Your One Stop For All Products!

Sigma fp L initial review: Digital Photography Review


Product shots by Dan Bracaglia

Updated July 15, 2021 with video quality analysis

The Sigma fp L is a high-resolution development of the company’s compact full-frame interchangeable lens camera. It gains a 61MP BSI CMOS sensor, providing a more stills-focused platform than the original fp 24MP L-mount mirrorless camera.

Rather than looking at existing categories of cameras, Sigma says it’s aimed to make a user-oriented camera that’s designed to be flexible, adaptable and fun to use. The fp L certainly isn’t readily comparable to other existing models, but it is the smallest and lightest full-frame interchangeable lens camera on the market.



Alongside the fp L (literally and figuratively) Sigma has crafted an add-on viewfinder. The EVF-11 connects to the camera’s USB and HDMI ports and provides a large, tilting 3.69M dot display. More on this, later.

Key Specifications:

  • 61MP BSI-CMOS full-frame sensor
  • On-sensor phase detection
  • Eye-detect autofocus
  • Compact body with twin control dials
  • Dedicated Stills/Cine switch
  • Full-time silent electronic shutter
  • 8-bit UHD 4K/30p video in MOV or CinemaDNG
  • 4K output as up to 12-bit CinemaDNG to SSD, or Raw to external recorder

The Sigma fp L will be available in mid-April with a list price of $2499. A kit including the EVF-11 viewfinder will retail for around $2999.


What’s new

Phase detection autofocus

The fp L also gains on-sensor phase detection autofocus, which the fp lacked. As with all phase detection systems, this allows the camera to calculate how out-of-focus it is, and hence how far it needs to drive the focus. This technology underpins some of the fastest and most reliable AF systems we’ve encountered from other manufacturers, but isn’t a guarantee of either of these things. The Sigma fp L we’re using is not yet final, but focus certainly seems improved over the original fp model, showing slightly faster and more decisive focusing, especially with smaller AF points (though there is still a little wobble/hunting at times).

The fp L is the first Sigma camera to offer eye-detection AF
Panasonic Lumix 85mm F1.8 | F2.2 | 1/100 sec | ISO 800
Processed in ACR: WB warmed, exposure, highlights and blacks reduced
Photo: Erin Carey

The fp L also offers eye-detection autofocus, to help achieve perfect focus when shooting portraits and social photos. Our initial impressions are positive, with the Sigma detecting eyes even when they’re small in the frame.

The fp L also has a subject tracking AF system, which works within a 7×7 rectangular grid of focus points. We’ve not tried it for anything serious yet, but from our limited use so far, it seems to work.

Crop zoom

One of the main ways the fp L makes use of its high pixel count sensor is with its crop zoom mode. This provides a series of crops from the sensor to provide a tighter angle of view (effectively digital zoom, if you then view at the same size).

You can set the maximum and minimum region of the sensor the camera will use, from full-frame all the way down to a ‘Full HD’ (1920 horizontal pixel) crop. These are indicated as 1.0 to 5.0x crops, which take you (for example) from a 24mm field of view up to around a 153mm equivalent, if you have a 24mm lens attached.

Naturally, as you crop in, you use progressively smaller parts of the sensor and, if blown up to the same size, you’ll pay an increasing cost in terms of noise for doing so, as well as decreased resolution. Our calculations suggest that the maximum 5.0x zoom will be using a sensor region around the size of a traditional compact camera with 2.4MP resolution, so it’s worth considering where to set your limits, and whether you’d prefer to crop in post.

New color modes

Sigma has added two extra color modes to the fp L: Duotone and Power Blue. Duotone imposes one of ten contrasting color gradients on the image, while Power Blue offers a cool, pale tint to the images.

These additional modes mean there are now 15 color profiles. And, so long as you’re shooting DNG files, there’s an in-camera conversion option to let you experiment with other color profiles, after the fact.

Composite Low ISO Expansion

Perhaps fittingly for a camera that’s likely to lend itself well to landscape shooting, the fp L has a series of composite Low ISO settings. These take a series of exposures and combine them to give the effect of longer, lower ISO shooting. There’s no motion correction between frames, so you’ll need a steady tripod, but it opens up the option of using exposures all the way down to the equivalent of ISO 6.

Movie capture

On the movie side of things, the fp L is well-equipped. It can capture 8-bit MOV or 8-bit CinemaDNG files internally, with resolutions extending up to UHD 4K at up to 30p. It’s one of the few cameras to shoot true 24p video, as well as having a 23.97p option.

The amount of care and attention that Sigma has given to video in the fp L is impressive. Alongside focus peaking and zebras, which have become pretty standard, the fp L also has a waveform display, to help assess exposure. Furthermore, it offers the ability to control exposure in terms of shutter angle, rather than just shutter speed.

