If you are seeking super-high resolution images without investing tens of thousands of dollars in a medium format system, the Sigma sd Quattro H camera paired with legendary yet affordable Sigma Global Vision (SGV) lenses, may be the answer for you.
The Sigma sd Quattro H offers extraordinary resolution, accurate colors with smooth gradations, and an ergonomic body with excellent control of the camera’s settings. In addition, the sd Quattro H is made even more powerful when its files are processed in Sigma’s PhotoPro software or, if using the
DNG file option, in Adobe Camera RAW.
The new sensor in the Sigma sd Quattro H utilizes the same three-layer approach to capturing color and luminance data as previous Sigma cameras. It has a ratio of 4:1:1 for the blue, green, and red, receptors. Other cameras typically use a single-layer photo sensor Bayer-type mosaic where the RGB value at each photo site is comprised of its own single-color capture plus interpolation of the other two colors from nearby photo sites.
While Bayer sensors often utilize a low-pass filter, the Foveon X3 Quattro image sensor does not use a low-pass filter. This helps increase image resolution.
Blue is captured on the top layer at 6,200 pixels by 4,152 pixels. This top sensor layer records panchromatic luminance and the blue color information. Green is picked up on the next layer down, and red is recorded on the bottom layer. These bottom two layers are captured at 3,100 pixels by 2,076 pixels. Combined they form a total pixel count of approximately 44.7 megapixels. Sigma claims that the unique design of the Foveon sensor allows it to produce a file that is similar in resolution to a Bayer file of around, say, 51 megapixels.
Beyond the unique and powerful sensor in the Sigma sd Quattro H, the camera offers many of the same controls and settings found on most cameras, for example, phase detection and contrast detection AF, rear LCD and electronic viewfinder (EVF) shooting, a rear information LCD, an SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot, various cable ports, a hot shoe for flash photography, many ergonomically placed controls, and settings galore—various file formats, image sizes, color modes, and exposure modes.
If that’s not enough, there are other features, such as the Super-Fine Detail mode that saves seven consecutively shot images in Sigma’s high dynamic range-type X3I file format. And the updated circuitry in the sd Quattro H allows high speed captures of up to 8 RAW high resolution images in a row.
In The Field
While the Sigma sd Quattro H looks different from other D-SLR and mirrorless camera bodies, the unique design is comfortable, well-balanced, and efficient during shooting.
The sd Quattro and sd Quattro H employ the same SA-mount as the SD1 series of DSLRs. Their extensive line of more than three dozen SA-mount lenses fit this body, and there will be adapters for the upcoming L-mount lenses. These mount to the central barrel of the body, which provides a good balance point for shooting.
The right side of the body is a nicely-sized grip, which should fit small to large hands well. This houses an 1860 mAh battery that measures 2.25” x 1.5” x .6”. While you won’t shoot all day on one battery, it does provide hundreds of shots before needing a charge.
Lining up an image with the sd Quattro H involves either using the 2.35 Mp rear LCD or using the EVF, which can be set to turn on (and the rear screen turned off) automatically when brought to your eye. The viewfinder includes a diopter adjustment for those who wear glasses.
Choosing your settings during shooting is made efficient thanks to the Sigma sd Quattro H’s Quick Setting (QS) button. Pressing it allows instant access to often-used settings rather than having to search through menus.
The QS options are customizable. By default, the QS button allows controls the following:
- White Balance
- Drive Mode
- Image Quality
- Image Size
- Tone Control
- Focus Peaking
- Color Mode
- Aspect Ratio
Additional QS settings that can be swapped in include the following:
- Exposure Compensation
- ISO Sensitivity
- AE Metering Mode
- Shooting Mode
- DC Crop Mode
- Bracketing Amount
- Custom Bracketing
- Flash Exposure Compensation
- Red-Eye Reduction Flash Mode
- Rear Curtain Sync Flash Mode
- FP Flash (allows faster than sync shutter speeds)
- Slow Sync Flash Mode
- Main Monitor Brightness
- Sub Monitor Brightness
- View Finder Brightness
One of the interesting features on the Sigma sd Quattro H is the Super-Fine Details mode. When shooting in SFD, the camera takes seven rapid-fire images with different shutter speeds. This preserves a large amount of exposure data in one large X3I file. Sigma’s PhotoPro software (more on this later) then utilizes this data to produce an HDR-like image, a final file that combines an exposure range not able to be recorded in one single standard image.
