This page has been formatted to facilitate printout of the review.

Use your browser's "Back" button to return to the previous page, or the links at the top and bottom of this page to navigate to related information. If you have difficulty fitting the text on this page onto your printer output, simply resize your browser window to a narrower width and print again.




Remember us when it's time to buy!

Dave here: Have our reviews been helpful to you? (Is this article you're reading right now useful?) Preparing this level of information on as many products as we do is incredibly hard work, not to mention expensive. Things on the Internet may look like they're free, but they're not. (As a lot of big dot.com companies are finding out these days.) Somewhere, somebody has to pay to produce worthwhile content. YOU can help us though, by remembering us when it comes time to make your purchase. Would you consider coming back to our site and clicking-through to one of our advertisers to make your purchase? Every dollar you spend with one of our advertisers helps us directly (in affiliate fees) or indirectly (the advertiser will keep renewing their ad contract with us). To make it easy for you to support us, here's a URL you can visit, to see all our current advertisers, with links to click on that will register your visit to them as having come from our site. It's up to you where you buy, but Mike, Mike, Kim, Yazmin, Marti and I would be really grateful if you'd help us out by choosing one of our advertisers to purchase from.

Thank you for your support!
Dave Etchells, Founder & Publisher


Visit our "Buy Now" Page:
http://www.imaging-resource.com/buynow.htm





Back to Full Sigma SD10 Review
Go to Sigma SD10 Data Sheet
Go to Sigma SD10 Pictures Page
Up to Imaging Resource Cameras Page


Sigma SD10

Sigma's digital SLR uses Foveon's latest "X3" sensor technology to boost ISO and reduce image noise.

Review First Posted: 10/26/2003




MSRP $(not announced) US

 

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

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

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

*
Improved sensor provides lower image noise and increased ISO range.

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


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.

Last year, Sigma entered the digital market in dramatic fashion with the Sigma SD9, leaping directly into the digital SLR fray, eschewing any intermediate steps in the consumer camera marketplace as a prelude. This move made 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 achieved parity with other major manufacturers in a single step.

Much of the credit for this went 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 (other colors are used occasionally, but this combination is the most common), 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. In particular, the sensor in Sigma's first digital SLR suffered from problems with color purity, high image noise, and (related closely to this last) with rather strict limits on the maximum length of an exposure.

Now, a year later, Sigma has announced a successor to the SD9 - a camera that, love it or not, certainly has to have been among the most talked-about of 2002. The new Sigma SD10 is very much an evolution of its predecessor. The body, controls and interface are nearly identical, as is the sensor resolution. Under the hood, though, Sigma has made some significant changes to the sensor, firmware and software - as well as subtle tweaks to the camera body - that aim to extend the life of the basic design and enhance its capabiliites considerably.

Although Foveon has announced other X3 sensors over the last year, the SD9 remains the only digital camera on the market to have full measured color at every pixel location from a single sensor (as of October 2003). This alone has made it a must-have for many of our readers. If Sigma and Foveon have indeed managed to solve some of the problems they experienced in their initial outing, the SD10 could have a significant when it hits the market this November (according to the current schedule)!

We've had a few days in which to try out a near-production-level SD10 (final image quality, only minor tweaks in autoexposure and power management are left), and with the camera being so closely related to the SD9 that we reviewed last year, the learning curve was quite shallow. If you read our review of the Sigma SD9, you may find portions of this review (particularly those related to the camera's body and controls) very familiar, but you'll also find that we've highlighted all the changes we could find - big or small... Read on below to find out how the Sigma SD10 fared, with comparisons to its predecessor and the competition where appropriate.


What's Changed?

The overall changes between the original Sigma SD9 and the new Sigma SD10 are summarised as follows:

Hardware

Firmware (some changes related to the hardware changes above)

Software (Version 2.0 of Sigma Photo Pro comes with the SD10, including numerous changes as follows)

Other (A quick summary of the changes of lesser importance that we noticed)


High Points

 


Executive Overview

With the comfortable heft of a traditional 35mm SLR film camera, the SD10 follows closely in the footsteps of Sigma's ground breaking entry into the prosumer digital SLR marketplace. Featuring a 3.34-effective megapixel Foveon CMOS sensor with full-color pixels, the SD10 and its predecessor are the only cameras in the world to use Foveon's "X3" sensor technology. Capturing and storing images as lossless raw sensor data files, the SD10's included software provides an unusual level of post-exposure image adjustment. Add to this the benefit of full manual exposure control and an interchangeable lens design (with a very affordable line of high-performance lenses), and you have a worthy new contender in the digital SLR marketplace.

The SD10's body is slightly larger than the competing EOS 10D and D100 models from Canon and Nikon respectively, but quite a bit smaller and lighter than the pro-level D-SLRs from those companies. (As embodied by the EOS-1D, EOS-1Ds, and Nikon D1X/D2H.) As with its predecessor which shares nearly the same body design, the SD10 feels pretty rugged overall, but the rather thin body panels on the front of the unit contribute to a slighly "tinny" feel there. While it does have the heft of an SLR design, the SD10 isn't by any means a heavy camera. It features an SA-type, bayonet lens mount, which accommodates a wide range of Sigma lenses. (This is Sigma's own proprietary lens mount, as used on their film SLR models for a number of years now.) Manual focus is activated via a switch on the lens, but the SD10 itself features both Single and Continuous autofocus modes. A TTL optical viewfinder provides an accurate display of the frame area, with a unique view that lets you see a good bit of area outside the actual capture region. (Called "Sports Framing" by Sigma, this is great for keeping an eye on fast-moving action outside the frame, but I felt that it resulted in an uncomfortably small active area.) In my tests, the marked viewfinder region indicated the active frame area with 97% accuracy. A detailed information display inside the viewfinder reports exposure and basic camera settings, and a center AF target is useful for lining up your subject. As with most SLRs, the 1.8-inch LCD monitor doesn't act as a "live" viewfinder, instead serving primarily for image review, and for displaying the camera's setup menu. In image review mode, a detailed information screen not only reports exposure settings, but also includes a histogram for checking your exposure. (Read the "viewfinder" section of this review for my comments on Sigma's unique histogram display.)

Four main exposure modes are available, including Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual. While aperture settings will vary with the lens in use, shutter speeds range from 1/6,000 to 15 seconds, with the ability to extend this range to 30 seconds - twice as long as the SD9's maximum. There's also a bulb setting, which curiously is limited to approx. 15 seconds as it was in the SD9 - although it is now accessible at all ISO settings instead of just ISO 100. Also, gone is the SD9's limitation preventing photos longer than one second at ISO 200 or above- the SD10 now allows 15 seconds at ISO 100 / 200, and 4 seconds at ISO 400 / 800 - which can be extended to allow all possible shutter speeds up to the 30 second maximum at all ISO ratings. For long exposures, the SD10 has a cable release terminal, which lets you remotely trip the shutter via cable release, avoiding any movement of the camera caused by your finger hitting the Shutter button. (The SD10 is also compatible with an optional IR remote release.) By default, the SD10 employs an Eight-Segment Evaluative metering system to determine exposure. It does provide the options of Center (spot) or Center-Weighted metering modes as well, though. In all exposure modes except Manual, you can decrease or increase exposure from -3 to +3 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments - much preferable to the SD9's one-half-step increments (bravo, Sigma!). ISO choices include 100, 200, 400 and 800 equivalent settings plus an option to extend this to ISO 1600 equivalent, but keep in mind that the slow end of the shutter speed range contracts dramatically with ISO settings higher than 200 by default as mentioned above (although switching to Extended mode allows all shutter speeds at all ISO ratings). The final exposure option is white balance, with Auto, Sunlight, Shade, Overcast, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, and Custom modes. Because the SD10 captures files in the raw sensor format, any further image adjustments can be made with the interface software. (The SD10's software offers a really remarkable level of control, and is overall one of the best pieces of image adjustment software I've seen to date.)

