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Sigma SD10

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

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Page 8:Operation & User Interface

Review First Posted: 10/26/2003

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:

  • Lock: Locks the current image, all images on the card, or all marked images. Locking an image prevents it from being accidentally erased or manipulated, except via card formatting, which erases all images.
  • Mark: Marks the current image, or all images on the memory card. Marked images can then be manipulated as a group.
  • Rotate: Rotates the image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
  • Slideshow: Initiates a slideshow of captured images, showing either all images on the card, just the marked images or just the locked images. Also has a settings option where you can select the slideshow display duration (2, 5, or 10 seconds per image, or manual to advance images with the Four-Way Arrow Pad. Note that you can manually cue forward / backward through images even when you've selected a setting other than manual). A second setting is "Repeat", where you can select whether the slideshow should repeat indefinitely or display images once only with a "Yes" or "No" option.

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.

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