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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 11:Video, Power, Software

Review First Posted: 11/09/2002

Video Out

The SD9 features a Video Out connector jack, and offers options both NTSC and PAL signal timing through the setup menu. A video cable accompanies the camera, letting you connect it to a television set for use with image review. All LCD menus and screen displays are mirrored on the video output.


Power

The SD9 uses either four AA-type batteries or two CRV3 lithium battery packs for power, plus a set of two CR123A lithium batteries in a secondary compartment. Both sets of batteries must be in place for the camera to operate. No batteries come with the camera, so I highly recommend picking up two sets of rechargeable batteries a reliable battery charger, and keeping a spare set of batteries charged at all times. Also, don't forget to pick up a couple of sets of the (expensive) CR123A lithium cells too, as you'll definitely want to have spares on hand when your first set runs out. (Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which rechargeable batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite.)

The main batteries load into a tray that inserts into the side of the camera, while the two lithium cells load into a smaller compartment on the bottom panel. An AC adapter does come with the camera, and is useful for time-consuming tasks such as image review and downloading. (See my notes above under "Image Storage and Interface" though - You probably won't want to bother with downloads from the camera, but rather just get a good card reader.) The SD9 also features an automatic shutoff, which turns off the camera after a period of inactivity (from 10 seconds to five minutes).

It's important to note that you need to remember to turn the SD9 off when you're not using it. Although I left the camera's automatic shutoff option set to its default of 30 seconds, I was dismayed to discover that not turning the Drive control to "off" drained the CR123A lithium cells. - I say "dismayed" because I discovered that a set of two of these batteries cost $13.99 at my local Radio Shack.

Power consumption on the SD9 is really a mixed bag, and a little hard to project, since it turns out to depend so heavily on the camera happens to be doing. When the camera is in a quiescent state (neither actively capturing nor displaying an image), power consumption is quite low, and a set of freshly charged, high-capacity NiMH cells should last six hours or more in this state. (Although they'll actually last about four, see my comments a couple of paragraphs further on.) Steady-state power drain in playback mode is also fairly low, such that you should get over two hours of continuous run time viewing the same image. (Actually, a bit over an hour and a half in playback mode.)

There lies one rub though: "Viewing the same image." The SD9 apparently has a pretty beefy processor in it, because the power drain increases dramatically whenever you ask the camera to do something with an image. When it's actively saving images to the memory card, the current drain runs 500-600 mA at 5 volts, with spikes as high as 1500 mA at the beginning of the operation. And since it can take a good 10 seconds to save each image, even with a fast memory card, this represents an appreciable amount power. There's more though: Any time you view an image, zoom in on one, or even scroll around the zoomed display, the power drain spikes upward again, into the 900 mA range, albeit for a fairly short time. Thus, if you spend much time reviewing your images, particularly zooming in and panning around them, your battery life could be fairly short.

A significant factor in the SD9's apparently short battery life though, is that it seems to have a fairly high cutofff voltage below which it won't operate. This means that even fairly high-capacity NiMH batteries may not power the camera for very long, depending on how their voltage varies as they're discharged. Since NiMH have lower initial terminal voltages than other types, the camera may turn off prematurely, even though there's still quite a bit of capacity left in the batteries.

As it happens, I'm a bit of a "battery geek," so was well-equipped to test how completely the SD9 could drain NiMH AA cells. I do a lot of battery testing (see my battery shootout page for the sordid details), so have both a reliable means of measuring the remaining charge capacity in batteries, as well as quite a few sets of batteries with well-characterized capacities. As a test, I took a set of very high capacity NiMH cells (Kodak 1850 mAh units - about the best I've currently found, although they're not yet added to my shootout page), and ran the SD9 from them until it shut down due to low supply voltage. I immediately put these cells into my "MSD" (Mad Scientist's Device) battery tester, and drained them to my standard endpoint of a bit under 1 volt per cell, measuring in the process the total power they delivered before reaching exhaustion. These cells reliably show a "full" capacity of roughly 8.2 watt-hours, and after the SD9 stopped working, they still had fully 2.47 watt-hours left. - This means that the SD9 left fully 30% of the batteries' total capacity untouched.

I don't want to convey the idea that the SD9 has unusually bad battery life, but do need to point out that its run times are a good 30% shorter than the numbers in my standard table below would indicate, and point out that "your mileage may vary,"
depending on the voltage profile of the particular batteries you're using. Also, this table is based on quiescent, steady-state power drain, while the SD9's actual power consumption fluctuates a good deal, depending on what the camera is doing. Bottom line, the SD9's battery life isn't awful, but it's also not the best I've seen either. - Be sure to get several sets of high-capacity NiMH cells and keep them charged and available when shooting. Also, be sure to pack along an extra set of the CR123A lithium cells, so they'll be handy when the set in the camera runs out.

Operating Mode
Power Drain
(@
5v)
Estimate
Run Time
(1600mAh, 4.8v
4 NiMH Cells)
Capture Mode, no LCD
248 mA
~ 6 hours
(Plan on 4 or less)
Capture Mode, Cont AF
380 mA
~ 4 hours
(2.8 or less)
Half-pressed shutter button
389 mA
~ 4 hours
(2.8 or less)
Memory Write (transient)
570-1500 mA
n/a
Image Playback
704 mA
~2 hours
(1.4 or less)
Image Playback, zooming/panning
895 mA
~1.7 hours
(1.2 or less)



Included Software

The software they didn't include...
(But that you should)
Few people realize just how *much* you can improve your digicam images through clever processing in Photoshop. Greatly (!) increased sharpness, reduced noise, and even ultra-wide dynamic range (light-to-dark range) by combining multiple exposures. Fred Miranda and uber-Photoshop expert Fred Miranda has packaged some of his Photoshop magic in a collection of powerful and affordably priced "actions." Check out his site, the results are pretty amazing!

To my mind, the excellent Foveon-developed Photo Pro software is a big part of the allure of the SD9. I don't usually pay too much attention to the software that's included with the cameras I review, but the Photo Pro application justifies an exception to that rule. The degree of control it gives the photographer over color and (particularly) tonal rendition is nearly unprecedented.

At this writing, I don't have my review of the Photo Pro software ready to share yet, so for now will just say "stay tuned." I hope to have a full report on it appearing in this space within a week or so.



In the Box

Included in the box are the following items:

  • SD9 camera body.
  • Body cap.
  • Eyepiece cup.
  • LCD monitor cover.
  • Neck strap.
  • Viewfinder cap.
  • AC adapter with cable.
  • IEEE-1394 (FireWire) cable.
  • USB cable.
  • Video cable.
  • SIGMA Photo Pro CD-ROM.
  • Instruction manual and warranty information.



 

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