On a recent visit to Great Smokey Mountains National Park, I arrived early in the morning to photograph the Ogle Homestead cabin under overcast light and colorful foliage. Setting the camera to SFD mode, I shot the image above, which captures detail in everything from the treetops to the shaded area under the porch roof.
When shooting in SFD mode several things have to be kept in mind:
- Shoot from a tripod.
- Make sure no part of the scene is moving.
- Make sure that your initial settings will capture the exposure range you will need for the final image.
Any movement during SFD exposures, from my experience, will result in artifacts in your image. While you may have a steadier hand than I do, keeping your camera in exactly the same place for seven exposures is impossible without a steady tripod. Moving objects in your scene will produce artifacts just as camera movement will.
When shooting in SFD, pay attention to your initial settings. For the exposure of the cabin, I made sure to start with settings that would assure the bright sky would be tamed with the SFD mode’s faster exposures.
For those who love to shoot macro, the Sigma sd Quattro H is a great choice. With excellent color renditions and amazing details, close-up photography has never looked so good.
Consider the detailed shot above of wooden spoons. This image was taken during the Apple Butter Stirrin’ Festival at Roscoe Village, Coshocton, Ohio. Brian Niedermier of hand-carves spoons from a variety of woods. For this shot he arranged a particularly nice range of woods and patterns in a row to showcase his work. Notice how wonderfully the colors and gradations are reproduced by the Sigma sd Quattro H.
One of my ongoing projects is my Curious Critters animal portrait series, where I depict animals close-up and with white backgrounds. The bright studio lights and high key approach helps highlight colors, textures, and details of various wildlife. Recently I decided to put the Sigma sd Quattro H to the test with some new Critters at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary.
First the sanctuary staff and I worked with Alice, their newly-arrived juvenile bald eagle. Having not reached her adult plumage of white head, dark brown feathers, and yellow feet, this was a good test of capturing accurately the broad range of browns throughout in her wings and breast during this immature stage.
During the summer, I share my work at art festivals, producing large prints of my Curious Critters photos. So producing highly-detailed images is of paramount importance. The shot of Alice shows how well the color gradations and patterns of her feathers were reproduced with the Sigma sd Quattro H. Notice the deep browns, mottled wing feathers, and light areas under her beak. In addition, the Sigma sd Quattro H produced amazing details of Alice.
The image above shows a 200% crop of Alice’s head in the side-view portrait. This is just under 1.5% of the original file produced from the X3I file. Look at the incredible details in her eyes, beak, and feathers.
After photographing stately Alice, we decided to turn to a bit more whimsical subject: a silkie hen named Hazel. Our little dancer, Hazel, produced some hilarious portraits.
If you can get past her LOL-expression, consider the beautiful colors, fine color gradations of her yellowish feathers, and the spectacular details. Even more, the Foveon sensor and PhotoPro software readily produced pure whites (255, 255, 255) for the background while keeping lots of detail in the barnyard beauty.
The Sigma sd Quattro H excels at capturing extraordinary detail in landscape photography. In fact, the sensor on the Sigma sd Quattro H captures such high resolution that you have to make sure every part of your technique is spot-on. Shoot from a tripod. Use a wireless remote or cable release. And shoot with your best lenses and at their sharpest apertures. Finally, shoot in RAW or DNG and process the shots carefully afterward.
In the fall I visited Irwin Prairie near Toledo, Ohio. Golden light of early sunrise illuminated a stand of sumac tress dressed in bright red. Behind them arose delicate grasses and oak trees. Shooting with the super-sharp Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Art lens at f/11 from a tripod with a Sigma Cable Release CR-31 assured a highly detailed image with lots of depth-of-field (above).
Another good test of the Sigma sd Quattro H is shooting the vibrant colors and broad range of light intensities at Chinese lantern festivals. One recent late fall afternoon, I stopped by Dragon Lights Columbus, a lantern festival at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. After scoping out locations, I began to shoot as night began to fall. (Click here to read my longer how-to on Photographing Chinese Lantern Festivals.)
The centerpiece of this year’s Columbus festival is a giant, multi-colored dragon that stretches along the main walkway. Using a tripod and the Sigma 18-35mm zoom, I depicted the fire-breathing monster with other lantern displays appearing in the background. The above image shows not only amazing colors but also smooth color gradations.