The SD10 doesn't offer a built-in flash, but does have an external flash hot shoe on top of the camera, compatible with Sigma's EF500 DG ST SA-N and the new EF500 DG Super SA-N flash units, as well as conventional "dumb" hot shoe flash units. With the EF500 DG Super SA-N flash unit, the SD10 supports wireless TTL flash metering - SD9 owners can still use this flash, but it will fire as a dumb wireless slave only. Available Drive settings on the SD10 include an Autoexposure Bracketing mode, two self-timer modes, and a Continuous Shooting mode. The bracketing mode captures three exposures, each at different exposure settings (one at the metered value, one underexposed, and one overexposed). The self-timer modes offer two- and 10-second countdowns from the time the Shutter button is fully pressed until the shutter actually opens. Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of images in rapid succession, with the actual frame rate and maximum number of images varying with the resolution setting and available memory card space. (The frame rate runs about 1.9 frames/second for large images, and about 2.4 frames/second for small ones.)

The SD10 saves images to CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, and is compatible with MicroDrives. All files are recorded as raw sensor data, and three resolutions are available. Note that like its predecessor, the SD10 is only compatible with the FAT16 file system - FAT32-formatted cards are not recognized by the camera. This means that users are limited to the maximum capacity per card inherent in FAT16 - only the first two gigabytes of a card is accessible (an important point to remember, considering that cards as large as 6GB are available on the market now!). For downloading images, the SD10 has both USB 1.1 and IEEE-1394 ports, and comes with both cables. I found the download speeds over FireWire (1.2 - 1.3MB / second) to be much improved relative to the SD9, but was unable to test USB download speeds due to computer problems (which were probably the fault of my overloaded Windows XP box, and not of the SD10). A video cable also comes with the camera, for viewing images on a television set. For power, the SD10 utilizes either two CR-V3 lithium battery packs or four AA-type batteries - gone are the inconvenient (and frankly, rather expensive) pair of CR123A lithium batteries from the SD9's handgrip (a second bravo to Sigma!). An AC adapter is also included for use in the studio, or when the camera is connected to the computer for lengthy downloads.

 


Design

With an exterior that closely resembles a mid-sized 35mm film-based SLR, Sigma's SD10 digital SLR is an exciting new contender in the prosumer digicam marketplace. As with its predecessor, its body panels appear to be made of plastic - but the camera seems pretty substantial nonetheless, apart from a slightly "tinny" feel to the panels on its face. Equipped with a 3.43-effective megapixel Foveon X3 CMOS sensor featuring microlenses to increase light sensitivity, the SD10 is only the second camera after the SD9 that it replaces to offer a sensor capable of capturing red, blue, and green light with each pixel. Another innovation held over from the SD9 is its Sports Finder viewfinder display, which lets you see an extended area outside of the actual frame, unlike any of the digital SLR viewfinders from other manufacturers. An SA-type, bayonet lens mount accommodates a wide range of Sigma lenses, and an optional full manual exposure mode provides total user control. The SD10's somewhat bulky body requires a two-handed grip in most cases, and measures 6.0 x 4.7 x 3.1 inches (152 x 120 x 79 millimeters) excluding projections - exactly the same overall dimensions as the SD9. Excluding the lens, batteries, and memory card, the SD10 weighs a substantial 27.7 ounces (785 grams) - slightly lighter than the SD9, probably due to the removal of the CR123A batteries and the subsequent reprofiling of the handgrip. Like its predecessor, somehow the SD10 still manages to feel fairly light in the hand despite the figures looking fairly high.

The front of the SD10 features the lens mount and only two control buttons. On the bottom, left side of the lens mount is the lens release button, which unlocks the lens so it can be rotated to remove it from the mount. A Depth of Field Preview button is on the upper right side of the lens mount (difficult to see in this view), while the remote control sensor in the upper right-hand corner of the body. The large hand grip, which has been subtly reprofiled compared to that on the SD9, provides a secure hold thanks to a rubbery coating that provides good friction against your fingers as they wrap around the camera.

The memory card compartment is on the right side of the SD10 (as viewed from the rear), protected by a hinged, plastic door. A latch on the back panel flips the door open, revealing the CompactFlash (Type I and II) / MicroDrive slot. Just above the card slot is one of the eyelets for attaching the neck strap. A minor ergonomic note: As with the SD9, the neck strap eyelets are positioned so the camera body will hang level by itself, but attaching a lens of any sort unbalances the camera, leaving it tilted down at a significant angle. While there's no way camera-mounted eyelets could possible balance even moderately long lenses, moving the eyelets as far forward as possible would let the camera hang nearly level with modest primes and short zooms attached. At bottom right of the memory card compartment is a cable release socket, protected by a tiny, plastic cap. My only concern here - and one that we also noted when we reviewed the SD9 - is that the tiny cap removes completely from the camera body, and thus could easily be lost.

The opposite side of the camera houses the connector compartment, which includes the Video Out, DC In, USB 1.1, and IEEE-1394 connector terminals. Just below the connectors is the battery compartment, which locks into place with a metal latch. Once unlocked, a tray (identical to the revised tray for the SD9) pulls out completely from the compartment. I really appreciate side battery access like this, especially on SLR cameras, as it lets you quickly change camera batteries without dismounting from a tripod. Many digicams provide battery access on the bottom panel, and put the battery compartment too close to the tripod mount. The second neck strap attachment eyelet is also on this side of the camera, just above the connector compartment.

The majority of the SD10's external controls are on the rear panel, sharing space with the LCD monitor and optical viewfinder. The optical viewfinder eyepiece features a diopter adjustment control, just on top of the eyepiece. A Four Way Arrow pad on the rear panel navigates through the SD10's LCD-based menu system and scrolls through captured images on the memory card while in review mode. (As with the SD9, I felt the arrow pad on my evaluation sample was a little finicky about moving up and down in the menu system, but News Editor Mike Tomkins didn't seem to notice any similar problem so it may just come down to user preference...) The Menu, View, Info, Modify, and Delete buttons lines the left side of the LCD monitor, while the Resolution, ISO, AE Lock, and Exposure Compensation buttons line the top of the rear panel. Two enlargement (+/-) buttons control image enlargement while in image review mode. Just beside the top right corner of the LCD monitor, a small LED flashes whenever the camera is accessing the memory card. Finally, the OK and Cancel buttons used when changing settings in the menu system can be found to the right of and directly below the LCD display. A slight change compared to the original SD9 model we reviewed is that these buttons are now made of blue and red color rubber respectively, making it less likely you'll press the wrong button (the SD9 buttons were black with white silk-screened logos on them similar to most of the other buttons on the camera).

The SD10's top panel has no shortage of controls, including the Shutter, Metering, Function, and AF buttons, and Command, Mode, Shutter, and Drive dials. Also on the top panel is the external flash hot shoe and small status display panel. As with its predecessor, I generally really liked the SD10's control layout, as it was very clear what each control did, and very easy to select various camera functions. I appreciated having the major camera functions spread around on separate control buttons, rather than being ganged up on a control dial or actuated through combinations of two buttons at once.

