Magazine Article


Sigma & Foveon: A Hollywood Marriage?

We'd probably have sidestepped it anyway, as premature to judge. How yellow-happy is a pre-production digicam? Color could be tweaked continually up to the moment the camera ships, being a result as much of computer code as of the physical design of the chip.

As Long As They Brought it Up

Once a production SD9 got into our hands, Taking a stand on the question of yellow became almost a moral imperative. Our first run with a production SD9, at about the time the reviews of the prototypes came out, produced plenty of yellowish subjects. In the last issue of PTN, we printed a picture of Veronica, who was born blonde and remains so, standing against a distinctly orange tugboat. In the original, her skin tones looked fine. The tug is the correct shade of orange. Certainly not the "washed-out" appearance complained of by the computer magazine.

In a couple thousand additional picturestaken under practical conditions, "on assignment"the colors struck these eyes as consistent in warmth and balance. The primaries are all very strong, but also the whites are very clean. For a certainty, the colors are rich and warm.

The existence of such developments as web publishing increasingly blurs the distinction between "pro" and "consumer." No longer do we assume the customer comes home with prints in an envelope, and stores them in a drawer for 20 years.

Photo by Don Sutherland Four shots of this scene were taken as a set of huge cranes passed beneath the Bayonne Bridge. This is the only one of the four, and the only shot in a couple thousand during our tests, that revealed linear aliasingthe "jaggies," visible if you look closely at the vertical cables supporting the roadway. According to Foveon reps, focal length and the angle at which the camera is held influence the vulnerability of straight lines to "stairstepping" like this.

If the customer's posting 'em on the web, the customer's taking steps never considered beforesteps closer to the "professional" practice. Between the download and the upload lie opportunities galore to do other things to the picture, such as straightening, cropping, adjusting the color, sharpening, putting things in, taking things out.

Hard on the Software

As of this writing, no plans have been made to incorporate the SD9 software in kiosks and minilabs. And yes, its pictures must be downloaded first into their software. Until that software has a broad installed base in the commercial processing market, we have to assume the SD9 user will do his or her own downloadswith all the main picture-adjustments just mouse-clicks away. Once the pictures are downloaded, of course, they can be saved as jpegs, tiffs, or any other format popular for printing by commercial labs.

Whether or not this constitutes an "extra step" for commercial printing is what they call a "workflow" issue. How many SD9 users would want prints made from the original camera card? Those who would normally save files to another medium first (hard disk, CD-R, DVD-R, etc.) would need do no more for commercial printing than users of cameras that come bundled with Adobe or U-Lead or Arcsoft viewer/editors. All digicams come with software, because the manufacturers correctly assume that not everyone has Photoshop.

The computer magazine described the software as "cumbersome," without elaboration. Nothing we found in its use was much different than Photoshop Elements. The interface uses a few different terms, and sometimes the cigarette lighter is where you expect the windshield wipers to be. But all interfaces are different, and this one's very easy to learn.

Clicking on any file causes Sigma's Photo Pro software to launch automatically. In a few moments, you have a screenful of thumbnails. It's elegant and quick.

Double-clicking a thumbnail opens the picture to a full-screen view. The interface shows three ways of acquiring each picture; "Default" does minimal processing; "Automatic" processes more, to what the software thinks you'll probably like; "Custom" overrides both, permitting individual users adjustment of each picture the way he or she wants. It's possible to click any of the settings at any time, to instantly compare the three views.

The prototype reviews used the "Automatic" setting, which is a good place to start. All of our early test shots were also on "auto"with none of the color anomalies the others described.

The Raw Truth

But why not use a file format more universally compatible in the SD9, like the .jpg and .tif most other cameras do? Because converting to those formats means discarding some of the information the camera caught in the first place. The "raw" file, unprocessed, contains maybe 48 bits in color potential, for example. But computer graphics systems run at half that24 bits at the max. So, strictly speaking, the .jpg that comes out of most cameras is only half of what went in.

It's probably the best half, of course. A lot of the discarded material is marginal in the first placeprobably 90% of the time, you'd never miss it. With raw files, you're equipped to deal with the remaining 10%.

There are pros and cons about raw formatsthey offer a possibly better picture, but they make biggish filesthe point being that they cost nothing extra (the software comes free) and otherwise work like popular software.