Color gradations can be captured so smoothly by Foveon sensors because colors are recorded unlike they are with Bayer-type sensors. The three-layer approach to receiving colors on the Foveon chip means you don’t have the kind of interpolation of data that occurs with other sensors.
To see even more how beautifully colors can be reproduced with the Sigma sd Quattro H, look at the close-up of the dragon’s head (above). Here small changes in the color values of the blue around the eye, the reds in the mouth, and the deep turquois of the lips is what makes this photo shine.
One of the challenges of Chinese lantern photography is the wide range of light intensities in any given scene. The brightness ranges from white LED bulbs shining through the material covering the lantern frames (often silk, rayon, or other translucent fabrics) to dark areas around the sculptures. For an African Safari scene featuring a lion, a lioness, and a hippopotamus, I turned on the Sigma sd Quattro H’s SFD mode. Shooting from a tripod, the camera produced seven exposures, all saved in one large X3I file.
Using Sigma’s PhotoPro software, I processed the file to reduce the brightness of the bulbs and bring out details in the fall leaves below the lanterns. The result is a highly detailed image that preserves tonalities in a way that replicates the viewing experience.
Even better, all this can be done without using a separate HDR program or multiple image files. One X3I file, processed in the free-of-charge Sigma PhotoPro app, allow photographers to generate all kinds of images with super-wide ranges of light intensities.
Post-Processing: PhotoPro and DNG
Sigma gives users multiple file types to choose from, ranging from in-camera JPGs to Sigma’s RAW file type (X3F) to the industry standard DNG.
Some shooters prefer to choose settings in-camera, produce JPGs on the spot while shooting, and move on. For those people, the Sigma sd Quattro H’s in-camera JPGs are great. In fact, shooters seeking super-high resolution images can choose the JPG setting and select the S-HI option. This produces an in-camera file that is 8,768 x 5,480 pixels!
Those interested in doing post-processing have several options. First, you can shoot in RAW (X3F) + JPG. The X3F files can be processed in Sigma’s provided PhotoPro software. If in-camera JPGs are not necessary, you can save files as RAW (X3F) or DNG.
The Sigma PhotoPro browser and image processor is a pro-level package. Besides allowing for adjustments of SFD (X3I) files (mentioned above), PhotoPro is a powerful RAW converter. From custom white balances to precise controls over details, from various tone settings to noise reduction, and from chromatic aberration to fringe correction, Sigma PhotoPro gives photographers a high level of control over the look of their final images.
If you prefer to work in a more familiar environment, such as within Adobe products, the Sigma sd Quattro H also allows photographers to save files in the DNG format. This can be opened in any number of converters, including Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom.
All Kinds of Subjects
Other subjects benefit from shooting with the Sigma sd Quattro H. These range from architecture and travel to portraits and wildlife…plus many more.
Even though there are faster cameras on the market, the Sigma sd Quattro H can produce stunning wildlife shots. While shooting fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains, we came upon elk in the midst of the fall rut. Mounting the Sigma 100-400mm, I zoomed in on a male with bits of plants hanging from his antlers. And notice how the Sigma sd Quattro H’s fine color gradations are a real plus for depicting the subtle variations of mammal fur.
The sd Quattro H is also good for portraits. Above is a portrait of Phoebe in period costume sitting in desk in a one-room schoolhouse. With it’s fairly large sensor, the Sigma sd Quattro H shows Phoebe’s beautiful smile while throwing the background out of focus. Paired with wide-aperture lenses, the APS-H sensor can create the kind of shallow depth-of-field needed for fine portraiture.
For the shot of Phoebe, I mounted the Sigma 85mm F1.4 Art lens and shot wide open. The image’s bokeh is the result of the design of this fabulous optic working with the APS-H format sensor. Smaller sensors produce relatively speaking greater depth-of-field than smaller sensors. So, the APS-H, while not producing as shallow of depth-of-field as full-frame sensor, is a marked improvement over an APS-C sensor for portraiture.
If you want amazing high resolution images and don’t wish to invest tens of thousands in a medium format system, the Sigma sd Quattro H camera may be just what you are looking for. With knock-your-socks-off resolution, brilliant colors with smooth gradations, and ergonomic control of pro-level settings, the Sigma sd Quattro H is a standout among a new crop of mirrorless cameras. Pair it with the highly acclaimed optics of the Sigma Global Vision series, and you have world-class gear ready for a wide range of photographic opportunities.