SigMA Quattro SD-H - One year on... by Ben Hay

Two years ago when looking for a small compact camera, I ended up picking up a used Sigma DP1 Merril. A year later, and Sigma released the SDH Quattro, a 25mp Foveon camera sporting the exotic APS-H sensor size. Naturally I bought it and one year on, what are my thought?

Image curtesy of Sigma Imaging UK

Image curtesy of Sigma Imaging UK

The most striking thing about the camera on first impressions is the form factor. Slab like, with a corner missing. It’s a bit of head scratcher, but once the camera is in hand, it's reasonably comfortable, the big grip giving ample support. 

There’s a few other things to like. The dual screen makes shooting easier, one side displaying your current setting and the other previewing images, the menu system is intuitive and easy to navigate and there’s a nice tactile switch that swaps between the viewfinder and the rear screen with a satisfying click. 

The EVF is high quality, one of the best I’ve seen in the newer generation of mirrorless cameras, and with histograms and focus peaking displayed onscreen, its generally a very easy camera to pick up and start shooting with. Everything, more or less is in the place you’d expect it to be, excluding the power button which is on the flange barrel. 

There are though, of course problems, and anyones who’ve ever owned a Foveon camera can probably skip this part. 

The biggest by far is actually the software. Sigma’s Photo Pro is on version 6, yet still remains one of the clunkiest ill designed pieces of software I’ve ever used. It takes an age to do anything, and dealing with large batches of photo’s will leave you pulling your hair out. Unfortunately, it's the only software that can deal with the Sigma Raw file, so you’re stuck with it. 

The camera itself is painfully slow to focus, regardless of what lens you have attached. For every street scene you manage to capture, ten will be lost thanks to slow hunting and missed focus. There’s nine focus point. Yes, that’s not a typo. Nine. Its 2019.

Processing is quicker than on previous generations of Sigma camera’s, but shooting a burst can still leave the camera clunking away for up to 30 seconds trying to process what you’ve just shot. You can set up previews as your shooting, but checking critical focus can take an extended amount of time. 

There’s colour grain at every iso. At 100 you see it scattered amongst the shadows, but pushing to 400 and you’re starting to see a smattering through the entire image, which leaves anything beyond virtually unusable. 

The sensor has an included removable IR filter which is a dust magnet. Cleaning it becomes a tiresome chore, and removal to clean the sensor is bum clenching operation. Twice I’ve had it stuck at an odd angle, and my biggest fear is that one day it’ll manage to really wedge itself in there. The sensor also gets hot. Lava hot.

Sigma have pushed out there SA mount onto this camera, which means they’ve essentially made a mirrorless camera without any of the benefits of the mirrorless system. If you’re a Sony or Canon user, forget any adaptor because of the built in flange extension so you’ll be having to buy your entire lens collection again in SA mount. It’s a missed opportunity, a huge own goal, especially for a company that produces the widest range of mounts on their lenses. 

Finally, image quality. Its good, really good. 

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It’s difficult to pin down why the image that come out of this camera is so…’there’. It’s the only word I can to describe it. They seem to jump out of the screen, both with colour and clarity. I wouldn’t describe the colours as accurate, I’ve noticed quite a heavy blue shift on the highlights when shooting on daylight colour setting, but there’s a nuance to the colour, a richness that has nothing to do with saturation.

The clarity when combined with Sigma’s art lenses, already know for being tack sharp is a marvel. I’d really quite like to see my 16x20 prints alongside something like the Fuji GSX, because I’m almost certain most would struggle to tell the difference. Its ability to resolve detail is like nothing I’ve seen before. 

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I’m hesitant to make any parallels to film, its a chemical process so the results are unique, but nevertheless there is a feel to images that does slightly put me in mind of that look. And perhaps, that’s what ultimately this camera reminds me most of, both in operation and the final image look.

Sat on a tripod with a well lit landscape in front of it, this camera performs like nothing else I’ve shot with. 

Could you use this camera professionally? Absolutely not. But if you're a photographer who has the time to carefully compose, has the patience in post to get every once out of every image, and understands the sensor limitation, you’ll be rewarded with images that are, in many regards unique.   

So would I recommend this camera? 

Ultimately, no. For the money you’d get so much more versatility from almost any other body. However I own a Sony A7r2. I love it, it's a brilliant camera and sports a superb 42mp sensor. Yet, when the sun is out and I’m heading out to shoot, I still often reach for the Sigma instead. 

