Sigma rolls out a fast refresh to the Sigma fp with the new L, bringing some nifty new features but new frustrations.
The Sigma fp is a fascinating camera. It was so interesting in so many design choices that it opened our eyes and created new desires we didn't know we had. The best example is that it offered directors finders modes, but that just left us hungry for better integration of that feature into storyboard and pre-vis workflows. Sigma has released a new version of the fp, the new Sigma fp L, which oddly ends up suffering from some of the same problems as the original.
It's ambitious and fascinating and pushes things forward, but in a way that leaves us wanting even more.
We talked about the body format with our original review ("It's just bigger than a deck of cards! you can rig it anywhere!") so we are just going to talk here about the big improvements of the new revision over the original.
The autofocus is one of the headline marketing points for the new L, as it upgrades the platform to hybrid autofocus, using a combination of phase detect and contrast detect autofocus.
Hybrid autofocus is buzzy in video for a good reason: it's the technology that has finally got autofocus taken seriously by motion shooters. Autofocus even a few short years ago was so terrible that video shooters ignored it, but now modern cameras (especially the Sony a7S III and the FX9) have such stellar autofocus that it's really become a key feature of the tools.
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/manage/videos/552454297
I'm sorry to report that the autofocus is so poor in the Sigma fp L that it's basically unusable.
We worked with the newest 35mm lens that promised to really take advantage of everything on offer, but it still just wasn't a tool we could use. Its "hunt" was too obvious, and it was wrong too often, to be a useful tool.
We've asked Sigma about it, and they say they are hoping for improvements to the AF with future firmware updates, but right now it's just not a realistic tool in this camera.
This is a major disappointment. We've started to work more and more often with the Sony a7S III, and one of the major reasons why is that the autofocus is just so good it's hard to live without. For any job where you are moving quickly, being able to rely on the camera to help you keep things sharp is just becoming necessary. Especially with social distancing rules meaning smaller crews, being able to save yourself a first AC on a small job is just huge.
We were hopeful when we saw the upgrade to hybrid autofocus with the Sigma fp L, but it didn't play out.
Sigma fully upgraded the sensor to shoot 8K stills, but it still only shoots 4K video both internally and externally over the HDMI.
This is frustrating both considering the resolution of the sensor and the quality of the 4K that you get. It doesn't seem like the downscale that is happening from that high-resolution sensor to the lower-resolution format is a very sophisticated one, and the imagery doesn't feel like it lives up to having such a high-quality sensor.
If you look at these samples, you can see that while the video is "4K" it doesn't feel quite as clear as we associate with 4K video.
We continue to be fans of the color reproduction of the Sigma fp lineup, both the original and the new L. To our eye, it seems like they are slightly desaturating skin tones, which is an interesting approach but not a bad one.
Considering how much online opinion is driven by thoughts on skin tones, taking a hair of saturation out of that spectrum is kind of a smart move, actually.
One of the big frustrations of multi-camera shoots is making sure all the settings on all cameras match perfectly. I can't tell you the number of times in an edit doing a lower budget multi-camera shoot we discover one camera was set to true 24fps when the other two were 23.98, or different color profiles, or other issues.
Taking the time to align all cameras is a habit every shooter should enforce at the start of any multi-camera shoot, but it does take a little time to go through all the menus and double-check.
Sigma has a great solution for this: set up one camera, and it can make a QR code that the others can scan and match perfectly. It's so cool, and a great example of out-of-the-box thinking that we hope every other manufacturer rips off immediately.
But what it really made me want was the ability to make QR codes for each of my lenses and have lens data saved when working in "directors finder" mode. If I could put a QR code on each lens cap (or really small on the body of the lens), and tag the lens when I put it on and have that data pass through, then I'd really have a super tempting tool for use in pre-vis and photoboard prep.
Or even better, if they could put a tiny little QR code reader on the body of the camera to automatically read the QR code on my lens (for lenses like older PL mount glass that won't have smart connectors), that would be heaven, though of course I know I'm dreaming there.
I want to love the Sigma fp L so much. It is using the lens mount I wish more would support. It is rolling out improved autofocus technology. Doing interesting things with QR codes. But it's just not coming together in the full package that I was hoping for.
The resolution doesn't feel amazing, especially compared to the competition. The autofocus is functionally unusable. If you are looking for a camera for fully manual focus shoots, the camera might have a place in your kit, but manual focus is increasingly becoming just one tool in a wide palette of shooting. Even on jobs where I'm mostly in manual focus, it's nice to know that you could put on an AF lens and set up something and lean on the AF a bit.
Hopefully, this is just a step on the path toward something where the pieces, which are so close, come together more fully. Sigma is a large company with big resources (not Sony big, but not tiny), and they clearly have a vision. A major firmware update fixing autofocus, or better internal resolution downsampling (or both) would completely turn this camera around. Or the next revision, maybe moving on to CFexpress and a large resolution could do the same. It's so, so close to coming together, but it just doesn't quite make it.