Are you looking for an affordable mirrorless camera with class-leading resolution? Then the Sigma SD Quattro may be just the right camera for you.
With a 2.3 megapixel viewfinder and as well as a rear 2.3” TFT screen, you have two fine options for lining up your prize-winning shot, but with a 39 megapixel-equivalent Foveon sensor under the hood, the final images are what will blow you away.
After spending some time shooting with this diminutive but powerful imager, I can say that the photos produced by the SD Quattro are, simply put, amazing in their details, spot-on in their color renditions, and full of eye-pleasing contrast.
The SD Quattro is a mirrorless camera that takes a variety of interchangeable lenses. While the body will work with any lens with a Sigma SA mount, lenses in the Sigma Global Vision (SGV) lens lineup—Contemporary, Art, and Sports optics—work best. For my first several shoots, I used the 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM | A, the 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM | C, the 18-300mm F3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM | C, and the 105mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro (not a SGV lens).
During shooting, you can either use the electronic viewfinder (EVF) or the rear TFT color LCD monitor. You can choose which you prefer to use or set it on Auto, which toggles back and forth by sensing when you bring your eye to the EVF. I found myself using the rear display the majority of the time, but this is a matter of preference.
File options include JPG and RAW (X3F) files. The largest resolution of these are the S-HI JPG files, which come in at 7860 x 5120 or over 40 megapixels of detail.
In addition, the SD Quattro saves unique X3I files. This combines in one file the data from seven consecutive exposures, each with different EV settings. When you process the X3I file in the free Sigma Photo Pro software, you produce an HDR-type image without purchasing any additional software.
Autofocus options allow you to change between nine pre-set locations or any location using the four-way selector. In most shooting situations, choosing one of the nine pre-sets is enough, but there are times where being able to fine-tune the focus location is nice. Of course, you can also switch to manual focus and magnify the image to do it the old fashioned way.
As someone who has shot SLR and D-SLR cameras most of my life, it is refreshing to have live view histograms and a real-time level right before you. I’m a stickler about photos taken with the horizon level, so I love this!
The rear LCD and the EVF provide adequate brightness to review files for sharpness, exposure, etc. Moving from one high resolution image to the next is fast.
All Sigma cameras utilize a sensor not found in any other brand of camera. Much like film, the Foveon sensor receives light on three layers, allowing for excellent color accuracy and gradations, as well as superb resolution. In comparing the Sigma SD Quattro files with standard Bayer-type sensors, images are comparable to approximately 39 megapixel images. That makes the Sigma SD Quattro about the same in resolution as the Sony Alpha A7R II mirrorless camera at less than 1/3 the price.
In the Field
Taking pictures with the Sigma SD Quattro is straightforward. One feature that makes for efficient operation is the Quick Set (QS) button, which is found on all recent Sigma cameras. Located right behind the shutter release button, the QS allows for quick adjustments of white balance, file type, shooting mode, and other often-used settings.
While the shape of the camera is unique, with its thin body and large grip, it is quite easy to hold and ergonomic while shooting. With anything from the diminutive Sigma 30mm F1.4 DC HSM | Art lens to zooms such as the 17-70mm and 18-300mm, the SD Quattro is an handy shooter.
While a multitude of bike trails crisscross Ohio—almost all of them of the rails-to-trails variety—one of our family’s favorite is the Kokosing Gap Trail, which runs through Gambier, Ohio, home of Kenyon College. Adjacent to the trail and the campus’s rec center are several train cars, including a restored Chesapeake & Ohio caboose (pictured above) and a Nickel Plate Road flatbed car. The SD Quattro paired with a Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro HSM OS Contemporary lens allowed me to capture shots of the railroad cars with spectacular color and detail.
The restored flatbed car was once used by the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad, which was commonly called the “Nickel Plate Road.” The logo for this brand features a distinctive serif font. Zooming the 17-70mm to its fullest, I captured a detail-shot, showcasing the word “Nickel” along with rivets and a handle. Details preserved in this shot include nicks in the lettering and pits in the steel surfaces.
Showing intricate details of subjects, from flowers and fauna to sunrises and sunsets, for example, is what photographers seek. We want to show people more than what they see during a casual visit to a pasture or park, namely depict every minute aspect of the scene ad infinitum. With its 39 megapixel-equivalent Foveon sensor, photographers can capture everything from individual leaves on a tree a quarter mile away to details in sunset cloud patterns.
