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Review: Sigma SD14 compared to the Fujifilm S5 Pro

Side by side digital camera review
Sigma SD14
Fujifilm S5 Pro
Sigma SD14 review
SPECIFICATIONS
Fujifim S5 Pro review
DSLR (28.9 oz body with battery and card)
Type
DSLR (33,5 oz body with battery and card)
4.7 Mp / 2640 x 1760 or 14.1 / 4608 x 3072 (Foveon)
Sensor
12.1 Mp / 4256 x 2848 (Super CCD SR)
100-800 (Hi-1600)
ISO
100-3200
3 fps (appr. 6 JPEG/RAW)
Motor drive
3 fps (appr. 20 JPEG Large)
2.5 inch (150.000 pixels)
LCD
2.5 inch (230.000 pixels)
Full specifications   Full specifications
8.0
 CONSTRUCTION
9.0
Its predecessors were brick-like cameras with debatale ergonomics, but the Sigma SD14 is a well designed digital SLR that fits nicely in your hand. The right hand grip is finished with rubber and designed to hold the camera easily with one hand. The materials used, in combination with its weight, make the SD14 feel like a very robust camera.
Ergonomics are good and all buttons are within reach for easy operation. The function of buttons, caps and covers is well indicated. However, the dials on the camera could have been designed a bit more elegantly and the shutter release in the center of the main control dial is not everyone's choice. The caps covering the slot of the memory card (CF) and the battery are well build and access to both card and battery is easy. Buttons and caps are not sealed, so working in rain and dust requires some precautions.

With the redesign of the body of the SD14, the viewfinder changed as well. The sports finder of the SD 9 and 10 is replaced by a common, clear viewfinder, which shows 98% of the frame. Below the main frame is a very readable, but basic LCD status bar. It only displays shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation. The LCD-screen has a standard size of 2.5", contrast and brightness are good, but it has a low resolution of 150 k. In addition the vertical viewing angle is below average. With entry-level DSLR's the status LCD-screen on top is disappearing, but the SD14 still has one. Again it is very basic and shows only the most elementary information.
When you see and feel the new Fuji S5 Pro you instantly notice that it's a professional camera. It is relative heavy and large and it fits your hand like a glove. One hand handling is no problem. Fuji used the body of Nikons often praised D200. This also means that futher to its magnesium alloy chassis the S5 has a weather-sealed body. By using the D200-body the S5 pro doesn't have a standard portrait grip with release button as was the case with the S3 Pro. You will need to buy an optional battery grip to regain this highly functional option.

The ergonomics of the S5 Pro are great and all buttons are within range of thumb and fingers for easy control. The viewfinder is large and clear enough to frame your subject and to focus manually. In addition to the standard data, as with the SD14, the status bar in the viewfinder of the S5 Pro gives information about ISO, exposure mode, flash compensation and remaining number of frames. The LCD-screen has a diagonal of 2.5 inch and with 230000 pixels the resolution is better than the SD14. Checking focus is no problem and the viewing angle is sufficient. On the top you will find a large status LCD-screen which shows all possible information like settings of the camera, exposure information and battery status.
6.0
 FEATURES
8.0
The most unique feature of the SD14 is its special Foveon sensor. It differs from the standard Bayer type sensor, while it captures R, G and B with only one photocell and no interpolation is needed. Sigma therefore claims that colors are more accurate and more detail is captured. They state the 4.7 million photocells on the Foveon sensor deliver the same resolution as a Bayer sensor with 14.1 Mp. This can be found in the X3 indication in the Foveon logo. This unique sensor needs special image processing and with the SD10 only RAW (X3F) was available which required Sigma's converter Photo Pro on your PC. Many users have asked for JPEG and therefore the SD14 supports this format now. Once set on the resolution Super Hi the camera produces JPEG images of 4608 by 3072 pixels (7.5 MB) straight from the camera. X3F images capture only the native resolution of 4.7 Mp (2640 x 1760, 13.3 MB) and have to be up sampled in Photoshop to get the Super Hi JPEG resolution.

The other features of the SD14 are very basic and limited. It has the standard exposure, metering, focusing and white balance settings, but lacks options like Auto ISO, Kelvin white balance and different color modes or levels of noise reduction. Fine tuning of JPEG's is difficult and to completely control image quality you better shoot in RAW.
The SD14 has a separate dial to set the drive mode. Besides the self timer (2 and 10 seconds) and mirror lock-up there is a continuous drive mode. In this mode the camera captures 3 frames per second with a maximum of six (JPEG Super High and High, RAW). After this sequence the camera writes data to the memory card and is only able to shoot a single image every few seconds. The camera's buffer is too small to use the SD14 for serious sports or action photography.
There are five AF points available (automatic or user selectable) and focusing is manual, single or continuous. This is sufficient to capture most subjects in focus without reframing.
The SD14 has no sensor cleaning system, but Sigma has put a thin anti-dust filter between lens mount and mirror to prevent dust entering the camera body.

