SD10 ($1689) is one of only two cameras to use the Foveon
X3 Direct Imager Sensor. The other is the Sigma SD9, which
has been replaced by the SD10. Soon, a new Polaroid model will
arrive with a lower resolution X3 sensor.
the big deal about the Foveon sensor? To understand that, first
you need to know about how it works. A traditional CCD or CMOS
sensor on a digital camera looks like a checkerboard, except
with 3 colors (red, green, blue). 50% of the total pixels are
green, while 25% are red, and 25% are blue. The camera must take
this information and interpolate it into a complete image --
doing so introduces digital junk, reducing resolution and sharpness.
X3 sensor tries to replicate film, in that it has three layers
that capture image data -- so this time you capture 100% of red,
green, and blue. The X3 sensor used on the SD10 captures 3.4
million pixels of each color, for 10.2 million total pixels captured.
That doesn't mean that you'll get a 10 Megapixel image -- rather,
it's 3.4 Megapixel, which sounds skimpy compared to other digital
SLRs. You will, however, find that this 3.4 Megapixel image blows
away anything you've seen before in terms of image quality. I
think you'll agree after viewing the sample photos attached to
more info about how the X3 sensor works, I recommend viewing this
page over at the Foveon site.
that out of the way, let's learn more about this camera!
in the Box?
is the case with most digital SLRs, the SD10 doesn't include
a lens or a memory card. In fact, it doesn't even include batteries.
Here's what you'll find in the box:
3 x 3.4 Megapixel Sigma SD10 camera body
featuring Sigma Photo Pro
page camera manual (printed)
I mentioned, the SD10 doesn't come with even a throwaway set
of batteries. So you'll need to pick up some NiMH AA rechargeables.
Since the camera takes four AA batteries, I'd pick up 8 batteries,
so you have a spare set around. A fast charger is a must as well.
When those batteries run out, you can always toss in some alkaline
AAs, or two CR-V3 lithium batteries, to get you through the day.
Sigma does not provide battery life information, but I never
had to change batteries in my weeks with the camera.
studio work, of if you're just transferring photos to your PC,
the included AC adapter is a very useful thing to have around.
For more power on the go, consider the "Power Pack SD" ($130),
which doubles the SD10's battery life, and lets you hold the
camera in the vertical position as well.
thing not included with the SD10 is a memory card. The camera
supports both Type I and Type II CompactFlash cards, including
SD10 with "super" flash and 17-35
it comes to accessories, the first thing you'll need is a lens
-- I'll cover those in the next section. Another must-have is
an external flash, as the SD10 doesn't have one built in. Sigma
sells two that are integrated with the camera, and they're known
as the EF-500 DG Super SA-N ($170) and the EF-500 DGB ST SA-N
($140). [Aside: Who names these things?] For those who want to
use a flash via a PC Sync cord, pick up the ST-11 terminal adapter
accessories include a remote shutter release cable ($40), wireless
remote control ($24), and various dioptric correction lenses
for the eyepiece.
with the the SD10 is the excellent Sigma Photo Pro 2.0 software.
This software should serve as an example to other camera manufacturers,
with its great user interface and robust performance. You'll
be spending a lot of time in Photo Pro, since the camera only
saves photos in RAW (X3F) format. At first glance, Photo Pro
looks like just another photo browser (see above photo). But
select an image and you'll find a lot more functionality.
image editor is where all the good stuff is. By moving the cursor
over the photo, you can see an enlargement of the area below
(see above photo). Here you can also rotate, protect, or delete
photos, or view exposure information and a histogram. This is
also where you'll process and save your images into another format
like JPEG or TIFF.
have three options for post-processing your images. You can use
the original settings that the camera chose, you can let the
software choose the best adjustments, or you can make them yourself.
For the latter, you can use the controls on the panel at the
left side of the photo. You can adjust:
Fill Light - a kind of "digital flash" that adds
extra lighting into the scene
(using the color circle)
general, I was pleased with the results I saw using the auto
correction feature. If you're not satisfied with how that looks,
you can tweak the settings until the image looks like what you
manual included with the SD10 is pretty good for a camera manual.
