The Sigma SD10 is a 10.2 (3.4x3)-megapixel DSLR camera equipped with the unique Foveon X3 Direct Image Sensor. Lenses available range from plastic kit-type to professional primes and zooms and an Optical Stabilizer zoom. This camera, announced in late 2003, is the refined version of Sigma's first DSLR, the SD9.
Sigma SD10 Pros and Cons
Price: $1200-1600 US
High-quality images free of most digital artifacts
Wide range of lenses
PhotoPro 2.0 image-processing software
Excellent histogram and in-camera image evaluation
The Foveon sensor-equipped SD10 is a unique DSLR that records only in RAW mode. This RAW-only implementation means that many common DSLR controls are not present in the SD10 body. These controls are provided in the included excellent Photo Pro software.
The Sigma SD10 Digital Single Lens Reflex camera is capable of producing astounding images, and it was these images that first led me to consider this camera. Foveon's unique sensor provides an amazing range of color control, dynamic range, and contrast.
Sigma SD10 Features
The camera offers standard exposure controls allowing for everything from an AE program mode to full manual control. Program shift functions, exposure lock, auto bracketing, EV 1-20 in three metering modes, and ISO levels from 100-1600 provide plenty of versatility. Mirror lockup, depth-of-field preview, self-timer, wired/wireless remote capability, viewfinder diopter correction, and a nearly 100% coverage, 0.77x magnification pentaprism viewfinder are all SD10 features.
The histogram in the camera is excellent. It is a graph with a separate colored line for each of the red, green, and blue components of the image. Pan and zoom control image review with up to five levels of image magnification on the variable-brightness 1.8-inch LCD. The histogram always represents the displayed portion of the image.
The LCD monitor, a four-way controller, nine buttons, and a red, status LED control the interface for all digital imaging operations.
Sigma SD10 LCD review
Sigma SD10 LCD review with info and histogram on
Sigma SD10 menu
White balance is adjustable from auto to custom with eight preset ranges. Custom WB tied to its own dedicated button would be a great improvement.
"Wait," you say. "What about custom functions and scene modes?" Sorry, no fireworks, portrait, or snow modes here. The photographer needs to understand what to do to achieve these types of images with the SD10.
Sigma SD10 Design
The big polycarbonate-body does not feel heavy, in spite of its size. The battery compartment is molded to provide a large grip for good handling.
The command dial around the shutter release controls most of the exposure and meter settings in the SD10. This dial, combined with a mode button or the +/- button, selects most camera settings. The manual is needed to find some settings and controls, as they are obscure.
Left: Sigma SD10 and apple - for size Right: Exposure controls and shutter release
Sigma uses what it calls the "Sportfinder." The area around the edge of the viewfinder is "grayed out," which allows the photographer to "see beyond" the edges of the captured image. This unusual finder takes some getting used to, but it works well.
There are two control oddities if you compare this camera to many other current cameras. The shutter speed dial is marked FAST and SLOW with arrows and bars as opposed to numerical values! Metering mode is not displayed in the viewfinder, and selection requires both hands and looking at the top of the camera.
There is no built-in flash, only a proprietary hot shoe. An optional adapter, the ST-11, provides an external flash connection.
A clear dust shield protects the Foveon sensor. The mirror is locked up with the AC adapter for shield removal to access the sensor. After cleaning, the sensor seems to stay clean; the dust shield can then be cleaned instead.
The Foveon sensor detects three ranges (R, G, and B) of color at each pixel point. These three values are used to produce one output pixel that contains the appropriate blend of red, green, and blue when processed from the .X3F RAW file. The Foveon sensor eliminates many of the artifacts that come with traditional Bayer color array sensors. There is also a clustering capability with the Foveon sensor to produce larger- and smaller-resolution images by combining detector sites to produce larger and smaller sensor sizes. Lower-resolution images thus may benefit from "fat" pixels. More information is available at the Foveon and Sigma Web sites.
The Foveon X3 Direct Image Sensor and Foveon sensor technology - click on images for details
Camera Experience Overall, the camera, though large, handles well and shoots what and when you want, as long as you have read the manual and understand the two auto-focus (AF) modes, and as long as the buffer is not full. Some controls and settings are awkward. Unlike many cameras on the market today, the SD10 requires both hands to operate various settings.
Start-up is rapid. From power-on to shutter-firing is less than half a second. The memory card is checked for space before a picture can be taken. I was able to turn on the camera while raising it to my eye and not miss a shot.
