I'm still not sure what to think about the little Sigma fp (someone took me to task for using upper case letters for "FP" in my last post about the camera, even though Sigma uses upper case letters in their product descriptions from time to time... Obviously a person with too much time on their hands and limited brain bandwidth...). I'm not sure whether the fp camera is an incredible new product that's basically misunderstood and too often discussed within the bounds of current, popular cameras, or if I'm just a sucker for eccentric designs and implied minimalism. Probably both. A play for elitism based on nearly everyone else's rejection of the product.
There are still things about that camera that reach out and bite me on the ass. Take the electronic image stabilization for still photography. The camera doesn't use motion sensing to determine how to reduce vibration on the fly. No, that would be too user friendly. Instead the camera, when set to provide said "feature," actually takes multiple images in a short amount of time and tries to interpolate a sharp frame by assessing the difference between the multiple frames. Works pretty well if I'm photograph something that is absolutely still but it acts like an HDR feature if the subject of my image making is moving...even slightly. In situations with subject movement there is evidence of multiple exposures in the final frame. Outline repetitions/ghosting. Weird. In my experience the default is to never, ever use the in-built image e-stabilization and, when needed, to use a lens that has its own lens-based image stabilization instead. But only if you are a fan of consistent image quality.
I should also mention that since the I.S. is a multi-shot mess the camera also stops in it's tracks to process the files together and locks the camera up while a little hour glass icon spins around on the back. That alone should convince a user to immediately disable the electronic I.S.
I get that this camera was really designed to be an all purpose, very high performance, video brain brick; meant to be supported in its video configurations by lots and lots of wonderful and useful accessories. Still photography in any real sense was just added to help the camera seem useful across modes; enough so to attract videographers looking for an "all purpose" tool that could double as a still photography camera while providing high performance video. Most of the accessories are aimed at motion picture makers who will add cages, rail systems, external digital video recorders, and other mechanisms that constantly emerge as the latest "must haves" for videographers. Where there is the will and a credit card there is a way.
So it irks me, somewhat, that a camera which depends on accessories to be usable can't, at this time, be mated with a critical Sigma accessory; a loupe for the rear screen. A magnifying hood. Whatever you want to call it but something that shields the rear screen of the camera from stray light while also providing some magnification for the screen image. The camera itself has been available for months and months but the screen is (in North America) nowhere to be found and no delivery date has been declared.
I bought a Hoodman 3.2 Hood/Loupe/Magnifier for my fp but I hate using the elastic cords to secure(?) it to the camera. After a day of messing with the expensive elastic bands and a loupe that slides all over the place I headed online to find a different (temporary) solution. Any good solution. I am currently trying out a Movo loupe which has a much better connecting feature but a less good optical performance. It's a cheap fix. If I were clever with tools I'd probably try to meld the attaching equipment from the Movo Loupe to the Hoodman but I know I'll never get around to it and, if I did, I'd probably end up inadvertently destroying both products in one sitting. That would both items un-returnable should the Sigma product show up in the next 30 days.
The final critical/negative "feature" I'll point out today, before moving on to more pleasant topics, is the fact that the contrast detect AF is well nigh worthless in dark environments; especially so with moving subjects. In sunlight it's absolutely fine but two frustrating minutes of trying to autofocus a lens in a theater environment with middling lighting on the stage caused me to switch immediately to manual focusing and spend the rest of the evening painstakingly checking and double-checking my magnified focus settings. Argh.
So, why on earth do I keep this camera instead of walking it back to the seller and demanding a refund? Well, mostly because its image quality (taking into consideration all the caveats above) is very, very good as well as decidedly different from my other cameras. The normal color constructs are very pleasing and the detail available from a well shot file is at the top of the class for 24 megapixels sensors. With that in mind I took it out for another walk on Friday determined to see what I could squeeze out of the little machine.
