Magazine Article


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


The debates about proprietary vs. ubiquitous batteries have simmered more than boiled, but they're appearing here not for the first time. Rechargeable NiMH cells once were standards in a digicam box, so there was an opening premise that digicams ran forever, with occasional spells plugged into a recharger. If you ran out of juice in the middle of taking pictures, you could go to said bodega for emergency power.

The assumption about professional cameras, however, is that their users need the robustness, including low-temperature reliability, of Li-Ion cells, and will buy enough spares to keep themselves clicking. Such cells are not cheap, and whether replacements will be available a decade hence, when today's finally expire, is not at this point certain.

By using four AA cells, the SD10 aligns itself with the prosumer camp more than the pro. Our practice became carrying a second Sigma battery holder, pre-loaded with AAs, to snap into the camera when the installed ones went soft. In last winter's deep freeze, we placed the apparently depleted set in an inside pocket under our coat against our 98.6 degree body heat, which usually brought the failed set back to life. Of course, the pocket we used was close to our heart.

In that regard, we forced the SD10 into the procam model of power supply.

In short, we still haven't determined whether the SD10's a power-hungry camera or not. But if it is, we know what the solution would be. And for the cost-conscious, an extra battery holder and four rechargeable NiMHs probably cost no more than most comparable proprietary Li-Ion.

As though to acknowledge that there is some question, we were told just at deadline that a Sigma-branded set of rechargeable CRV3s bundled with charger should be selling, by the time you read this, at an MSRP of $119.

Gilding the Lily

The X3 sensor in the SD9 did have, like most other sensors, its points of compromise. Its remarkable sharpness, for example, was partly a result of devices used by most other cameras to deliberately blur the picture a tad. Why would Foveon do this? In part to eliminate the effects of linear aliasing, where straight lines set on the diagonal don't come out straight, but have jagged edges-"stair-stepping" and "sawtoothing," as it's sometimes termed. Theoretically, this increased the SD9's and the SD10's vulnerabilities to the jaggies, and indeed we made one picture that suffered the aberration. That appeared here in our February 2003 issue.

At the time of that publication it was the only instance of the aliasing we'd encountered, a point which holds true at the time of this publication. We've used the SD10 even more than the SD9, and we've found no further instances of linear aliasing.

Linear aliasing shows up in subjects that have lots of straight lines. MiesVan Der Rohe-designed buildings would be an example. Our recommendation, to anyone who photographs lots of architecture, would be to consult the camera monitor after each exposure of anything with shapes parallel and perpendicular to the face of the imager. Correcting the problem, if it comes up, could be quite simple, such as zooming the lens slightly or tilting the camera a little differently. Our one aliased picture was part of a series of four nearly identical compositions, and the other three showed no anomalies.

The SD10's control layout matches the SD9's, having been very easy to work with in the first place. The on-screen menu is quite direct, and seldom requires going past the opening page. The onboard buttons include one for setting the ISO-press it, and turn the command dial and you click-through the speed settings. Some, though not all, digital cameras require setting the ISO on the camera menu, or turning the shutter-control dial to an ISO-setting position. Both those approaches slow things down, and some days you're just in a hurry. Pressing the SD10's ISO button and turning the command dial is a simple, direct means, of taking advantage of a unique strength of digital cameras: the ability to change light-sensitivity from shot to shot. Throughout history, photographers have studiously jockeyed f-stop and shutter-speed to achieve correct exposure, and now some digicams add half-again as much control through a pushbutton ISO setting. The SD10 may be boxy and clunkish, but it's also thought out with a mind toward swift operation.

This was our biggest surprise. Because it feels otherwise, the Sigma DSLR didn't make us expect a responsive performer. But it proved to be just that. We were able to capture fast-moving, unrehearsed and unexpected movements and gestures at exactly the point we thought best. This can be said about other cameras too, but the SD10 ran about as fast as our eyeball.

The new model has the same imaging sensor as before, sorta. That is, it's the same as before, with teeny little lenses placed over the pixels. The Foveon folks say this improves performance in low light. We're comfortable with the SD10 at speeds up to 400, the available higher speeds generating more noise than we care for. One definite improvement has to do with the treatment of small highlights. With the SD9, a colored point of light-a Christmas tree light, for example, as a detail on the tree-would tend to turn out white and not colored. This has been improved in the SD10, so our red lights stayed red.

It takes a sharp camera to make a dull picture. A December blizzard diffused everything, which the SD10 caught perfectly. No noise in this shot, which against the gray would have stood out like a red, green, and blue thumb.

The Never Ending Story

One difference in specsmanship between the SD9 and SD10 is the number of claimed pixels. It was 3.4-million for the older model, more like 10-million for the new. Say, that's a big change. Isn't it? So how come it's way down here by the end of the page?

Well, it's like this. The old model may have had 3.4-megapixels and the new model may have 10, but they both have the same number of pixels.