Here's a question: how many of you knew that Sigma has a range of mirrorless cameras of their own that have been available to buy for some time now? Check out our review of the sd Quattro H.
In the last few years, Sigma has developed a great reputation for producing exceptional quality lenses at very reasonable prices. Their whole Art series lineup has been mostly met with praise and for good reason. Lenses like the 50mm f/1.4, the 85mm f/1.4, and the incredible 14mm f/1.8 demonstrate their ability to produce incredible quality. Sigma has also developed a line of mirrorless cameras which work with their Art series lenses using the SA lens mount. Over the last couple of months, I've been testing the Sigma sd Quattro H, and so far, it's a bit of a mixed bag. There are certain aspects about this camera that I absolutely love and others not so much.
The Quattro H is an APS-H camera, which means it has a 1.3x crop factor. This makes the sensor in this camera slightly larger than APS-C and slightly smaller than full frame. The effective angle of view you can expect from a standard 50mm lens would be around 65mm, which is not a huge crop, but a crop nonetheless. This camera is able to produce images with a resolution of 25.5mp when shooting JPEG or DNG; however, you can double the resolution if you shoot in Sigma's proprietary raw format.
The imaging sensor in this camera is different, to say the least. It's probably not something you've experienced before. Imaging sensors in most cameras operate by having different pixels in a certain formation. Each individual pixel will only record one of the three colors (red, blue or green) and essentially, the rest are interpolated. Bayer sensors have a particular formation and Fujifilm's X-Trans sensors have a slightly different formation; however, they both operate with similar technologies and with a similar method relatively speaking.
Sigma, on the other hand, uses Foveon sensors, and without getting too technical, the sensors work by recording light based on their respective frequencies. Using three layers in the sensor means that light will hit the sensor at slightly different depths. Red light, with its much longer wavelength, will hit the sensor at a different depth when compared to blue light, which has a shorter wavelength. This means there's very little-to-no interpolation and each pixel records all three colors individually. Ultimately, this means this camera can produce some of the best and most accurate colors. The Quattro H uses a filter in front of the sensor, which is a requirement, because without it, all of the colors look purple and cannot be recovered. The problem with this is that you have a glass filter constantly in front of your sensor and this could cause issues. The filter in the camera I received arrived broken; fortunately, no damage was done to the sensor.
Build and Usability
I found this camera to be actually very well made. Construction-wise, this camera feels very rugged and feels like it could probably take a beating and keep going. In regards to the build quality, I don't have any complaints; however, when it comes to usability, that's a very different story. First of all, the ergonomics are deceptively bad. The huge grip on the camera is oddly uncomfortable. A large grip on a camera generally means better ergonomics, but the Quattro H is the exception. The grip is a little too square and a bit too blocky for it to feel comfortable. The viewfinder is also in a very odd place. Instead of being in-line with the lens where the hot shoe is, the viewfinder is slightly on the right. I was constantly missing the viewfinder when bringing the camera to my face and I just couldn't get used to it. If you're right eye dominant, then most of the screen hits your nose and the camera just feels awkward; if you're left eye dominant, then good luck. I don't understand the reason for this choice, because it is an EVF, meaning they could have put it anywhere.
The power button also feels like it's in the wrong place and the top dial is a little too high on the camera and just slightly out of reach for most thumbs. There's no joystick for easy navigation, the weird wedge on the bottom means that the camera never sits properly, and the play button is too low. Essentially, anything that could be wrong is wrong with this camera when it comes to ergonomics and design. This camera is really badly designed, but in a weird way, it's charmingly bad. It's crossed the line into quirky. It's an "oh Sigma, what are we going to do with you" type of camera.
The menu system is actually very good and easy to navigate. The screen is also relatively large and split into two sections. The information you would normally see on a top screen for most cameras appears on the right side of the large screen on the back. Maybe adjusting where the viewfinder is could have allowed for a top screen instead of the back screen being split into two.
Finally, it's not the prettiest camera to look at, but that I think can be considered a minor point.
When it comes to image quality, this camera is definitely up there with some of the best. The colors, goodness, the colors. I pretty much loved every image from this camera purely because the colors looked so incredible. They have such a natural look to them and in some sense, they seemed less digital to me. It's almost like having film quality in a digital camera. I may be romanticizing a little bit, but that's how the camera made me feel.
