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Sigma SD1: My First Shoots by Jack Howard

by Jack Howard

The Sigma SD1 has been generating a lot of conversation since its launch. And I’ve already said a lot about my first impressions of the camera itself in this blog posting So now, finally, we’re going to focus on some of the images I’ve made so far with this amazing new Foveon-chipped SLR with a variety of Sigma lenses. “Film-like”, “tactile”, “rich”, “vivid”, “crisp”, “vibrant” are just a few of the words that come to mind when I think of adjectives and descriptors for many of these shots.

Here’s a sampling of my first test shoots with the new Sigma SD1 SLR  from all around the Garden State. All shots were captured as full-resolution X3F Raw files, and converted to16-Bit Tiffs in Sigma Photo Pro before final touches and downsampling in Adobe Camera Raw and/or Photoshop CS5 or HDR programs. (And be sure to click on each photo to view it in full-screen mode!)

Let’s have a look at some images made with the Sigma SD1. Here’s a detail of a simple single-light portrait cropped in to just my eyes. This shot was made with the Sigma 85mm F1.4 on the SD1 at 1/160 @ F/16 @ ISO 100, and processed in Sigma Photo Pro as a Double-Sized 16-bit Tiff, which was then cropped in to just my eyes. (File dimensions before web optimization: 6272 x 4181 px, here it is optimized for the web at 1500 x 760 px) After the jump we’ll look at a slice of this shot at the “actual pixels” level.

Here is a 1500 x 1000 “actual pixels” slice of this shot. Note the superfine detail in the eyelashes, and in the tiny capillaries in my computer-weary eyes. And look at how smooth and fine the color gradations are, even along high-contrast edges!

Now let’s check out two shots of birds I found on the ground. The funny thing is, my goal was to go to this park to shoot birds on water, and in the sky with the 50-500mm “Bigma”, but the best bird action I found in this little pond by the ocean in Lake Como, NJ, was happening in the grass!

This was made with the “Bigma”, the 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM telephoto zoom wide open at 500mm (1/1000 F6.3 ISO 400). I was walking along the shoreline, and noticed this little fledgling redwing blackbird on the ground and was able to find a great angle with the shade and sun to make the beak and head really pop from the background. This shot feels “chromish” to me in terms of the quality of light and it has almost a living, breathing quality to me.
And here’s a robin, with a worm for lunch held delicately in its beak, shot just moments apart from the shot above. In the bright, direct sun, I quickly cranked the shutter to 1/3200 second and fired off a few frames again at ISO 400. I used the X3F fill light adjustment in Sigma Photo Photo to pull out the detail in the robin, and also cranked up the saturation a little bit.

Next, let’s look at some waterfalls around my Central Jersey home base. The first one is a single-shot image, and the second is a 2-shot merged High Dynamic Range image.

Here’s the Red Mill in Clinton, NJ. It was mid-afternoon when I visited, and as you can see, the Mill itself was in shadows, but the SD1 captured the amazing range of color and detail in all zones of this scene. Caught with the 10-20mm ultrawide zoom at 20mm, with a circular polarizer to add “pop.” 1/40 F14 at ISO 100. The X3F Fill Light function in Sigma Photo Pro is one of my favorite sliders in any image-editing programs I’ve seen!
Now, here’s an HDRI shot from Buttermilk Falls in Washington Valley Park in Bridgewater, NJ. Two exposures of this scene made in late afternoon (one for the dark rocks, and one for the flowing water) were captured with the 17-50mm F2.8 EX DG OS on the SD1. The straight-from-camera X3F files were exported from Sigma Photo Pro as 16-bit TIFFs, then merged and tone mapped in Photomatix 4. Final contrast sweetening done in Photoshop CS5. If you look very closely, you can see a snake in the lower right of the frame. Based on the size of the snake and image location, this may be a non-poisonous Northern Water Snake, or maybe a Timber Rattlesnake or a Northern Copperhead. If it is either of the last two, I’m glad I discovered it while editing my photos–not while out making them!

Here’s another HDRI shot from my recent Jersey Explorations with the SD1.

