We Get Hands-On with the Pocket-Size Full-Frame Sigma fp
First impressions and the No Film School community questions answered.
Sigma introduced its “pocketable full-frame” fp camera in July of this year which is now shipping with a $1,899 USD price tag for the body only ($2,199 USD in kit form). It’s the company's first dive into the cine camera market which touts 12-bit CinemaDNG 4K UHD recording.
No Film School stopped by its Burbank, CA location to get hands on with the fp and interview Sigma America senior technical representative Jared Ivy to answer your questions. Our first impressions are at the end.
Sigma marketing will tell you it’s “a camera for everyone” as it’s capable of shooting stills or video for beginners to advanced. It’s an open system that’s customizable and modular. Its footprint is small–smaller than the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera introduced in 2013. The fp is rectangular in shape has tactile buttons, a touchscreen LCD and L-Mount–an alliance among Leica, Panasonic and Sigma to create a universal lens mount. There's a dedicated switch to change from cine to still modes and two unique user interfaces for each mode.
No Film School: Sigma has a long history offering cameras and lenses aimed at still photographers. Now they have multiple lens lines dedicated for cine use. Is the fp the next step in Sigma’s cine roadmap?
Jared Ivy: In a way, yes. Sigma started making cameras because it was the founder’s dream to be a camera manufacturer. [Sigma was founded in 1961 by Michihiro Yamaki, who was Sigma's CEO until his death at age 78 in 2012. His son, Kazuto Yamaki, is the current CEO.] But it also gives them a good perspective when making lenses being able to go through the entire image-making process. Having introduced its cine lenses they wanted to have a camera capable of recording motion pictures.
Inside the fp is a 35mm full-frame (35.9mm x 23.9mm) 24.6MP back-illuminated Bayer CMOS sensor. It’s the first time in Sigma’s history they’re using a Bayer sensor. Since 2000, Sigma has used a Foveon sensor for its cameras–a sensor that overlaps RGB color on each pixel and does not require interpolation to produce the digital image. In 2008, Sigma purchased Foveon, Inc, and it continues to develop the Foveon X3 image sensor.
The fp does not have an optical low-pass filter normally located directly in front of the image sensor. While it's considered to be the filter that reduces moire and false color Sigma wanted the sensor "to capture images without losing the resolution of the sensor." With that said, you should be aware moire might pop up in the image. Sigma points out the dynamic range is 12.5 stops while shooting 12-bit CinemaDNG. This will have to be tested at a later date.
NFS: So why did Sigma choose Bayer over Foveon for the fp?
JI: Foveon is a unique chip and for all its strengths–high resolution, no interpolation, really sharp true color images–its current technology isn’t fast enough to support the recording formats found on the fp. The Foveon sensor can shoot fast at competitive frame rates but the buffer doesn’t hold a lot of images. Once it fills up, it takes a while for it to be able to start writing again. Sigma had to go with a Bayer sensor to offer the video specs found on the fp.
NFS: There are rumors Sigma is considering releasing a Foveon version in the future?
JI: At this point in time I’m not sure.
NFS: Since Foveon isn’t making the sensor. Did Sigma create the sensor in house or did another company design the sensor?
JI: It was another company.
NFS: Is there anything about the sensor design that makes it unique to Sigma?
JI: Nothing that I’m aware of. Sigma Japan is very tight-lipped about the technology behind their products. Even at my level they do not share that information.
Recording Options Overview
The fp has three different options to record. Internally to SD card located underneath the camera, externally to SSD via USB-C or through its micro HDMI to an external recorder like an ATOMOS Ninja Inferno.
NFS: Can the fp record to multiple formats at once?
JI: Yes, you can record HDMI + either SSD or SD.
Internal Recording (cine mode) to SD
The fp is capable of recording internally to SD / SDHC / SDXC memory cards (UHS-II supported). Internal recording supports CinemaDNG 8-bit in UHD 4K (3840x2160) and 8-bit, 10-bit and 12-bit at Full-HD (1920x1080). It also supports MOV H.264 recording in either ALL-I or GOP.
