Fstoppers Reviews Sigma sd Quattro H Mirrorless Camera

Fstoppers Reviews Sigma sd Quattro H Mirrorless Camera

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. 

Specifications 

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. 

Image Quality

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.

Unedited and only converted to JPEG 

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. 

Greens look absolutely incredible from this camera.

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. 

Full Frame

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. 

Usability

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.

Built-in Filters

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

Final Thoughts

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

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38 Comments

Ryan Mense's picture

"Anything above ISO 400 is probably not usable." This can't be understated. The sd Quattro (non H) is straight up the worst camera I've ever used. Once you hit that "unusable" ISO limit, it's also not as easy as just running some noise reduction because of the insane color cast and scan line-like effect means a lot of localized editing to deal with the mess. It takes forever and you can still see it if you have something to compare to. Here's a before/after at ISO 1600. You can still see the scan lines in the after and some of the color shifting is tough to get right.

Usman Dawood's picture

wow that's pretty impressive recovery. The noise patterns are still there as you mentioned but still pretty impressive how much of the image you were able to bring back.

Paul Monaghan's picture

Nice recovery, I tend to only shoot my sdQ-H upto iso400 but I have been told 800 is very good if you shoot in raw then let Sigma Photo Pro bin the image down to low rez (6.3mp) giving your usual foveon results at a lower rez.

Rob Davis's picture

The biggest reason I've never picked one of these up is their slowness during use. Otherwise, I love the IQ.

Usman Dawood's picture

The slowness is a pain but IQ is incredible.

Paul Monaghan's picture

The camera is a bit quicker in Low rez mode (6.3mp) which I have used at times, I like low rez jpgs from this camera better than raws from my a7ii mostly due to the look and colors Foveon gives.

Here's a low rez jpg from my friends wedding with the 18-35 Art.

dale clark's picture

I've seen sigma camera ads for years and wonder who uses Sigma Cameras. Must be an overseas thing....I have never seen one in person or know any Sigma camera owners on the web or in person. I'm sure they are great cameras...I've seen pretty much every brand in use somewhere...just not Sigma. Lenses and flashes are everywhere.

Usman Dawood's picture

It's a very niche system and I think the fact that it uses the SA lens mount makes it difficult to buy into. Not that the SA mount is bad it's just that it's not very popular.

dale clark's picture

interesting. I'm sure they are wonderful cameras. It's good that Sigma has a native camera system for their excellent lenses and flashes.

Paul Monaghan's picture

all Global Vision SA mount lens also work on Sony via the MC-11.
Its the only lens mount to give you both Foveon and Bayer ;)

Ryan Cooper's picture

I have had an eye on Sigma’s foveons for years and have always been really interested in their potential but have never pulled the trigger for all the reqsons you list. I imagine it doesn’t enjoy much r&d as i suspect sales are pretty low. I think Sigma’s mistake, as you mention, is the price point. This sensor is screaming to be in a camera designed for landscape or high end studio shooters that dont care about iso but want amazing iq and color. I feel that for the right audience a medium format foveon mirrorless could be a dream of a camera.

Usman Dawood's picture

I completely agree with you I think making a larger sensor version of this and properly leaning into the fact that this is for high-end studio and landscape type shooter would work wonders for the system. Maybe they could even adopt the EF mount if possible just to open the system up to even more photographers.

Paul Monaghan's picture

The sdQ/H body is built very well, its solid, sealed and easy to navigate so I'm not sure what type of body you feel the sensor needs to be in?

I've used the sdQ-H for landscapes, products, portraiture and even events the large body makes it a joy to use with large lens such as the 50-100 f1.8 Art (which works great on the 1.3x crop).

It also supports tethering via Sigma capture pro allowing full camera (except zoom) with a live view via USB to PC/MAC which is great for studio shooting.

The SA mount is also fine and with the MC-11 adaptor any Sigma SA lens you buy can be used on a Sony Mirrorless so you get both Foveon and Bayer with one set of lens and while I have an a7ii I rarely use it unless I need high iso or video as the IQ from the Sigma for me is just different and better than what I can get from a Bayer.

Here's a quick shot of my son with the sdQ-H and 50-100 Art using Spekular Leds.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Basically one that can handle a bigger sensor. A cropped Foveon simply wont attract most high end pros with a specific use case where its strengths will shine while its weaknesses are negligible. Full frame woud be better but imo it is screaming to be medium format.

How is the AF on the 50-100 for native sigma? Iv always thought that lens was a sleeper hit but its AF woes make it struggle on Nikon.

Paul Monaghan's picture

Hi Ryan, The 50-100 is very accurate on my sdQ-H and great on my Sony a7ii (i use it around 90-100mm on FF) thanks to its more advanced focusing features , the 18-35 also works just as well (another len that some people had issues with on DSLR).

The main reason I think its because its on-sensor focus and not bouncing off mirrors into an off-chip PDAF sensor.

