Review: Sigma SD Quattro Mirrorless Camera

Sigma has always made some very interesting cameras that in many ways felt like they shot themselves in the foot, and something like the Sigma sD Quattro I believed to really fix a lot of the problems of previous cameras. To start, the camera offers two models: an APS-C model and one that moves away from APS-C sensors and went to APS-H–a dead standard that Canon used to include with some of their 1D series cameras. The sensor has a 1.3x crop factor and so is larger than typical APS-C sensors. It still uses a Foveon sensor, which in the hands of a skilled editor can produce some absolutely flawless results.

And unfortunately, the autofocus is still stuck in the early 2000s.

Pros and Cons

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Pros

  • Great image quality below ISO 1600
  • Significantly improved high ISO image quality
  • Solid feeling body, perhaps the most solid feeling mirrorless camera I’ve held
  • Pretty simple menu system
  • Removable IR filter

Cons

  • Slowest autofocus in the industry of any modern camera
  • Nine autofocus points. Nine!
  • Battery life is better than previous models but still pretty awful
  • Writing to an SD card is still pretty slow
  • Sigma Photo Pro (the only software that will edit the RAWs) is the slowest, most abysmal thing to work with.
  • The software ends up downsizing images the higher you go up in the ISO output.

Gear Used

The Sigma sD Quattro was reviewed with the Sigma 30mm f1.4 Art and the Adorama Flashpoint Zoom Li-On flash system.

Tech Specs

You’ll be best served heading over to Sigma’s website to check out the tech specs.

Ergonomics

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The Sigma sD Quattro camera is one that in some ways is really unconventional. When you look at the front of the camera, you see the grip, the release button, the mount and little else. What you don’t see here though is that the IR filter is removable.

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Looking at the package from the top, you’ll spot something really weird about this camera overall. the mount juts out a lot and isn’t flush in the same way that most mirrorless cameras are. That’s because this is a Sigma mount camera.

On the top of the camera you’ll find the on/off siwtch, the hot shoe, the exposure dials, the on/off switch, etc. What I really like here is the diopter for the EVF: which pops up, turns for you and then pops back down to lock into place.

Again, all this is pretty different from what you may be used to.

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The back of the camera has a large LCD screen, buttons that control parameters like the ISO, playback, directional controls, autofocus point selection, etc. The LCD screen is also split. The left side, which is clearly visible from the right, displays certain info. The right displays other info constantly that corresponds to the buttons on the right of it.

Also notice the viewfinder placement. Clearly, this is a camera for right eyed shooters–which I am. but if you’re a left eye shooter, you’ll find it kind of awkward.

Build Quality

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The Sigma sD Quattro camera isn’t weather sealed–let’s get that straight right off the bat. But it’s extremely well built. If you’ve ever held a Leica SL, you know that it feels like you can hammer nails with it. You’ll get the same feeling here. It’s very well built overall. Despite the odd design, it also feels good in the hand. However, I think it would feel even better in my hands if my hands were bigger. So if you’re a person with large paws, then it will work well for you.

Ease of Use

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If you dedicate the time to spend maybe around a half hour with the camera, explore it and go through the menus carefully you’ll see just how simple this camera is to use overall. Everything that you need is right at your fingertips generally and you almost never need to go into the menus.

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With that said though, the menu system isn’t difficult to work with at all. It’s very Leica-like actually. Things are straight forward and all it takes is just you spending a bit more time with the camera to figure out what you need to do.

Autofocus

Ugh!!!

The Sigma sD Quattro has nine autofocus points that honestly feel like an antiquated DSLR’s in some ways. In fact, it’s almost like working with the old Canon 5D Mk II’s autofocus except that the Canon’s AF was faster. The sD Quattro’s autofocus is extremely slow overall. Point and shoot cameras are faster and even your phone is capable of faster focusing.

Unfortunately, this has been a flaw with Sigma’s cameras for years now and still hasn’t been fixed.

In good lighting, it’s slower than all the rest out there. In low lighting, you’ll sit there for a couple of seconds hoping to get the photo in focus. The more constrasty the area is, the faster it will focus.