The SD10's bottom panel is smooth and fairly flat, with a metal tripod mount close to dead center. - It's located under the centerline of the lens, and positioned fairly far forward on the camera body. While it's impossible to position the tripod mount on an SLR under the lens' nodal point, having the mount located fairly far forward like this minimizes the amount of parallax distortion in panoramic shots. I also appreciated that there was a fair bit of flat area around the socket, making for a secure, stable attachment to tripod mounting plates. Also on the bottom panel is a power pack connection terminal (hidden beneath a rubber flap) that I assume is for an optional accessory handgrip. Gone is the CR123A battery compartment from the SD9, since the camera is now powered by only one set of batteries (a very welcome change).

 

Viewfinder

The SD10 features a true, TTL (through the lens) optical viewfinder, much like a traditional SLR film camera. The pentaprism viewfinder allows for accurate framing, which Sigma estimates as around 98 percent frame-accurate horizontally, and 97 percent vertically. (Figures that agree quite well with my own measurements.) A diopter adjustment switch just above the eyepiece adjusts the view for eyeglass wearers, with a range from -3dpt to +1dpt. I don't have a calibration for what this translates to in terms of a range of human vision, but did note that the "nearsighted" end of its range was almost enough to compensate for my 20/180 uncorrected vision, something relatively few viewfinders can do. The "sports finder" design also gives a very high viewpoint, making this camera an excellent choice for eyeglass wearers. In the center of the viewfinder display, a central autofocus / autoexposure target mark helps you line up shots. There's also a detailed information readout along the bottom of the display, reporting exposure information such as aperture and shutter speed, focus, exposure compensation, etc.

The actual image area display in the viewfinder is divided into two sections. The central rectangular area of the display is the active image area, and reflects what will be captured in the final image. Outlining this area is a dimmed field of view, dubbed the Sports Finder, as it lets you see what's going on outside the actual frame of view. Thus, if you're tracking a moving subject (as is frequently the case in sports photography), you can see any side action outside the main frame just before it moves into the active area.

The "sports finder" concept has a definite attraction, and the central, transparent portion of the viewfinder quite accurately represents the final image area, but the net result is an active viewfinder area that occupies a rather small portion of the overall field of view. I didn't personally have any difficulty manually focusing based on what I saw in the viewfinder. I do wonder though, whether people with less acute vision might have a hard time focusing due to the much smaller size of the subject in the viewfinder.

For image review and menu display, the SD10 offers a 1.8-inch, color TFT LCD monitor. During image review, limited image information also appears in the display. Pressing the INFO button on the rear panel displays more detailed information, such as the exposure settings and a histogram, which graphs the tonal distribution of the current view of the image, making it easier to determine any over- or underexposure. The camera's index display (aptly titled "Contact Sheet View") shows as many as nine thumbnail images at a time on the screen.

A Playback zoom option enlarges captured images as much as 400 percent, for exceptionally detailed viewing, practically at the pixel level. When you zoom in on an image the display zooms immediately, but shows a very coarse, pixelated version of the image that "fills in" with a detailed display after a few seconds. The same thing happens when you use the arrow pad to pan around in the enlarged image - The display will pixelate while you move around, then fill-in the fine detail a few seconds after you stop.

If the Overexposure Warning feature is activated through the setup menu, a solid red overlay appears during image review, highlighting any areas of potential overexposure. This warning overlay cuts in at a level a little short of absolute saturation, a good design feature in my book. As I commented in our review of the SD9 (which had an identical feature), I'd still like to see some way of controlling the level at which the warning occurs though, since you sometimes only want to see those parts of the image that actually do go all the way to pure white.

The SD10's histogram is identical to that in the SD9, and deserves special commendation - it's by far the most useful I've seen in a digicam. Two characteristics make the histogram noteworthy. The first and most apparent one is that it displays separate curves for the red, green, and blue color components, This can be very helpful for times when you want to avoid losing "shape" (tonal gradation) in the highlights of a brightly colored object. A conventional histogram, which only shows overall brightness (luminance) would give no indication that you were in danger of losing detail in such situations, since the luminance of the object in question could be within acceptable limits, even though one of the color channels was approaching saturation.

By far the biggest benefit of the histogram readout though, is the fact that it will display the histogram of just portions of the image, based on what's shown at the current zoom level of the playback display. This is really useful, because it lets you zoom in on "problem" areas in an image and really see what's going on. A major weakness of histogram displays on digital cameras is that they calculate and display the histogram for the entire image at once. This gives you a good idea of what's happening with the bulk of the pixels in the image, but we often care a great deal about what's going on in relatively small areas of our photos. Because small areas represent small numbers of pixels, these critical regions may only produce an imperceptible "blip" on the overall histogram curve. Overexposure warnings help somewhat, in that they'll tell you where you're about to lose detail, even if only a small portion of the image is affected, but they're a fairly crude tool because they only show whether or not the exposure has crossed some threshold. With the S9D, you can zoom in on a specific area of the image, and then see a detailed histogram of just that small area, showing you exactly what's happening with the exposure in that part of the subject.

It may seem odd to get excited about something as obscure as a camera's histogram display, but I see this as one of the most useful features of the SD9 and SD10 for photographers who care about the detail recorded in their photos. It certainly provides a better view of what's happening in your images exposure-wise than anything else I've seen in the last 5 years or so that I've been doing this. Bottom line: Big kudos to Sigma for an exceptionally informative playback display.


Optics

Free Photo Lessons

Learn how to use lens aperture to control depth of field - Visit our free Photo Lessons area!

The SD10 is an interchangeable-lens SLR, with the lens attached via an SA-type, bayonet lens mount on the front panel. The camera will be offered in three configurations - body only (ie. with no lens included), or as one of two product bundles with either an 18-50mm F3.5-5.6 DC lens, or a bundle with both that lens and also a 55-200mm F4-5.6 DC lens. Maximum aperture, focal length, and focusing distance range will thus vary with the particular lens being used. A small release button below the bottom of the mount releases the lens, allowing it to turn and slide out of the mount. The position of the release button is comfortably close to the hand grip, making it easy to quickly switch lenses (as opposed to cameras that place the release button on the opposite side of the lens - requiring some extra manual dexterity to hold the camera and lens whilst pressing the button). A Depth of Field Preview button (next to the top left side of the lens mount, when viewing the camera from the front) stops the lens down to the designated aperture setting, so that you can preview the depth of field you'll have in the shot through the viewfinder - of course with the limitation that less light will make it to the viewfinder depending on the aperture you're stopping down to.

Because most current digital SLRs have a sensor that's smaller than a 35mm film frame, they have what's referred to as a "focal length multiplier" relative to 35mm cameras. This is the factor by which the camera reduces the field of view (effectively magnifying the image) with a given lens, relative to how that lens would function on a 35mm camera. Since the sensor size of the SD10 is identical to that of the SD9, it has the same focal length multiplier of 1.7x - which means that on either the SD9 or SD10, a "normal" 50mm lens will show the same field of view as an 85mm lens on a 35mm camera. This makes it difficult to do true wide angle photography with either camera. By way of example, the normally "extra wide" 20-40mm zoom lens Sigma shipped along with my eval camera is the equivalent of a 34-68mm zoom on a 35mm film body. Focal length multiplier is a fact of life with all but a few of the digital SLRs currently on the market, but 1.7x is a higher ratio than any I'm aware of on other current models. (Most run between 1.5 and 1.6x.) Not a crippling defect by a long shot, but a factor to consider if you like wide angle shots.