Current CinemaDNG internal recording formats to SD:
- UHD 4K, 25fps, 1670Mbps, RAW 8-bit
- UHD 4K, 23.98fps, 1600Mbps, RAW 8-bit
- FHD, 59.94fps, 1530Mbps, RAW 12-bit
- FHD, 50fps, 1270Mbps, RAW 12-bit
- FHD, 29.97fps, 760Mbps, RAW 12-bit
- FHD, 25, 640Mbps, RAW 12-bit
- FHD, 23.98fps, 610Mbps, RAW 12-bit
- FHD, 59.94fps, 1280Mbps, RAW 10-bit
- FHD, 50fps, 1060Mbps, RAW 10-bit
- FHD, 29.97fps, 640Mbps, RAW 10-bit
- FHD, 25, 530Mbps, RAW 10-bit
- FHD, 23.98fps, 510Mbps, RAW 10-bit
- FHD, 59.94fps, 1020Mbps, RAW 8-bit
- FHD, 50fps, 850Mbps, RAW 8-bit
- FHD, 29.97fps, 510Mbps, RAW 8-bit
- FHD, 25, 430Mbps, RAW 8-bit
- FHD, 23.98fps, 410Mbps, RAW 8-bit
Current MOV H.264 internal recording formats to SD:
- ALL-I, UHD 4K, 29.97, 25, 23.98fps, 440Mbps, 4:2:0 8-bit
- ALL-I, FHD, 119.88, 100fps, 440Mbps, 4:2:0 8-bit
- ALL-I, FHD, 59.94, 50fps, 240Mbps, 4:2:0 8-bit
- ALL-I, FHD, 29.97, 25, 23.98fps, 140Mbps, 4:2:0 8-bit
- GOP, UHD 4K, 29.97, 25, 23.98fps, 120Mbps, 4:2:0 8-bit
- GOP, FHD, 119.88, 100fps, 100Mbps, 4:2:0 8-bit
- GOP, FHD, 59.94, 50fps, 70Mbps, 4:2:0 8-bit
- GOP-I, FHD, 29.97, 25, 23.98fps, 60Mbps, 4:2:0 8-bit
Sigma approved SD cards that can record CinemaDNG:
- SanDisk extreme pro UHS-II 64GB, 128GB
- Panasonic SDZA series 64GB, 128GB
Sigma approved SD for ALL-I/GOP recording:
- A write speed of 60Mbps or more is recommended.
NFS: Is Sigma considering lossless compressed CinemaDNG in the fp roadmap?
JI: Sigma listens to customer feedback. It’s why they included i/Technology in the cine lenses. This being a generation one camera and firmware Sigma will continue to investigate to improve upon the fp. If customers give feedback it’s possible. If it’s something that will greatly increase its performance Sigma is going to want to proceed with that.
NFS: So, you’re saying there’s a chance?
JI: Yes there is, but Sigma Japan doesn’t share future plans or roadmaps with us at the moment.
External Recording (cine mode) to SSD
The fp can record to an external SSD via USB-C. In addition to all the internal recording formats listed above. Recording to an external SSD offers more options.
Current Additional CinemaDNG external recording formats to SSD:
- UHD 4K, 23.98fps, 2400Mbps, RAW 12-bit
- UHD 4K, 29.97fps, 2500Mbps, RAW 10-bit
- UHD 4K, 25ps, 2090Mbps, RAW 10-bit
- UHD 4K, 23.98ps, 2000Mbps, RAW 10-bit
- UHD 4K, 29.97fps, 2000Mbps, RAW 8-bit
Future CinemaDNG external SSD recordings via firmware update:
- FHD, 119.88fps, 2050Mbps, RAW 8-bit
- FHD, 100fps, 1710Mbps, RAW 8-bit
Sigma approved SSD drives:
- Samsung T5 1TB, 2TB
External Recording through HDMI
The fp can record externally via micro HDMI. The fp also supports ATOMOS open protocol to start or pause recording on an external recorder directly through the fp. Meaning, when you push record on the fp, the ATOMOS will start recording too.
