Last month I recorded a Sigma FP and have already tested it in several shootings. So far I'm pretty impressed. Although the camera has its quirks, the image quality and versatility of this camera is quite remarkable.
If you are new to the FP, you can read my article "First Impressions", which covers the basics of the camera.
In short, the FP is a pocket-sized full-frame camera with the ability to record 4K video internally in Cinema DNG RAW. It has a special "Cine" mode, with which the camera, menus and display function like a real cinema camera and are therefore ideal for filmmakers.
The camera currently costs $ 1899 for the case or $ 2199 for the included 45mm lens.
I have taken stills in addition to videos with the FP, but for the purpose of this post, I want to focus mainly on video functionality. The still images look (not surprisingly) great when they come from this sensor, but my main need for this camera is video. I'll examine that here today.
It is also worth noting that my rating below is based on my experience with the latest Sigma FP firmware (1.01). Before installing the update, I was running the original 1.0 firmware, which had many small bugs.
For starters, practically every picture I took with firmware 1.0 had a flicker problem. The shadows and midtones jumped up and down as if the camera was automatically exposing. It looked brutal.
Other problems I encountered were:
- Inability to record 4K RAW internally on the recommended 300MB / s SD cards
- Poor picture quality when recording at 1080p, even in RAW
- Buggy electronic image stabilization that would not be activated immediately
A few days after using the camera, I actually considered returning it. These were all important problems that made the camera unusable in any real environment.
But I decided to wait until the first firmware update because there were still many things to look forward to at the FP, and based on the intended functionality, it seemed that Sigma's priorities were in the right place.
Fortunately, all of these problems disappeared when firmware 1.01 came out. My cards started working with 4K RAW, the image quality improved immensely in 1080p, stabilization problems were fixed and the camera seemed to run smoother overall.
It's amazing to see how quickly Sigma was able to update the firmware to solve these problems.
All of this really made me do a 180 with the camera. I no longer felt sure that I should keep it at all, but was rather overwhelmed by its capabilities.
With this in mind, I share my thoughts below on the new and improved Sigma FP with firmware 1.01.
Let's go –
DESIGN & BUILD QUALITY
Anyone who really loves pocket-size cameras will appreciate the FP immensely. It is a minimalist's dream camera.
Despite a full-frame sensor, the camera body is incredibly small. By far the smallest camera I've ever owned, and yet it somehow feels incredibly strong and is built for professional use. It is also very convenient to hold in your hand, even without a cage or handle configured.
There are many manual controls on the body that I love.
Most importantly, you can switch between cine mode and still image mode with a button on the top of the camera. Settings, menu functions and screen information change automatically depending on the selection.
On the bottom of the camera you will also find some useful keyboard shortcuts, including tone and color. You can use the Tone button to manually adjust the contrast curve of your image, and the Color button gives you access to a variety of image profiles.
Although there is no special ISO dial like the one found on Fuji's cameras, you can easily access the ISO using the quick selection menu button on the back of the camera. There are also two additional dials (one at the top and one at the back) that you can use to control the aperture and shutter speed.
Next to the camera battery there is a single SD memory card slot, which is secured with a small battery compartment and a metal lock. This is a nice addition as it gives you more security when shooting in the field.
In addition to a standard 1/4 inch 20 thread on the bottom of the camera, there is one on each side of the camera. This makes it easier to mount on a standard tripod for vertical videos or still images.
This side of the case also has some connectors – USB data output, micro HDMI connector and microphone input. I haven't used the data port yet, but this can be used to output a full 4K 12-bit RAW image to an external hard drive. In a future firmware update, you should also be able to export 4K 12-bit RAW through the HDMI output for use with external VCRs.
All in all, the construction of this camera is optimal. Small, robust, weatherproof, easy to set up and configure as you like … Not much to complain about.
My only real problem is that the camera doesn't have its own headphone jack. This can be avoided by using a USB-C to headphone adapter and monitoring via the USB port. However, it is always better to have a dedicated sound output.
I can imagine that some other filmmakers and photographers are also frustrated by the LCD screen. The screen delivers a nice quality (and is bright even in strong sunlight), but does not pan at all and is locked. For me, this is not a real problem based on the way I like to take pictures. But worth considering depending on your specific needs.
It should also be emphasized that the camera uses an L-bracket, which has an incredibly short flange distance. So you can adapt practically any lens to the camera – as long as the image circle covers the sensor. For those of you who own a lot of Canon glass, Sigma has developed the MC-21 adapter that converts EF to L-mount with electronic passage.
RECORDING OPTIONS AND FUNCTIONS
By far the biggest advantage of the Sigma FP is its ability to record Cinema DNG RAW. The camera can currently output 12-bit RAW in 4K resolution (UHD) to an external drive and record 12-bit internally with HD resolution. With internal 4K RAW, you go back to 8-bit color.
