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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 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 11/09/2002

Executive Overview

With the comfortable heft of a traditional 35mm SLR film camera, the SD9 is Sigma's ground breaking entry into the prosumer digital SLR marketplace. Featuring a 3.34-megapixel Foveon CMOS sensor with full-color pixels, the SD9 is the first in its price category to offer such a high-grade image sensor, and indeed is the first camera in the world to use Foveon's "X3" sensor technology. Capturing and storing images as lossless raw sensor data files, the SD9'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 SD9's body is slightly larger than the competing D60 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, 1Ds, and Nikon D1x/D1h.) The SD9 feels pretty rugged overall, although I felt that the rather thin body panels on the front of the unit contributed to a slighly "tinny" feel there. While it does have the heft of an SLR design, the SD9 isn't by any means a heavy camera. It features af 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 SD9 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 almost 100% 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 (1/6,000 to one second at the ISO 200 and 400 settings). For long exposures, the SD9 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 SD9 is also compatible with an optional IR remote release.) By default, the SD9 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-half-step increments. (I'd much prefer to see 1/3 step increments.) ISO choices include 100, 200, and 400 equivalent settings, but keep in mind that the slow end of the shutter speed range contracts dramatically with ISO settings higher than 100. The final exposure option is white balance, with Auto, Sunlight, Shade, Overcast, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, and Custom modes. Because the SD9 captures files in the raw sensor format, any further image adjustments can be made with the interface software. (The SD9'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 SD9 doesn't offer a built-in flash, but does have an external flash hot shoe on top of the camera, compatible with Sigma's EF-500 DG Super SA and EF-500 DG ST SA flash units, as well as conventional "dumb" hot shoe flash units. Available Drive settings on the SD9 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 2.7 frames/second for small ones.)

The SD9 saves images to CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, and is compatible with the IBM MicroDrive. All files are recorded as raw sensor data, and three resolutions are available. For downloading images, the SD9 has both USB and IEEE-1394 ports, and comes with both cables, although I found that downloads from the camera were very slow, particularly when connecting via USB. A video cable also comes with the camera, for viewing images on a television set. For power, the SD9 utilizes two CR123A lithium batteries, as well as either two CR-V3 lithium battery packs or four AA-type batteries. An AC adapter is also included for use in the studio, or when the camera is connected to the computer for lengthy downloads.


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