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FS5 test by Ben Hay

The FS5 isn't exactly new, its been knocking around for a couple of years. On paper, its not really all that special. A 4k camera that manages 8 bit internal on long GOP that is taxing on processors. It wasn't until it came bundled with the RAW upgrade that it made real sense to finally invest in the form factor, and an investment it certainly was!

So how does it work. Well, firstly you need a recorder that is capable of taking SDI and can record CDNG format or Prores. Currently, the Atomos Inferrno is the best suited, coming in at around £2k once you include the batteries, handle and all the other stuff you'll probably need. 

You get a 4-6 second burst of DCI4k at 120fps or constant 2k at 240fps, which is quite a major offer from such a small camera, and of course this all comes in at either Prores or CDNG, so good bitrates and final aquisition.

It does however mean you're stuck shooting on s-log, and as someone who's versed in v-log, this is a whole new hurdle to overcome! But onwards and upwards as they say. 

The test that never was... by Ben Hay

This video was part of a larger overview of the GH5 system I intended to make. Turns out editing myself talking to camera was too much...so I binned it. Wasn't until the man featured in the video posted it, I remembered about it. So here it is. That man is Kris J Rogers, aka, Shiruba Tree. Go look him up.

SIGMA DP1 Review(ish) by Ben Hay

 Yes, I've lost my mind. It was only a matter of time, to be honest.

I stumbled across this camera back in 2012. It had just been released and everyone was more or less head scratching trying to figure out why Sigma had released a slow, clunky compact with an APS-C Faveon sensor.

Funnily enough in 2016 the market is full of camera's like this, the full frame Sony RX1R being the best example, however in 2012 nothing like this was on the market. The handling reports alone were enough to put me off investing the best part of £1000 on a camera with a fixed 28mm lens. I picked up a mint example for £235.

Surprisingly, it has a fairly loyal following out there. A group of people who can apparently overlook the terrible write speeds, slow autofocus, difficult ergonomics, awful screen and horrendous battery life. It appears I'm one of them.

 

The clarity of the lens and sensor is impressive, but the how the chip expresses and reads color is what has led some to compare this little compact to medium format. That's a big claim, but it certainly punches above its weight.

There is something lovely about this camera renders out color. Its one of those things its hard to put your finger on, just a nuance that is lacking from a lot of other camera's out there.

This camera takes a long time to do most things. Focusing is not terrible, it just feels very much like a 2012 camera. If the lighting isn't optimal, expect it to spend a significant amount of time hunting. This is fine when shooting landscapes, but for anything street related you'll need clear skies and sunny days to get anything worthwhile.

 

There is no viewfinder, rather a very overpriced additional hotshoe finder. This is a big issue for me. I've always struggled to hold a camera away from my face, I find it harder to move, compose. It forces me to feel akward.

If you can overlook all of its quite dire quirks, its a camera that rewards you with very nice final images.

Voigtlander 10.5mm review by Ben Hay

I've never liked wide angle lenses. That’s not strictly true but given the choice, unless critical to narrative or restricted for space, I've always opted to go for normal or telephoto lenses.

Recently however I've found myself reaching more often for the wide angle, which has revealed a hole in my prime lens set up, that being the 'super wide'. What constitutes a super wide is open to debate, but most would concede anything below a 24mm is in the territory.

One of the big issues with the M43 system has been a real lack of anything wider than 24mm. Although adaptors allow the use of other lens mounts, this has always meant a significant crop, so to shoot anything under 24mm you'd be forking out stupid amount of money on 14mm and getting a 22mm equivalent coverage.

Step in Voigtlander with the 10.5mm nokton.

Firstly, this is a very refreshing lens. One of the big issues for me with native lenses on the GH4 has been plastic build quality and fly by wire focusing. The voigtlander address both these issues with all metal construction and fully manual focus.  The build quality is simply sublime.  

The focusing itself is very smooth and the throw is long, allowing more precise and fluid pulls from foreground to background subjects. Voigtlander have also added the ability to de-click the aperture ring with a clutch like mechanism. It's a nice touch, and shows they're taking the concerns of the video community seriously, however It's a feature I won't use, as I prefer variable ND, but it's a good feature none the less.

 The original Brighton Wide Boy...

The headline grabbing feature of this lens is the 0.95 aperture which is around F1.4 equivalent on the 35mm full frame sensor. I must admit I'm increasingly sceptical of shooting most lenses wide open due to softness, but unlike the competition this lens is useable at f0.95. More than usable, it's delightful wide open.

