The message The Sigma sd Quattro H Camera Review first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Peter West Carey.
The Sigma sd Quattro H camera is a unique-looking, mirrorless camera with a unique sensor that can sometimes produce stunningly sharp images. The technology involved means that this camera is not the first choice for everyone, but certainly should be considered by landscape, portrait, architecture and lifestyle photographers.
I got a Sigma sd Quattro H and the Sigma 14 mm, 50 mm and 120 – 300 mm lenses on loan. I took the camera to Alaska, Washington and California to test it in the real world.
First a few statistics from the Sigma website.
|Lens attachment point||SIGMA SA bayonet mount|
|Viewing angle||Approximately 1.3 times the focal length of the lens (on 35 mm cameras ' s)|
|Image sensor||Foveon X3 direct image sensor (CMOS)|
|Image sensor size||26.7 x 17.9 mm (1.0 inch x 0.7 inch)|
|Number of pixels||Effective pixels: Approx. 38.6MP T (top): 6,200 × 4,152 / M (center): 3,100 × 2,076 / B (bottom): 3,100 × 2,076 Total number of pixels: Approx. 44.7MP|
|Aspect Ratio||3: 2|
|Storage media||SD card, SDHC card, SDXC card, Eye-Fi card|
|Type||Electronic viewfinder (approx. 2,360,000 dots color LCD monitor)|
|Viewfinder image coverage||approx. 100%|
|Viewfinder magnification||0.96x (-1m-1, 50 mm F1.4 at infinity)|
|Autofocus type||Phase difference detection system + Contrast detection system|
|AF point||9-point selection mode, free motion mode (it is possible to change the size of the focus frame to Spot, Normal and Large), Face detection AF mode|
|AF working range||EV -1? EV 18 (ISO100 F1.4)|
|Focus mode||Single AF, continuous AF (with AF motion prediction function), manual|
|Focus lock||AEL / AF lock button is pressed or shutter button pressed halfway|
|Measuring systems||Evaluative measurement, spot measurement, center-oriented average measurement|
|Measuring range||EV 0? EV 17 (50 mm F1.4 ISO100)|
|Exposure control system||(P) Program AE (Program shift is possible), (S) Shutter speed priority AE, (A) Aperture priority AE, (M) Manual|
|ISO sensitivity||ISO 100-6400|
|Exposure||± 5 EV? In 1/3 stop increments)|
The big difference – a Foveon X3 sensor
Sigma has chosen another beast of a sensor for its SD Quattro H camera; the Foveon X3. An image from the Foveon site describes it best.
Instead of using a Bayer pattern that most commercially available cameras use today, the Foveon X3 captures every color and brightness on every pixel site. This is achieved because each wavelength of light at different speeds is absorbed in a silicon chip.
In essence, instead of red, green, and blue pixels side by side, the pixels are stacked on top of each other. This generally results in a sharper image. The overall brightness of the image is recorded with the blues on the top layer. Here is another way to look at it compared to the Bayer pattern.
The "H" in "sd Quattro H" stands for the sensor size. It is not a full-frame sensor nor is it APS-C, it is in between. The cropping factor is 1.3x and still requires a 40 mm lens to compare with a typical 50 mm lens on a full-frame sensor.
The sweet spot of the Quattro image quality
Before we reach the disadvantages of the Sigma sd Quattro H, let's treat it very, very well; details.
Regardless of the lens (and I tested the camera with a Sigma 14 mm, 50 mm and 120-300 mm), the amount of detail you can get from images is fascinating. Image sharpness is further aided by the configuration of the sensor, which is not bothered by moiré like other cameras with Bayer pattern sensors. I tried and tried to shoot and show some moire, but it's just not there.
Landscape and portrait photographers will love the amount of detail in each shot. Lack of moiré increases apparent sharpness without compromise, making it a quality platform for architectural photographers. Add the option to support with three or five frames (and varies from 1 / 3stop to 3 stops between those frames), and the patient photographer will enjoy this setup.
Below are 100% trims, along with original images, to help you compare.
When you use the Sigma camera for the first time, you notice how slow it is. Although this is not intentional, it is a side effect of the huge amount of data that the sensor makes of the camera. This large amount of data also discharges batteries in the order of perhaps 200 images taken per 1800 mAh battery (similar to most DSLR batteries).
Sigma tries to reduce slow processing with a buffer for eight shots and a continuous shooting speed of 4-8 frames per second, depending on the image size and format. This helps to keep the camera in a reasonable way. Make no mistake, this is not a camera of a sports photographer, but can capture fast action in no time.