On the sdQ-H the f1.8 zooms give around f2.2 equiv DoF so slightly shallower than a FF system with f2,8 lens but you do lose reach, that combined with the detail the Foveon can deliver you get 5dsr type detail with 2 fast lenses for less than the 5dsr itself!

The SA mount is a Full frame mount, its what Sigma used on their film cameras, I'm sure the sdQ-H body could accommodate a Full Frame sensor and its a much more stable system to use than the a7ii with larger lens.

The 105 f1.4 Art, for example, is a bit front heavy on the a7ii but on the sdQ-H it sits very well and feels sturdy, in fact the sdQH feels much better built than the sony.. it's like a solid lump of machined metal (in a good way).

I know it has its drawbacks, the focus is basic (but accurate), its slower (both in shooting and editing raws) and has less 3rd party support (hss and power sync is available via cactus triggers) but I honestly would use it over Bayer anytime unless its a situation that it won't work well then I'll just grab my a7ii with mc-11 and use my Sigma lens on Bayer :D.

A shot while on Shetland with the 50-100. 100mm f1.8 with sdQ-H

Josh Leavitt's picture

The limitations of the Foveon sensor definitely make it a tough choice for any photographer looking to pick up their first camera; or even their second camera for that matter. They deliver some of the most amazing detail you'll ever see in a consumer-grade camera, and like Usman pointed out, the colors are incredible. If you want to draw a film analogy based on DR, color, and ISO capabilities, the Foveon could be considered a digital version of color slide film, whereas all of the other Bayer sensors might be considered color negative.

While the SDQ and SDQ-H may be too limiting in terms of capabilities to recommend, I think the DP Quattro models merit some level of review for anyone intrigued by the color/resolution potential of these cameras. You're not locking yourself into a proprietary lens mount with the DP Q models the way you would with the SDQ models. And there's a good range of focal lengths to choose from: 21mm to 75mm FF-equivalent. They won't break the bank either since you're getting a camera and a very nice lens for $899.

Usman Dawood's picture

Thank you for the comment, I'll have a look into the DP Q models to see what they're all about. Thank you for the suggestion.

Lea Tippett's picture

As a long time Sigma/Foveon user i would not use anything else for my work. The image quality and superb tonal range is superb at low ISO.
I've been shooting Foveon since 2004 and yes the cameras have been around since 2002 with the SD9 so there not exactly new although many folks out there still know very little about them.
The very best method to squeeze every little bit of IQ out of this fantastic sensor is to use the Sigma Photo Pro software and then export the 16 bit tiff file into the software of choice.
Yes a bit of a long winded procedure but one i'm prepared to live with for the stellar results the camera can produce.
I had the pleasure of meeting Usman at The Photography Show earlier this year and we did talk at some length regarding the camera and its good and bad points.
I agree with much of his findings although i personally like the grip and feel of the camera and i also like the menu and layout in particular.
Anyone who likes simple menu layouts and no frills functional features in a camera will be pleased.
One big point that should be mentioned as far as i'm concerned as it's important is the image quality of Foveon files in print.
The prints are absolutely jaw dropping and really stand out.
Over the years i have come across photographers that are now good friends of mine that made the move to Foveon from using Bayer.
I know of none that have looked back.
Yes there are limitations with the sensor BUT as long as you understand this and the sensor favours your kind of photography you will be rewarded with some spectacular images without question.
If anyone would like to look at Landscape images from the Foveon sensor i have a new website that is partly finished but i am going to be adding a larger portfolio shortly.
I'm also on Facebook if you want to look me up.
www.leatippett.com

Usman Dawood's picture

Great to see your comment on my article Lea. I really enjoyed speaking with you about Sigma cameras and your work is incredible.

I agree with you the image quality from this camera is incredible and it probably can only be best demonstrated in print. Unfortunately, it's rather difficult to demonstrate prints properly in an article. Prints are best seen in person.

In any case, image quality from this camera is definitely not up for debate it's simply amazing. I do think, however, there's much that needs to be improved but I also have confidence in Sigma to deliver.

I suppose I would write the same review if someone put an unfamiliar camera in my hands and made me use a RAW converter I wasn’t very good at or didn’t like the look of. What’s too bad about the review above is the absence of first hand knowledge of Kazuto Yamaki, CEO of Sigma, and his devotion and love for the art of photography. Look at Sigma’s online magazine. http://www.sigma-sein.com/en/ What other international manufacturing CEO has his/her personal stamp/involvement in such a thing? Did you know his desk where he actually sits at work is situated between the lens engineers to one side and camera engineers to the other?

I agree with the reviewer guy about much of what he reports. Personally, until I made a mental shift to really, really think about the new SD Q as a bonafide medium format camera, I actually was a bit puzzled by it. But not now. Not any more. I have used Foveon based cameras since 2007. My best professional work was made with them. Like the reviewer says, the price of the SD Q should be higher and the placement in the market not with Canon/Nikon but with medium format digital. This is the reality so hard to get your mind around.

