Sigma SD1 Review

December 6, 2011 | Matt Grayson | |

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#1 Marticus

Hmm…$6,900 USD Body Only.  That’s a lot money for a camera that gives you a pc flash socket as an extra…

4:11 pm - Tuesday, December 6, 2011

#2 Mad Hungarian

Even $9600 won’t buy you talent.

5:01 pm - Tuesday, December 6, 2011

#3 Nigel

Thanks for the review. I have been seriously considering this camera for some time now. It would make for an excellent replacement to my SD14.

6:17 pm - Tuesday, December 6, 2011

#4 james

gross. anyone who buys this has some serious money to blow or they’re seriously in love with sigma/foveon products. over $9000 for a camera that doesn’t even have basic functions like live view or movie mode and with a low res screen? i would rather buy two canon 5d markII’s, some lenses, and a smaller mirrorless system. that is, if i were to even spend that much money.

i know, to each his own, and the sensor is good (although the high ISO leaves much to be desired compared to other sensors these days), but me personally…it’s a gross waste of money. $9000….man, what i would do with that money.

7:35 am - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#5 Robin

Your conclusion may be right, but I’m kinda confused on how you judge the image quality with so many samples being soft and even being without a sweet spot ... They must have been taken with wrong focus or something similar, it seems to be more than just the fact you were using an usual zoom lens (which of course isn’t tack sharp). But in the middle of a pic, inside dof, even an 18-50 should be fine.

Some samples (including the watch for ISO testings) seem to be ok. One more time I guess, the SD1 is not easy to handle, and most reviewers weren’t able to manage it, at least in most cases. Wish were would be more clean samples ... ISO50/100@~f/8 from tripod and in good conditions. To see, what’s the best possible result.

@all: Have fun discussing its pricing if you like. But it’s not necessary ... better save your time. There’s no effect on buyers of this camera - if someone loves it, he does, he knows the camera, and he just wouldn’t care about _your_ opinion of a too high price. ;)

11:58 am - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#6 Hansgerd Zappenduster

Giving this camera 4 stars including “Value for money” makes your rating system absolutely worthless.

12:23 pm - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#7 Matt Grayson

I rated 2.5 for “Value for Money”. The other areas made up for it and I give the overall score based on what I consider a fair average.

6:46 pm - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#8 doreme


The rating comes to 3.8 to be exact, which is close to 4.  It’s the writer’s rating who has had the opportunity to play with SD1.

Have you tried this camera?  If not, you have no basis for badmouthing the writer’s rating.  Sure it is expensive - that’s why I won’t be buying it.  But don’t discredit the writer’s rating.

7:19 pm - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#9 ratherbnotsay

This is a very lightweight non-professional review; this site 99% of the time tests lightweight popualr consumer products and the outcome seems extremely arbitrary; camera with really questionable IQ get high marks for IQ, while other cameras (perhaps not as popular) get lower marks. Wassup with that? Anyway, I can’t take this site very seriously anyways. Great for news on new products, but other than that…nah!

7:35 pm - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#10 Charles

Foveon vs Bayer resolution debate is ongoing, but if you do the math and look at the images you will find that the fair comparison is to compare the number of green pixels.  So for the Foveon take the number of photo sites, for the Bayer take half of the pixel count.

I would like to replace my SD14, but I will not spend $7,000 for a $2,500 camera.

I understand the lack of video, but not live view.  The processing of raw Foveon data to get a good image is too much for high quality video.  To get an OK live view is not that hard.  With the IR capability of the camera, it is a crime not to have live view and a live view IR function.  Maybe Sigma will wake up and add the function, after all it is just software.

BTW nice review.

10:48 pm - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#11 rob

“However, looking past the negatives, we would recommend it because it’s a good camera that gives very good results.”

Come on, there are literally hundreds of good cameras that give very good results… that include more crucial features and for incomparably lower prices. How can you justify your recommendation, even as a “Sigma lover”?

This camera has absolutely no future (outside of stubborn and ignorant circle of “Sigma lovers”). Foveon is a wonderful technology, but under Sigma’s ownership, it is dead. I should say, it has been dead for a long, long time now…

11:45 pm - Thursday, December 8, 2011

#12 Thomas

What a pity for the fine Foveon sensor. That’s a nice camera. And a dead-end camera system.

However, my Sigma DP2 will go on Ebay for an upcoming Sony NEX-7 to close my Foveon experience.

11:08 am - Friday, December 9, 2011

#13 C Murdock

I’m completely perplexed by the sample images.  The majority of them are blurry without a clear area of focus, while others have the focus in the oddest places.  Not only that, but the subject matter of the images is very unusual for a camera review—and many of the images are very dark, as if they were taken at dusk.  One would think that they would photograph more normal subjects.  With such bad images, how can they praise the image quality?  I’ve seen poor sample images on this site before, but nothing like this.  One has to wonder if it’s some kind of joke.  I know from other sites that this camera can do much better than this.  I came here hoping to get some clarity about this camera, but I am more confused than ever.

10:43 am - Saturday, December 24, 2011

#14 Mr Skippy

All the comments so far seem to be from people that have not tried the camera for themselves and I am no different. However, I am a professional photographer and have a D3X. I have many sigma lenses, which have proved very good and reliable. However, when I bought the D3X, it showed the resolving weaknesses of the Sigma lenses, so I went out and bougt a load of new Nikon ones which lived up to the mark. So my concern would be that if you are resrtricted to Sigma lenses, although they are very good, If you are producing top dollar images, you might feel let down and for that sort of money, I’d want it that good. On the other hand 45 megapixels on an APS sized camera is appealing. Hope this helps.