Image Quality

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The Foveon sensor inside of Sigma’s cameras have always been the strong point. They’re very capable of getting lots of detail, fantastic colors (in the hands of a skilled editor and someone who understands color balance in-camera) and just a genuinely nice feel overall. This is still the case, but there’s one really big problem: it’s 2016. Camera manufacturers (namely Fujifilm) have caught up. The X Trans Sensor is capable of producing better colors when running images through Capture One Pro. Additionally, the Sony a7r II and the Canon 5Ds are also cameras with incredibly capable sensors. In many ways, Foveon is kind of useless at this point.

JPEG Output

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JPEGs from the camera have a unique, almost film-like look to them. Imagine something from Agfa a while back and you’ll have the looks that this camera can produce most of the time. Are they the best JPEGS? Not by a long shot. Fujifilm and Olympus produce far better alternatives.

To be fair, I wouldn’t spend my money on this camera to shoot the JPEGs.

RAW File Versatility

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Above is a photo that I shot using a flash camera left. Below is my edit.

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To be honest here, I’m not really a fan of this image. It’s very tough for my to tell the difference between the color shades on the left. This wouldn’t be the issue I feel with other cameras and snesors.

High ISO Output

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So here’s where Sigma deserves a lot of praise and critique. The above image is at 6400 ISO. It’s the JPEG.

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Bring it into the Sigma software, nerf the noise, and then set the software to export an image at “half size” and it will seriously shrink the image. At ISO 6400 and considering that it’s 2016 with so much imaging technology, this is unacceptable.

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At ISO 1600 it’s more acceptable. The above photo is the JPEG while the below photo is a minor RAW edit.

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To be honest, below 1600 is usable. Above that, not so much.

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Extra Image Samples

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Conclusions

Likes

  • Low ISO image quality
  • Great feeling camera body
  • Menu systems are easy

Dislikes

  • Why isn’t it weather sealed?
  • Why is the autofocus so slow?
  • Why hasn’t the software improved when it comes to editing the images?
  • Honestly, why is Sigma still making cameras?

I love Sigma: years ago I made a switch from all Canon glass to Sigma glass. I own some of their lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system. I also own their converter to put Canon EF mount Sigma lenses onto Sony E mount bodies. They all work wonderfully. But if you notice the going trend in those past few sentences, you’ll see that it skews heavily towards optics. Even there, they’re starting to fall a bit behind to Tamron and Zeiss (the former who now incorporates full weather sealing in their lenses for a more affordable price point.) Overall though, I don’t think a single reviewer will sit there and say that Sigma makes bad lenses. They make bloody fantastic optics.

For the life of me though, I can’t figure out or understand why they’re still in the camera market. The company keeps producing camera after camera with the same issues over and over again. The high ISO output gets better but the autofocus doesn’t. The battery life doesn’t really improve. And they keep trying new things, which is honestly very admirable in a world where everything really feels the same. But I think that it’s time that Sigma truthfully puts the nail in the coffin for their cameras. I’m not going to use a point and shoot with a 75mm equivalent lens in the studio. I’m not going to use the sD Quattro in the studio either because the files are so incredibly tough to work with and I abhor Sigma’s software for them.

This becomes even more confusing in a world with so much fantastic camera competition overall. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, Leica and Pentax all make freakin’ fantastic cameras. They all fill niches that everyone wants to work in. Why does Sigma continue to make cameras? Let alone, I’m not sure who would purchase one. Maybe landscape photographers: but then why spend so much money when Canon, Nikon, Sony and all the rest offer such incredible options and have better third party support?

I had incredible high hopes for this camera; but I honestly just feel let down, betrayed and perplexed. Their point and shoots weren’t bad, but I still wouldn’t buy one because there are still better cameras out there.

Two star Phoblographer Star rating

I’m giving this camera two out of five stars. I’m positive that there’s a competing blog that’s going to say that the camera is freakin’ incredible due to a sponsorship right now. But as always, I’ve encouraged a culture of writers speaking their hearts and minds.