There is of course some softness below f2.2 in the corners but the centre remains impressively sharp, far more than any full frame equivalent lens. Shooting macro wide open does show significant smearing of hard edges and highlights, which for me is an acceptable compromise for a lens this wide.

Below 2.8 there is vignette, about 1 stop or so. This is easy to correct in post and isn't huge concern. Barrel distortion is present, but is again minimal for a lens of this length.

Because the lens is fully manual in operation, there are no electronic contacts so no metadata or exif data. I'd also suggest focus peaking as a must when shooting wide open, you'd struggle to get anything sharp without and even with I found myself occasionally focus hunting to ensure I was as sharp as could be.

I think the finest feature of this lens is the handling. It's heavy, smooth and big. The focus ring is chunky and does away with any comfort grip and replaces it with hefty steel notches. I'm finding it hard to compare to anything else, because there's not much else out there to compare it to in terms of build quality. I used to shoot with medium format a lot, and this lens reminds me of the kind of thing you’d find on the old Mamiya’s or Bronicas, just a bit smaller.

Many people will instantly dismiss the Voigtlander because of the lack of auto focus, and that’s a valid concern. Shooting street scenes with manual focus was a real challenge, but it’s one I enjoyed greatly and once you get back into the swing of using manual focus again, the occasional missed shot isn’t too bad.

Below is a video with the lens in action. It was all shot on the GH4 in HD with v-log, edited and graded in premier.

 

It's so refreshing to see a lens of this optical and build quality for the m43 sensor crop. Voigtlander make a further 17.5, 25, and 42.5 mm nokton lenses for the m43 system. I hope to review these in the future.

Disclamier: Voigtlander haven't given me anything to write this up (I wish they would!) All opinions are my own, and you listen to them or follow recommendations at your own peril. The video was all shot on the GH4 on v-log at 100fps in HD. Coloured in Premier with the LUT pack from James Miller. You can purchase them here: http://deluts.businesscatalyst.com/deluts-gh4r-vlog-l.html. No stones were harmed in the making of this video. Many got wet.

 

FRAMES - BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW by Ben Hay

Where to even start? The set/costume design is beyond belief. The film itself is a hard watch, a bit too 'out there' but worth a watch for the visual style and soundtrack alone.

The film perfectly captures a haunting mid 70's sinister sci-fi feel, and never really lets go of it.

Opinion - CRAFT by Ben Hay

Announced back at NAB, this camera caught my attention. Primarily it was the form factor, which still many months later makes my mouth water. It's a fantastic concept...but I'm starting to think a concept is all it could be.

Firstly, any company that asks you to make a 'reservation' on a product is either not being bankrolled seriously or is simply out to scam. Investors know how competitive the camera market is and I can't imagine they're going to be lining up to invest in a project such as this, but still if this project is as revolutionary as they claim...someone with some serious money out there would be interested?

Secondly, there's a few design flaws. The camera settings interface is on the wrong side for the operator, all the leads exit camera side, and the tilt and swivel screen comes out the back? It all seems a little...worrying for a professional grade camera.

Thirdly, the utter lack of any kind of confirmed specs. This matters. A LOT. You can say what you like, but until professional camera consumers see either confirmed specifications or sample footage, their wallets will remain tightly closed.

Keep in mind, the claims specifications put this camera up against the FS7, CION, black magic 4K amongst others. These are hardly small players in the camera world.

To make matters worse, they're claimed release date co-insides with the release of the Panasonic GH5, a highly anticipated follow up to the GH4 which already has confirmed 4.2.2 10bit internal capture and no 4k crop.

I want this camera to work out. I love the handle, I love the ergonomics and I love the claimed specs...but I can't help but think this will remain nothing more than a concept. And what a concept it is.

The system is modular, allowing for multiple set ups.

The system is modular, allowing for multiple set ups.

GOLD/BLUE by Ben Hay

You can often think of techniques as being tools in a tool box. Each one has a specific role, and each occasionally needs to be picked up, used and then placed neatly back in that toolbox. Some tools, the ones used often are near the top, others rarely used have to be rooted out from the bottom, gathering dust and grime. An unused tool soon rusts, and becomes alien in the hands of the user, the once fluid dexterous motions forgotten.

I felt like it was time to get some old tools out and see what was what.