My team and I recently had the opportunity to work with some of the first footage captured by the new Sigma fp mirrorless camera in North America. Working on tight deadline under an embargo agreement, we were amazed by what we saw in the Cinema DNG files shot by our friend and colleague, Graham Sheldon —this footage was some of the most gradable footage we’ve ever dealt with! Working in DaVinci Resolve, we were blown away by what we found. As a company that’s worked with a wide gear spectrum over the years, the files out of the fp make us excited about what Sigma is bringing to the production and post-production landscape. As a producer who needs to make equipment choices to best equip both my production and post-production teams, the fp gives me an option I never thought was possible: cinema-level color grading possibilities in a production-friendly package. (Scroll all the way down to see the graded footage.)
To fully understand why this camera excites me so much, bear with me for a little backstory. Like many media companies born this side of the millennium, Blueline has made lots of videos with cameras not initially designed for video. Like many in our generation of creatives, we were swept up in the hype surrounding the first HD DSLRs in the late ‘00s and early ‘10s. These cameras had features that made the leap away from “traditional” cameras a no-brainer: convenient size, established pedigrees of lenses and accessories, and faster-than-realtime footage capture. (For the younger readers: look up “miniDV.”) Like many, we shifted our focus to cost-effective, easy-to-use hardware without a deep consideration of what we were missing.
This overnight adoption of small, affordable cameras was amazing for production and the initial phases of post-production, but carried a heavy cost in post. While footage was easily to rearrange and play back, it generally fell apart in color grading. The same compression that made file sizes convenient lead to shots that couldn’t be pushed very far beyond how they were originally captured. If you nailed it in-camera you were good to go, but any extensive changes would lead to a grainy, blocky mess. For content destined to appear in already-compressed formats these losses were often acceptable for the selfsame reasons of convenience, and like many teams we adapted to these limitations because cameras which could provide rich color detail were too complicated, out of reach financially, or both.
Enter the Sigma fp. Initially, the straight-from-camera footage looked like what I would consider to be “normal.” It had excellent sharpness, virtually no noise, and played back smoothly once it was on a drive fast enough to feed all that data through the computer. (Side note: an investment in this camera would be wisely adjacent to an investment in high-quality computer storage, as all those bits have to go somewhere.) Performance in Resolve was excellent, especially when it came to the CinemaDNG files that aren’t treated as kindly by some of its competitors. The images had great dynamic range, and colors appeared exactly how I like them flat enough that we can fine-tune later, but rich enough to be client-friendly without coloring each clip of a rough cut. Specifically, the hot air balloon scene Graham provided an excellent balance between the look of log and LUT.
Our editing experience could be summarized as normal, exactly as we would desire with footage from any camera. Once we moved into the edit’s color phase, however, we found the content to be extraordinary.
Once our colorist, Hector started digging into settings we discovered just how much detail the fp captures and retains. In the same balloon shot that surprised me with its client-friendly color rendition, we found that the heat ripple affecting the inside of the balloon was also captured. Knowing the scientific principles at play inside the balloon, I logically understand that heat waves would produce this effect, but it’s not something I’ve seen through my own eyes, and definitely never from a camera sensor. This is an insane level of detail to capture in such a small form-factor device, and precisely illustrates the kind of nuanced imagery simply unachievable through compressed formats. It would be interesting to see how much value the fp could provide to scientific studies in need of rich, accurate color depth., but I’ll leave that to the experts.
As we were sneakily placing/cutting the sunset footage at the beginning of the piece, (sorry for the tricks!) we discovered two more exhilarating aspects of the fp’s CinemaDNG files.
Firstly, the sunset had no banding. As a producer, I’m consistently cautious when a shoot takes us to an outdoor evening location. Although some newer cameras can produce a reasonably smooth orange-to-blue gradient in-camera, compressed codecs prohibit any manipulation beyond the sensor’s settings at the moment of capture. If there’s the slightest chance we’ll need to tweak colors in post, my options have been to move the shoot indoors, or send the biggest, heaviest camera for my crew to lug around…until now. I was simply floored by the amount which our colorist Hector could push the colors in our sunset. The image easily survived any manipulation we could imagine throwing its way. We had to push our curves significantly further than we ever would in an edit before our beautiful cross-fade became a set of low-bit stairs. Producers, fear sunsets no more!
Secondly, I was amazed at how much the fp resists the natural inclination of sunsets to lock down colors and lightness to a small range. I’ve come to accept that footage we get at sunset will be a certain Halloween-like combination of dark black and bright orange. While this aesthetic is common enough in media to be acceptable, any fixed color palette imposes certain creative limits on our product. Therefore, it was with immense surprise that I saw an orange sky and blue ocean in Hector’s experimental pass of what we called the “dog shot.” Even though the sky and ocean looked almost identical in hue straight out of the camera, the fp’s sensor saved a high enough dynamic range that Resolve could easily separate them. As I probed Hector more about the options on that shot, seeing whether we should consider a silhouette effect to accentuate the color possibilities, we found that the shadows still had enough detail to see the dog’s face. A shot I expected to give us one choice, whether to do a hard silhouette or not, actually gave us two rich dimensions we could use to fine-tune the image.
As a producer overseeing a commercial and filmmaking pipeline, I absolutely recommend adding the Sigma fp to one’s arsenal. In today’s two-silo market where teams like mine are faced with the choice between small cameras that facilitate lightweight production and large cameras that preserve maximum post-production freedom, the fp stands as a strong middle-ground contender. The CinemaDNG files from this camera retain a wide range of creative freedom, while compressed footage would simply not allow for such surgical manipulation. Although I haven’t personally used it in the field, my experience tells me that Sigma’s choice to record directly to such a common media format will vastly reduce production headaches in a world designed to accept SD cards so readily. For my colleagues looking to keep your production and post teams happy, what are some ways you would use the Sigma fp to gain creative freedom in your post workflow?