I was using the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art lens on the front and I must say that I like that lens for three reasons, even though I am not a big fan of the focal length (but I don't stop trying to like it...). The first reason is that it's the second smallest and lightest of my L mount series lenses. It's fine on the smaller camera and it's not a burden to carry around. Second reason is that it has an actual focusing scale and it has "medium" hard-ish stops at both ends (you can go past infinity or closest focus but you can feel the end points). It's a lens you can actually use in manual and zone focus! And the third reason is that the lens is quite sharp, has few foibles and creates pretty images; even at f1.4.
My big experiment of the day was to run through some of the color settings (called variously "profiles" "looks" "color settings" etc. by different makers). The camera has most of the normal settings such as: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Landscape and Portrait, but it also has a whole set of settings aimed at video users, such as: Teal&Orange, Cine and Sunset Red. In a nod to the camera's Foveon-equipped siblings it also has a series of color settings such as: Fov. G, Fov. B, and Fov. Y which each accentuate the color related to the initial while leaving the rest of the colors in a scene unchanged. Oh, and there's also: Mono. All of the color settings are accessed directly by a dedicated button on the back of the camera, near the bottom, and all of the settings can be modified for contrast, saturation and sharpness in a sub menu you get to by pressing the AEL button. In Mono instead of saturation you can tone the image with one of the controls.
I've used the camera predominantly in standard and neutral settings so I wanted to venture into the weirder choices. I tried "cine" which decreased image contrast, desaturated the image by quite a bit and also added a yellowish, green tinge/cast to the overall image. It's an odd effect for stills but I can see how it might a good starting point for some kinds of narrative video storytelling.
The setting which really appealed to me was the Teal and Orange setting. It sounds less appetizing than it turns out to be. The effect accentuates the orange tones in skin tones while emphasizing a teal hue to colors opposite of orange in order to create more contrast between those tones. In the absence of a subject with orange tones the effect is to shift the color and saturation of skies and other blue "targets". I've included samples below.
I finally shot some video tests with the camera at the maximum throughput settings that can be captured with a fast, V90 rated, Delkin Black UHS-II SD card. The footage at all file settings (which could be recorded internally) in the .Mov range was very, very detailed and lovely directly out of camera. In order to shoot and test in video raw DNG I will need to buy yet another portable SSD drive. I gave the last one away to a client because we needed to move over about 250 Gigabytes of video and photographic raw files (Oh, the things I do in order to get paid...). I tried several of the color settings but settled in on the neutral profiles along with some judicious reductions in saturation, sharpness and contrast. This is a camera that seems to do a really good job holding onto highlight detail in people's faces and that's a big plus for me.
I like playing with the camera and I like the images coming out of it. It's taken the place of my ailing Panasonic S1R camera as a personal Art camera and the friction added by its foibles pushes me a bit harder to actually pay attention and think about what I'm shooting. A plus since I'm eternally distracted.
On more thing. Since the I.S. is largely ineffective I see this as a full-time tripod, monopod or gimbal camera for video. If you want to go handheld you'll want to use the 24-105mm Panasonic S lens for its very competent I.S. and you'll want to go one step further and cobble together a stable shoulder rig to help with keeping the camera jitter free. For regular photography you are basically fine with image stabilized lenses so you can continue with current still photography practices. No stabilized lens? Use that old 1/focal length of the lens (and no coffee) formula we all learned in the film days....
That's all I have for now. Please! Sigma! Deliver that darned loupe. It would make the camera that much more fun.
this image and the one directly below were shot in the Teal and Orange color setting.
There's no orange object in the frame but it certainly does change the look of the sky.
Teal and Orange.
One of the few images on which the camera's e-I.S. was mostly effective.
I think the "bottomless mimosas" graphic is hilarious.
Another rare feather in the cap for the in-body I.S.
The three images above are all shot with the teal and orange color setting in bright, midday Texas sun.
The sky definitely looked nothing like this...
this shot was done using the Fov. B (Foveon Blue?) setting. It too is wildly inaccurate.
this image and the one just below were shot using the "Cine" color setting.
Shades of "not mainstream color science."
and back to the teal and orange setting.
intermission: How many of you have Orange Theory exercise gyms in your cities?
We have too many. I don't know enough about their exercise concept but I find messaging like this misleading. "Additional" to what?
Teal and Orange.