The fp L also offers its Crop Zoom function in video mode, letting you shoot 4K in any of 19 crops from the full width of the sensor all the way down to a native 3840 x 2160 region (around a 2.5x crop).

Like the fp, where the fp L really comes into its own in terms of video is when you attach external devices to it. If you connect an external SSD you can output 10 or 12-bit CinemaDNG Raw video. Alternatively, you can output a Raw video stream over HDMI that can be encoded as either ProRes RAW or Blackmagic Raw, depending on the external recorder you connect (though this appears to be less detailed than the CinemaDNG footage). Even if you don’t want to go down the Raw video shooting route, HDMI output also unlocks the option to output DCI 4K video (the wider, 4096 x 2160 format).

The fp L also expands the number of aspect ratios available in the ‘Director’s Viewfinder’ mode, used to simulate the coverage that various camera systems and their modes will give, were you to use the same lens on those cameras. This allows the use of the fp L as a means of previewing framing for directors using the Sigma alongside pro cinema cameras from Arri, Red or Sony.

Optional EVF-11 viewfinder

The EVF-11 (not to be confused with the LVF-11 loupe-style magnifier for the LCD screen) is an electronic viewfinder that screws into the side of the fp L’s body. It requires you to remove the HDMI port cover and hold the USB port door open, then plugs into both ports as you screw it on.

It provides a 3.69M-dot OLED finder with a large, comfortable eyepiece cushion, and it tilts upward at up to 90 degrees. On the side of the finder is a large LCD/EVF switch, which does exactly what you might expect (there’s no sensor to auto-switch as you bring the camera to your eye).

Just below this switch is a 1/4-20 (tripod-style) mounting point, which can be used to attach a camera strap and below this are a headphone socket and USB-C passthrough that means you can continue to output data to an external SSD. However, there’s no HDMI pass-through. The microphone input remains available since the EVF does not block it.

The rear screen of the camera continues to operate as an AF touchpad when you’re using the finder. It uses absolute, rather than relative, positioning so you’ll need to tap in the top left corner of the screen to position the AF point at the top left (rather than swiping, relative to the point’s current position).

The viewfinder will cost $699 if purchased on its own, but only adds $500 to the cost of the camera when bought as a kit.

Battery

The fp L uses the same BP-51 battery as the original fp. It’s a 8.7Wh unit that Sigma rates as being good for 240 shots per charge. This isn’t a lot, especially if you’re shooting video, but thankfully, the fp L can be operated and charged using power over its USB-C connector. This allows use for extended periods if you use an external power source, whether that’s for shooting video or using it as a webcam.

Return to index


How it compares…

The fp L is a little difficult to compare to anything else. Without a mechanical shutter its high resolution but slow readout sensor ends up being a little limiting in terms of what you can shoot with it (artificial lighting risks banding and any significant movement will be distorted by the rolling shutter effect). These same factors also count against it in terms of its video, even relative to its 24MP sibling.

That said, it’s comfortably the smallest, lightest full-frame camera on the market, and priced lower than other cameras with such high resolution output. In situations where that’s valuable, there’s nothing like it.

Sigma fp L Sony a7R IV Sigma fp Sony a7C
MSRP at launch $2499
($2999 w/ EVF)
$3499 $1899 $1799
Pixel count 61MP 61MP 24MP 24MP
Auto focus Hybrid Hybrid Contrast-detection Hybrid
Shutter type
  • Mechanical
  • Elec 1st Curtain
  • E-shutter
  • Elec 1st Curtain
  • E-shutter
Image Stabilization Lens only Yes Lens only Yes
Viewfinder Optional
3.69M-dot OLED, tilting
0.83x mag.
5.76M-dot OLED fixed
0.78x mag.
Optional
3.69M-dot OLED, tilting
0.83x mag.
2.36M-dot OLED fixed
0.59x
3.2″ 2.1M dot fixed 3″ 1.44M-dot tilting 3.2″ 2.1M dot fixed 3″ 1.44M-dot tilting
Video internal UHD 4K/30p
FF to 1:1 in 19 steps. 8-bit gamma encoded or Cinema DNG
UHD 4K/30p
FF or S35
8-bit gamma encoded
UHD 4K/30p
FF or S35.
8-bit gamma encoded or Cinema DNG
UHD 4K/24p
FF, 30p with 1.2x crop
8-bit gamma encoded
Video external DCI 4K/24p
Up to 12-bit CinemaDNG
or Raw out to ext. recorder
UHD 4K/30p
4:2:2 8-bit gamma encoded
DCI 4K/24p
Up to 12-bit CinemaDNG
or Raw out to ext. recorder
UHD 4K/24p
4:2:2 8-bit gamma encoded
Battery rating
LCD/EVF
240/- shots 670/530 shots 280/- shots 740 / 680 shots
Dimensions