The SD10 offers Single and Continuous autofocus modes (manual focus is activated via a switch on the lens, if available). Single AF adjusts focus only when the Shutter button is halfway pressed, using a TTL phase difference detection system. Conversely, Continuous AF mode constantly adjusts the focus, without waiting for you to press the Shutter button. Continuous AF uses an AF Predict function, which "predicts" where the subject will move to next, based on its current pattern of movement. Combined with the Sports Finder viewfinder display, the SD10's Continuous AF system makes tracking moving subjects a little easier.

I don't have any objective test for autofocus speed, so I hesitate to say too much on the subject here, not wanting to color my reviews with purely subjective impressions. Sigma told us that the autofocus system of the SD10 had been improved overall as compared to the SD9 (with the most notable improvements in low-light focusing). In my own testing of the camera, I did notice that the camera seemed to get confused and give up quite a bit less often than the SD9 did, but I I still found the SD10's AF system had a tendency to "hunt" back and forth for the correct focus setting a bit more than I'm accustomed to with other digital SLRs. Correlating with what Sigma told me was most improved with the focus system, I felt low light focusing was actually fairly good - the camera would focus reasonably reliably down to light levels of about 1/8 foot-candle (about 1.4 lux), if given a fairly good subject. (A nice, sharp, high-contrast edge.) Occasionally, it could manage to achieve focus as low as 1.0 lux, although it would take repeated attempts and some focus hunting to do so. Overall, the SD10's AF system is certainly a noticeable improvement over the SD9, but could perhaps still use some further improvement.

The SD10 has a "dust cover" right behind the lens mount, protecting the mirror/shutter/sensor chamber. The idea is to keep dust from reaching the sensor, an issue for most digital SLRs. Dust on the sensor is a much more severe problem with digital SLRs than it is on film-based cameras, since the film is more or less continuously cleaned as it passes through the light seal on the cannister. With a digital SLR though, any dust that makes its way into the camera body and ends up on the sensor is there permanently, or at least until you clean the sensor, a delicate operation that's best avoided if at all possible. Sigma's approach seems like a good one, for two reasons. First, cleaning the dust cover is a relatively easy and risk-free proposition. Second, any dust that settles on the dust cover won't be imaged, because it's too far up the optical path. (In other words, it won't cast sharp shadows on the sensor, and so won't affect the images.

A comparison of the dust found inside the Sigma SD10... with that in the Canon EOS Digital Rebel.
(Click either thumbnail to view the full-sized image, and be sure to read the explanation below!)

 

There are two downsides to the dust cover approach though. First, it introduces two additional optical surfaces into the light path, potentially affecting sharpness, aberration, flare, etc. The second issue is only a potential downside, but based on my eval unit, could be a very real one: If dust does manage to get into the camera body, you've got an even bigger problem that if the dust cover wasn't there, because you'll have to remove it to get the dust out. When I reviewed the SD9, I noted a significant quantity of dust behind the dust cover - probably introduced in manufacturing, since it had come directly to me from Sigma in Japan. In the comparison photos above, the SD10 is compared to Canon's EOS Digital Rebel. The SD10 had Sigma's 50mm f/2.8 macro lens on it, while the Digital Rebel had Canon's 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 zoom on it, set to a focal length of roughly 50mm. Both cameras were using 50mm macro lenses set to the closest macro focus (to fully blur the background), and were set to ISO 100, aperture priority mode with an aperture of f/36 (to produce a very narrow light cone, to resolve the dust specks) before pointing them at the (unfortunately rather cloudy) sky outside. The test aims to identify any dust on the sensor's surface, and if anything should favor the SD10 somewhat, since that camera has a dust cover and should only have whatever dust it left the factory with, where the Digital Rebel has no such cover and hence would have undoubtedly picked up some more dust while I've been using it since Canon shipped it to me. I'll leave it up to readers to decide how they think both cameras performed, but will say this - while the SD10 seems significantly better than the SD9 in this respect, I would still like to see a lot less dust inside a camera as it leaves the factory.

Confused by Apertures and Depth of Field? - Do you know how to use "Front Focus" or "Back Focus" to get *all* your subject in focus? Visit our free Photo Lessons area and click on the lessons "Focusing Up Close" and "Selective Focusing Outside!"

Exposure

Free Photo Lessons

Learn about white balance and simple lighting techniques for dramatic shots in out free Photo Lessons area!

Exposure control is straightforward on the SD10, with a range of external dials and buttons to adjust settings. The camera offers a full range of exposure control, with Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, and Manual exposure modes available via a Mode Selector on the top panel. Program AE mode lets the camera control both aperture and shutter speed, while Aperture Priority and Shutter Speed Priority modes let the user control one of the exposure variables. In Program AE mode, I really appreciated the automatic "vari-program" operation, that let me select different combinations of shutter speed and aperture simply by turning the command dial (C-Dial in Sigma parlance). I find variable program modes like this more useful than pure aperture or shutter priority modes. Their advantage is that they let the camera set the aperture or shutter speed as needed to get a good exposure, but let the photographer adjust the exposure parameters toward larger or smaller apertures, higher or lower shutter speeds. If you're in shutter priority mode and select a shutter speed that's too fast for the maximum aperture of the lens you're using, you'll end up with an underexposed shot. With a vari-program approach like the SD10's though, the camera will simply use the largest aperture available to it, and set the shutter speed accordingly.

In Manual mode, the user can control aperture and shutter speed simultaneously. Aperture settings will vary with the lens in use, but by default shutter speeds range from 1/6,000 to 15 seconds. With the default settings, when the ISO is set to 400 or 800 though, the maximum exposure time drops to four seconds, limiting the SD10's low-light capabilities a fair bit. It is possible to get around this by setting the SD10 to Extended mode, where an ISO 1600 setting becomes available, along with the ability to select shutter speeds from 1/6000 to 30 seconds in all ISO ratings. The SD10 also has a bulb setting, although curiously this is limited to exposures of approximately 15 seconds or less. Like the SD9, the bulb setting is not available in all ISO ratings by default - just ISO 100 and 200; if you put the camera in extended mode, it is available in every ISO rating however. Another noteworthy change from the SD9 is that for exposures of five seconds or longer, the camera automatically locks the mirror up a couple of seconds before starting the exposure, rather than requiring the user switch to the mirror lockup mode.

To determine the exposure value, the SD10 uses an eight-segment, Evaluative metering system, which divides the image into eight regions and takes individual readings from each section. The readings are evaluated (not simply averaged) to determine the best overall exposure values based on a combination of brightness and contrast between the different areas. Besides the default evaluative metering though, the top-panel metering button lets you opt for Center or Center-Weighted modes as well. Center mode, traditionally called "spot" metering on other cameras, reads the exposure only from a tiny area in the center of the frame. Center-Weighted metering reads a larger area in the center of the frame, and bases the exposure on that, ignoring the periphery of the image.

An AEL (Auto Exposure Lock) button locks the exposure, helpful when shooting off-center subjects. You simply frame the portion of the subject that you want to expose for in the center of the frame and press (and hold) the AEL button while half-pressing the shutter button to lock the exposure, and then reframe the shot for capture. The "lock" is held only as long as you hold down the AEL button with your thumb, with the exposure not changing when you release and press the shutter button again. (Which triggers the autofocus system again.) Interestingly, the exposure will continue to be held even if you snap multiple shots. This AEL operation is different from most other cameras I've tested. Most lock with a single press of the AEL button (not requiring it to be held down), but release again as soon as you trip the shutter, or press the AEL button a second time. I found it a little awkward to have to keep my thumb on the SD10's AEL button, but liked being able to hold the lock across multiple exposures.

