Since its introduction in October 2002, Sigma’s flagship SD series of cameras has established a strong following among both amateurs and professionals. The latest addition to the series, the 14.45 megapixel SD15, combines the celebrated Foveon X3 image sensor with improved processing speed, operation and performance.
“It’s taken nearly two years for this camera to come to market, but we are quite pleased with the end result,” says Sigma President and COO Kazuto Yamaki. “We believe that Sigma’s customers will share our enthusiasm for the exquisite image quality it produces.”
As compared to the SD14, the SD15 offers a larger LCD with more pixels (SD14, 2.5 inches/150,000 pixels; SD15, 3 inches/460,000 pixels) and greater pixel density. The SD15’s much larger buffer can handle 21 RAW images shot continuously as opposed to the SD14’s six images. Yamaki points out, “The new True II processor contains faster, more accurate, more robust image processing algorithms and does a better job of keeping up with the photographer. It also increases reliability by reducing lockups and dropped images from the multiprocessor solution in the SD14.”
The SD15 includes an improved button layout and dual mirror drives for less vibration and smoother operation — great for macro shooting and for using OS and long lenses.
The new 77-segment auto exposure sensor provides a larger sample for AE calculations. Together with the AF result, this produces very accurate exposures with few unrecoverable highlights. ISO now goes to 3200, one stop over the SD14, and new user-controlled noise sliders in the included SPP RAW conversion software permit greater control over detail rendering in images taken at ISO 400 and higher. Auto-bracketing can now be set to either three or five images.
The Foveon X3 sensor is a key element of the SD15’s image quality. The sensor features three layers of photodetectors (for red, green and blue light) embedded in silicon at every pixel location. Yamaki says, “The rule of thumb is that a Foveon imager is as sharp as a CFA (Color Filter Array) sensor with twice the number of spatial locations when shooting resolution charts. However, this is the lower end for real photographic comparisons; the difference can be much more. On a red-green resolution chart, the Foveon imager compares favorably with a CFA sensor with at least three times as many spatial locations.”
Yamaki adds, “There have been numerous discussions about the ability of the Foveon imager to resolve beyond Nyquist. The result is a pleasing artifact which is particularly effective in landscape and macro photography. The false detail still looks similar to the original detail as its size decreases. This is indeed more attractive than the lost detail caused by the blur filter in a landscape image from a CFA sensor.”
Building on the SD series’ long-standing reputation for landscape, macro and portrait work, the SD15’s improved color and speed, superior image output from both in-camera JPEGS and RAW files, and the addition of a neutral color mode make it an ideal camera for studio work, product photography and weddings. The SD15’s street price is $989.
8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM
This is the world’s first ultra-wide zoom lens with a minimum focal length of 8mm — a “beyond the human eye” focal length that gives photographers the same ability to do wide-angle photos as they would have with a full-frame camera. Yamaki explains, “Our 12-24mm lenses for 35mm full-frame cameras were so highly regarded among professionals, especially architecture and landscape shooters, that we wanted to develop another revolutionary lens for APS-C format DSLR users. Before the 12-24mm, there were no lenses that covered the 12mm focal length. The wider perspective of the 8-16mm should broaden the range of photographic expression and stimulate the creativity of the photographers who use it.”
The 8-16mm lens provides a 121- degree angle of view at the 8mm setting — equivalent to shooting with a 12mm super wide-angle lens on a full-frame camera. Yamaki says, “Until now, there have been few lens choices for the wide-angle enthusiast. For the first time, a photographer can use the APS-C format without having to give up any capabilities.” Street price for the 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM is $699.
85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM
With a street price of $899, this versatile lens is distinguished from its competitors by its affordability. Yamaki observes, “This price point offers photographers good value for a lens that has features comparable to the most expensive 85mm lenses on the market. Sigma purposely avoided the much larger, much more expensive alternative of the f1.2 design in order to make a practical lens that could be used by a wide range of photographers.”
The 85mm setting is an ideal focal length for portrait photography, and the fast 1.4 aperture allows you to shoot with a very shallow depth of field, thus “blowing out” the background and concentrating attention on the subject. Due to its fast aperture, the 85mm is also excellent for indoor sports photography, and the Hyper-Sonic motor enables extremely fast focusing action. Yamaki says, “This is a great lens for documentary photography, candid portraiture, press conferences and low-light scenes where its fast speed is a real plus.”
While this lens is made for use on a full-frame camera, using it on an APS-C or APS-H format camera has advantages as well. For an APS-H user, it’s equivalent to a 110mm f1.4 lens, and for an APS-C user, it’s equivalent to a 128 mm f1.4 lens — options that open up new photographic possibilities.
Founded in 1961 as a lens manufacturer, Sigma has grown to become one of the world’s leading photographic equipment providers. For more product information, visit www.sigmaphoto.com, call (800) 896-6858 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
An important note: Sigma has announced that all of its current lenses are compatible with Adobe Photoshop CS5’s upgraded Lens Correction feature, which automatically fixes distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting.
▲ Cynthia Anderson is a writer and editor based in Yucca Valley, California.