The Sigma SD14, the DSLR using the newly upgraded Foveon X3 chip, is a
solidly built camera, on a par with cameras in the Canon EOS 30D class.
We were starting to feel like we were waiting for Godot, but we (finally!) got a hold of a full production model Sigma SD14, the DSLR using the newly upgraded Foveon X3 chip that records red, green, and blue on three separate stacked layers in its image sensor.
We're running it through the standard battery of tests -- resolution, color accuracy, noise, as you read this. In the meantime here are some first impressions of the camera, and of course a gallery of image quality shots we've taken with it, so you can see what it can do.
This is a solidly built camera, on a par with cameras in the Canon EOS 30D class. Our roving camera tester Jack Howard commented, "the design is chunky, and satisfyingly large. This is an unabashed DSLR that won't get confused for an oversized EVF camera. Hard edges have a classic feel that bucks the current trend toward graceful sweeping lines and curves." In other words, a little tank.
The most obvious improvements come in file capture, viewing, autofocusing, and battery power. The new model can capture JPEGs as well as RAW files, unlike its predecessor the SD10, which was limited to RAW capture. (No simultaneous RAW + JPEG capture though, which is puzzling.)
The viewfinder is now what-you-see-is-what-you-get, rather than the SD10's odd screen showing the picture area in a smallish central frame surrounded by a gray surround. Autofocusing is vastly improved over the SD10's aim-and-hope single sensor. The five-point array snaps onto detail smartly, and there is virtually no shutter lag when you press the button. SNAP. And then you watch the processing lamp blink... and blink... and blink.
While the speed of capture on the SD14 is vastly improved over the SD10, it's not going to set any records. You can continue snapping at will until the buffer fills up, which happens around frame 6, the burst limit. "A 6-shot burst is well below average for modern DSLRs," Jack Howard says. "This is not a sports camera by any means."
But speed isn't everything. We found our initial field shots to have very pleasing color -- highly accurate, but still with a good dollop of saturation. You might even describe the colors sometimes as translucent. The resolution, as gauged by the Eyeball Method, appears to be about that of a 9MP sensor, which is what we were expecting. Noise control appears to be quite good; available light shots at ISO 800 showed virtually no grain or mottling.
Battery power also leaps into the modern era. The SD14 uses a lithium-ion rechargeable slug similar to the Sony type that powers the Sony Alpha 100, the Pentax K10D, and others.
The camera is easy to figure out -- most of the controls are self-explanatory. We particularly like that Sigma kept the finder simple -- it shows you the exposure, a focusing dot, and exposure compensation in nice big numbers, without a zillion other little icons or readouts.
Neat tricks: The three-color histogram plays back with all three colors graphed simultaneously on the display. And Jack discovered that the IR-cutoff filter pops out easily, which will allow for infrared photography on the fly, so he took the SD14 out for some IR shooting.
Overall, the SD14 is a huge upgrade for the Sigma/Foveon system. Stay tuned for lab test results.
Sigma SD14 product gallery
Sigma SD14 image quality gallery
PopPhoto Flash blog