For the vast majority of shooting scenarios, 8-bit RAW on this camera is sufficient to work with. Especially when you consider that this effectively turns into 12-bit color if you zoom out to HD or 2K while increasing your color information per pixel.
While I absolutely love the look of the internal 4K 8bit RAW files (more on that below), the file sizes are just that big. A 128 GB card only needs about 10 minutes of recording time in 4K RAW and almost 30 minutes in HD RAW. Most of the time I do mastering on HD or 2K anyway. For smaller recordings where I don't want an external recorder, 1080 is often the right way.
Of course, you can also record in compressed formats with this camera, either with ALL-I compression (420 Mbit / s) or with Long-GOP (120 Mbit / s). With ALL-I you get 32 minutes of record time on a 128 GB card in 4K compared to 2 hours and 46 minutes with Long-GOP.
A feature of the camera that I use a lot is the “DC Crop” mode. This effectively cuts the sensor to Super 35, so you can use lenses that don't cover a full-frame sensor. I will use this setting even when shooting with full frame glass to get a more traditional S35 field of view.
I turn this function on and off so often that I have made it one of the shortcuts in the camera's quick menu in addition to white balance and ISO.
Regarding the color modes of the camera, I shot everything with the "Portrait" setting. There are a number of other color presets / profiles in the menu, but most are too stylized for my needs. "Portrait" seems to be the most subtle and keeps the most dynamic range for my eye.
I was tempted to try to get even more details by adjusting the tone controls that allow you to raise your shadows and pull your lights down. After a few experiments, however, I found no real benefit in adjusting the colors in the camera and had better results if I left these settings unchanged.
In any case, it looks like Sigma will be releasing a log image profile in a future firmware update, so this will surely be the preferred profile for anyone who takes compressed photos.
Although the camera has no stabilization function in the body, it offers an ES mode, which stabilizes your image digitally and not optically.
I've shot quite a bit with this mode, but got mixed results. In some cases it worked just as well as IBIS on other cameras, but it seems really difficult on other shots. It's never terrible, but sometimes you really feel the digital movement that I don't like.
Nevertheless, I am optimistic that this function can improve with future firmware updates, since the quality has been affected since the release of firmware 1.01.
On a positive note, the FP is equipped with so many other important functions for filmmakers – zebras, focus peaking, image guidance and even a director's viewfinder mode.
The director's viewfinder is very cool, although I haven't really had to use it in the real world yet. It replicates an optical viewfinder that you may be using on the set to improve your shooting settings.
It has presets for many cinema cameras, including Arri Alexa and RED, and can even freeze your picture if you take anamorphic pictures.
You cannot currently record in this mode, but this is a feature that could be added in the future.
All in all, the functionality of this little camera is pretty incredible and clearly designed for the filmmaker.
For me, image quality is the most important consideration to consider when choosing a camera, and the Sigma FP gives really good results in this regard.
Not surprisingly, when shooting in RAW at 4K (3840 x 2160), you get the best overall results when shooting internally.
Even in 8 bits, the images have so much color information and keep details beautiful in the shadows and highlights. They rate incredibly well and I have (under) no circumstances felt restricted because I didn't work with a 12-bit file.
I often shoot in 12 bit / HD, but that's really only a way to save card space. For most of my projects there is a lot to do with HD, so I suspect that this will be a sweet spot for certain jobs.
In both 4K RAW and HD RAW, the images coming from the cards really feel as if they came from a cinema camera. Even ungraded, they are rich and dynamic, and have the depth and texture you'd expect from a much more expensive cinema camera.
The two compressed modes (ALL-I and Long-GOP) can also be used, but not nearly as good as with RAW recordings. Between the two modes, ALL-I looks a bit better to my eye (probably due to the higher data rate) and is easier to play on most computers. However, the Long GOP codec is practically identical in quality, and the much smaller file sizes make it ideal for projects on a budget or for documentary projects.
For narrative work or commercial projects in the upper price range, however, I would not recommend taking compressed pictures. The images somehow feel thinner before you rate them. They are a bit grainy (even at low ISO values) and definitely look more like a DSLR.
Much of this can be expected since compressed files never look as good as RAW, but I have to ask myself whether we will see improvements in this area through a future firmware update. Other cameras appear to maintain higher quality despite higher compression. Perhaps this will be refined over time.
Regardless of whether you shoot RAW or compressed, you benefit from a truly amazing color science.
This is such a massive variable for me as I do a lot Color workSo of course I am very happy that Sigma achieved good results in this regard too.
Whether in daylight, tungsten, fluorescence or LED, the Sigma FP delivers beautifully accurate color palettes, natural skin tones and excellent contrast.