In all exposure modes except for Manual, you can adjust the camera-determined exposure from -3 to +3 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. (This is a wider than average range for most digicams, but typical of that offered by professional-level digital SLRs.) This is an area where I was pleased to see a noticeable improvement over the SD9 - that camera used half-stop exposure adjustments which are just too coarse, often leaving you choosing between blowing the highlights or having a dull, underexposed image. With the SD10, you have the ability to make finer-grained adjustments when capturing the photo, as well as still having the ability to adjust the photo post-capture (thanks to Sigma's excellent software and the SD10's raw-format data files). Kudos to Sigma for listening to the feedback given on the SD9!

If you're uncertain about the exposure, the SD10's Autoexposure Bracketing mode (listed as "AB" on the Drive dial) captures three images at different exposures (one at the metered exposure, one underexposed, and one overexposed). You can then choose the best exposure from the three. AB mode lets you select exposure increments between exposures of anywhere from +/-0.3 EV to +/-3.0 EV, a wide range. AB is activated by setting any nonzero value in the LCD data readout when the Drive Dial is in this position. It's disabled by setting the exposure increment back to zero. NOTE that the AB setting applies regardless of the shooting mode selected (single or continuous exposure). While some cameras only apply auto bracketing to continuous shooting mode, the SD10 implements it for single shots as well. Thus, the camera will calculate and vary exposure across groups of three shots, even if you're just shooting single frames. - This makes it important to remember to turn off the AB function when you're done with it, so it doesn't skew exposures on it when you're not expecting it to.

The SD10 offers sensitivity settings equivalent to ISO 100, 200, 400, and 800 by default, adjustable by pressing the ISO button and turning the Command dial. - Remember though, that ISO settings of 400 or higher limit the maximum exposure time to four seconds by default. By tapping the Func button until the LCD info display reads "Std" and then holding it whilst turning the Command dial, you can set the camera to an Extended mode where the maximum ISO rating is raised to 1600, and the limitations on exposure time are removed (all ISO ratings then allow exposures up to 30 seconds, and use of the 15 second max. Bulb mode). Image noise has been greatly improved over the earlier SD9 camera, somewhat relaxing the ISO/shutter time limitations I found with that model. While short-exposure noise now appears to be very competitive with conventional sensors though, noise still does seem to be somewhat of an issue with the X3 technology at long exposure times, hence the limitation on maximum shutter time as the ISO increases. If you intend to do a lot of night shooting, this (somewhat lessened) limitation of the SD10 might still give you pause. White balance options include Auto, Sunlight, Shade, Overcast, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, and Custom (the manual setting), and are adjusted through the LCD menu. Because the SD10 captures all files in the raw sensor format, any other color or image adjustments are handled via the camera's exceptionally capable host software.

The SD10's self-timer function features a two-second and a 10-second countdown. In either mode, the shutter is released the specified amount of time after the Shutter button is fully pressed. Both self-timer modes are accessed via the Drive Mode dial on top of the camera.

Flash

The SD10 does not have a built-in flash unit. It does, however, feature an external flash hot shoe on its top panel. For full integration with the SD10's exposure system, you'll need to use one of Sigma's dedicated flashes, such as the Sigma EF500 DG ST SA-N or EF500 DG Super SA-N flash unit. Both flash units work with the SD10's TTL metering system to give accurate exposures regardless of the lens you have attached. In addition, the EF500 DG Super SA-N flash allows for wireless TTL flash, using one EF500 DG Super SA-N unit on the hotshoe and a second positioned somewhere off-camera. The original SD9 can fire the remote slave, but cannot do wireless TTL flash with it. The hot shoe does have the standard center contact, so any conventional "dumb" flash unit will work fine too, although you'll forego Sigma's advanced TTL metering.

Continuous Shooting

Set via the Drive Mode dial, the SD10's Continuous Shooting mode captures a rapid burst of images for as long as the Shutter button is held down. Actual frame rates and the maximum number of frames in each burst will vary depending on the amount of available memory space, as well as the file size and quality settings selected. As with the SD9, Sigma estimates that at the highest resolution setting, the SD10 will capture as many as six frames at approximately 1.9 frames per second. At the lowest resolution setting, Sigma estimates the camera will capture a maximum of 30 frames at approximately 2.5 frames per second. (These figures seem pretty accurate: In my own tests, I clocked the SD10 at 1.9 frames/second for large files, and 2.4 frames/second for small ones.)

Shutter Lag and Cycle Times

When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's always a lag time or delay before the shutter actually fires. This corresponds to the time the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms take to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is seldom reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I routinely measure it, using a custom-built test system. (Crystal-controlled timing, with a resolution of 0.001 second.) Here are the times I collected for the SD10:

NOTE: My qualitative characterizations of camera performance below (that is, "reasonably fast," "about average," etc.) are meant to be relative to other cameras of similar price and general capabilities. Thus, the same shutter lag that's "very fast" for a low-end consumer camera might be characterized as "quite slow" if I encountered it on a professional model. The comments are also intended as only a quick reference: If performance specs are critical for you, rely on the absolute numbers to compare cameras, rather than my purely qualitative comments.

Sigma SD10 Digital SLR Timings
Operation
Time
(secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
0.60
Fast.
Shutdown
0-168
There's no lens to retract, the only shutdown-related delay is how long it takes the camera to finish writing files to the memory card. This could be anywhere from zero seconds (the camera had already processed all pending images) to 168 seconds (the camera having just started emptying a full buffer of low-resolution images).
Play to Record, first shot
0.25
Time until first shot is captured, lens set to manual focus. Very fast, time with autofocus setting is a few tenths of a second longer, depending on starting lens position.
Record to play
1.26/11.2
Time to display a large/fine file after capture. First time is delay until low-res "review" image appears on-screen. Second time is time required to finish writing to the memory card, and then to display high-res (that is, zoomable) image on the LCD. Very fast review display, very slow display of full playback-mode image.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.148-0.229
Time is for 20-40mm zoom. First time is wide-angle, second is telephoto position. Very fast.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.111
Time to capture, after half-pressing Shutter button. Faster than most consumer cameras, about average for d-SLRs.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
1.22-0.60
0.65-0.51
First numbers are for large files, second numbers are times for small images. In large mode, the SD10 captures about five files fairly quickly, but times slow down to about 9.8 seconds between shots after that, depending on the speed of the card you're using. In small mode, the camera can capture about 30 files before slowing. At all images sizes, the delay between the first and second shots is a good bit longer than between subsequent ones. (1.22 vs 0.60 seconds for full res, 0.65 vs 0.51 second for low res.)
Cycle Time, continuous mode, max/min resolution
0.54/
0.41
First numbers are for large images, second number is time for small images. You get ~five shots before having to wait for the buffer to clear in large mode, then need to wait 47-50 seconds to clear the buffer before you can capture the next series. With the small image size setting though, you get about 30 images in a series, at the 0.41 interval, with buffer-clearing times of 160 to 170 seconds.