The way this camera produces colors is so pleasing to me, and I think it completely redeems many of its issues. For landscape and portrait shooters who are color-conscious, this camera might just be the best option. Even most medium format cameras operate using a similar formation of pixels on their sensors, meaning many of the colors are interpolated. This camera might even be better than some medium format cameras when it comes to colors.
The different tones and the way this camera produces color are simply incredible. I really can't explain how much joy this camera brings to me when it comes to the way it produces color.
When it comes to dynamic range, this camera is pretty good. I wouldn't say it's a class leader; however, for most applicationd, the images have enough flexibility when shooting at the base ISO. Looking at the comparison below, you'll notice how even after recovering the shadows, you don't see a huge amount of noise being introduced into the image. The images below are 2:1 crops of the original image and even when cropped to that extent and recovering the shadows, they retain detail very well.
Ultimately, when it comes to image quality this camera is absolutely stunning and that's precisely the whole deal about the Quattro cameras. Shooting above the base ISO will introduce a lot of noise into your images and it's generally not recommended. Anything above ISO 400 is probably not usable.
Polite Suggestions For Sigma
I think as a camera system, this could be something incredible; however, right now, it's difficult to recommend it for a number of reasons. Usability is one of the key areas where this camera suffers, and that's an area that I believe can be remedied relatively easily. Here is a list of things I think will make this camera far more viable for a number of photographers.
Increase The Price
I appreciate this may be somewhat of a controversial suggestion; however, there are several reasons this will actually be beneficial for both the system and the customer. Currently, this camera retails for $1,099 which is relatively cheap when you consider other "pro" cameras on the market. Increasing the price of any new cameras in the Quattro line gives a lot of flexibility when it comes to new features and making this a better system. Even doubling the price still puts it within range of what many consider affordable for a professional camera.
Most of the art series lenses that Sigma produces are designed for full frame sensors, so it's a little strange that they opted for a crop sensor camera. This camera isn't making full use of Sigma's own lenses; therefore, it's in dire need of a full frame sensor. This will more than likely increase the price, but once again even doubling the price keeps it within range. Making this camera full frame will also allow for a higher-resolution sensor; I estimate that a full frame version of this sensor could potentially produce 80-megapixel files. Couple that with Art series lenses and you have a huge winner.
I've discussed how the usability of this camera is a major issue and needs a massive update. Any new Quattro cameras will require a faster processor ,because currently, the whole camera operates very slowly. The body needs a redesign, and it's really those subtle changes that I discuss above that will make this a more well-rounded system. Changes like moving the EVF will make a massive difference. Adding a second card slot is also highly recommended along with the ability for the camera to write faster to the card. Currently, the camera is very slow when it comes to writing speed.
Lean Into the Niche
This is not a camera for fast-paced shooting or high ISO photographers; this is predominantly for landscape, studio, and architectural photographers. Adding features specifically for those kinds of photographers will help develop it as a system. For example, Wi-Fi would be extremely useful to have, along with a tilt screen. A touchscreen would be nice but not a requirement. Much better battery life and the ability to add a grip would be very useful. A lower base ISO could also be a potential especially if you make it full-frame with a higher-resolution sensor.
This is by no means a requirement, but the fact that this camera uses a filter in the camera in order to produce the colors makes mewonder if this could be developed further. What if this camera could accommodate infrared filters or ND filters directly in the camera? This I think would be incredible. I think producing built-in ND filters for this camera could be relatively easy and extremely impactful.
What I Liked
- Fantastic image quality
- Incredible colors, some of the best I have ever seen
What I Didn't Like
- Not very user-friendly
- Battery life isn't great
- Not very ergonomic
- Very slow at writing files to storage
- Raw processor from Sigma is very frustrating to use
Ultimately, this camera is a whole heap of potential and could be the go-to system for landscape, architectural, and studio photographers. Unfortunately, right now, there aren't enough reasons to pick this camera over the many options available from competitors. Yes, the colors are beautiful and the image quality makes this camera such a joy to shoot with. I personally overlooked many of the quirks and flaws purely because of how good the image quality is and how stunning the colors are. Even still, that's not enough for me to be able to recommend it as a system to any photographers. Ths system right now is more of a curiosity and considering the price point, it might make sense for someone who's looking to explore something new as opposed to using it on a professional basis. It's just not quite there yet.
If you're interested, you can purchase yours here.