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Sigma Announces 15MP X 3 SD1 DSLR for US $9700

SD1 + 85/1.4 bundle

Update May 26— the street price is about $6899. Why Sigma publishes such an absurd MSRP price of $9700 leaves me scratching my head. The damage is done in terms of PR, it’s hard to take a company seriously that cannot understand market reality and the importance of first impressions. The price should be $3500, no more than that for an APS-C size sensor, no matter what it does.

...

I'm a little confused as to how a $9700 camera can be offered with the Sigma 85/1.4 EX DG for $7819, as shown at right. Maybe I can add the 50mm and get the price down some more? :; Or maybe there is a “see what sticks” strategy going on, some creative market research?

I hope to have an SD1 for review in June (a somewhat vague commitment from Sigma), and I’ll keep on open mind on all aspects of the SD1 until I can use one, along with a few of the best lenses Sigma has to offer. My comments on the new SD1 below.

It’s great to have this breakthrough technology on the market (the true color sensor), and I hope it shakes up procrastinating Nikon and Canon on the high end, at least a little, though there is a lot more to a pro camera system than the sensor.

Sigma DP1 DSLR

Sensor

The sensor is THE feature of the SD1: the first high resolution “true color” sensor on the market. True color means that there is no Bayer matrix demosaicing process; each photosite captures a full red/green/blue pixel by stacking the red/green/blue photosites.

Sigma calls the SD1 a 46-megapixel camera, and this is abstrusely correct for imaging nerds in that it has that many photosites. But the finished RGB TIF or JPEG images are 15.36 megapixels (4800 X 3200), NOT 46 megapixels. While I understand the technicalities involved, few users will be at ease with 46 = 15, no matter how good the per-pixel quality: it obfuscates the spatial resolution of a finished image, which is the frame of reference widely understood. The 4800 horizontal pixels in a finished image can resolve to that limit, and no more. If a different sensor design appears on the market, what then are we to make of its resolution? Better to stick to spatial resolution and discuss pixel quality than to confuse the issue.

Sigma describes the key feature (the sensor) of the SD1 as follows:

46 megapixel 23.5×15.7mm APS-C X3 Full-color image sensor
The 46 effective megapixel (4,800×3,200×3 layers) and 44 recording megapixel (4,704×3,136×3 layers) 23.5×15.7mm APS-C X3 direct image sensor featured in the Sigma SD1 captures all primary RGB colors at each and every pixel location, ensuring the capture of full and complete color. Using three silicon-embedded layers of photo detectors, stacked vertically to take advantage of silicon's ability to absorb red, green and blue light at different respective depths, it efficiently reproduces color more accurately, and offers sharper resolution, pixel for pixel, than any conventional image sensor. Since color moiré is not generated, the use of a low-pass filter is not required, meaning light and color, generated by the 46 megapixel APS-C X3 direct image sensor is captured with a three-dimensional feel.

I’ve previously reviewed the Sigma DP-2 in DAP. And while the full-color X3 sensor definitely offers better color resolution at the pixel level, the advantage depends substantially on the actual subject matter. I deem the ultimate advantage much closer to 1.75X - 2X, not the claimed 3X, based on what I saw with real images. Sometimes a bit less, sometimes a bit more, but never 3X spatially.

Then there is the matter of sensor size: this is an APS-C sensor, which means that the sensor is less than half the size of a full-frame DSLR. This affects the choice of lens focal length and depth of field (more of it). As a natural consequence of a smaller sensor, the general look of the images will not be the same as a full-frame sensor.

A smaller sensor has potentially higher noise compared to a full-frame DSLR, notwithstanding Sigma’s absurd claim of “noiseless image processing”, a physical impossibility. Presumably that means “very low noise”.

Live View

There is no Live View feature, and no video capability.

Autofocus systems cannot be relied upon for critically sharp focus, as I’ve proven repeatedly by example in my reviews and Making Sharp Images. The lack of a Live View feature is a major omission, an Achille’s Heel. While it’s not a key feature for some types of shooting, I deem it essential for others, especially when shooting at wide apertures for specific sharpness effects.

Body and viewfinder

The SD1 offers a magnesium “splash proof” body and a pentaprism viewfinder with 98% coverage. I find 98% coverage in any camera to be quite annoying compared to 100% view, because I frame precisely and I don’t like stray objects showing up after I’ve carefully composed my image. This can be forgiven if the viewfinder is especially nice— we shall see.

Rear LCD

The rear LCD is 460K pixels, which is half of what you’ll find on Nikon and Canon DSLRs, so I don’t know why Sigma would skimp in that area. The Leica S2 has a 460K pixel LCD, and I find that low a resolution causes working difficulties.

Lenses

Any Nikon or Canon shooter considering the SD1 confronts a bill for both the body and a whole new set of lenses. That is an unattractive proposition, but anyone spending $10K on the body is getting into medium format (MF) pricing territory, so take your lumps. For pros, a 2nd body is critical, so now we’re in MF territory for sure. And MF is how Sigma seems to be positioning the SD1. But bottom line is that my large collection of Nikon, Canon and Zeiss lenses are all useless on the SD1, and I doubt I’m alone in not liking the idea of adding a 3rd set of lenses.

Build quality and autofocus performance— here I have some reservations in both areas, because at least with AF, I’ve had trouble before, so much so that I abandoned my review of two Sigma macro lenses. But those were Nikon mount, and perhaps on the SD1 such issues will not appear.

As for optical performance, let’s hope that the existing Sigma lineup is up to snuff for the new SD1. Sigma makes some very fine lenses, but do any of them rise to the level of the best Zeiss glass that I prefer to shoot? The fair thing is to shoot the SD1 with the best Sigma lenses, and let’s see what happens.

Storage

I’m glad to see Compact Flash being used, rather than SHDC— faster data transfers and the larger cards are less easy to lose or misplace.

Software

The last thing want to do is to learn one more proprietary photo software (Sigma Photo Pro), so I hope that Adobe ACR supports the DP1 files quickly. That last version of SPP I used was a big pain you know where.

Speed/buffer

The SD1 can buffer up to 7 RAW images in sequence, which is a pretty severe limitation for some types of shooting.

Other stuff

The anti-dust protector is a Good Thing, as is the claimed low mirror vibration. I hope there is a mirror lockup feature that is intelligently implemented. Having a built-in flash is also a big plus, so long as it has an exposure compensation feature for fill-flash.

Price

The SD1 should be no more than $3000. I’m not sure how Sigma thinks that it can sell this camera to pros, who need at least one spare body, a support network, rentals, a new set of lenses, etc. It doesn’t make sense in the context of how pros operate, and the price is out of reach for 99% of amateurs.

Pro view

I asked a New York City professional photographer the following:

DIGLLOYD: So is this a camera you would consider for your professional work?

PRO: Absolutely not! I agree with all of your reservations.


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