Sigma abandon their single selling point

4 Aug

I didn’t want to write about this too soon, but I think it’s time to voice now since there’s been no sign from Sigma that the rejection of their new sensor by aficionados has had any effect on their determination. I speak, of course, of the “Quattro” generation of Foveon sensors that is set to replace the previous Merrill generation.

Up to and including the Merrill cameras, Sigma had pursued a philosophy of letting each pixel be composed of an individual red, green, and blue value. That is, Sigma shows you the true colours of each pixel where other manufacturers interpolate such that the colour image is not reliable down to pixel level, and the monochrome one only approximately so. The Foveon sensor in Sigma’s cameras, however, gives exact values, and does so for both colour and monochrome.

The word afiocionados is crucial here – Sigma is a brand that cannot yet appeal to the broader market, certainly not with its “DP” series of compact cameras. The Merrill generation produces perhaps the best image of any reasonably affordable digital camera in the market – images are sharp and rich in detail. This is what you would expect based on knowing anything about the design of the sensor, and is why people like these cameras.

However, there are many reasons why Sigma cannot appeal to a broader audience yet. Autofocus is slow, particularly on the DP series (the “SD” branded DSLRs are a little faster, but not yet truly competitive). Its RAW images can only be processed with Sigma’s own software, and that happens to be very slow. JPEGs on the other hand, lack most of the detail that you might have bought the camera for. Finally, people have criticised that it’s a camera that does not produce useful images above ISO 200.

Sigma got to a turning point in the development of the Foveon sensor. It’s unclear whether they wanted to address the most frequent criticisms, or got disheartened at the diminishing returns with shrinking the sensor while maintaining per-pixel noise levels, or, similarly, improving noise levels while keeping resolution constant. Whatever may be the case, Sigma abandoned their vision.

They decided that only the quarter-size image generated from the sensor would now follow the original philosophy of knowing everything about each pixel, and that the full-size image would have complete knowledge only about the colour in one of the colour layers (“guns”) – blue.

I’d always saluted Sigma’s stand against the need for demosaicing, and its willingness to show only true detail. Given that demosaicing is not necessary, however, the slow pace of the processing software is somewhat baffling.

While the Sigma DP2 Quattro, the first model from the Quattro generation to be released, has a longer battery life than its Merrill forebear (about 200 shots vs. 70 shots on the Merrill) and is said to produce nicer portrait shots – apparently partly as a consequence of having less colour detail, it does not seem to be a worthwhile improvement in any other area.

My personal opinion is that Sigma should rethink their decision. Bolstering their team of software engineers with the goal of putting out a faster version of the desktop RAW processor might take things in a better direction than the crazy redesign of the camera and sensor. I’m not sure that Sigma can create a hype big enough to survive the fact that their core community is disenchanted with this new direction.

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One Response to “Sigma abandon their single selling point”

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  1. Most frequently returned new cameras 2014 | breakfastographer - March 1, 2015

    […] The most returned camera for which a sufficient sample size was available was the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II – a large sensor compact camera, you may recall, that had a worse sensor than its smaller brother, the G7 X. Similar return rates were experienced by the Fujifilm X30 and Panasonic GM5. Not good time to be a small camera, apparently. However, the Nikon D3300 did not fare much better, nor did the Canon PowerShot G7 X itself. Somewhat surprisingly, the Sony a5100 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 were also frequently returned. The Sigma DP2 quattro is less of a surprise given the angry noise from Sigma users over the new sensor and the abandonment of Sigma’s unique selling point. […]

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