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Sigma SD-9 Foveon Review by Mike Gondek

COW Library : Cinematography : Mike Gondek : Sigma SD-9 Foveon Review by Mike Gondek
Sigma SD-9 Foveon Review by Mike Gondek
A Creative COW "Real World" Product Review



Mike Gondek reviews Foveon Sigma SD-9
Mike Gondek
Mike Gondek
Orland Park, IL USA

©2003 Mike Gondek and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.
 

SIGMA SD-9
September of 2000 Foveon announced a 16.8 million pixel image sensor, a first of it's kind. Foveon has been pushing the digital industry with their revolutionary image sensor.

Sigma, known for making quality professional lenses, announced their first digital camera and was first to hosting the Foveon chip in November 2002.

Foveon has drawn much attention and hopefully their technology will be found in more products soon. Phil Askey does an excellent in depth review at Digital Photography Review.

LENS
The SD-9 only accepts a lens with the Sigma mount. I was getting excellent shallow depth of field with the Sigma lens. The lens is of solid heavy duty construction and comes with a belt clip carrying case. The positioning of the focus and zoom rings was perfect. I felt right at home and can find the zoom ring and focus rings with my eyes closed.

I was not getting great results in auto mode so quickly switched to manual mode and never went back. Most professionals prefer to shoot entirely manual, but I find other cameras to give me much better auto results. The problem with auto is not the lens, as my Fuji Finepix S2 works great in auto mode with a Sigma Lens.

Lens | Sensor | Body | Software | Comparison | Images | Conclusion

FOVEON SENSOR

The image above is what got myself and many other people interested in Foveon.

The image sensor has an effective 3.4 megapixels which saves files in raw format of 2268 x 1512 pixels. The graphic above explains the difference between the Foveon and most other image sensors. Consumer level cameras suffer greatly from having a poor blue channel, which you will not find on the Foveon.

True the Foveon is only 3.5 megapixels, but having images of better quality and smaller file sizes should be the goal and not just a lot of bad pixels. This type of technology should be of special interest to digital video artists who do not need many pixels but like to get shots with excellent color and detail.

FUJI SENSOR

Foveon made a major advancement in improving the image sensor, other technologies are out now such as the Octagonal Super CCD by Fuji. Foveon has been slow to develop a sensor with more megapixels and especially in getting their chip inside cameras. They have not been interested in the consumer market, but if they do not enter it soon then they will lose the public's interest and competition will take over.

Lens | Sensor | Body | Software | Comparison | Images | Conclusion

BODY
The dials for adjusting the aperture and speed are right at the tips of your thumbs and large dials so you can adjust both quickly. The camera is a quite big at 5.9"W x 4.7"H x 3.1"D, and it is a heavy camera, especially with a Sigma lens and batteries attached. 2xAA batteries are used for powering the camera and 2xCR-123A batteries for powering the digital.

The firewire port is right below the strap, and the cable has is weighed down by these cylindrical attachments at the end which often caused the cable to fall out of the port. I would say though that the construction of the body is very solid and durable.

The camera Foveon sent me had a power problem on occasion. If the camera locked up, you would get a dead battery reading for the AA compartment. The only way to fix it was to plug in the AC adapter. If you are mobile it is not easy to find an AC outlet in the middle of a forest.

Lens | Sensor | Body | Software | Comparison | Images | Conclusion

SOFTWARE
The Sigma only saves in raw file format, and you have to use their software to convert from a .x3f to a usable format. I would strongly recommend that you first extract the .x3f files from the CF card and to not directly convert the .x3f files from the card. It is very slow and I really think the software should be written to do this automatically for you.

The software was really slow in showing me the contents of my computer. Every time you start the software folders get flipped down and you have to wait for the screen to refresh before you can select a folder as shown in this image. You also should not try to do anything else when using the x3f software as your computer may crash and run really slow while transferring and processing images.

If you have no use for 16 bit images then you will be wishing that the camera could save directly to a nonlossy format (tif, png) or just to jpeg to save you time.

Lens | Sensor | Body | Software | Comparison | Images | Conclusion

COMPARISION (Fuji Versus Sigma)


Click to download FUJI FINEPIX S2 full res jpg

Click to download SIGMA SD-9 full res jpg

Using ISO 200 aperture 5.6 & 1/60 on both cameras I took these shots. The Fuji is about $400 more at this time of writing, but the color detail and accuracy was much better. I consistently got better images with the Fuji. Is CCD better than CMOS? Maybe I am not a full time photographer and did not have a studio to shoot in, but I am looking for a camera that can take great shots in non-studio conditions and I decided to buy the FUJI Finepix S2 after comparing both cameras.

I was expecting richer and more accurate color and less noise from the X3 technology, but the Fuji did better with color & noise. The Sigma SD-9 would have won this competition in an indoor studio shot at ISO 100.

You may notice the at the same distance and zoom setting I got more of the image from the Fuji, this is because the sensor on the Foveon is smaller and the multiplier is not 1.5 as in the Fuji.

 
FUJI FINEPIX S2
SIGMA SD-9
Street Price
June 2003
$1,899
$1,499
Resolution
3024 x 2016
4256 x 2848 (interpolated
2268 x 1512
Sensor Size
23 x 15.5
20.7mm x 13.8mm
Field Of View
Multiply x Lens
1.5
1.7
Lens Mount
Nikon D,F,G
Sigma SA
Sensor Type
CCD
CMOS

Lens | Sensor | Body | Software | Comparison | Images | Conclusion

IMAGES
Right click (PC) Ctrl Click (Mac) on the images to download a full resolution jpg version.


The first 2 images show the beautiful shallow depth of field you can easily get with the Sigma lens. There is too much noise in the images even in the outdoor shot of the Hummer which had lots of sunlight.

The Foveon/Sigma does not work well in anything but ISO 100. This explains why so many of my shots do not look good. I feel the Foveon works best in studio conditions and ISO 100. My friend who is a professional photographer for Fred Fox says the Sigma SD-9 gets the best color of any camera, but only under ISO 100 and in a studio.

The best image is the First which was shot at ISO 100 with a flash. Outdoors it is difficult to get acceptable images from the Sigma SD-9.

Lens | Sensor | Body | Software | Comparison | Images | Conclusion

CONCLUSION
This Foveon/Sigma combination is targeted at the professional prosumer Digital SLR market. The camera is best at taking pictures in a professionally lighted studio. The camera often suffered from Chromatic Aberration, the purplish blue edges. (you can see this in the last 2 images of the Poseidon water fountain and cat in a tree)

The Foveon image sensor promises much and I would rather have a camera that produces perfect pixels than one that produces more bad pixels Though the Foveon chip promises to capture 100% of all colors RGB, I had better luck with color using the Fuji Octagonal technology in my comparison.

If you are going to be shooting in a studio and at ISO 100 then consider the Foveon/Sigma, otherwise I would recommend the FUJI Finepix S2. Beware of buying from A&M Photoworld, as they will try to use cheap salesman tactics to get you to buy and charge you for extra things. I was promised free shipping and they charged me $180, and they love overcharging the warranty.

Sigma/Foveon is a promising combination, but I would wait to for the next camera using a Foveon chip with maybe a 6.1MP.

I give 4 out of 5 cows to the Sigma SD-9: .
I give 5 cows to the FUJI FINEPX S2: .

Lens | Sensor | Body | Software | Comparison | Images | Conclusion

 

 

 



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