The buffer is the same regardless of the file format (see below for file sizes). Even in JPEG mode, you get eight shots and you have to wait about a second between shots for processing and buffer actions.
Autofocus is also insufficient and often seems to prefer the contrast detection aspect to the phase detection aspect of the hybrid focus system. Not much is hunted, but in low light it struggles more than I would like. I noticed that I often did not focus on manual focusing when I knew that the light was not enough.
However, the camera has a Focus Peaking option that allows live image focusing with a digital zoom lens for accurate focusing in manual focus mode.
The sensor has a dynamic range of just under 10 stops, giving a break to those accustomed to the growing dynamic range of most modern DSLR cameras.
The camera also struggles with details in black areas in the image. It turns upside down the ' Expose To The Right ' idea of most DSLR photographers. An example below of a shot exposed on the right as I would normally photograph it, along with a crop of the dark areas.
In the past, Sigma cameras ' s had two options: their own 14-bit X3F format or JPEG. This meant either the use of Sigma ' s Photo Pro software (currently version 6) or the execution of compressed JPEGS. You do not spend money on such a camera for the JPEGs, so it caused some consternation.
The sd Quatro H has a new option that helps with opening possibilities: DNG files. All of us using unedited file editing programs ' s can look forward and don't have to worry about conversions. However, the format has a lower bit depth than the .X3F format.
File sizes vary considerably from format to format. A typical JPEG file is 10-15MB, JPEG superfine setting (briefly explained) 25-35MB, X3F is 50-60MB and DNG balloons 120-150MB. For a 64 GB SDXC card, this results in approximately 3600 regular JPEG, 1800 superfine JPEG, 630 X3F and 410 DNG images, according to the back of the camera.
A full list of different file sizes can be found at Sigma ' s site.
Image quality – X3F versus DNG versus JPEG comparison Superfine versus JPEG Normal
This following comparison is a bit tricky because we have to use Sigma ' s Photo Pro to process and export the X3F file. I am going to make all original files available here (download size of file: 210 MB), so that you can download and compare them without having to export them for web viewing.
There has always been controversy about the number of pixels reported on the Foveon sensors. Sigma says that the images in X3F format have 39 megapixels, while the JPEG Superfine has 51 megapixels. Yet the images that come out of the camera are 6192 × 4128 or 25,560,576 pixels = 25.5MP. So what gives?
The X3F file later contains 25.5 MP of data that records the blue channel and the luminance information. The following two laters each capture 3096 × 2064 or 6.39 MP information for red and green colors. Add that together and you get 25.5 + 6.39 + 6.39 = 38.28MP (I have done some rounding in this calculation).
The X3F has more bit depth and therefore more information. However, Sigma Photo Pro is not the most sophisticated program in the world and requires some patience to use. You get the most out of the camera if you can take it easy and edit it in Photo Pro. That said, the DNG files are excellent (if a little bloated in MB) and can be easily edited in Lightroom and other programs that are compatible with the format.
Finally, what about that Super Fine JPEG format? I have to admit; it is tempting to desire 51 MP from a mirrorless camera. Still, the quality of those recordings is not good in my opinion. Let me give you about 100% crops for comparison. I did not include the X3F version because the Photo Pro software is not easy about performing a crop even after consulting the manual.
In my opinion, the latter has a bit too much pixelation if you look at it closely.
The sd Quattro H has all the standard recording modes you would expect: manual, program (with program shift), aperture priority, and shutter speed priority.
ISO is selectable between 100-6400, not quite the range that we are used to with modern DSLR cameras ' s. Furthermore, noise becomes quite noticeable around ISO 800, making it difficult to get used to the higher ISO limits. It does have the ability to use Auto ISO and limit the range, which I find useful.
Although there are only nine focal points, arranged in a standard 3 × 3 grid, Sigma gives you the option to change the size of the focal points in three steps, with the larger size covering quite a 60% of the field of view. You can also select individual points instead of using all nine. This combination provides a fair amount of control for wide open scenes to the need to focus on an individual stamen on a flower.
Sometimes my eyes don't look straight, so I found the level on the screen very useful. It can be disabled for those who don't want it, but for the rest of us it's very useful.
Unexpectedly, the smaller LCD display on the back, with exposure settings, battery level, exposure compensation, ISO, metering mode and recording mode, is a welcome addition. Especially those who use a tripod at eye level when you have to stand on your toes to view the upper display. Most of us look more at the rear screen of our camera than at the front and this simple reference screen is useful. The controls for each of those items are located exactly on their right for easy, quick access.
As with other mirrorless cameras, having the histogram in the viewfinder is a blessing, especially when the dynamic range of the camera is less than 10 stops. It is very useful to keep the exposure correct with a histogram to help analyze a scene.