I measured the SD10's cycle time using three different memory cards: A Lexar 24x 256MB, a Lexar 24x "WA" (Write-Accelerated) card, and a SimpleTech 512MB. While the SD10 supposedly supports Lexar's Write Acceleration technology, there was little difference in buffer-clearing time in my tests between WA and non-WA cards. With a 0.15-0.23 second shutter delay using Sigma's 20-40mm f/2.8 zoom and a prefocus lag of 0.111 seconds, the SD10's shutter lag times were much faster than typical consumer cameras, and on a par with most other d-SLRs I've tested. (The prefocus lag is a bit slower than most pro SLRS though.). Overall, the performance was quite similar to that of the SD9, albeit just slightly slower in some areas - shot to shot speeds were quite good, but the buffer still took a long time to clear. Also, as noted above, in non-continuous mode, the interval between the first two shots is quite a bit longer than between subsequent ones, so you may want to use continuous mode for fast-breaking action, even if you don't plan on shooting more than a few frames.


Operation and User Interface

Although the SD10 boasts a plethora of controls and settings dials, camera operation is actually quite logical and straightforward once you learn the locations of the various control buttons. The abundance of external controls means less reliance on the LCD menu system, which is in itself limited to about two and a half pages of settings. The one-to-one correspondence of control buttons to camera functions means that it takes little time to learn which button to press for each setting. Once up the learning curve, the combination of pushbuttons and the command dial makes for very fast operation.

The LCD menu system presents just 20 options, most of which involve basic camera setup features. Exposure, ISO, metering, focus mode, resolution, and exposure compensation are all made with external controls, with the white balance setting the only primary exposure option tucked away in the LCD menu. Here's my usual "walk around the camera", showing the various controls and their functions.


Control Enumeration


Shutter Button:
Located on top of the camera, in the center of the Command dial, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.

Command Dial: Beneath the Shutter button on the top panel, this dial adjusts a range of camera settings when turned while holding down one of the settings buttons. In programmed exposure mode, turning this dial shifts the exposure parameters to use larger or smaller apertures, with the shutter speed automatically changing to maintain the same exposure. This is often referred to as "variable program" exposure control, offering a convenient combination of automatic and manual control.


Shutter Dial:
To the left of and behind the Shutter button and Command dial, this dial adjusts the shutter speed setting in Shutter Priority and Manual exposure modes. Turning the dial toward the Fast setting decreases the exposure time (increases shutter speeds), while turning it toward the Slow setting increases exposure times (decreases shutter speeds).

Mode Selector: Underneath the Shutter dial, this tabbed selector ring sets the camera's exposure mode. Choices are Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, and Manual.


Drive Dial:
On the left-hand side of the SD10's top panel, this dial sets the camera's drive mode. Choices are Off (turns the camera off), Single, Continuous Shooting, 10-Second Self-Timer, Two-Second Self-Timer, Up (mirror lockup mode), and Autoexposure Bracketing (AB position). The AB position isn't an actual shooting position, but rather activates the command dial to set the step size for bracketing. AB is activated by setting any nonzero value in the LCD data readout when the Drive Dial is in this position. It's disabled by setting the exposure increment back to zero. NOTE that the AB setting applies regardless of the shooting mode selected (single or continuous exposure). While some cameras only apply auto bracketing to continuous shooting mode, the SD10 implements it for single shots as well. Thus, the camera will calculate and vary exposure across groups of three shots, even if you're just shooting single frames. - This means it's important to remember to turn off the AB function when you're done with it, so it doesn't skew exposures on it when you're not expecting it to.


Metering Mode Button:
Adjacent to the Drive dial on the upper left-hand side of the top panel, pressing this button and turning the Command dial sets the camera's metering mode to Eight-Segment Evaluative, Center, or Center-Weighted.


Function Button:
Just below the Metering Mode button, this button sets the remote control channel (either C1, C2, or C3). It also controls the focus indicator sound, and selects whether the camera is in Standard or Extended mode. Pressing the button once displays the remote control icon in the status display panel. Once the icon appears, holding down the Function button and turning the Command dial sets the channel. (Having multiple channels available is important if more than one Sigma camera is being triggered remotely in close proximity.) To activate or deactivate the focus indicator sound, press the button twice, and the speaker icon appears. At that point, holding down the button and turning the Command dial turns the sound on or off. Press the button three times, and the camera will display either "Def" if it is in Standard mode, or "Etd" if it is in Extended mode. Continue holding the button down whilst turning the Command dial, and you can change which mode the camera is in, either enabling or disabling the ISO 1600 setting, bulb mode above ISO 200, and the ability to shoot images up to 30 seconds long at all ISO ratings.


AF Mode Button:
Located directly beneath the Function button, pressing this button and rotating the Command dial sets the AF mode to Single or Continuous.


Diopter Adjuster:
On top of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this slide control alters the viewfinder display to accommodate eyeglass wearers. (As noted above, it seems to offer a very wide range of adjustment, and the viewfinder has a very high eyepoint as well, both characteristics helpful for eyeglass wearers.)


Depth of Field Preview Button:
Nestled on the top right-hand side of the lens mount (as viewed from the front), this button stops down the lens to the selected aperture setting without firing the shutter, letting you check the depth of field through the viewfinder.


Lens Release Button:
Tucked under the lens mount on the bottom left (as viewed from the front), this button unlocks the lens, letting you rotate it and remove it from its mount.


Resolution Button:
In the top left corner of the rear panel, this button sets the image resolution to High (2,268 x 1,512 pixels), Medium (1,512 x 1,008 pixels), or Low (1,134 x 756 pixels). Pressing the button while turning the Command dial changes the setting. Note that there is no "quality" setting on the SD10, since the camera only stores images in a raw (uncompressed) format, hence there's no JPEG compression ratio to adjust.


ISO Button:
Immediately to the right of the Resolution button, pressing this button while turning the Command Dial sets the camera's light sensitivity to 100, 200, 400 or 800 ISO equivalents (and to 1600 ISO equivalent when the camera is in Extended mode).


AE (Auto Exposure Lock) Button:
In the top right corner of the rear panel, pressing this button while the shutter button is held halfway down locks the exposure. The "lock" is held only as long as you keep pressing the AEL button. The exposure will remain locked even if you release and press the shutter button again. Interestingly, the exposure will continue to be held even if you snap multiple shots. This AEL operation is different from most other cameras I've tested. Most lock with a single press of the AEL button (not requiring it to be held down), but release again as soon as you trip the shutter, or press the AEL button a second time. I found it a little awkward to have to keep my thumb on the SD10's AEL button, but liked being able to hold the lock across multiple exposures.


Exposure Compensation Button:
Directly to the right of the AE Lock button, this button adjusts the overall exposure from -3 to +3 EV in third-step increments. Adjust the exposure by holding down this button and turning the Command dial. The +/- 3EV range is wider than average, matching that generally found on professional SLR cameras.


+/- Control Buttons:
Below the AE Lock and Exposure Compensation buttons, these buttons control the amount of digital enlargement applied to images displayed on the LCD screen in playback mode. When an image is displayed at normal size, pressing the "-" button switches to a nine-image index display. You can scroll through the thumbnail images quickly using the arrow pad, and pressing the "+" button brings you back up to a normal sized display of the currently selected picture.


CF Open Release Lever:
Below the +/- buttons, this lever unlocks and releases the door covering the memory card slot.


Four-Way Arrow Pad:
Just to the right of the LCD monitor, this rocker button features four arrows. In any settings menu, the arrows navigate through menu selections. In image review mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images, while the up and down arrows jump forward and backward by three frames. I found the action of this control a little finicky on the SD10, as I had to hit it at just the right spot to get it to scroll up or down. The more I used the camera, the less of an issue this became, as I apparently subconsciously learned to how to press it, but it was rather annoying at first. News Editor Mike Tomkins didn't seem to have any difficulty with it, though, so it may just come down to personal preference.


