguments.

    On a side note: I’d like to see a first camera to use lightpeak / thunderbolt and external battery and hard drive.

    Yesh, I’m noob totally into tech porn, and willing to spend my money on that. But I do want quality products – I don’t buy them for just to show them, I do want to create something of my own – I’m just not ready to compromise even if I have to postpone the buying decision. Hope it doesn’t shock you.

    • ZDP-189

      Incidentally, I agree with Tom above. I am also toying with the idea of a SD1 because of the sensor’s unique characteristics, but probably won’t for the same reasons he cites. I share his joy of tech and of being different to the crowd.

  • Jay

    Sorry to burst your digital bubbles, but the fact is that the best Bayer interpolated anti-aliased digital cameras have inferior image quality to film, even lowly 35mm!
    The Foveon sensor comes the closest to replicating the quality of film, though the 4.7 megapixel sensor of the DP2s still falls short of 35mm (let alone med. or large format).
    The best hope for digital to equal or surpass film in image quality is with a Foveon type sensor. In fact, it is rumored that Nikon, Canon, and Sony are developing similar sensors. In my comparison testing the Sigma Dp2s had better image quality (within its spatial resolution limits) under good lighting than any other digital camera is capable of. Film is still better, but the gap is closing.

    Will the SD1 equal or surpass 35mm film? It is possible but there are technical concerns. They are cramming a lot of diodes in a small area. This raises the concern of noise and sensitivity as well as dealing with the large file sizes.

    For now, if image quality is your main concern, shoot film and print it traditionally using state of the art equipment and technique. And, keep your eye on the SD1.

  • amien

    sorry but in practical terms a 10MP dslr surpasses 35mm in terms of resolution and details. Unless you use the very best equipment (ultra sharp lenses, low grain film and the best enlarger system) it’s really hard to get a nice scan reproduction of 35mm film. That’s if you need to do your own digital postprod on it.
    In a more epurated way, yes 35mm is still better : just shoot and print your shots directly from the negatives or slides at a pro lab. No more work than just taking the fotos, no 2000 raw files to treat, just the joy of taken shots, while the tonal curve is determined by the film used.
    But if you really want stunning results, just shoot on a 6×6 TLR system or a 4×5 camera, they remain carriable and the IQ is just mindblowing.

    • Jay

      There are 6×4.5, 6×6 and 6×7 film cameras that will fit in a coat pocket, and are capable of image quality far superior to anything digital. I own two such cameras.

      A ccd scan of film loses about 2/3 of the information contained in the film. A high quality traditionally made print from film loses far less. Most people compare 35mm film scanned to digital (immediately losing 2/3 of the image quality of film and adding digital artifacts). These scanned film comparisons generally show 35mm color slide film’s detail to be roughly equal to 35 megapixel digital camera using black and white targets. Bayer interpolated digital cameras have far less resolution in red light and blue light. Therefore, an increase for digital of at least 50% is required to compensate for the lower resolution in red and blue. Therefore scanned 35mm should equal approx. 52 megapixel digital. BUT, that’s only part of the story. Since Bayer interpolated digital “sees” far differently than film and our eyes see, it is incapable of producing the vibrant, vivid, images with the natural look and clarity of reality. The digital look becomes more sterile and “vinyl” looking with less real depth. Wax skin and plastic foliage, in the extreme.

      If you look at the line pairs/mm of film you get an equivalent pixel count for 35mm film of 92 megapixels x 1.5 (for Bayer)=138 megapixels. So, we have a range of 35mm film resolution from 32 megapixels for scanned film uncompensated for Bayer, to 138 megapixels for the information actually contained in the film optically with compensation for Bayer.

      Medium format film will be approx. 3x these numbers! Also medium format film has a greater signal to noise ratio than 35mm and can handle larger sized prints without grain becoming a factor. You see the real texture of your subjects, not the fake smoothed over textures of processed digital images.

    • Omar

      nooo, it doesnt. The only way you could be saying this is because youve never shot film. If you have something is seriously wrong with your developer cause the detail in film is ridiculous compared to digital.

      • ZDP-189

        Ah, a good old film vs digital flame war.

        There’s truth in both sides if you’ll look at it in the right way.

        Good film shot well offers has buckets of resolution and great colour depth. It’s not easy to get that detail out unless with a high resolution drum scan. Peeping at my scans, I definitely found the pixel limit of a 26MP scan before I reached the grain limit of Ektar100 and BW400CN. I wouldn’t bother to go that high with grainy images, though.

        However, if ask for the ‘normal’ scan, I only get 6.3MP from 35mm and yes, then a 10Mp camera trumps that. If I want prints, their dye sub works from a scan. They won’t print bigger than 8×10 from 35mm, because they’d have to charge more for a high res scan, but they’ll go a bit bigger from a 10MP compact camera print. Direct (optical) printing is rare and expensive these days.

        So yes, for most people, a 10MP JPG (let alone a 15MP foveon RAW file) will wipe the floor with Costco-style 35mm D&P job, but if you have money to pay for professionals to handle your output, film will hold its own against modern FF DSLRs. Maybe not against medium format digital, but film MF blows that away too.

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