I looked around at all the cameras that were introduced in the last year to find the one with the least amount of press coverage, given the least love on blogs and vlogs, with the fewest inches of hands-on, preview, now testing, first impressions, in-depth and field test written reviews, and, with the help of the VSL mainframe and our (not really!) sponsor, Palantir, we ended up with these results: the least loved and least explored, new, interchangeable lens, full frame camera in the world has to be the Sigma FP.
So we bought one.
Mary Bridget Davies as "Janis Joplin" for Zach Theatre.
Sigma FP + 85mm f1.4 Art Lens.
This is a camera will be universally overlooked by nearly every photographer, videographer, reviewer and retailer in the world in 2020, but everyone who actually buys one will probably love it and embrace it as one of the most fun cameras to work with ---- ever. (disclaimer: unless you shoot: sports, birds in flight, fast moving children, sports, skateboarding, things in motion, sports, or things that require fast, continuous autofocus. You will also be disqualified as a buyer if you need real, in body image stabilization, any sort of professional flash performance, or an EVF or other viewfinder).
So, who is this camera for and why was I crazy enough to actually spend my scarce American dollars to buy one at the full retail price? Let's dig in and watch me rationalize...
I've shot enough commercial work with the Panasonic Lumix S1 series cameras to know that I made the right choice in selecting them for my work-work cameras. They are, in my opinion, the only truly professional caliber mirrorless, interchangeable lens, full frame cameras currently being made by any of the Japanese camera companies. A case could be made for Leica products but I'm almost certain that any improvement over the quality of the S Pro Lumix lenses would be firmly slotted in that category we call, extreme diminishing returns. The S Pro line is sturdy, robust and highly capable. The new Lumix S Pro lenses are astoundingly good. And, as an added bonus, the cameras don't overheat when shooting 4K video (which they do very, very well).
But what might be amazing for cameras that one uses for work might not fit the bill for photographers who enjoy walking miles and miles with a camera over one shoulder, looking for fun images to memorialize while reveling in the exercise, and soaking up the feel of the great outdoors.
I looked through all the current "real" point and shoot cameras and didn't find one that fit perfectly with the perspective of the ultimately ambulatory, rambling photographer. I also wanted whatever camera I ultimately chose to have the imaging potential of the S1 cameras I've been shooting with. While I may use it in a less rigorous fashion I wanted to be able to put great lenses on the front of the camera, in a pinch, and walk away with files that were as good as those generated by my primary industrial strength imaging cameras.
While I would love the Sigma FP even more if it used the same batteries as the Lumix S1 series, I am falling under the spell of this tiny, ungainly and slow, brick of a camera in a way I didn't expect. And right now I am writing about it in its incarnation as a still imaging camera (photography) and have not yet switched the magic switch to try out the video. That will be grist for another blog post somewhere.
I took the Sigma FP out for it's maiden voyage this morning after swim practice. I'd tell you more about swim practice but I think the majority of my audience could care less about training for the USMS Masters National Short Course Nationals coming up in April......
I charged the battery last night and charged a generic back up battery as well. The camera does not come with an external charger so you have to use the USB-C port to charge batteries while they are in the camera. I am chafed by this and have purchased an aftermarket charger and more batteries to remedy this oddly vexing issue. I am a bit miffed that a $1900 camera doesn't come with an external charger but I guess I should have expected this since the camera doesn't come with a viewfinder/evf either. It's functionally a brick, just like the "brains" of a Red movie camera. You get to add the parts you think you'll need as you go along and, I suspect, that after you fit out the camera the way you'd really like it you'll have spent somewhere in the vicinity of $2500 instead.
So, no battery charger, no evf, no dual pixel phase detect autofocus; not even DfD AF. But you do get a strap and detachable lugs for the strap. No dual card slots, just the one lowly SD card slot. But in an interesting side note, you can attach an SSD drive to the USB-C port and write files and video directly to a fast SSD. The SSD drive the few other owners of Sigma FPs seem to gravitate to is the Samsung T5, in the 1 terabyte flavor. You'll need it if you want to take advantage of the completely uncompressed video raw files which write at about 2500 megabytes per second, at their highest quality setting.
Doesn't seem to be the sort of camera you take to a rock concert or a stage show, right? Well, in the spirit of counterintuitive eccentricity I decided to toss the tiny Sigma FP into my camera bag, along with a couple of Lumix S1s and my four favorite lenses of the moment (24-105mm, 70-200mm, 85mm and 45mm) for an evening of photography at Zach Theatre.
I started out shooting mostly with the bigger cameras but when I felt I had a lot of good coverage I pulled out the little Sigma FP and started banging away with the 45mm lens. Emboldened by a vague feeling of success I decided to step into the forbidding land of stretching envelopes (landed up here courtesy Ming Thein) and slap the ultra fast, ultra heavy Sigma 85mm Art lens on the front. I'd been led to believe (by many non-reviews) that the focus ability would be slow-to-marginal-to-non-existent. My actual experience quickly proved over wise. But....click on the images below and see for yourself... Nobody stopped to pose for me; the stage was as kinetic as ever, but the camera and long lens seem to have nailed the focus (and color!!!) of everything at which I aimed.
So, what's my takeaway from this one day test?
Mostly that all cameras are good now. The Sigma FP has some really good color science along with a super sharp sensor (no AA filter on the sensor) which makes it a formidable competitor; at least as far as image quality is concerned...
There's a lot left for me to unpack and certainly, one day of shooting is hardly enough to nailed down a definitive assessment of a complex camera. We have some video that needs to be shot and some controlled portraits to be made but my first installment of hands-on with the Sigma FP went much better than I was led to believe possible.
People (reviewers and influencers) love to run with the herd and are most comfortable touting the status quo. It's hard for them to review or assess a different approach which I think accounts for the scarcity of Sigma FP reviews. Everyone here is on notice though...I'll be using it and writing about it extensively. At least for the next 30 days or so.
I also learned that, with a current prescription for my bifocals I can use a rear monitor, if nothing else is available...
(Disclaimer: I have never been approached by Sigma for anything. Not to write about their cameras or lenses, nor to try or test or review their products. I paid for my Sigma FP and all the equipment I've written about in this post with my own funds, generated almost entirely from my small but happy commercial photography business. I am putting Sigma on notice that if they want me to come to Japan, tour their factory, and write about my experiences, I have my bags packed and my passport ready!).
As a part of becoming more eccentric I am growing out the hair. I must remember to get more glamorous glasses frames.... Sorry, not going for tattoos.