Choosing the right lens for the SD14 can be a problem. Tamron and Tokina don't have lenses with a Sigma mount, so your choice is restricted to Sigma. Sigma lenses are always well in stock, but only with mounts for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus or Sony. Sigma lenses with Sigma mounts often have to be specially ordered.
The S5 Pro is packed with features without being an exact copy of the D200. The S5 Pro lacks some minor options, but Fuji put in some of its own unique features such as Dynamic Range, Film Simulation and Playback Face detection. And the big difference with the D200 is of course Fuji's Super CCD SR. Just like with the SD14 it is not the traditional Bayer-sensor. The sensor of the S5 Pro has 6 million large pixels with an octagonal shape (S-pixels) and 6 million small square shaped pixels (R-pixels). This way the dynamic range of the sensor can be extended with two stops. Though the sensor has two kinds of pixels, the output is set standard to 12 million. Files can be saved as RAW (RAF) or JPEG, or both at the same time.

The S5 Pro has all standard exposure modes as well as Auto ISO in which you can set the maximum applied ISO. With fixed aperture and shutter speed it lets you handle different exposure situations. There are several white balance presets and a Kelvin setting, but no manual WB.
The drive mode of the camera can be set with a special dial. Besides Single shot, Self timer and Mirror up, there are two continuous drive modes; High and Low, specified with 3 and 1-2 fps. Self timer and Mirror up cannot be used simultaneously. Eleven focal points can be used to capture a subject. Together with three focusing modes (manual, AF single, AF continuous) the S5 Pro allow you to get the focal point at the right place.

A nice feature is the Live view mode in which the LCD-screen can be used as viewfinder (max. 30s). Focusing must be manual in that case but can be accurate because it is possible to zoom in during Live view. The S5 Pro has no sensor cleaning option and not even an anti-dust filter like the SD14. Thus changing lenses must be done carefully.

The Fuji S5 Pro takes lenses with a Nikon mount. This means there is a wide range of lenses available also from Tamron, Sigma and Tokina which probably are always in stock.
7.0
OPERATION
7.0
Just like its features, the operation of the SD14 is very basic. All buttons have a single function and work straightforward. With the Function button you enter a simple user menu to set the ISO, file format, quality and WB. To adjust a setting you have to use the four way control buttons. It looks intuitive, but it isn't. To change ISO from 100 to 200, you press the up-button of the navigator. To reset ISO to 100 again you tend to press the down-button, but this sets the white balance from AWB to Sunny! To lower the ISO you have to push the up-button four times (200->400->800->1600->100). This one way step method is also used for WB, resolution and file format and needs getting used to.
The menu in the LCD-screen only lists 19 options. The only time you really need it, is when you want to use manual white balance or adjust the standard settings of Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation or Color Space. A useful option of the camera is the info page which is presented when the camera is in capture mode and you press the Info button. In one menu all relevant camera settings are displayed.
With a few options to set, the LCD-screen is mainly used for quick review and playback of the images. As said its resolution is not top notch, so checking focus is difficult. Navigating through the images is without delay. Aperture, shutter speed and ISO are always displayed and clipping of highlights can be indicated. The SD14 has a very useful playback mode which shows a small thumbnail, all image settings as well as a RGB-histogram in just one screen. Images can be shown as thumbnails (9 in one screen, with jump mode) and zooming in and is done in 4 steps. Panning is simply done with the four way controller. In playback mode there are options to delete, rotate, mark or lock images and to play a slideshow.
With its many features it takes some time to get used to operation and menus, but ninty percent of the settings and handling can be done without reading the manual, the S5 Pro even has an in-camera help function. This comes in very handy if you work with special functions such as Film simulation for the first time. The in-camera Help tells you under what kind of conditions a certain film option works best. With the four-way dial you can quickly go through the menus and Quality, ISO and White balance can be set with dedicated buttons. The S5 Pro lacks a mode dial to set the exposure program. You have to push the Mode button and turn a dial.