OK Button:
Below the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button confirms any menu selections. Through the settings menu, you can assign one of several shortcut functions to this button, available only during image review.


Cancel Button:
To the right of the OK button, this button backs out of settings menus without making any changes.


Delete Button:
Adjacent to the bottom left corner of the LCD monitor, this button deletes images from the memory card in playback mode.


Modify Menu Button:
Just above the Delete button, this button displays a short review menu whenever image review is active - even overlaying it on top of the playback histogram (!) - with the following options:


Info Button:
Above the Modify Menu button, this button displays a range of information about the current image, on a screen that also includes a histogram of the currently-displayed portion of the image (if the playback view has been zoomed, the histogram corresponds only to the currently visible area).


View Button:
Directly above the Info button, this button activates the image review mode. NOTE that as with the SD9, pressing this button won't wake the camera from its "sleep" mode. If the camera has powered down due to non-activity, you'll need to wake it up by half-pressing the shutter button first, after which you can press the view button to see the last picture shot. (I'd still really like to see the View Button also be able to wake the camera.)


Menu Button:
Next to the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button displays the settings menu in any mode.


Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: The SD10 enters Record mode by default whenever the camera is powered on. A Mode Selector dial on the top panel sets the exposure mode to Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual modes, and a full range of exposure and drive options are available.

Playback Mode: Pressing the View button on the back panel activates the camera's LCD monitor, and displays the most recently captured image. The arrow pad lets you navigate through captured images, and you can mark, delete, protect, rotate, or enlarge images, as well as play back captured frames in a slide show.

Settings Menu: The following settings menu can be accessed in any camera mode, simply by pressing the Menu button. (I've chosen to show each option as a separate screen, since some of them contain quite a bit of information, and my usual practice of using an animated sequence could be confusing.)

Camera Info: Displays current status of several camera settings, as well as the amount of used and available space on the memory card. White Balance: Sets the white balance to Auto, Sunlight, Shade, Overcast, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, or Custom. - Note that the Custom white balance value is set via the next menu option.
Program Versions #1: This displays the version numbers of some of the programs running behind the scenes the SD10. This is a "hidden" screen which Sigma told SD9 users how to access during a firmware upgrade, and it also exists on the SD10. To view it, go to the Camera Info screen and then on the Four-Way Arrow Pad press "Right", then "Down". Program Versions #2: This displays more version numbers of some of the programs behind the scenes in the SD10. As with Program Versions #1, this is a "hidden" screen. To view it, go to that screen and then on the Four-Way Arrow Pad press "Down". NOTE that although this identifies our camera as a production model, Sigma tells us it is actually a "near-production model".
Set Custom WB: Captures an image (typically of a white card), from which the camera will base the Custom white balance value. Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
Language: Specifies English, Japanese, German, or French as the menu language. Quick Preview: Enables a quick image review screen, immediately after image capture. Settings are Off, two, five, or 10 seconds, with a Hold setting that waits for you to confirm the image before recording. When Hold is selected, the displayed image can be dismissed either by pressing the Cancel button or by half- or fully-pressing the shutter button.
Preview Style: Designates whether the image only, or the image with an information screen appears in the Quick Preview. Exposure Warning: Turns the Exposure Warning on or off. If on, the warning highlights any potential overexposure on the image review screen in solid red.
Info Strip: Sets whether the exposure information or the date and time appear in the info strip that displays above each image in review mode. OK Shortcut: Assigns a specific default function to the OK button, active during image review only. Choices are None, Lock/Unlock, Mark/Unmark, Rotate Clockwise, Rotate Counterclockwise, or Exposure Warning.
Format CF Card: Formats the memory card, erasing all files, even locked files. A warning appears if there are images that have been shot but not downloaded yet, a handy feature I've only seen before on Sigma's SD9, but that other manufacturers would do well to emulate. File Numbering: Specifies whether file numbering continues from memory card to memory card, or whether numbering resets with each new card.
LCD Brightness: Adjusts the overall brightness of the LCD display to Dim, Normal, or Bright. In another nice touch, the SD10 displays a grayscale bar so you can see the effect of your setting choice, letting you make more intelligent adjustments based on the current ambient light. LCD Contrast: Adjusts the contrast of the LCD monitor to High, Medium, or Low. A reference grayscale bar is displayed for this adjustment as well.
LCD Sleep: Adjusts the LCD's power-saving sleep function. Delay times are 30 seconds, or 1, 2, 5, 10, 15, or 30 minutes. An "Off" setting disables the sleep function, leaving the LCD display on at all times. The default is 30 seconds. Auto Power Off: Sets the delay before the camera automatically shuts itself off. Times are 10 or 30 seconds, or one or five minutes. There's also an Off setting, to keep the camera powered-up whenever the drive switch is set to one of its active positions. The default is 30 seconds.
Key Sound: Adjusts the camera's key sounds, which sound whenever a button is fully pressed. (Options are Off, Long or Short duration.) Video Mode: Sets the video output timing to NTSC or PAL.
Firmware Version #1: Takes you to the screen displayed in the next screenshot. Firmware Version #2: Displays the SD10's current firmware version.
Camera Reset: Takes you to the screen displayed in the next screenshot. Camera Reset: Prompts you as to whether you really want to restore the camera to its default settings, and gives you the opportunity to cancel..


 

Image Storage and Interface

The SD10 stores images on either Type I or II CompactFlash cards, or MicroDrives. The SD10 doesn't come with a memory card, so you'll want to purchase a large capacity card along with the camera. Note too, that you're going to want a LARGE card, as the raw-format images the SD10 saves occupy a lot of space, particularly at the High resolution setting. Three image resolutions are available: High (2,268 x 1,512 pixels), Medium (1,512 x 1,008 pixels), or Low (1,134 x 756 pixels). All images are recorded in the raw file format, which records data directly as captured by the sensor, losslessly compressed. (The camera's interface software provides a useful and very flexible tool for correcting and adjusting exposure and color values, and saving JPEG or TIFF images from the raw sensor data files.)

As noted, the SD10 uses lossless data compression as it saves the data onto the memory card. Whilst at first glance it might seem that there is little compression used for the medium and low resolution images, this is likely because the files actually contain a sizeable preview "thumbnail" which the camera and software display whilst the actual RAW data is being encoded. This lets you more quickly browse through images, etc. - but means that as you go to the lower resolution X3F files, the thumbnail occupies a progressively larger percentage of the total file size - cancelling out the compression of the RAW data to some extent. Also, note that although the compression figures shown are based on a baseline of 8 bits per color channel, the SD10 actually digitizes to 12 bits per channel - so there's actually an additional factor of 1.5 that's applied, but not reflected in the compression figures below.