The single-sensor auto focus is better than expected. Under certain conditions of marginal contrast, the camera hunted for focus. This seemed to be as much a light-and-lens issue as it did AF capability, with some lenses producing much quicker AF. Attaching a Sigma flash makes this a good performer in a variety of situations. The camera locked onto some 'flat' and concrete surfaces as well as any camera I have used. The two AF modes, single and continuous, operate very much as focus priority and tracking or picture priority, respectively.
Shutter lag is minimal to non-existent. The image called 'Jumping through Hoops' (see sample photos, below) demonstrates a snapshot. This was a quick, unplanned one-time opportunity to catch the dog at the apex of his jump.
Shot-to-shot times depend on resolution and buffer capacity. Continuous shooting and frame-per-second specification seemed poor with this camera until a certain technique came to mind. In the LOW-resolution mode, many more frames at a higher fps can be shot and then Photo Pro can be used to produce a double image. I never really waited on the camera after I adjusted to it. This is still not an action-oriented camera, but with good technique, it will work.
An unusual amount of mirror slap occurred doing macro photography. Investigation disclosed there was an unexpected amount of residual vibration causing blurring in the images. A heavier carbon fiber tripod and using mirror lock-up (MLU) made the problem disappear completely. It is probably a mechanical problem, with not enough damping of the mirror pivot connection to the frame.
Battery life is just OK. Four 2300mAh AA batteries provided about 200 shots under harsh temperature conditions. CRV-3 disposable batteries yielded more than 300 shots prior to low-battery indication. It is a user choice: Use the optional vertical grip/battery pack or just carry extra batteries.
Image Quality This is where the SD10 performs the best. The SD10 is listed at 10.2 (3.4MP x 3) megapixels. The notation reflects 3.4 megapixels for each of the three colors the sensor detects.
The camera can produce HIGH, MED, and LOW images that translate to resolutions of 2268x1512, 1512x1008, and 1134x756 pixels. As all images are RAW, there are no other in-camera image-quality settings. The HIGH file setting output obviously makes this a 3.4-megapixel camera. Doesn't it? Not exactly. The SD10 records more than 10 megapixels for every high-resolution image (2268x1512) captured in the lossless .X3F RAW file format.
Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.
The Photo Pro Software will output a double-size image from a HIGH-size file that is 13+ megapixels (4536x3024) in size. The sample photo Spirit of Peoria (see below) and the crop from the Double Size (really 4x) image are examples of what is possible. This is an up/resize algorithm of some type and produces a one-step result that is very usable. It would be desirable for Sigma and Photo Pro to provide more documentation on this topic (see photo Spirit of Peoria and crop).
Foveon RAW images have no halos under proper exposure and may look dull or soft. At first glance, the photos straight from the camera can be disappointing, partly because there is no image processing in the camera. In fact, these images can be sharpened to the maximum in Photo Pro, then adjusted and sharpened more with Photoshop or other image editing program! Occasional moire occurs.
Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.
Images derived from the Foveon technology do not exhibit many of the artifacts and problems associated with interpolative Bayer sensor images. Upon magnification, resolution and detail are incredible, but photographically the look is not always the most pleasing. Many photos need an unexpected degree of adjustment to look "right." With a little post-processing, they can be excellent. Some images, like the Piper image (see photo, above), can be printed straight from the camera or displayed with little adjustment.
Noise levels with ISO increases were at first disappointing. This is another area where the lack of in-camera processing can lead to frustration. Color and grain noise show up in some images, but third-party software cleans them up quite well. Quite usable results, up to 800 ISO, were consistently achieved. The 1600 ISO setting is not a good option for anything other than using faster shutter speeds or smaller apertures in specific conditions. Most noise problems occurred shooting in marginal conditions with available light while testing worst-case scenarios (see photo "Corgi ISO 800," above).
There is a definite learning curve with this camera, and frustration is possible even for experienced photographers. Once the post-processing adjustments become integrated into the image-processing workflow, the SD10's output can be printed at much greater size than that of many other current DSLR's because of the 'clean' data.
Software - PhotoPro 2.0 The included companion Photo Pro software addresses the RAW-only image recording of the SD10, and it is more than just a quick-start option.
The software acts as a partner with the SD10 in image production. In the Photo Pro package, the user will find image quality adjustments usually included as in-camera controls in other digital SLRs.
Some third-party vendors are supporting the .X3F RAW files, but with Photo Pro 2.1, other RAW conversion software is not a must-have addition. Photo Pro is a rugged program that runs well on a limited platform (lowest tested was a notebook 1.5 Ghz processor and 256M of memory) and just gets faster with more resources.
