Hands On: Sigma SD14

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.

Hands-On-Sigma-SD14

Hands-On-Sigma-SD14

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

Sigma-SD14-The-bravest-people-on-the-planet-NY

Sigma-SD14-The-bravest-people-on-the-planet-NY

The bravest people on the planet -- NYC cyclists. While not a speed demon, the Sigma SD14 autofocused rapidly, fired without delay. 1/400 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400.Photo By Dan Richards
Sigma-SD14-Colors-appear-to-be-very-accurate-whil

Sigma-SD14-Colors-appear-to-be-very-accurate-whil

Colors appear to be very accurate while still maintaining good saturation. Auto white balance did a good job in overcast light. 1/125 sec at f/7.1, ISO 400.Photo By Dan Richards
Sigma-SD14-The-always-popular-fruitstand-photo.-R

Sigma-SD14-The-always-popular-fruitstand-photo.-R

The always popular fruitstand photo. Reds, yellows, purples, and oranges have nice snap but aren't exaggerated. We were using default contrast and saturation settings in this shot at 1/125 sec at f/7.1, ISO 400.Photo By Dan Richards
Sigma-SD14-The-SD14-s-evaluative-metering-did-a-g

Sigma-SD14-The-SD14-s-evaluative-metering-did-a-g

The SD14's evaluative metering did a great job in a variety of lighting. This exposure was 1/250 sec at f/8 on program, ISO 200.Photo By Dan Richards
Sigma-SD14-The-SD14-s-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-kit-lens

Sigma-SD14-The-SD14-s-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-kit-lens

The SD14's 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 kit lens is the equivalent of about 29mm at its widest setting, good for playing with perspective. 1/400 sec at f/10, ISO 400.Photo By Dan Richards
Sigma-SD14-Papers-papers-everywhere-in-the-Big-A

Sigma-SD14-Papers-papers-everywhere-in-the-Big-A

Papers, papers everywhere in the Big Apple. We cropped to make a pseudopanoramic. 1/125 sec at f/7.1, ISO 400.Photo By Dan Richards
Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 Sigma DC macro AF lens, f/8, ISO 100Photo By Michael J. Mcnamara
Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 Sigma DC macro AF lens, f/10, ISO 100Photo By Michael J. Mcnamara
Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 Sigma DC macro AF lens, f/3.5, ISO 100At low ISO's, the Sigma SD14 provides Excellent Image Quality from RAW files converted to TIFF. Note decent shadow detail under awning and high color saturation.Photo By Michael J. Mcnamara
Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 Sigma DC macro AF lens, f/6.3, ISO 800At ISO 800 and above JPEG images from the SD14 get unusually noisy -- particularly in shadow areas (see black cloths on subject in enlarged area). Colors are also a bit washed out.Photo By Michael J. Mcnamara
Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 Sigma DC macro AF lens, f/4, ISO 100Photo By Michael J. Mcnamara
Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 Sigma DC macro AF lens, f/5.6, ISO 100Photo By Michael J. Mcnamara
Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 Sigma DC macro AF lens, f/4.5, ISO 100Photo By Michael J. Mcnamara
Sigma-SD14-The-SD14-captures-detail-in-RAW-like-a

Sigma-SD14-The-SD14-captures-detail-in-RAW-like-a

The SD14 captures detail in RAW like a 10MP DSLR but stores JPEGs in 4.7MP (1760x2640-pixel) files. Photos have excellent color accuracy and skin tones. This was shot in RAW with 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 Sigma DC macro AF lens at f/11, 1/1000 sec, ISO 100.Photo By Peter Kolonia
Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 Sigma DC macro AF lens, ISO 100At low ISO's, the Sigma SD14 provides Excellent Image Quality from RAW files converted to TIFF. Note decent shadow detail under awning and high color saturation.Photo By Michael J. Mcnamara
Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 Sigma DC macro AF lens, ISO 800At ISO 800 and above JPEG images from the SD14 get unusually noisy -- particularly in shadow areas (see black cloths on subject in enlarged area). Colors are also a bit washed out.Photo By Michael J. Mcnamara
Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

Sigma-SD14-17-70mm-f-2.8-4.5-Sigma-DC-macro-AF-le

17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 Sigma DC macro AF lens, ISO 800At ISO 800 and above JPEG images from the SD14 get unusually noisy -- particularly in shadow areas (see black cloths on subject in next frame). Colors are also a bit washed out.Photo By Michael J. Mcnamara
Sigma-SD14-New-York-City-movie-theater-shot-at-1