The Sigma sd Quattro H is supplied with two control wheels on the top of the camera. When shooting in manual mode, the various knobs control the shutter speed and aperture for easy shooting as expected. The rear dial does not stand out too far and has just the right amount of tactile response during operation. These functions can be switched in the camera menu.
There are multi-directional buttons on the rear of the camera to support the menu and control the selection. They are well placed and easily accessible without removing your eye from the viewfinder.
There is also a selector switch on the rear of the camera for using the viewfinder LCD or the rear view camera during shooting. I discovered that the camera was often slow in switching the rear monitor (usually the camera shutter was pressed halfway to activate autofocus) to the viewfinder. This slight delay in switching became annoying with constant use and while images were quickly viewed on the rear screen before further image acquisition was started.
The solution for me was to use only the viewfinder. However, this slowed down my process because only viewing images in the viewfinder is less than ideal. I wish the switching mechanism was faster.
The camera also has controls for changing what information is displayed on the various screens, adjusting focus points, and automatic exposure / auto focus lock.
Fit & Feel
Admittedly, the Quattro looks a bit strange. It has a strange shape and the viewfinder seems to be in the wrong place.
The grip is comfortable and makes it easy to use all day long. Although it is not built-in as with some DSLR cameras, it has sufficient surface area for a firm grip.
The viewfinder stands aside to make room for the hot shoe directly above the lens. This made me stumble more than a dozen times when I grabbed the camera with its DSLR-like feel and brought it to my eye in the wrong location. Not a big deal, but it felt a bit off sometimes. Those without a lot of DSLR experience will not notice anything.
The camera feels solid like a quality DSLR and has less weight. It feels like a camera that can work for years.
Before we enter the ' s menus, the Quattro has a hand QS button at the top, just next to the shutter release button. A speed-selection menu appears (in the viewfinder or on the rear screen). Here you want to make the majority of your image quality and other changes. The menu options can be selected in the option menu of the camera.
You select the camera menu by pressing the clear MENU button on the back of the camera. The upper control wheels or the multi-directional buttons on the rear control the ' s menus. Menus ' s are displayed in an over-down setup, just like Canon cameras ' s.
There are six recording menus ' s, two overview menus ' s and five setup menus ' s.
Do I have to use the Sigma app?
For those of you who like to keep your favorite image processing workflow, the quick answer is ' no & # 39 ;. Due to the ability of sd Quattro H to produce DNG files, the world is your oyster when it comes to photo editing.
However, and this comes from the technical side of things, the DNG file has already undergone some processing when creating it. There are indications that the color balance of the original X3F file is easier to achieve with Sigma ' s PhotoPro software than with the DNG file. This is because the camera must convert the information it collects from the sensor and create a DNG file.
The PhotoPro software from Sigma has come a long way and will produce better images for you than just using the DNG file. See it this way; the DNG files are of higher quality than the JPEG files, while the X3F files are higher than the DNG files. Every step, from JPEG to DNG to X3F, offers more leeway and control when processing your images.
My suggestion if you purchase this camera: take the time to learn Sigma PhotoPro if you want professional-quality results.
Hidden option: simple infrared
A feature that is not often cited in Sigma ' s literature or sales documents is the infrared capability. This will undoubtedly appeal to various landscape photographers because of its ease of use.
I was unable to purchase any of the components required for this system to work before I returned the camera, but I was able to test the removal of the infrared filter. It is located on the front and center of the lens mount when the end cap is removed. After you remove the filter, you need a visible light filter on the front of the lens that you use.
The combination of removing one filter and adding another adds full infrared capacity without an expensive conversion that is typical of DLSR ' s today. The versatility that this adds could make it a likely option for those who want to do infrared photography, but don't want to drag a completely different camera for it.
The Sigma sd Quattro H camera is a mixed bag with a specific audience. They have made progress over time in recording speed and buffering (the first iterations of their Foveon sensor cameras ' s were pretty slow, almost to the point of uselessness) and that has helped bring out the general utility.
If you are a landscape photographer and take it easy, this is a great camera for incredible details. Travel photographers will enjoy the camera (if they don't take much fast action) due to the lack of moiré in buildings and other patterns found during exploration. I also see that macro photographers benefit greatly from the details and the Focus Peeking function.
However, the speed of photography and the speed of autofocus can stop this camera for the average photographer. It can be a bit frustrating to wait for images to appear and the battery life is less than that of most competitors.
Did you use this camera? what's your opinion? Share this with us in the comments field.
The message The Sigma sd Quattro H Camera Review first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Peter West Carey.