The Auto setting in Photo Pro will produce quick output from a shoot. Custom setting creation and storing parameter sets are more than worth the time required. Dynamic range examples demonstrate how much difference a little adjustment can make (see photo, 'Leaves and Sunlight').
Two Photo Pro adjustment samples. Click on images for larger versions and details.
Photo Pro in the browser portion has tools for sorting, rotating, preview/thumbnail options, file marking, and output options for color space and image size. There is a magnifier tool for color and pixel examination, a histogram with clipping warnings, and dynamic range control. A separate control panel contains familiar slider controls for exposure, contrast, highlight, shadow, sharpness, saturation, and X3 fill light. This control panel also contains a color wheel control, histogram, and warning range options.
The color wheel, as opposed to slider controls, takes some rethinking to use, and it uses the previously mentioned Color Correction (CC) filter units. The neutral/midtone compensation tool works well but is different from just white/black point compensation. There are extra presets compared to the camera in the white balance menu (for example, Monochrome and Restore-to-original) that provide more presets to get close before fine-tuning. Export file format ranges from reduced size JPEG to 16-bit TIFF files.
The X3 fill light is a post-shot fill flash combined with a highlight-, midtone-, and shadow-balancing tool.
Photo Pro does not contain a crop tool, as the software is for image adjustment, not for editing.
Sigma's PhotoPro software in the Large Thumbnails browser view.
Sigma's PhotoPro software in the Review mode, with the Adjustment Controls window open, to the left.
Note: A separate flash card reader is strongly recommended, as the camera uses the slower USB 1.1 interface. It is quicker to load files to the hard drive directly via a reader or media slot depending on configuration. Trying to load more than few directly from the camera is too slow.
Conclusion Testing and review of the Sigma SD10 came about because of a need for high definition and detailed documentation capability. As a professional photographer working in some rather unusual, and at times difficult conditions, I was seeking another solution for cost-competitive hardware and decided to look seriously at the Sigma SD10. A specific job opportunity in construction documentation, currently on hiatus, was the original motivation. When the project resumes, this camera will be a good choice. The SD10 is currently being used to build composite images.
Who Should Buy The Sigma SD10 The camera fits a definite niche market where high-detail, low/no-artifact images are required. For photographers who have established a good digital workflow, are willing to spend time processing images, and are prepared for the learning curve, this high-quality image producer is hard to beat for the cost.
Advanced and professional photographers requiring such capability will be satisfied SD10 users. The SD10 control layout and some of its speed limitations do not make this the first choice for a family camera or a sports/action camera.
Strengths: Image sharpness, colour depth, colour accuracy, ease of use, ability to use cheap non-Sigma lenses.
Weaknesses: Noisy mirror slap, no in-camera jpegs option, no built in flash
The Sigma SD10 is unique in having a Foveon X3 sensor that works differently from the Bayer type sensors used in almost all other digital cameras, wether they be prosumers or DSLR's.
The Foveon X3 sensor is the only digital sensor in the world that can capture detail down to a single pixel, and as a result it produces the sharpest photographic images currently possible with digital camera technology.
In its current 3.4mp x3 form its been shown to be equivalent to a 8mp Bayer sensor.
The SD10 uses Sigma's own "SA" lens mount which is similar but slightly larger in diamter than the Pentax K mount (often refered to as the PK mount or sometimes as the KPR mount) but its probably more similar in layout to the Canon EF mount only its somewhat smaller in diameter.
Several lens adapters are easily available to allow various non-Sigma manual focus/manual stop down lenses to be used on the SD10.
The adapter options currently available are: M42 screw mount to SA mount, Mamiya-Sekor 645 (medium-format) mount to SA mount and Nikon F mount to SA mount.
Pentax K mount lenses require a small modification first but afterwards they fit straight on the SA mount without requiring an adapter.
P6 mount lenses can fit via an P6 mount to M42 mount adapter in conjuction with an M42 mount to SA mount adapter.
However if you prefer to use Sigma lenses so you have the benefit of AF and AA then never fear, you will have a large and impressive array to choose from. Sigma's best lenses are signiified as "EX" lenses and many of these can match any of the best Nikon or Canon lenses yet they typically retail for about half the price.
The SD10 has a very robust black plastic body over a strong but light metal chassis, however it does not have the enviromental seals like some of its far more expensive professional competitors so its not a camera that should be used outdoors in the rain without providing some sort of protection.
