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Sigma SD9

Sigma's digital SLR uses Foveon's "X3" sensor technology to deliver more detail per pixel!

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Page 1:Intro and Highlights

Review First Posted: 11/09/2002

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3.43 megapixel sensor with "X3" technology from Foveon has 10.29 million effective photosensors for unparalleled sharpness and resolution.

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"Full color" pixels eliminate color moire in fine, high-contrast detail.

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RAW-format image capture preserves full image data for post-exposure adjustment.

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Excellent Photo Pro software from Foveon offers excellent post-exposure color and tonal adjustment.

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Interchangeable Sigma lenses offer excellent optical performance at affordable prices.

Want to learn how to *really* use this camera? Visit our free Photo Lessons area!


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Manufacturer Overview
Sigma is a company with a long history in the photo industry, although they're better known for their broad line of lenses than their cameras. Sigma's lenses for 35mm cameras have developed a reputation for delivering sharp images at affordable prices, a combination that's brought them a huge share of the market among "enthusiast" film photographers. While their lenses enjoy wide popularity among both Canon and Nikon camera owners, a proprietary bayonet lens mount has somewhat limited the market reach of their own camera line.

This year, Sigma has entered the digital market in dramatic fashion, leaping directly into the digital SLR fray, eschewing any intermediate steps in the consumer camera marketplace as a prelude. This move makes sense, given Sigma's strong position as a lens manufacturer, and the presence this has brought them in the SLR marketplace as a whole. What's remarkable though, is the extent to which they've achieved parity with other major manufacturers in a single step.

Much of the credit for this of course, goes to Sigma's use of Foveon's revolutionary "X3" sensor technology, which stacks separate red, green, and blue sensors behind every pixel of the sensor array. When compared to conventional CCD or CMOS sensors, which use a mosaic array of red, green, and blue filters over the pixels, Foveon's X3 approach should yield almost twice the resolution for a given pixel count. The lack of any offset between color samples also promises to completely eliminate the color aliasing most digicams are prone to when confronted with fine patterns of high-contrast detail. Of course, there's no free lunch anywhere, so the Foveon sensor isn't automatically a be-all, end-all for the digicam market. As I get more time with the camera, I'll be doing a series of carefully-controlled tests and experiments with it and other leading digital SLRs, to find where its strengths and weaknesses lie. As with each camera I test, I expect that the SD9 be an excellent match for some users needs and budgets, but less so for others.

Given the extreme level of interest in this camera among our readers, I'm taking a somewhat fragmentary approach to my review of it. The first thing I did was quickly snap some shots of the ISO-12233 laboratory resolution target and my own "Davebox" target, so interested readers could quickly evaluate the SD9's resolution, color purity, and image noise for themselves. I've posted these on a temporary sample-pictures page for your perusal. With the bare imaging performance basics out of the way, I'm now turning to a review of the camera's functional aspects, covering such things as overall design, user interface issues, shutter lag and cycle time performance, and power consumption. Once this is done (it is, if you're reading this), I'll turn back to the test shooting, with an eye toward comparisons against other SLRs on the market, to see how the SD9 fits into the mix. Given the dramatic new sensor technology, I'll be spending a fair bit of time looking at imaging performance, going quite a bit beyond my normal d-SLR review treatment.

So read on below for a full description of the SD9's functioning, and my timing and power performance measurements. Check out the preliminary sample photos I've posted, if you'd like to pick apart some carefully-controlled test images. Then stay tuned for a complete set of test photos, a gallery of random "pretty pictures" shot with the camera, and a detailed look at the performance of the X3 sensor technology itself.


High Points

  • 3.43-megapixel Foveon X3 CMOS full-color-pixel sensor delivering image resolutions as high as 2,268 x 1,512 pixels, with 10.29 million individual "Color Photo Detectors." (Separate red, green, and blue sensors for every pixel of the image.)
  • Pentaprism SLR viewfinder.
  • 1.8-inch color, TFT LCD monitor for image review with backlight.
  • SA-type lens mount. (Sigma proprietary bayonet mount, as used on Sigma film-based SLRs.)
  • Auto and manual focus control, with Single and Continuous AF modes.
  • Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes.
  • Eight-segment Evaluative, Center (spot), and Center-Weighted Average metering modes.
  • Sensitivity equivalents of 100, 200, and 400 ISO.
  • Adjustable white balance with eight settings, including a Custom option.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/6,000 to 15 seconds.
  • External flash hot-shoe.
  • Autoexposure Bracketing mode.
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • Images saved as lossless raw sensor data files.
  • Compatible with CompactFlash Type I and II, including the IBM MicroDrive.
  • USB and IEEE-1394 interfaces and cables, for connection to a computer.
  • Software CD-ROM with drivers and Sigma Photo Pro.
  • NTSC and PAL video out options, video cable included.
  • Power from two CR(DL)123A, as well as either two CR-V3 lithium battery packs or four AA-type batteries, or the AC adapter.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.

 

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