The highlight rolloff is also very subtle and cinematic, which is very helpful in high-contrast scenarios.
In terms of dynamic range, the camera seems to give me about 11 or 12 stops when shooting in RAW – at least to my eye. This is more or less average for cameras on this budget level.
I get about a DR and a half less when I take a compressed picture, but that's a rough estimate, and different results can be found in a laboratory.
In low light conditions, the Sigma FP is a beast, no matter what mode you take pictures in.
The highest ISO I've ever needed was 6400, which is really clean. This was to be expected somewhat as the camera is full screen and low light technology has advanced so much in recent years, but I still have to acknowledge where it is due.
I took a few more test shots with even higher ISO values and the camera continues to hold very well. At a certain point (around 25,600) it becomes really grainy and the image quality is badly affected. However, this is to be expected with any camera, and most of us never have to take pictures near these levels.
6400 and below is not only safe for grain and noise, but also for color and dynamic range. Even when the camera is pushed so high, it still captures a lot of color information and more than enough DR to give you options in the mail.
Below is a small test video I made a few days ago against the sunset with the Sigma FP in Malibu. It wasn't a particularly lively sunset, but the camera still captured the subtle color gradations beautifully. And the footage was really easy to evaluate.
I tested a ton of myself CINECOLOR LUTs also on the footage that looked like magic!
All of the following pictures were taken in 4K RAW 8bit with the Sigma 45mm lens. Mostly at ISO 800 or lower, but some shots here were taken around 1600. The files were converted to ProRes 422 HQ with DaVinci Resolve and edited and evaluated in Final Cut Pro X.
45MM KIT LENS
I wanted to add a few words about Sigma's 45mm lens, which you can purchase as a bundle with the camera.
The lens has a lot to offer – it is compact, well constructed, has a manual iris ring and, above all, takes very detailed pictures.
From a technical point of view there really isn't much to complain about … But from a creative point of view it's not my favorite glass.
The character of a lens is very important to me, which is why I like to take pictures with vintage lenses or modern cinema lenses that have unique properties. Sigma's 45mm feels pretty neutral and sterile – which is usually not what I'm looking for.
For some filmmakers, this can actually be a positive thing, especially for documentaries, events, or corporate spots. In this case, the 45mm format may be perfect: small enough to take anywhere and take objectively accurate pictures with minimal distortion.
It seems silly to choose a lens to be "correct", but if you prefer a more classic or more analog look, this is not the lens for you.
Another problem for me (and maybe only for me!) Is the focal length …
My favorite focal length for everyday use is 50mm, paired with a super 35mm frame. I wrote an entire article on how If I had to shoot everything with one lens, I would shoot with a 50.
A 50mm lens on Super 35 is like a 75mm lens on full frame. So when I shoot in FF mode with the Sigma FP, I usually have to shoot with a 75mm lens to get the look.
This is also a personal bias. So don't let your decision influence you. But for my needs, 45mm on FF is too wide for close-ups and portraits, but not wide enough for landscapes or shots. I would have preferred something that is a little wider or longer, but that's just me.
Still, the 45mm lens is still able to take beautiful pictures with the right hands. It only depends on your personal needs and your creative taste.
For me, this camera is definitely a keeper. It is fun to use, extremely versatile, captures breathtaking images and will only get better with future firmware updates.
Is it right for everyone? Probably not … But it's never a camera.
As an A-camera, it's perfect for price-conscious indie filmmakers, documentary filmmakers who need to be understated, and also for small businesses / commercial productions.
As a B-camera, I can see that in larger productions it is combined with high-end cinema cameras (especially Alexa & RED), which are used for special recordings in a confined space and are of course mounted on drones and gimbals.
Anyone who plans to use the camera for still images in addition to video will be very happy – the still image quality is amazing. A viewfinder would make it even better in practical terms (I miss an EVF when taking still pictures), but I doubt that this will be a deal breaker for most hybrid shooters.
People often compare this camera to the Blackmagic Pocket 4K / 6K, but I see them as very different tools. Blackmagic cameras are designed for video only. They work and function more like a conventional cinema camera and offer you this user experience on site.
The Sigma FP, however, is more of a Swiss Army knife. It is intended for all-rounders who need a camera that can do everything, or for a working cameraman who is looking for a versatile B-Cam. It offers a completely different paradigm that is ideal for a particular type of filmmaker.
It is certainly one of the most innovative and future-oriented cameras that I have seen in a while, and for me it matters a lot. I can't say it's right for everyone, but it definitely deserves a place on my shelf.
I look forward to seeing the FP evolve with firmware updates over time, and will try to release more footage if I can!
What do you think about the Sigma FP? Leave a comment below.
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Noam Kroll is an award-winning filmmaker from Los Angeles and founder of the boutique production house Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television and in various publications around the world. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!