The controls are well placed, easy to use and most of the most needed functions are accessable externally so you dont need to keep browsing through the menus on the LCD screen.
The SD10 can use cheap and easily available AA batteries. The camera can take four batteries interally or 8 in the optional "battery-grip/tray".
However the best batteries to use are either 2-4 CR-V3 disposable Lithium batteries or 2-4 of the new RCR-V3 rechargable Li-ion batteries.
The SD10 comes supplied with 4xAA Ni-MH batteries plus a slow charger and kudos to Sigma for also providing a mains adapter too for no extra cost, very handy for long studio sessions.
The SD10 only shoots RAW files, so you cannot take jpegs with it, but you can easily convert the RAW files to jpegs (or tiffs) later via the supplied RAW processing software called "Sigma Photo Pro", often abbreviated to "SPP".
The SD10 takes a single CF card and as Sigma RAW files can be anywhere from 3mp to 11mp in size its best to use at least 512mb cards but preferably 1gb or more.
There is no built in flash but there is a hotshoe on top of the SD10 that is wired for Sigma S-TTL flashguns. Metz flashguns also work if you set them manually and for studio work any cheap universal PC-sinc adapter can be used to run a multi studio flash setup.
The SD10 has a mirror-lock-up function or "MLU" which prevents vibration from mirror-slap causing movement blur during long exposures.
A bracketing mode is also included on the same dial.
There are the usual modes on the mode selector dial such as: "P" mode(fully automatic), "AP" mode(aperture priority), "SP" mode(shutter priority) and "M" (fully manual) mode.
Shooting at night requires some practice to get good results and once mastered it can give excellent results but the SD10 is not really a low light camera and its best used in normal to well lit conditions and thats where it really shines.
Thanks to its Foveon X3 sensor the SD10 can print to astonishing sizes whilst retating very high print detail and quality. A0 or even 2A0 is no problem for the SD10.
Strengths: Quality of image, stunningly sharp with superb colour rendition.
Friendly helpful U.K. Sigma head office staff.
Weaknesses: 1. Dirt on sensor from new
2. Dirt on sensor from new
and 3. yes DIRT ON SENSOR from new.
I have been looking to purchase a digital SLR but although I was impressed with the Sigma SD10 on paper, the price in the UK of about £1,000 was well out of my pocket.
Having bought a Canon D30 and had the rug pulled from under my feet when they rapidly discontinued it with no offer of upgrade trade ins, I was concerned about buying any new camera.
What a pleasant surprise to see the SD10 fall in price and I purchased it together with the Sigma 12-24 EX DG lens and have on order the new 50mm Macro lens.
What a stunning camera, despite the U.K.Amateur Photographer comparison review's lowish test results (I believe only marked down because there is no flash and the pics have to be processed from 'raw') the results are almost unbelievable.............
Stunning prints so sharp you can cut your finger on them...OK at higher ISO speeds they show 'noise' but so does 100asa film at 1600 asa. :-)
BUT oh why, oh why, do they send out cameras with dirt on the sensor ?? I took my new 3 day old camera back to Sigma UK and the very kind people there cleaned it for me, alas and alac, it is only a little better than before but what the hell a few minutes with photoshop removes these unwanted doughnuts.
This camera does in my opinion give the very best pics that can be taked with any digital SLR priced at under £1,500.00 in the U.K. today.
Strengths: Image quality, dynamic range, takes AA batteries (Best with CRV-3 Lithiums or RCRV-3 rechargable Li-ion batteries)
Weaknesses: Low-light/High ISO image noise.
The SD10 is my first DSLR. Before I chose it I made a list of requirements that any DSLR must have to help me to narrow down the choice. Only 3 DSLR's out of 10 met one of my main requirements, that they should be able to use AA batteries.
I had to choose between the Fuji S2 pro, Pentax *istD and Sigma SD10.
Image quality was my top priority over everything else so I sought out as many samples as possible for each.
After one particular review which ably demonstrated that the SD10 could match the image quality of the Canon 1Ds, a DSLR costing 6 times more than the SD10, was the clincher.
And that is the SD10's main strength, its image quality, thanks almost totally to its use of the unique Foveon X3 sensor.
SD10 images are often said to have a 3D effect, something rarely said about images from other DSLR's.
SD10 images are also inherrantly sharp. making images from its Bayer sensored competitors seem soft by comparison.
