Magazine Article


Sigma SD10 - The More Things Stay the Same, The More They Change

We weren't the first to publish reviews of the original Sigma SD9-and we were glad of it. The first reviewers used pre-production cameras from which they drew conclusions about models to come. And there were big differences between those two generations. By the time we reviewed the SD9, early production models were finally available. Our findings disagreed with those of the first-comers, particularly on the subject of color reproduction. They all disagreed with one another, too. Some said the yellows and reds were much too strong, others said much too weak.

What we were first to publish was a preview of the Sigma SD9. We ran a picture in September 2002 in photokina News, the cousin to Photo Trade News, distributed at that show. On opening day, strolling the floor, we bumped into Eric Zarakov, who works over at Foveon. It was his company's chip that was making its debut inside the new Sigma. He mentioned having a working sample which, though far from finalized, he could lend us to play with for two hours. That's enough for a news item.

Though the primary colors on and around the Erie Canal tugboat Waterford are strong, the whites are quite pure-no tint or cast is visible.

We took the prototype out into the soggy Rhineland afternoon, with mists hugging the ground and the spires of the Cologne cathedral vanishing into the clouds. Down from the right on the river before us, our favorite subject glided in: a tugboat. Pushing a barge. One rarely sees tugboats with barges on the Rhine in Cologne, and we had a camera. We ran back to the Editorial Office shouting, "Stop the presses!"

That picture ran again in the photokina wrap-up here in Photo Trade News, and in that other cousin, Studio Photography & Design. All of it took place before the first reviews came out, and it sidestepped the subject of color reproduction altogether.

Good Luck

We had a lot of great luck with our very first SD9 picture. It was all the more provocative for the Foveon X3 imager, which had raised so much buzz since the PMA show half a year earlier. Amounting to a rewrite of digital imager design, the Foveon chip had been the enigma and the fascination of the Sigma camera since the first word was leaked the preceding December. Could it really be any good, let alone as good as its advocates were saying?

Our shot of the tug on the Rhine on that gray afternoon, was all blues and cyans. There were no reds or yellows in the scene, so who's to judge color? We noted that thought, and went on to say that color aside, the picture's sharpness was startling.

The smallest details, far in the background, where we expected a smudge, had sharp edges. We could read the names on the bows of the boats on the opposite shore. The resolution we found in that picture was equal to, maybe better than, what we were accustomed to in 6-megapixel cameras.

Although we couldn't assess color, with so many missing on an overcast day, we could get an idea of noise. If the camera made some, it could appear as dots of all colors distributed at random throughout the picture. They'd be especially conspicuous against the grays of that autumnal day.

The picture was clean as a whistle.

Sharp edges and low noise. They were the part of the big picture that set our expectations for the Sigma camera, but what, at long last, about that color? Our favorite test was shooting a story about scrapping a fleet of old New York subway cars. They were known as the Redbirds. Guess what color they were?

Plenty of reds and yellows in those pictures. And they came out just fine. Strong, but not garish. The same could be said for the color in general. Richly saturated, without turning neon. As we've said elsewhere, more Rembrandt than Van Gogh.

What is Sexy?

Liking Rembrandt was the reason you bought an SD9. The camera itself looked a bit boxy, and sounded clunky in operation. There were some complaints that it was difficult to hold, which we didn't share (we don't know if our hand is bigger than others' as we don't know our glove size-though we can say we span a major-ninth on the piano keyboard). But we had to agree that the SD9 was less a mid-1950s Corvette, than a mid-50s Volvo. It would appeal to people whose mindset might be: "we do this for a purpose." Let others be cool.

Sigma SD10 camera When Capt. Henry gives orders, the very waters take heed. The skipper made a swift gesture, and the SD10 was fleet enough to catch it.

About a year after the SD9 started shipping, December 2003, the SD10 followed-up. Physically, the camera seemed almost identical to its forebear. Still boxy, still clunky. Claims were made for improved power-management, however, and one of two sets of batteries in the SD9 was eliminated in the SD10. We'd already had doubts about the SD9's power consumption, as we seemed to go through batteries quickly. We'd been, on the other hand, working in 20-degree weather with the SD9, which is unkind to batteries.

We were working in 17-degree weather with the SD10, powered by only four AA cells. We're unable to say much about power consumption, except that when the weather gets bitter, the new model with one set of batteries poops-out as quickly as the old model did with two sets of batteries.

It seems characteristic of most AA cells that they're less tolerant of cold temperatures than the Li-Ion batteries more common in proprietary forms for DSLRs. Even a number of high-end consumer and prosumercams use Li-Ion power, exchanging a generally more-robust performance for the universality of replacements with AAs carded and racked in bodegas worldwide.

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