An exercise in using a counterintuitive camera for a live theater shoot. The Sigma FP goes wild.

Finally. A double boxed shipment with lots of padding. 
I love it when suppliers pay attention to the quality of their packing.
I hate to send back stuff that arrives busted up...


Disclaimers: 1. I bought the Sigma FP with my money and am not in any way shape or form supported or compensated by the folks at Sigma. 2. My blog contains no links or advertising to any vendor so if you think I write for clicks and $$$ you can go pound sand. 3. I'll be photographing the dress rehearsal of this play on Tuesday so no clients could have been potentially harmed by my using the "wrong" camera for today's adventure. 4. If you don't like what I write then go read something else.

I've been playing around with the Sigma FP for the last week or so and I have to say that I am impressed by the image quality. Very impressed. But the body and functionality are never going to compete with conventional cameras for operating ease in fast moving, low light situations, leading many lazy practitioners to use the dreaded, "Dealer Killer" phrase. I decided to see if I could make the camera work in one scenario that I think is pretty challenging; photographing a play in a small, dark theater that "features" black walls and a high, black ceiling. The play is called, "Every Brilliant Thing" and is a one person production with lots and lots of movement and changing light cues. 

I decided to give the camera a trial by fire using one lens (the Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0 S L-mount) and shooting every shot at ISO 6400. I have been waiting for the Sigma FP hood/loupe to provide a magnified view of the rear camera screen but it seems to be on eternal back order. I thought a hood or loupe might make my use of the camera in this scenario more effective and I was bummed at the lack of a Sigma product solution. But a cursory glance in the equipment case reminded me that I had a Hoodman 3.2 inch loupe that could be adapted. 

Purists will bitch and moan but I was able to secure the hood to the camera with several elastic bands. The hood had to be adjusted from time to time but it did fulfill its purpose, which was to give me a magnified view of the rear screen and to block light from the screen from disturbing the small audience we had. Yes, essentially rubber bands. Next time I might ruffle even more "purist feathers" by adapting the loupe with duct tape. And then, in a flash, the Sigma hood will arrive and we'll get serious...

I chose to shoot with the 24-104mm lens because, while the camera has a vestigial electronic image stabilization "feature," it's a bit dicey and the Panasonic lens provides a more conventional and usable in-lens image stabilization. The smaller theater doesn't reward the use of longer lenses and the fast action of the play meant that using primes with only one camera body might be a bit cumbersome.

My basic exposure triangle was ISO 6400, the lens wide open at f4.0 and the shutter speed set to between 1/125th to 1/250th of a second. I wanted that shutter speed range to freeze subject movement and the other two parameters came along for the ride. But what I quickly found is that the  camera's autofocusing mechanism was not up to the task of nailing sharp focus on a moving target under low light reliably. Hmmmm. That was momentarily vexing. 

So I switched to manual focus. I already had the camera set up to show a magnified view in a PIP (picture in picture) frame and I had peaking engaged. It was a little tricky at first to get stuff into focus because the magnification was so high. Also, there is no option (as there is on the Panasonic S1 cameras) to change focus ring angle of turn or linearity with the lens so things jumped in and out of focus very quickly. I'd call it "twitchy."  But with a little practice you learn where to start the process and when to take your hands off the controls and rely on the actor's stationary pose and the lens's depth of field. 

I shot about 900 images. Some in a blaze of action and some very considered. Of the 900 images fully 400 of them were critically sharp and had the actor in a pose or position that worked. It's just a one person play so I decided to edit down a bit further and ended up with about 250 really nice photographs. I color corrected the raw files and converted the whole edited take to large, fine Jpegs and uploaded them to a private gallery on Smugmug. 

What I found was that the tiny Sigma FP does a great job as far as image quality is concerned. I find the files a bit sharper, out of camera, than the S1 camera files but they manage to be sharp without feeling or looking over-sharpened. Hard to describe but nice to see. 

I shot 12 bit DNG files and was happy to be able to get through the entire rehearsal with one battery. By the end of the performance the camera was warm to the touch but never showed a temperature warning and, of course, never shut down. I'm comforted by the presence of the big heat sink on the back of the camera, underneath the screen. One benefit of having available both 12 bit and 14 bit DNG files is the fact that the camera was ready for use with Adobe products right off the bat. No waiting for the raw converter catch up game. 

While this experiment was a guarded success I will admit that this kind of work is not the real strength of the Sigma FP. When I go back to the theater to shoot the final images at the dress rehearsal I'll likely take the camera with which I've had the most success with when shooting live theater. That would be the Lumix S1. In fact, two of them, along with a small selection of prime lenses. Maybe just the 50mm f1.4 and the 85mm f1.4. The sharp, fast aperture lenses will buy me a higher "hit" rate along with lower ISOs and a wider range of shutter speed selections. But my real mission was to rebut the argument that lacking certain features renders certain cameras unusable. 

With a bit of diligence and elbow grease just about any camera can be made to create good, competent photographs; even under less than optimal conditions. I actually enjoyed the operational friction the camera provided; I'll put up with a lot if I like the look of a camera's output. Sometimes proceeding in a seemingly obtuse fashion brings a different point of view to a project. That, and the Sigma FP is just so damn cute. 


Kodachromeguy said...

This is an interesting and innovative camera. I like the fact that it is small. It is nice to see a camera company being creative and trying something out of the ordinary (as do Fuji and Leica). The fact that the "experts" on that infamous D reviewing site hate the Sigma means that it (a) must be a superb photographic instrument, and/or (b) requires some thought.

Marcio K said...

Kirk, if you want a cheap and more proper solution for you viewfinder issues, consider the Kamerar line of LCD viewfinders - they could be found and most of the USA biggest camera retailers (B&H, Adorama, Amazon).


The differences between the models are the height of the botton of the viewfinder relatively to the botton of the camera; the QV-1 is for DSLR models, where the distance between the camera/LCD botton is greater. For the Sigma, I guess that the QV-1M is the right model - and the loupe support comes with an Arca plate too.

Or you could go even cheaper with the Magview model, which uses a metal frame with an adhesive to attach to the LCD, and connect magnetically to the loupe.

Have both the QV-1M and the Magview, used them with a lot of Panasonic/Olympus cameras, and found it to be very good, at least for an amateur. The lenses on the loupes are plastic (don't know if the Hoodman's are too), and the diopter adjustment (at least for me) looks like that does not work, but found that the image is very good, both in detail and magnification.

Maybe you can try one of those, while waiting for the Sigma's original one.


Ray said...

Disclaimers: ... 4. If you don't like what I write then go read something else.

Do you really get all that many negative comments? When I read the comments they mostly seem pretty well thought out so I'm thinking you must filter out a lot of the less well thought out bits of input.

Other than to say I'm sorry about the goobers, I have pretty much nothing pertinent to add. Carry on, sir.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

HI Ray, It's more or less a daily exercise in maintaining my temper and self-esteem. I get five or ten a day that basically say "You don't know what the f*&& your (sic) talking about." Or, "Must be nice to get free cameras from XXX or XXXX. Nice clickbait fanboy."

My favorites are the ones giving me unsolicited advice about how "creative" filters could make my images "much more interesting." Or the ones that seek to "educate" me about a product or technique that I've already written about extensively in the past....

It's gotten to the point where I almost welcome the spam from India about retouching services. Or nude Russian models.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

"Some day Tuck will test a full frame camera and then he'll see what he's been missing." Favorite one of the day.

Peter Dove said...

Sometimes when I’m bored I contemplate a blog where I also author the comments, rife with trolling and flaming. But I’m sure that’s been done a thousand times already.