113 x 70 x 45 mm

129 x 96 x 78 mm 113 x 70 x 45 mm 124 x 71 x 59 mm
(with finder) 157 x 92 x 56 mm 157 x 92 x 56 mm
Weight 427g (15.1oz) 665g (23.5oz) 422g (14.9oz) 509g (18.0oz)

Return to index


Body and handling

The fp L has the same diminutive body as its sister model. It’s a fairly simple box-shaped design onto which you can attach different accessories, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. The new viewfinder module significantly increases the available options.

The design makes a lot of use of a large command dial that encircles the shutter button, a second dial on the rear of the camera and the QS, AEL and Menu buttons above and below it.

The QS menu is a user-customizable quick menu that’s navigated by pressing the cardinal points of the rear dial/four-way controller, with settings being changed by turning either dial.

The menus are a rather Canon-style affair with pages arranged in horizontal tabs. Navigating them also uses Canon logic: main dial jumps between tabs and the rear dial scrolls up and down. This starts to break down a little as several menu option have their own sub-menus that are very visually similar to the top-level menu (they still show your position in the main menu structure even though you’re off in a sub-menu that you need to hit ‘Menu’ to back out of).

But, once you’ve overcome the occasionally fiddly button/dial interactions (when in doubt, try hitting AEL to see if there are more options), the fp L is full of well-thought-out little touches. For instance, video mode not only offers a (tiny) waveform display, it also lets you specify exposure in terms of shutter angle. Similarly there’s a good Auto ISO implementation with an ‘auto’ shutter speed threshold that takes focal length into account and can be adjusted to use faster or slower multiples of focal length.

No manufacturer that lets you pause live view to adjust the highlight and shadow response of the tone curve in one of its cameras can be accused of lacking attention to detail. But a little more thought about how to get to all these options would help. For instance, you can’t assign Auto ISO shutter speed threshold to a button, with the result that it takes between six and eleven button presses to access that function.

Return to index


Initial impressions

The Sigma fp L certainly doesn’t fit into any obvious product category. It’s not a wannabe DSLR for landscape shooters but, with its 61MP sensor, neither is it obviously the video/still module that the 24MP fp can be.

You can’t fault the fp L for its level of detail capture.
Panasonic Lumix 85mm F1.8 | F8 | 1/160 sec | ISO 100
Image processed in ACR: straightened and cropped, highlights lifted, shadows reduced.
Photo: Richard Butler

That the 61MP sensor isn’t as well suited to video as the existing 24MP chip just draws attention to the camera’s lack of mechanical shutter. The sensor reads out very slowly (around 1/10th of a second in stills mode), which means the results are very prone to rolling shutter. This ends up having an impact on a lot of what you might want to do with the camera and is likely to end up restricting the ways in which the fp L can be used (you’ll see a LOT of banding at fast shutter speeds under any artificial light).

The viewfinder module adds a lot to the fp L’s utility, making it much more useable in bright light, especially given the fixed rear screen. The addition of a headphone socket makes it even more usable, and it’s nice to see the USB pass-through port that means you can still record CinemaDNG video to an external SSD.

Adding the EVF-11 viewfinder gives the camera a headphone socket, but takes up the HDMI port and stops you charging the camera over USB.

However, this USB passthrough doesn’t work for charging or powering the camera, as the one on the camera’s body does. Given the camera’s rather limited battery life, this could be a problem. Also frustrating, the EVF-11 fills the HDMI port, which means you can’t use an external recorder if you prefer ProRes RAW or Blackmagic Raw output but still want to monitor audio using the headphone socket the EVF-11 provides.

It’s nice to see that the camera’s rear screen still works as a touchpad when you’re looking through the viewfinder, but it was a real shock to recognize how much I’ve become accustomed to eye sensors to activate the viewfinder. Shooting with the fp L left me feeling like I was spending half of my time manually switching back and forth between EVF and LCD. Like the menu system, I’m hoping this is something I’ll adapt to once I’ve spent more time with the camera.

Don’t get your hopes up about that ‘HDMI’ port door. It’s just the storage recess for the port door from the camera body: there’s nothing behind it.

Overall, the Sigma fp L is a fascinating camera, full of clever ideas, but I can’t honestly say I know who or what it’s for, yet. I’m hoping this will become clearer as we spend more time shooting with it, but for now, I’m not sure such a slow sensor makes sense in this camera.

Return to index


Image quality

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you’ll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to see the effect of different lighting conditions.