Sigma-SD14-New-York-City-movie-theater-shot-at-1

New York City movie theater shot at 1/150 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-The-Sigma-SD14-got-a-good-color-satura

Sigma-SD14-The-Sigma-SD14-got-a-good-color-satura

The Sigma SD14 got a good color saturation of a Mexican restaurant's bright red awning.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-The-Sigma-got-details-in-both-the-shad

Sigma-SD14-The-Sigma-got-details-in-both-the-shad

The Sigma got details in both the shadows and highlights at an aperture of f/5 and shutter speed of 1/400 sec.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-Purple-and-white-flowers-add-some-beau

Sigma-SD14-Purple-and-white-flowers-add-some-beau

Purple and white flowers add some beautiful scenery to the streets of New York. 1/500 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-A-pink-rose-among-other-flowers-at-1-4

Sigma-SD14-A-pink-rose-among-other-flowers-at-1-4

A pink rose among other flowers at 1/400 sec at f/4.5, ISO 100.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-Speaking-of-color-how-about-a-hot-pin

Sigma-SD14-Speaking-of-color-how-about-a-hot-pin

Speaking of color, how about a hot pink BWM motorcycle...Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-Or-a-baby-blue-scooter

Sigma-SD14-Or-a-baby-blue-scooter

...Or a baby blue scooter...Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-Or-a-sea-foam-green-Cadillac-This

Sigma-SD14-Or-a-sea-foam-green-Cadillac-This

...Or a sea-foam-green Cadillac? This one was shot at 1/200 sec at f/3.2, ISO 100.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-A-view-of-the-front-grill-shows-off-th

Sigma-SD14-A-view-of-the-front-grill-shows-off-th

A view of the front grill shows off the Sigma's ability to capture details.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-Good-color-saturation-in-the-blue-and

Sigma-SD14-Good-color-saturation-in-the-blue-and

Good color saturation in the blue and yellow umbrellas.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-A-trip-to-the-Red-Lion-was-a-breeze-fo

Sigma-SD14-A-trip-to-the-Red-Lion-was-a-breeze-fo

A trip to the Red Lion was a breeze for the Sigma SD14. Good color accuracy in those reds and good detail in the highlights.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-A-shutter-speed-of-1-160-sec-was-fast

Sigma-SD14-A-shutter-speed-of-1-160-sec-was-fast

A shutter speed of 1/160 sec was fast enough to stop this local denizen in his tracks.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-Hanging-flowers-at-1-160-sec-at-f-3.2

Sigma-SD14-Hanging-flowers-at-1-160-sec-at-f-3.2

Hanging flowers at 1/160 sec at f/3.2.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-An-aperture-of-f-2.8-and-a-close-focus

Sigma-SD14-An-aperture-of-f-2.8-and-a-close-focus

An aperture of f/2.8 and a close focus distance did a good job of blurring out the distracting background.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-We-thought-the-basket-style-pot-was-in

Sigma-SD14-We-thought-the-basket-style-pot-was-in

We thought the basket style pot was interesting. 1/160 sec at f/3.2, ISO 100.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-Local-color-Orange-shirt-yellow-truc

Sigma-SD14-Local-color-Orange-shirt-yellow-truc

Local color: Orange shirt, yellow truck, and green awning and street sign. All nicely rendered.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-Sunflowers-for-sale-in-one-of-NYC-s-ub

Sigma-SD14-Sunflowers-for-sale-in-one-of-NYC-s-ub

Sunflowers for sale in one of NYC's ubiquitous flower stands.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-This-twisted-tree-was-shot-at-1-80-sec

Sigma-SD14-This-twisted-tree-was-shot-at-1-80-sec

This twisted tree was shot at 1/80 sec at f/2.2.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-The-resolution-on-the-original-raw-fil

Sigma-SD14-The-resolution-on-the-original-raw-fil

The resolution on the original raw file was excellent.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-We-like-the-noise-free-shadows-that-fa

Sigma-SD14-We-like-the-noise-free-shadows-that-fa

We like the noise-free shadows that fall onto this blue door. 1/250 sec at f/3.5, ISO 100.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Sigma-SD14-A-view-of-a-New-York-City-apartment-wi

Sigma-SD14-A-view-of-a-New-York-City-apartment-wi

A view of a New York City apartment window ledge has nice contrast and details.Photo By Linzee Karasik
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