Following is the number of files, and their approximate sizes, that will fit on a 256MB memory card. As you can see, you'll really want a large memory cards to use with the SD10! It is a shame, then, that as with its predecessor the SD10 doesn't support the FAT32 file system - meaning that you're subject to the limitations of FAT16 (which prevents any area of a flash card beyond the first two gigabytes from being visible). With cards as large as 6GB now just becoming available (October, 2003) it would have been nice to see the SD10 offer support for them - particularly given its support for the Type-II CompactFlash slot that many of the largest cards require.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
256MB Memory Card
RAW
Full
Resolution
2,268x1,512
Images
(Avg size)
38
6.6 MB
Approx.
Compression
1.6:1
Medium
Resolution
1,512x1,008
Images
(Avg size)
57
4.4 MB
Approx.
Compression
1.45:1
Low Resolution
1,134x756
Images
(Avg size)
112
2.3 MB
Approx.
Compression
1.25:1

The SD10 is equipped with both USB and FireWire (IEEE 1394) interfaces, the USB interface conforming to version 1.1 of that standard. Download speed on the earlier SD9 was a major issue, as it had the dubious distinction of being the slowest camera I'd tested to date. Happily, the situation appears to be much improved with the SD10, as it showed a download speed of 1.2-1.3 megabytes/second over FireWire, depending on the speed of the memory card used. (I only tested it with fairly fast cards, slow memory cards would doubtless produce slower download times.) Unfortunately, I couldn't get the USB drivers to work on my overloaded Windows XP box, and was hesitant to load drivers on my pristine Mac OS X workstation, so was unable to test USB transfer rates. (This shouldn't be counted as a strike against the SD10, as the XP box in question just recently developed some fairly serious OS problems that could well have been the source of the trouble.)

Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff happens," as they say. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

Video Out

The SD10 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 power situation on the SD10 is another area of pleasing upgrades. The earlier SD9 required two separate sets of batteries - a set of four AA-type cells, and a pair of pricey CR123A lithium batteries. The SD10 dispenses with the CR123As, running the entire camera from the AA cells. This is a great enhancement, because the CR123As were quite expensive to replace, and could easily be run down by leaving the camera's power switch on. Besides AA cells being cheaper (and rechargeable NiMH cells almost free by the time you get a couple of hundred charge cycles on them), the SD10 has an amazingly low-power "sleep" mode, so there's virtually no penalty associated with leaving the power switch turned on.

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. 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 (apparently identical to the revised SD9 tray that was issued to correct problems with NiMH batteries) that inserts into the side of the camera - a nice design touch that allows the batteries to be changed whilst the camera is mounted on a tripod. An AC adapter does come with the camera, and is useful for time-consuming tasks such as image review and downloading. As noted, the SD10 has an automatic "sleep" timer, which powers down the camera after a period of inactivity (from 10 seconds to five minutes). The good thing about the SD10's sleep mode is that the camera consumes virtually NO power (three milliwatts, in my measurements) when sleeping, and awakens fairly quickly, so there's really no penalty associated with leaving the power switch in the "on" position whenever you're out shooting with it.

Power consumption on the SD10 is a bit of a mixed bag, and a little hard to project, since it depends so heavily on what you happen to be doing with the camera. When the camera is in a quiescent state (neither actively capturing nor displaying an image), power consumption is fairly low, and a set of freshly charged, high-capacity NiMH cells should last three and a half hours or more in this state. Steady-state power drain in playback mode is also fairly low, such that you could get nearly two hours of continuous run time viewing the same image.

There lies the rub though: "Viewing the same image." The SD10 apparently has a pretty hefty processor in it, because the power drain goes way up 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 1300 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 of 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. That said, we found that the SD10 showed very good battery life in actual use, and we're told that final production models will have yet another power tweak applied, that should permit as many as 500 shots per set of AA NiMH batteries.

The SD10 did fix a key power-related problem found in early SD9 models, namely high cutoff voltage. Some of this may have been the result of the poor initial design of the SD9's battery tray, which had very high contact resistance. The SD10 uses the new tray design that was introduced as an update to the SD9 shortly after it began shipping, a very robust design with stiff springs and large contacts. - Overall it's one of the better battery holders I've seen on a digicam thus far, and the SD10 does a good job of draining all the available juice out of a set of NiMH AA cells.

As usual, I tested the actual power drain of the SD10 in various operating modes, and related the results to projected run times. The figures in the table below are based on 1600 mAh (true not advertised capacity) NiMH AA cells, so the numbers can be readily compared with those from previously-tested cameras - Figure on a good 25% longer run times with the latest high-capacity NiMH AAs.

Operating Mode
Power Drain
(@
5v)
Estimate
Run Time
(1600mAh, 4.8v
4 NiMH Cells)
Capture Mode, no LCD
444 mA
3.5 hours
Capture Mode, Cont AF
781 mA
2 hours
Half-pressed shutter button
498 mA
3.1 hours
Memory Write (transient)
600-1300 mA
n/a
Image Playback
831 mA
1.9 hours



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 SD10 - as it was with 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 sometime during the day tomorrow.

Not Included: "Brainware"
Every manufacturer includes some level of needed software with their cameras, but what's missing is the knowledge and experience to know what to do with it. For lack of a better term, I've called this "Brainware." There's a lot involved between snapping the shutter, and watching a beautiful, professional-quality print spool off your printer, and there's sadly very little guidance as to how to get from point A to point B.

Fortunately, Uwe Steinmueller of OutbackPhoto.com has come up with an excellent series of e-books that detail every step of the process, show actual examples of files moving through the workflow, and the final results. If you want to get the absolute best prints possible from your digital files, you owe it to yourself to purchase one of the Outback Photo Digital Workflow books.



In the Box

Included in the box are the following items:



 

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a detailed commentary on each of the test images, see the Sigma SD10's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the SD10's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Conclusion

Free Photo Lessons

Check out the Free Photo School program for lessons and tips on improving your photographs!
Learn how to take stunning photos with simple pro lighting tips, in our free Photo School area!

Foveon and Sigma have made remarkable strides over the last year, as evidenced by the dramatic improvements in the performance of the new SD10 camera over the earlier SD9 model. Many of the limitations of the SD9 have been addressed, and the improvements in image noise levels and high-ISO capability are impressive. Color rendering has also seen substantial improvement, to the point that I'd now rate the SD10's color as "very good to excellent," something I'd not have said about the SD9. While Sigma and Foveon are trying to position the SD10 and its sensor as 10.2 megapixel units, my own tests to date suggest that the camera delivers resolution more equivalent to that of its six-megapixel competition. (I have in mind some additional tests to explore the resolution issue further, but I don't know if I'll be able to get to them, given the current review overload.)

A lot of the success of the SD10 will depend on the price point at which it ends up being sold, and on how the established band of SD9 enthusiasts react to the "look" of its pictures. My earlier conclusion that there were sharpness differences between the SD9 and SD10 appear to have been the result of random variations in performance between the 50mm lenses I originally used to test the two models, despite their being the same model. Repeating the test, using the same lens on both the SD10 and a SD9 seems to show that the two cameras are virtually identical in their sharpness characteristics. So bottom line, the new SD10 should appeal to the same folks who liked the "look" of the original SD9's images, as well as a much broader segment of the market now that image noise has been improved and high-ISO shooting is possible. As with the SD9, the SD10 also has in its favor the relatively low cost and high optical quality of the Sigma lenses, making it quite affordable to build up a considerable "kit" of lenses. I suspect a lot of its success will depend on the price point it hits the market at. (As I'm writing this, in the wee hours of the morning, two days after its announcement, the introductory price still hasn't been set yet for the US market.) If it's priced competitively, it might steal some business away from Nikon and Canon at the low ends of their lines. If it's priced higher though, I'm afraid it will have a difficult time getting traction with consumers.

<<SD10 Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

Reader Comments!
Questions, comments or controversy on this product? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about the Sigma SD10, or add comments of your own!



Site Map | About Us | | Advertising | Privacy Policy | Usage Policy | Home

Imaging Resource © 1998 - 2014. Material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted or otherwise used without the prior written consent of .