Another big advantage the SD10 has is "single pixel resolution" or the ability to resolve detail down to a single pixel!...Making images from its Bayer sensored competitors seem detailess by comparison.
It also hasa dynamic range its competitors can only dream of, being able to resolve deatils even in deep shadows and making it harder to blow out highlights.
A very well made M42-SA mount adapter is available from www.d-shell.net allowing SD10 users to use universal M42 screw mount lenses as well as Sigma SA mount lenses and Pentax K mount lenses too(With the auto aperture tab removed and plastic bezel modified).
It is also possible to convert Canon EF mount lenses to SA mount lenses allowing SD10 users to take advantge of Canons best L series lenses.
But its not all candy and rainbows there are some drawbacks which you have to be aware of, mainly high amounts of image noise in low-light, high-ISO images.
Although ISO1600 is possible with the SD10 the best results are obtained below ISO400.
This can make fast paced sports photography with low ambient lighting a challenge but with practice and the right lenses its not that difficult.
As I write this review, the SD10 including the 18-50mm f3.5-f5.6 DC kit lens, is currently selling for just £343 or 499 euros, thats just $626!, making it the cheapest DSLR on the market!
...And destroying any arguements you may have had about not getting one.
Strengths: The most crystal clear pictures of any DSLR I have seen under $2000.
Sigma Photo Pro Software (v2.1 now available)
Weaknesses: Dust, why is this such a problem?
I bought the 18-50mm & 55-200mm package to complement this camera when I first bought it. I was attracted to this camera for a number of reasons, first and foremost, the Foveon sensor. I bought it form a shady internet company because I could not find a retailer that would allow me to buy it without harrassing me to buy a Canon or Nikon.
As opposed to all other reviews of the SD10 on this site, I have mixed reviews regarding this camera. I love the pictures- they are absolutely magnificent. My photography cohort has the Digital Rebel, and there is simply no comparison. The Sigma Photo Pro software is AS VALUABLE AS THE CAMERA ITSELF. It is by far the most amazing processing software that I have EVER seen bundled for free with a camera. The X3F fill light feature can rescue almost any underexposed picture that you throw at it.
I like the fact that it takes AA batteries, this came in handy when a solar panel failed in Africa. The ability to use disposable batteries is up there with the image quality as well. Finally, the perfectly simple interface on the LCD is great.
This camera is not perfect- For one it is big, never too big as I have hiked through Africa for 6 weeks with it, but it is not petite. It also has a slow AF, I use AF often, and with the 50mm 1:1 macro & the 100mm 1:1 macro, it searches a lot. I also wish that there were a pop-up flash, what would possess Sigma to eliminate this?
Finally, and most importantly is the issue of dust, I have gotten dust on my sensor and it shows up on each and every one of my pictures, I have tried cleaning it and it works a bit at a time.
In summary, a camera is for taking pictures, and taking perfect pictures is what makes this camera so amazing. I would never use another camera, but don't be surprised by these couple weaknesses.
Strengths: Easy to use
great image quality
Dust cover over sensor
Weaknesses: none for my uses
This is my First Digital SLR that I have bought so keep this in mind when reading.
I have been using my friends Nikon D100 for the past 4 weeks and was very impressed, with the exception that the image quality wasn't as great as I thought it was going to be. So when it came for me to buy, I took the risk and bought the Sigma SD10. I went to 4 different stores, and every sales rep tried to talk me out of it for various reasons. The only thing was, there was no changing my mind. Honestly, they were trying to sell what they had in stock, and had no experience with the SD10.
I gotta say I'm extremely happy with this camera. The image quality is better than D100, hands down! Also, I have no idea why people gripe about no Jpeg option? Why waste such a good camera and take take Jpegs? The conversion software they include is excellent, easy to use and feature rich. This camera will hold any Sigma SA lens, which is great considering they have wide variety, good quality and reasonably priced optics. I don't see any downside to this camera, and any photographer with normal expectations will enjoy the ownership. Great bang for the buck!
It pisses me off, how these dealers push what they have in stock, thowing excuses from "Sigma is going to discontinue digital SLR's in 10 years" to Canon makes the best, why get anything else?". I'm happy I bought this, it's high quality. I ask all those considering buying this....please don't eliminate this camera just because it's a Sigma, you will be glad in the long run. Besides Sigma developed a new technology with this Camera, and anyone into Digital SLR's benefit from this, whether it be directly or indirectly....I don't see Nikon or Canon developeing new sensors.
Sorry for the rant...I just love this camera, and so does every other photographer I let borrow it.