I especially liked the lengthy explanations, and minimal fine
first impression I had of the SD10 was that it was big for a
D-SLR. It doesn't compare to the monster Nikon D2X or Canon EOS-1D,
but it towers over the Canon D60 and Olympus E-1 that are here
at the home office. Have a look:
what I mean? In terms of build quality, the bulky SD10 is competitive
with other D-SLRs in its price range. Here's a look at how the
SD10 compares in size and weight against similarly-priced SLRs:
x 3.9 x 2.9 in.
x 4.2 x 3.0 in.
x 4.1 x 3.2 in.
x 3.7 x 2.4 in.
x 4.4 x 3.1 in.
x 4.7 x 3.1 in.
you can see, the SD10 is the biggest and heaviest of the bunch
-- and you'll tell as soon as you pick it up!
let's begin our tour of this camera, starting with the front.
promised to discuss the lens options on the SD10, and I'll do
that now. The camera has a Sigma SA mount, and it only uses Sigma
lenses. I've had mixed results with Sigma lenses. The 17-35 and
28-70 that came with my review camera were not impressive. On
the other hand, the 15-30 that I own for my Canon D60 is much
better. Sigma makes lenses of all types, ranging from 8 to 800
with all lower-end D-SLRs, there's a focal length conversion
ratio that you need to note. On the SD10, it's 1.7X -- so that
17-35 mm lens is really 29-59 mm.
release for the lens can be found to the lower-left of the mount.
of the much-touted features of the SD10 is a built-in dust cover.
It didn't seem to do a good job, as the camera arrived with quite
a bit of dust on the sensor. Even after having it professionally
cleaned, there were still unwelcome objects in my photos (maybe
the junk was in the lens too?).
the far right in the above photo is the receiver for the optional
remote control. You can't see it here, but to the left of that
is the depth-of-field preview button.
first thing you'll notice while looking at the back of the camera
is just how simple everything is. There are just a few buttons
and no dials, making it a welcome change from more complex D-SLRs.
SD10 has a high resolution 1.8" LCD display, with 130,000
pixels. The screen is bright and sharp, and you adjust brightness
and contrast in the setup menu. As is the case with all digital
SLRs, the LCD is only used for viewing photos after they are
taken (NOT beforehand) and for menus.
above that LCD is the SD10's optical viewfinder, which they call
a sports finder. The sports finder takes a little getting used
to, as it shows a larger area than what is actually captured.
The captured area is clear, while the non-captured area is gray.
This makes more sense when you pick up and use the camera. The
viewfinder shows about 98% of the frame. Below the field-of-view
is a green strip showing shutter speed, aperture, flash setting,
top of the viewfinder is a diopter correction slider, which focuses
what you're looking at in the finder.
the left of the viewfinder are two buttons, for changing the
resolution and ISO setting. The SD10 is unusual (for a D-SLR)
in that it has just three image sizes (and no compression options,
since all images are in RAW format): high, medium, and low. In
the ISO sensitivity department, you can choose from 100, 200,
400, 800, and 1600. I'll have more on both of these topics later
in the review.
the opposite side of the viewfinder are two more buttons, this
time for AE lock and exposure compensation (-3EV to +3EV, 1/3EV
those two buttons are five more. These control:
- enters playback mode
- shows exposure info about photos (described later in the
- opens the image modification menu, which has the following
image (Lock/unlock, lock all marked/unlock all marked,
lock all, unlock all)
image (Mark/unmark, mark all, unmark all)
image (Clockwise, counterclockwise)
(Resume show, show all, show marked, show locked, settings)
the lower-right of the LCD are the OK and cancel buttons, which
are mainly used for menu operations. The OK button is also the
shortcut button, whose function you can customize in the menu
(more on this later). Above those buttons is the four-way controller,
which is used for menu navigation.
the top-right of the photo are the +/- buttons, which are used
for the "zoom and scroll" and thumbnail view features
in playback mode. Below those is the release for the CompactFlash
the top of the camera, you'll find a few more dials and buttons,
plus the hot shoe and LCD info display.
on the left side of the photo, we find three buttons, which are
(8-segment, average, center-area)
- has the following options:
control channel (Off, C1, C2, C3) - for use with the
RS-21 wireless remote only
mode (on/off) - gives you longer exposure times [30 sec
vs. 15 sec] and ISO 1600
mode (Single, continuous)
the right of those buttons is the mode dial, which has the following
shooting - see below
- flips the mirror out of the way for sensor cleaning
bracketing - takes three shots in a row, each at a different
exposure value. Interval can be set in 1/3EV increments up
continuous shooting mode will take up to 6 shots in a row at
1.9 frames/second at the highest quality setting. At the medium
and low quality settings, the numbers are 14 shots / 2.4 fps
and 30 shots / 2.5 fps, respectively.
next item on the top of the camera is the hot shoe. The camera
manual insists that you can only use Sigma DG-series flashes
with the hot shoe, but who knows if that's really true -- it
looks like a standard hot shoe to me. By attaching a PC sync
adapter, you can connect to studio strobes or to a flash bracket.