If you are not familiar with the Foveon sensor, it is unlike the Bayer-type imagers found in other camera brands. Sigma’s own chip picks up blue, green, and red in three layers. The technique is efficient and precise, providing amazing resolution and great color fidelity.
An example of this is the dramatic sunset image at the top of this article. The image was taken at Malabar Farm State Park, Richland County, Ohio. A storm had passed right before sunset, leaving a clearing sky in the west. Knowing that the sun would likely break through the last strung-out clouds, I threw my SD Quattro, several lenses, and my trusty tripod into my Subaru. Then my family and I drove to the top of a tall hill known as Mt. Jeez—appropriately named for people’s reaction to the unbelievable, nearly panoramic view from the top.
As the sun just started to drop below the horizon, it illuminated the underside of the clouds trailing the storm. Shooting with the Sigma 17-70 at its widest angle of view, I captured the brilliant blues, reds, oranges, and yellows of what turned out to be one of the best sunsets I have ever witnessed. Besides the color, the amazing details in the clouds help make this image successful.
Another example of incredible detail comes from the place where Wilbur and Orville Wright made aviation history. The Dayton-are field from which they made numerous historic flights is now one of the best remnant prairies in the Midwest. Mid-summer, incredible wildflowers–from milkweed and sunflowers to purple coneflowers and royal catchfly—are resplendent among verdant, nodding grasses.
One July morning, before the daytime breezes began to blow, I set out to capture the glory of this prairie. One of the results is the shot above of wild bergamot (light pink starbursts) and blazing star (long, bright pink racemes) scattered among blue and green grasses.
To see the details of this prairie vignette, zoom in close, very close. Click on the image above to see the details of the individual flower heads that make up the blazing pink racemes. Printed as a three or four foot wide print on a wall—imagine the effect of such eye-grabbing details.
A second strong suit of the SD Quattro is its brilliant and accurate color. The unique Foveon sensor technology renders spot-on colors. This can be seen in the beautiful sunset hues in the lead picture. Similarly, colors are presented with sparkling fidelity in the wildflower image from Huffman Prairie (above). The wild bergamot is appropriately a light pink while the blazing star jumps out with fandango splendor.
Not all scenes, however, require broad-spectrum brilliance. At sunrise on summer morning, I set out to a local park, where I spotted a mother white-tailed deer and her beautifully dappled fawn. While the pose of the two, with their ears at attention and their eyes searching their surroundings, helps create the tension in the image, the soft colors of their orange-brown coats and the soft browns and greens of the fields around them bring relief. Good subjects plus good color often leads to pleasing images.
The final well-played trick of the SD Quattro is its great depth-of-field. When I present nature photography programs, photographer after photographer seems to wish for a full-frame camera, but, when it comes to landscapes and wildlife, a cropped sensor camera is almost always better.
Relatively speaking, APS-C sensors produce more apparent depth-of-field than their full-frame counterparts. Think of the camera on your cell phone. Its sensor is probably smaller than your pinkie fingernail, yet it produces incredible depth-of-field. It does so, we should note, at the cost of significant noise in all but optimal lighting situations.
APS-C sensors are a great combination of diminutive size and well-controlled noise. They produce reasonably strong depth of field while keeping noise levels down. What’s nice about the SD Quattro’s APS-C sensor is that most other cameras with resolution in the 36-40 megapixel range utilize full-frame sensors to pack in that much data on the chip. In the case of full-frame cameras, shooting at f/22—never a lens’s best aperture—the depth-of-field will not be as great as with an APS-C image shot at f/16, which aperture is always sharper than f/22.
The upshot of this is that, with the SD Quattro and its APS-C sensor, you get great depth of field even while shooting one or more stops faster. This translates into faster shutter speeds or working at sharper apertures while still getting the resolution often reserved for full-frame cameras.
Simply put, the SD Quattro produces spectacular images. High resolution, superb color renditions, and eye-catching depth-of-field make shooting with this camera a solid bet for those seeking prize-winners. Compact, ergonomic, and full of features, it provides 39 megapixel resolution in an attractively small, mirrorless package…and does so at an extremely affordable price.