Product Review: Sigma fp
The full-frame 24.6-megapixel, 4K UHD-capable Sigma fp caused a stir when it was introduced last year. Measuring slightly less than 4.5x2.75x1.785 inches and weighing a scant 13 ounces, the camera is packed with a lot of image-making power. Part of that power is its compatibility with a vast array of excellent glass. The fp uses L-mount lenses, of which there are 47 at the time of this writing. An optional Sigma MC-21 adapter allows photographers to use a wide range of Canon EF-mount lenses as well, and a newly announced MC-31 converter will allow users to adapt PL-mount cine lenses to the fp and other L-mount cameras.
It’s clear that Sigma’s designers put a lot of thought into how photographers and filmmakers can maximize the fp’s minimalist, brick-like design. All 15 physical controls are clearly marked and separated. A locking door in the camera’s base protects the single SD-type media slot and battery. The design lacks a hot shoe and an electronic viewfinder, but more on those aspects later.
With only 15 physical controls (five on top, five on the right side of the back panel, and five recessed along the bottom of the back panel), several serve multiple functions. It’s worth spending an hour or so learning to use them to set up the camera for different workflows and getting used to which do what in various shooting modes. The spring-loaded buttons and two control wheels feel good, and the sliding power and cine/still mode switches lock firmly into position. A large, touch-sensitive high-resolution LCD monitor dominates the camera’s backside and is cooled by vents on three sides. Rubber doors on the left side of the body conceal a USB-C port, a multi-function connection, a micro-HDMI port, and a 3/8-inch microphone jack. There are three 1/4"-20 threaded sockets, one on each side of the camera and one on the bottom.
The big idea behind the small body is to use it as a foundation for building up the camera for the user’s intended purpose. Image quality, when paired with Sigma, Leica, or Panasonic L-mount lenses, is exceptional. The camera is not without its operational quirks, but once you learn how to use it, it’s quite fun.
As a still camera, the fp has some notable limitations. The maximum sync speed for flash is 1/30 second, and if you choose the 14-bit raw mode, max sync speed drops down to 1/15 second. There is no hot shoe or PC-type sync connection, so you must use the supplied Hot Shoe Unit HU-11, which also doubles as a locking device for an HDMI cable.
There’s no electronic viewfinder, not even an optional one. Sigma offers a $292 LCD viewfinder, which covers the camera’s LCD screen and provides 2.5X magnification, but it more than doubles the size of the camera. Finally, because there’s no right-side grip I kept accidentally changing the setting on the rear control wheel, which controls exposure biasing in most exposure modes in its default setting.
With the camera’s boxy shape and the control layout I had to change how I usually handhold a camera, switching my left hand from cradling the lens from underneath to a C-shaped grip so my thumb could access that bottom row of controls.
Image quality is outstanding. With no low-pass anti-aliasing filter on the electronically stabilized 35.9x23.10mm backside-illuminated Bayer CMOS sensor, there is no compromise to lens acuity or sensor resolution. The Sigma fp produces the cleanest and best-resolved images I’ve seen come out of a 24-megapixel camera. Sigma uses DNG as a native raw format, making the files fast to import into Adobe Lightroom as well as being directly compatible with a Capture One 20 workflow.
The camera’s standard ISO range is 100 to 25,600, with an extended range from 6 to 102,400. Those numbers are standard these days, but here is what’s remarkable: At ISO 25,600 the image is pretty much noise-free even down deep into the quarter-tones. Having to resort to high ISO settings usually also exacts a price in decreased dynamic range, with more blown highlights and a loss of separation in details in the lower quarter-tones, but this is not the case with the fp. The fp’s performance at its highest ISO settings goes a long way toward mitigating the 1/30 second maximum flash sync speed, but I still see low sync speeds as a disadvantage.
The on-sensor contrast detection autofocus system uses 49 points spread across the sensor. These are selected by touching the screen, and there are free movement, face/eye detection, and tracking modes as well.
While the fp is a remarkable still camera, what really gives it dynamic potential are the lenses. I especially loved shooting with the Sigma 35mm F1.2 DG DN Art lens along with the 85mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens in EF mount (the Sigma Mount Converter MC-21 let’s you use Sigma SA mount and EF-mount lenses). The 35mm F1.2 DG DN Art lens features an aperture selection ring clearly marked in third-stop increments as a well as an A setting that enables aperture control from the camera.
Small size is easy to adapt for many uses
Simple control placement
Image quality for both 4K and still photography
Excellent ultra-high ISO signal-to-noise ratio and dynamic range
Support for L-mount and PL-mount cine lenses
Native DNG 12-bit and 14-bit raw format option
Flash use requires mounting an accessory (included with the camera)
No EVF option
Monitor does not tilt or pivot
Battery life not as long as desired
When I started photographing with the Sigma fp the experience was frustrating. I’m conservative about my tools, and I expect cameras to look and handle a certain way. In retrospect, I see that Sigma’s break with small-format camera design traditions was the root of my problem, which extended down to the basics of how to hold the camera.
What I think I was missing was that Sigma’s designers and engineers had made some hard philosophical decisions about how a camera needs to work in an era where motion photography is coming to dominate how people look at and use photographic imagery. Those decisions drove the function-over-form approach that shaped the Sigma fp. The more intensively I shot with the camera, the more I came to appreciate and embrace its revolutionary nature.
I see the fp as being that next step across the bridge from still cameras to still cameras that also shoot video, to cine cameras with excellent capabilities as still cameras. I recommend the $79 SmallRig Cage for Sigma fp Camera CCM2518 to mount an external monitor, on-camera microphone, and other peripherals for video work. I lament the sync speed limitation and lack of EVF, but I can see that, whether photographers like it or not, commercial image usage is rapidly moving toward motion-dominant visual communication.
Ellis Vener is contributing editor for Professional Photographer.