The maximum flash sync speed on the SD10 is 1/180 sec.
the right of the hot shoe is the "s-dial", which has
the "mode selector" below it. The s-dial is used for
changing the shutter speed while in the full manual (M) shooting
mode. The items in the mode selector are:
mode - camera chooses both aperture and shutter speed; you
can use the C-dial (shown in a second) to scroll through sets
of different aperture/shutter speed combinations (this is called
priority mode - you choose aperture, camera picks appropriate
shutter speed; aperture range varies depending on your lens;
on the 17-35, it was F2.8 - F45
priority mode - you choose shutter speed, camera picks appropriate
aperture; shutter speed range is 15 sec - 1/6000 sec; turning
on extended mode in function menu allows for 30 sec exposures;
at higher ISOs, exposures are limited to 1 second
manual mode - you choose both shutter speed and aperture; same
ranges as above; bulb mode allows for exposures as long at
30 seconds at any ISO setting (assuming extended mode is turned
the right of all that is the LCD info display, which shows shots
remaining, quality setting, shutter speed, aperture, and more.
I was disappointed to see that the screen was not backlit.
the the info display is the aforementioned C-dial, with the shutter
release button inside of it.
this side of the SD10, you can get a better look at the depth-of-field
preview button (just to the right of the white dot around the
lens). Other things to see here included the I/O ports (kept
under a rubber cover) and battery compartment. I'll take a look
at each of those now.
I/O ports include Firewire (IEEE1394), USB (1.1), video out,
and DC-in (for included AC adapter).
the camera with the battery case removed. As I mentioned at the
start of this review, the SD10 can use four AA or two CR-V3 batteries.
on the other side of the SD10, you'll find the CompactFlash slot,
which is behind a sturdy plastic door. This is a Type II slot,
so the Hitachi (formerly IBM) Microdrive is fully supported.
final stop on our tour is the bottom of the camera. The only
thing to see here is the metal tripod mount, which is inline
with the lens.
the Sigma SD10
SD10 starts up almost instantly when you turn it on.
performance was responsive, though a bit slower than I would've
expected from an expensive camera. Low light focusing was not
good, since the camera doesn't any sort of AF-assist system.
There's a fairly easy solution, though: use an external flash.
I attached the "super" Sigma flash and got better results,
though you must take a flash picture.
camera does very well in the shutter lag department -- there's
none to speak of. The SD10 also excels in shot-to-shot speed.
You can shoot as fast as you can compose, until the buffer memory
can delete an image after it is taken by pressing the delete
photo button on the back of the camera.
SD10 is a little unusual for a D-SLR, as it shoots only in RAW
mode, and has just three image quality options. And here they
images on 256MB card (not included)
simple, eh? As I said at the start of this review, you must process
every image you take in the Photo Pro software. Later this year,
Adobe Photoshop CS will be able to open the X3F files as well.
are named using the following convention: IMG#####.X3F, where
# = 00001 - 99999. File numbering is maintained as you erase
and switch memory cards.
continue onto the menu system now.
SD10 has a nice menu system that's more like those found on consumer-level
cameras than D-SLRs. It's simple, and easy-to-navigate. You'll
find the following options in the menu:
info - displays current camera settings and CF card status
balance (Auto, sunlight, shade, overcast, incandescent, fluorescent,
flash, custom) - the custom option lets you shoot a white or
gray card for perfect color in any lighting
custom WB - shoot that white or gray card here
(English, Japanese, German, French)
preview (Off, 2, 5, 10 sec, hold) - post-shot review
style (Image only, info screen)
warning (on/off) - whether or not the overexposure warning
is shown on images
strip (Exposure info, date/time) - what is shown above images
in playback mode
shortcut (None, lock/unlock, mark/unmark, rotate, exposure
warning) - define what the OK button does
numbering (Continuous, reset)
brightness (Dim, normal, bright)
contrast (High, medium, low)
sleep (30 sec, 1, 2, 5, 10, 15, 30 min, off)
power off (10, 30 sec, 1, 5 min, off)
sound (Long, short, off)
mode (NTSC, PAL)
version - mine was 126.96.36.1992
reset - back to defaults
can't believe it that I made it through the whole menu system
and don't need to explain anything!
move on to sample photos now. Since the camera doesn't include
a lens, I'm skipping the distortion test. And, since there's
no built-in flash, I won't be doing the redeye test (it should
be minimal to nonexistent with an external flash).
SD10 with the 28-70 mm lens did a fine job with the macro test.