Here’s an abandoned Jersey Diner in Hunterdon County that is decaying nicely alsongside Route 22. I set the SD1 to autobracket 3 shots at +/-3 EV with the 17-50mm F2.8 EX DG OS set at F/20 at ISO 100 (1/125, 1/15, ½ second). The X3F Raw files were exported from Sigma Photo Pro as Double-sized 16-bit TIFFs with the straight-from-camera X3F settings. These huge source files (337 Megabytes each!) were merged in Photomatix, and the High Dynamic Range Image was then color tuned and tone mapped in HDR PhotoStudio 2. If you look really close, you can see faded letters saying “no trespassing” on the covered window beneath the “N.” And everywhere you look in this frame, there is beautiful detail, and crisp sharp colors.

 Here’s a total grab shot from my Garden State adventures made at the Rutgers Gardens Farm Market in New Brunswick (held every friday in summer!)

These beans were in the shade of a canopy, at a crowded farm stand at the farm market. I had the 17-50mm F2.8 EX DG OS mounted on the SD1. I didn’t know exactly what I was hunting for at the farm market, but when I saw these amazing purple beans mixed in with the green beans, I knew I had to grab a shot! I’d like to go back here again on a non-holiday weekend friday, and hopefully have a bit more room to reshoot this shot at a better angle, as I absolutely love that deep, rich purple of the beans mixed in with the blues and greens and old wine cases in this shot made at 1/250 @ F5.6 @ ISO 200–but would love to make this shot again with less rakish angles and without the tent pole and box truck in the background. But those purples. Wow!

Last, lets look at an Infrared image made with the Sigma SD1. As I mentioned in my earlier blog posting on the SD1, Sigma’s SLRs are the only DSLRs currently available that easily convert to infrared capture without voiding the original manufacturer’s warranty. This is because it is necessary (and easy!) to remove the IR cutting filter to clean the sensor–and then once it is removed, the SD1 captures both Infrared and visible spectrum wavelengths. You can them place an Infrared passing filter like the Cokin R72 in front of the lens, and only near IR wavelength light will reach the Foveon sensor. Then, the red-tinted X3F Raw files can be converted to “monochrome” white balance in Sigma Photo Pro, and the results will look flat-out amazing! Visit back next month for a blog entry covering the entire Infrared process with the SD1.

At midday, in the visual spectrum, this scene of the Footbridge across the lake in Spring Lake had some issues. The water was a deep shade of algae slime green, and the clouds were a bit hazy. But I quickly popped out the IR filter on the SD1 and put a Cokin R72 Infrared filter in front of the 10-20mm and bracketed a couple of shots of this scene to ensure a good infrared exposure. The “monochrome” white balance setting was applied to the very red X3F file in Sigma Photo Pro, followed by a little contrast and exposure adjustments to really make the IR-reflecting elements pop in the frame and we’ve got a very cool Infrared vision of this oft-photographed lake. After a few shots, I simply popped the IR filter back into the SD1 to go back to visual spectrum photography. For fine art photographers, the ability to easily switch zones of the the spectrum, combined with the fineness of detail and large file size is a winning combination!

I’m looking forward to exploring more possibilities with the SD1, whether infrared, HDRI, or single-shot visual spectrum, there’s just something about the feel of the images really draws me in.

And be sure to check out these camera and lens combos available direct from Sigma!

Comments (3)
  1. Yeah, Jack, I have been using Sigma dSLR’s for a number of years and they draw me in too.

    Then I return to the SD1 body price and my attention span gets drawn in a southerly direction. 😉

    Regards, Jim R

  2. PAUL says:

    Nice pictures the barn colors look good.
    I originally purchased Sigmas SD10 and was looking forward to upgrading.
    But Sigmas high prices forced me to change to Nikon and it’s lenses.

    nice pictures.
    Paul R

  3. Peter says:

    I was going to buy an SD1 as my first serious DSLR. But when Sigma decided to disappoint on it’s loyal fan base by pricing the SD1 out of the price range of 95% of them I decided the Nikon D7000 was the way to go for a low noise reliable workhorse and so far I’ve not been disappointed.
    Strange don’t you think that most of the feedback to this article reflects the same viewpoint.

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