Raw

We’ve put the Sigma fp L up next to the Sony a7R IV first and foremost, since they share a similar sensor design and resolution of 61MP. At first glance, the Sigma looks just slightly softer than the Sony, though looking closely reveals similar levels of fine detail. MTF analyses of slanted edges in our scene revealed that this difference is likely due to a moderately strong anti-aliasing filter Sigma has chosen to include on the fp L (Sony has left it off in its a7R IV). For reference, an anti-aliasing filter helps suppress moiré, while leaving one out results in an increase in perceived sharpness, at the potential cost of artifacts. (It’s worth noting that the Canon EOS R5 has an anti-aliasing filter while the Nikon Z7 II foregoes one.)

Indeed, when we look at areas where moiré can be problematic, we can see the Sigma controls it a little better than the Sony does. Overall, the Sigma fp L gives you plenty of detail and the files should respond well to a bit of extra sharpening should you so desire.

At higher ISO values, the Sigma continues to perform well, and actually shows less noise than the Sony and similar noise levels to the Nikon by ISO 51200. The very highest setting should really be reserved for emergencies, as with all the other cameras here. However, the Sigma does show some banding (visible along the right edge of the full test chart), due to the interaction of its full-time electronic shutter and the tungsten light we use for this test.

JPEG

Switching over to JPEG, we can see that the default sharpening isn’t terribly strong or particularly fine, though the finest lines of text are still easily readable. The sharpening also looks to be fairly large-radius, which obscures some of the finest detail upon close inspection but may give images a bit more ‘punch’ at more standard viewing sizes.

JPEG color is a bit mixed. We like the deep yellows and warm greens, but the red patch is a bit too magenta-shifted for our tastes, and the caucasian-skin colored patch at top left skews a bit purple.

Crank up the ISO in JPEG and the Sigma puts up a great showing; color-bleed is well managed, and a truly impressive amount of fine detail and texture is retained. Even low-contrast detail looks good, though some of the noise reduction artifacts may look a little artificial. On the downside, the regular auto white balance under tungsten light turns everything a bit sickly, so consider trying Auto (Lighting Source Priority), or choosing an appropriate custom white balance as light levels drop.

Return to index


Video

The Sigma fp L’s higher pixel count makes it a less obvious video camera than the 24MP fp sister model, but both models share the same ergonomics and prominent Stills/Movie switch on their top plates.

And, despite its 61MP chip not being a natural fit for fast video readout, the camera’s specs are interesting and impressive: internal (8-bit) Cinema DNG capture or output of 10 or 12-bit CinemaDNG to an SSD over USB. On top of this there’s the option to output a Raw stream over HDMI that can be encoded as ProRes RAW if you connect an Atomos recorder, or BRaw if you use a Blackmagic Video Assist. Add to this the camera’s compact modular design and its video credentials look surprisingly strong.

The first thing to note is that the Sigma appears to have less sophisticated moire-suppressing processing than Sony’s a7R IV, which uses a sensor with the same pixel count. The Sony footage appears to minimize aliasing by blurring high frequency patterns.

Shooting a target as detailed as our studio scene immediately reveals the camera uses two different readout modes: a high resolution one for its internally-processed (MOV) footage and its 10-bit CinemaDNG capture, and a line-skipped one for its 12-bit Raw modes, both internal and external. The rolling shutter figures hint at why this is the case: the MOV and 10-bit video takes around 37ms to read out, which results in fairly severe rolling shutter. A shift to a slower 12-bit readout mode would make this even worse, so instead the camera goes to a line-skipping mode, which gives less detail but reduces rolling shutter to around 21ms.

Note that the CinemaDNG files include metadata describing a default processing method, meaning that the results look more ‘finished’ than the ProRes RAW version, which starts with minimal noise reduction, sharpening or color grading.

Trying to adjust the files supports the idea that the 10-bit Raw footage (and very probably the MOV footage) is taken from 10-bit sensor readout: there’s much less usable dynamic range in the shadows than in the 12-bit files, meaning that you have much less scope for making tonal adjustments.

Crop showing 1/3EV steps, six, seven and eight stops below clipping. Even in this range, which you may well want to use in your video, the noise from lack of bit-depth is becoming visible in the 10-bit CinemaDNG file (top)

Ultimately, then, you have the choice of higher detail but less DR and significant rolling shutter in the camera’s 10-bit mode or low detail footage with decent DR and well-controlled rolling shutter from the line-skipped 12-bit mode. Both represent significant compromises, which point to the 24MP fp being the better overall choice for video shooters.

Return to index


Sample galleries

Please do not reproduce any of these images without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review).

Return to index



Source link

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

ihome Digital | Amazon Affiliate Store
Logo
Reset Password