Playback and zooming requires a lot of buttons to push and is never very user friendly. You can view your images as thumbnails and full size, but as with the SD14 there is no playback mode which displays image, settings and histogram in one screen. Zooming and panning isn't intuitive and depends on too many button actions. In playback pictures can be erased, protected and cropped. Slideshow and Print order DPOF are also available.
7.0
PERFORMANCE
8.0
The responsiveness of the SD14 is just above average. Starting up, metering and focusing takes a fractiont of a second, but aren't instantaneous. The quick review appears only after a second and calls for some patience. The buffer of the SD14 is small and the writing speed to the memory card is slow (1 GB, Sandisk Extreme III). Altogether the camera isn't suited for 'happy snapping' and sports and action photography.
If you shoot in RAW at ISO 100 undershooting this way allows good lighting situations the SD14 produces the best 4.7 Mp images ever with the help of Sigma's Photo Pro! Shooting this way allows you to create stunning 18"x 12" prints. The Foveon sensor extracts an enormous amount of detail, colors are vibrant though natural and the dynamic range is sufficient for most subjects. It can give you Goosebumps!
Changing to JPEG High Fine (2640 x 1760) reduces this level to just above standard, mainly because in some cases the SD14's auto white balance isn't spot on. Quality drops further when changing to JPEG Super Hi (14.1 Mp) and using higher ISO's. Above ISO 400 image detail reduces due to noise reduction and colors are washed out. Shooting in low (artificial) light conditions with high ISO is only possible in RAW (X3F), so you can adjust noise, colors and white balance in Lightroom 1.1 or Photoshop CS3. Sigma Photo Pro doesn't have the right options to correct this.
Power on is instantaneous, focusing without hesitation and there is no noticeable shutter delay. This makes the S5 Pro a very responsive camera. Nevertheless the camera isn't as fast as the D200 due to its smaller buffer and slower writing speed. In the continuous mode we shot 3 fps for 20 frames (DR=100%), after which the camera only takes one frame every few seconds.
The S5 Pro produces 12 Mp JPEG's with nice colors, great dynamic range, but only average resolution. The images show traces of interpolation and shooting in a medium resolution of 6 Mp and up sampling in Photoshop gives you more control in maintaining detail. Just as with the Sigma SD14 resolution is on par with Bayer-cameras of 8 or 10 Mp.
High ISO images are very useable up to ISO 1600. Noise reduction works well, but reduces detail noticeably. ISO 3200 can be used in emergencies.
The Dynamic range (DR) feature works in JPEG, but most of the times you have to look hard to find the differences between pictures with or without DR. White subjects and sometimes shadows contain a bit more detail. Shooting in RAW and developing with Lightroom 1.1 gives you much more control in preserving detail in shadows and highlights. In RAW the practical advantage of the Super CCD SR is neglectable compared to the dynamic range of RAW with other cameras like the Canon EOS 5D. The Film simulation can help you in managing colors when shooting in JPEG, but again RAW and Lightroom or Photoshop CS3 give you much more control and flexibility with similar or even better results.
7.0
CONCLUSION
8.0
It's clear the Fuji S5 Pro and the Sigma SD14 have no more in common than only an eccentric sensor, which isn't a Bayer CCD or CMOS as with most other digital SLR's. And with this the comparison ends, because with Fuji's Super CCD and Sigma X3 Foveon in their heart, the S5 Pro and SD14 perform very differently.

The Sigma SD14 is a very basic digital SLR with little features, simple operation and mediocre speed and it only excels in image quality. But then you have to forget 14.1 million pixels and ISO's above 400. Shooting in RAW (X3F, 2640x1760) with ISO 100 and up sampling only to 8 Mp (3504x2336) or sometimes 10 Mp (3888x2592), it reveals lots of detail, with a wide dynamic range and very beautiful colors. It isn't a snapshot camera in any way and the photographer has to use all his skills to make a perfect shot. But if he does, the Sigma SD14 can be a unique craftsman's tool for product and portrait photography in the studio or shooting macro in the field.


With the S5 Pro Fuji also produced a unique camera, with less 'issues' than the SD14. It's well designed, durable and is loaded with features. The JPEG's are of great quality, ISO 1600 is useable and in JPEG the Dynamic range feature and the film simulation prove their use in some situations. Again RAW (RAF) unveils the best of the Super CCD with 14-bits space for its wide dynamic range. Downsides are its large RAF-files, longer writing times and average continuous shooting. And just as with the SD14 the 'up sampling-trick' stops at 8 or 10 Mp and the listed 12 Mp is a step too far. The Fuji S5 Pro will excel in the studio and in situations with high contrast. Landscape and wedding photographers will love its wide dynamic range. This doesn't mean exposure can be sloppy. Even a DR of 400% doesn't rescue an overexposed picture.

As mentioned above, shooting in RAW delivers the best results. Conversion of RAF-files with Fuji's Hyper Utility 3 however is very basic and rather slow and the results are equal or only marginally better than with Adobe Lightroom 1.1 or Photoshop CS3. Sigma's Photo Pro 3 does a better job with the RAW-files of the SD14. It is well featured, not too slow and it gets the most detail from the X3F-files. Lightroom and CS3 though do a nice job too, producing vibrant colors and good resolution. Their Fill Light keeps the shadows cleaner than the X3 version does in Photo Pro 3.

Both cameras show huge improvements compared to their predecessors and produce unique results in some cases. But because of its high price tag the Fuji S5 Pro has competition from two sides: the more expensive, but real 12.7 Mp full frame Canon Eos 5D with unmatched resolution and high ISO performance and the Nikon D200 and Canon 40D, much cheaper and really speedy, all-round workhorses. The SD14 is still a niche product and has to compete against cheaper equivalents like the Canon 400D, the Nikon D40x, the Pentax K10D, the Olympus E410, the Samsung GX10 and the Sony A100.

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August 25, 2007
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