I just shot a comparison of my SD Q with 105/2.8 against a PhaseOne 100MP back and 124/4 Schneider lens. Let's just say the folks in Denmark wouldn't like how things turned out. I ran the SD Q file as usual as I would any studio file.

In a hyper-mode kind of world, these cameras ask the worker to slow down and be more attentive.
A technical field camera asks the same thing.

Paul Thacker
www.paulthacker.com

Michael Jin's picture

Why should first hand knowledge of the CEO and the positioning of his desk in the office have anything to do with a gear review?

As far as the review goes, if this was a full-frame camera, I might actually bite. Those colors do look good.

Why would a knowledge about the CEO of Sigma be helpful? Because it truthfully portrays the heart of the company. What it IS. And therein lies the distinction of present day Sigma. It is a company striving for excellence. As regards this camera review, the reviewer is correct. This camera is not for everyone. Sigma knows that better than anyone. The list of things it can't do is long compared to other offerings. But I might suggest that the things it can do are hard to duplicate with anything else. I work with these files on a daily basis and have for 11 years. And I can truly say that in them - I learn something each day. Listening ever deeper at the place where modern picture making and craft come together. This is what the reviewer is so excited about.

BTW, the SD Q creates data rich raw files that hover at 50-58mbs. A 100MP PhaseOne raw file is 100mbs.

Usman Dawood's picture

I agree with Michael, you should do a comparison and write an article about it.

Michael Jin's picture

Last I checked, this was not a review about SIGMA, the company. This is a review about a camera.

If you're given an assignment to review an iMac, are you going to start talking about Tim Cook and where he sets up his office desk in relation to employees? No, because it's completely irrelevant.

A gear review is about taking the piece of gear you're given and writing about it so that others can understand its qualities and practical functionality. How does knowing about the CEO or the "heart of the company" help me understand how this camera will perform in the field or feel in my hand? Sure, it might tell you something about their intentions, but their intentions are irrelevant, too.

The only thing that actually matters for the purpose of a review is what the camera actually does and is capable of doing, not what they intended for it to do. Once we know what it does, we as users are the ones that decide how we will intend to use (or not use) the camera.

Information about the CEO or his vision can be saved for a puff piece article about SIGMA as a brand and their philosophy or something.

What are you so angry about? It seems to me that only me and Lea Tippett own and use this camera system and software. Have extensive experience with Foveon/Sigma DSLR gear and files. Know both the strengths and weaknesses of the thing. The "review" listed above isn't much of a review. If you are sincerely interested in the gear, call Sigma USA. Get a loaner for a month. And make your own assessment.

Your brain would spin if you knew all the testing I have done throughout my career. If you are interested in something, put the work in. Think up the test you need, do it and make your own decisions instead of relying in this or that tidbit read in a place like this.

Lastly, in a small company like Sigma, you better believe it matters where the boss sits and what he is interested in. Consider the new Sigma ART lenses. Both the internal and external designs are completely new with performance out pacing all other offerings. Who do you think is behind all that? The energy and demands for such specs? Kazuto Yamaki doesn't need a puff piece. His own peers will attest he is an individual of the highest character and quality.

You may find George Gilder's book, The Silicon Eye interesting. Here you will read about the giants in industry and technology who developed the Foveon sensor. (Richard Lyon now of Google Earth. Paul Hubel of Apple iPhone.)

As one of Pushkin's characters once said, "Goodbye forever."

Michael Jin's picture

Just going to keep it short.

1. Asking a question or being critical of a suggestion is not the same as being angry.

2. You're being pretty defensive almost as if you're a mouthpiece for Sigma.

3. I read gear reviews because I don't feel like wasting my time testing out every single thing that I might potentially be interested in. Gear reviews save time by letting someone else do the testing and give a general rundown to see if there are any dealbreakers in there.

4. The reason I don't give a rat's ass about the CEO or company vision is because people can say whatever they want. The only thing that matters is the products on the shelf that you can buy. I'm not buying into someone's vision. I'm buying tools for myself. To that end, anything else about the company other than the actual product on the shelf is completely irrelevant for my purposes.

5. From your description, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't find that book interesting, but thanks for the suggestion.

6. Goodbye forever and keep evangelizing.

Michael Comeau's picture

"I just shot a comparison of my SD Q with 105/2.8 against a PhaseOne 100MP back and 124/4 Schneider lens. Let's just say the folks in Denmark wouldn't like how things turned out."

THIS is an article I want to read.

I think this camera system should be regarded the same way as 6x6 TLR. No one would then be disappointed.

Would you write an article about the comparison? I think it would be well received.

Mark James's picture

I have the SD with the 30/1.4 and it can produce amazing images, but it is not forgiving at all. For people that shoot with the intention of fixing it in post, this is not the camera for you. There is no middle ground with this camera. THings that work well, work awesome and things that don't work well, well, just suck. It is a great specialty tool and is priced right IMO based on the negatives. I will most likely get the H as well.

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