The color was off a bit in the original X3F file, but fixing
it was a piece of cake in Photo Pro. The minimum focus distance
will vary depending on the lens you're using.
it's crooked (sorry!), the camera also did nice work with the
night test shot. The sharpness and clarity in this photo are
stunning! Purple fringing was low, though I did notice "stars" on
some light sources.
your average D-SLR, the SD10 doesn't do so hot at higher ISO
settings. Here, have a look:
you can see, things start to get noisy at around ISO 400 -- which
is something you probably wouldn't see on other D-SLRs. Things
get pretty yucky by the time you get to ISO 800, and even worse
at ISO 1600.
I've mentioned several times in this review, every image must
be post-processed in Photo Pro. What do they look like straight
out of the camera (unprocessed)? Here are some comparisons between
an untouched image and one adjusted with the "auto setting":
don't have to be a rocket scientist to see which one is better.
Since you have to use Photo Pro anyway, using the auto setting
is a no-brainer in my opinion. Those seeking perfection will
be able to tweak image properties to their heart's content.
you clicked on those images above, or if you know anything about
the X3 sensor, you won't be surprised to hear my assessment of
the image quality: it's awesome, especially after a trip through
that auto adjustment feature. The sharpness and resolution are
truly stunning, blowing away any 3 Megapixel image you've ever
seen. It's just that good.
was a little dismayed by two things, though. The first was dust:
it was in all of my images, even after I had the sensor cleaned.
That was surprising for a camera with a dust protection feature.
Secondly, I wasn't thrilled with the Sigma lenses I used -- they
often had softness in corners. Do careful research before you
buy a lens for this camera (and don't ask me, since I don't review
the SD10 "only" saves images at 2268 x 1512 (compared
to 3072 x 2048 on most other D-SLRs), the great resolution allows
you to enlarge them to that size, and still have a great-looking
photo. So Megapixels aren't everything!
just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at the gallery and
decide for yourself if the photo quality meets your expectations!
digital SLRs have movie modes.
SD10 has a pretty standard playback mode (as do most D-SLRs).
Basic features include image protection, thumbnail mode, image
rotation, and slide shows. It doesn't seem to support DPOF print
marking or PictBridge.
and scroll" feature lets you zoom in as much as 400% into
your photo, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. This
is a great way to check the focus on a photo. This feature is
well-implemented on the SD10.
default, you get some decent exposure information about your
photos in playback mode. Pressing the info button displays the
screen on the right, complete with a very nice histogram.
through photos almost instantly -- very nice.
Does it Compare?
the Sigma SD10 would be a nice D-SLR if it used a traditional
CCD or CMOS sensor, it's the SD10's Foveon X3 image sensor which
really makes it stand out from the crowd. Image quality is, in
a word, stunning. The resolution and detail makes your typical
3 Megapixel camera look like a toy. Don't let the Megapixel difference
scare you away from the SD10, though. All that detail that the
X3 sensor captured allows you to enlarge the image and still
get a nice looking image.
two issues I do have with the image quality have more to do with
Sigma than they do with the X3 sensor. For one, this camera has
dust issues, even with the protector screen. Secondly, Sigma's
lenses seem to be hit-or-miss. Some models are great, others
are not-so-great. Shop carefully.
one X3-related image quality issue deals with noise levels at
high ISOs -- they're noticeably worse than on other D-SLRs.
SD10's performance is competitive with other D-SLRs, except in
terms of low light focusing. You really need to attach an external
flash if you expect to focus in the dark. The camera has a very
good user interface, and the whole camera is easy to use, especially
when compared to some other SLRs.
standout feature of the camera is the Sigma Photo Pro software,
which you'll learn to love. That's because you must post-process
every image, as they're all saved in RAW format. Thankfully,
the Photo Pro software is both capable and responsive. You can
let the camera make automatic adjustments to the image, or you
can tweak it yourself.
the SD10 uses Sigma SA-mount lenses, I recommend it mostly to
those who either have a small lens collection, or for people
who are buying their first D-SLR. For those with large investments
in Nikon or Canon glass, it's hard to throw all that away, even
with the great image quality of the SD10. Even so, it'll be hard
to resist the temptation of this camera!
and USB ports
AA batteries (instead of lithium-ion)
the benefits of a D-SLR: lenses, flashes, and full manual controls
Photo Pro software
I didn't care for:
low light focusing without external flash
seems to be a problem
of Sigma's lenses are not so great
images must be post-processed (this may be a good thing, depending
on your point of view)
average noise at high ISOs
D-SLRs that I'd recommend looking at include the Canon Digital
Rebel and EOS-10D,
Nikon D70 and D100, Pentax
*ist D, and the Olympus
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try
out the SD10 and its competitors before you buy!
got tons of photos in our gallery!
a second opinion?
out another opinions about this camera at Steve's
Feedback & Discussion
you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff.
Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking
for a personal recommendation.
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