1:55 am - Wednesday, December 28, 2011

#15 Chris D

I’ve owned many digital SLR’s including Kodak DCS ProC ( made by Sigma)  Canon small and large sensor, Sony small and large sensor and SD10 and SD14. The 14mp foveon is brilliant for capturing colour and tonal character but within a relatively narrow DR and only at ISO100, so in my view under controlled lighting is unbeatable for normal size prints up to A1 size. But as many photographers such as me need versatilty in their gear I shoot with Sony and Canon these days. Sigma must have the worst market research dept in the business if they think the SD1 will give them any sort of market penetration. Halve the price and make it with mounts that take Canon and Nikon lenses, as Kodak did with the DCS, and they will increase sales at least a thousand fold. Who are those Pros that can justify having ranges of lenses for a few different systems ? I already have ranges of lenses for Sony and Canon, be buggered if I can justify another range financially, especially since it would hardly ever go out of a studio into the real world. I was sorry to see my SD14 go when I sold it but I can live with that loss a lot easier than I could if I got shot of my Canon or Sony gear.

4:58 am - Thursday, December 29, 2011

#16 max

well yet another review with jpegs on sigma wander whether this site has any professionals on board,but then again not really as cannot learn ofter reviewing sd15.

12:13 pm - Saturday, January 21, 2012

#17 Jigster

I used to carry a Sigma SD9 with me on wedding shoots because, in the right circumstances, it was unbeatable.  The silky film look that you can achieve is remarkable, and routinely couples would point to the SD9 pics over the majority Canon 5D pics as their favorites.


That’s because I <u>seriously</u> understand Foveon and Sigma’s strengths and (mega) weak points, and I don’t even try to compete the camera in crushing situations.  Those being, almost everywhere.  The only place the camera was (totally) dominant over the 5D was in outdoor, brightly lit, extremely colorful posed portraits.

In virtually every other money shot and situation, the SD9 was so bad as to be unusable. 

Why?  Let me count the ways:

1. It can’t take more than 5 pictures per minute.  Seriously.  100% Unfreakin-usable for weddings. 

3. Always, but especially in mid to low light, the out of camera color palette needs manual tweaking, or it looks plain horrendous.  Like you car shots, it looks like your getting married at night in a sewer.  The new SD1 hasn’t improved at all, although the resolution is higher, but that is the one area that didn’t need much help, frankly. 

In fact, one of the great things about the Foveon image format is so much more resolution per pixel, so post processing seriously flies due to way less file size bloat.  The SD1 brings back the bloat in exchange for crazy-talk resolution, but so what, when the SD9 easily out-did my 5D given the right shoot out.

4.  The lenses really suck.  Resolution is fine in from the Sigma EX line, but the glass color is abhorrent.  Fogive me for saying this but it is true, the reason is culture clash.  These lenses have a strongly, and I mean strongly Asian influence on scene cast.  Go shoot in Japan, Korea, and China to see what I mean.  The fact is that these cultures value a different palette than American/European evolved tastes. 

So I used canon lenses on my SD9.  Problem solved, but every lens mount needs a hand crafted electronically adapted SA back plate.  Luckily, Sigma SA AF is a direct ripoff of Canon AF, so Canon lens autofocus still works perfectly on Sigma DSLRs.  Canon IS, unfortunately, is a non-starter since Canon IS lenses have to communicate with the camera body through a serial protocol.  Bummer.

5. Hi ISO performance is hideous.  Even ignoring the horrific blue noise, the camera renders an unusably bland palatte that makes Cindy Crawford’s skin tones look like a green tinted Bela Lugosi.  Enough said.

So it’s a hard camera to like, but it is easy to love.  You just have to understand it.  And you have to be willing to get almost nothing, zilch, except a few splendid and drop dead gorgeous brightly lit money shots from your entire camera and lens investment.

As far as the Foveon 3D effect, it exists.  It is simple to understand why.  The camera has exactly equal resolution in all three color channels.  Other DSLRs have double the green resolution as blue and red, and since every color is a combination of all three, they smear local sharpness differently and arbitrarily based on scene colors.  This results in a much flatter looking image from non-3-layer or non-3-CCD or non-3-CMOS sensors (which includes all other DLSRs) since localized sharpness is essential to the proper rendering of DOF.

That is a key reason couples inevitably raved over my SD9 phots over my 5D photos, when the SD9’s avalanche of disqualifying weaknesses could be avoided.

9:38 pm - Sunday, February 5, 2012

#18 BrunoS

BetaMax VHS…. all over again… Foveon might have been the best solution, but poor strategy in only signing up a second rate camera maker has doomed it… I only wonder what would have happened to the technology if it had been paired with a better company… Imagine Nikon putting their skills behind the sensor and you could actually imagine that the Foveon might have won… now its doomed by a camera maker that has no clue.  9 grand for a camera… they need to look at how well 9 grand cameras worked for Kodak when they failed at the DCS line.

6:23 pm - Thursday, February 16, 2012

#19 tm

If you`re taking studio shots please don`t change the aperture, change the time.
The best aperture is around f5.6 in the most cases (wide open the image gets soft and if you close it too much, the Diffraction Limit kicks in and blurs the image).

3:14 pm - Tuesday, March 13, 2012

#20 Abbas Ali

I don’t know how how you can fix canon lens on SA mount.

I would like to know even if I used it manual focusing

5:19 pm - Friday, September 27, 2013

Entry Tags

review, 3 inch LCD, DSLR, 3 inch, sigma, Foveon, 46 megapixel, X3, sd1, sigma sd1, Sigma SD1 Review