Current external recording formats through HDMI:
- UHD 4K, 29.97, 25, 23.98fps, 4:2:2 8-bit
- FHD, 119.88, 100, 59.94, 50, 29.97, 25, 23.98fps, 4:2:2 8-bit
The menu is set up like the Sigma Quattro cameras. There are 3 top menus of Shoot, Play and System with each menu having additional sub-menus. Shoot has 5 sub-menus, Play has 2 sub-menus, and System with 4 sub-menus. You navigate using the wheel on the back or clicking on the back wheel to advance. You can also use the wheel located on the top of the fp. Navigation is similar to the Canon-style menu. You're going to need to spend time with the fp menu system to learn where everything is and what everything does. We only had the camera for about an hour so the bulk of the time was learning the menu tree.
However, Sigma did smartly add a Quick Select (QS) a button on the back. The QS opens up 8 customizable options that include things like recording format, ISO, fps, color, white balance. You can use the wheel to make adjustments or press the AEL (Auto Exposure Lock) button to call up the menu options. So for instance, if you want to adjust the recording format, you can hit the QS to quickly select between CDNG to MOV. But if you want more options, like a specific frame rate, you can hit the AEL button and it will bring up the menu options without needing to navigate into the menu system. The back wheel by default allows you to quickly bring up focus options by pressing up or the 49 focus points by pressing down. These two buttons can be customized.
The fp has manual and autofocus options that includes single AF and continuous AF. There are 49 autofocus points. In this mode, a bracket of 49 focus points (7 down, 7 across) appears on the LCD. You can then adjust the size of the focus area as well as where you want the focus to be – top left or right, the bottom left or right. There is also Free Movement and Tracking AF modes for following objects as well as Face/Eye Detection.
The full rundown of focus functions includes: AF+MF, MF assist, MF guide, focus peaking (highlights the edges with a particular color) release focus function, AF-ON, Quick AF, Pre-AF and AF during image magnification.
Electronic Image Stabilization
The fp has an electronic shutter and electronic image stabilization (EIS). While shooting video it takes two frames and instantly compares them to composite the image and minimizes blur. In still mode, it takes four frames. Since the fp has an electronic shutter there is a risk of the rolling shutter distortion effect. Sigma acknowledges it is present but is fast enough for most shooting situations.
APS-C Lens Crop
When attaching an APS-C size lens the fp can crop the sensor to match the APS-C angle of view. In the menu, there is an option to turn this ON/OFF or AUTO. The crop is approximately 1.5x.
The fp has a 3.15” touchscreen display. It does not flip out, up or rotate in any way. It’s fixed. While in cine mode the display will show battery life, timecode, rec/standby mode, file name, record time left, frame rate, shutter angle, aperture, ISO and color temperature. It also can show zebra pattern, waveform, audio levels aspect ration frame guides an overlay grid.
The fp can be used as a director’s viewfinder which can simulate different cinema cameras. Supported cameras are: ARRICAM, ARRIFLEX, ALEXA LF, ALEXA Mini LF, ALEXA SXT, ALEXA Mini, AMIRA, ALEXA 65, ALEXA XT, Sony VENICE, RED MONSTRO 8K, HELIUM 8K, Dragon 6K EPIC MX 5K, GEMINI 5K.
NFS: The fp can be used as a director's viewfinder. How does this actually work?
JI: Sigma included different aspect ratios that can be selected and be shown on screen. When you put the fp in Director’s Viewfinder mode you can select the camera you’re working with. Like the ALEXA 65. The Sigma viewfinder [LVF-11] is basically a loop through and it allows the user to see what the attached lens sees on screen.
The fp can playback MOV H.264 files internally. However, it currently cannot playback CinemaDNG files. When trying to do so the display reads “no files found” on a black screen. A future update will allow CinemaDNG files to be played internally.
On the back of the fp is a Color menu button for quick access to the color modes. Color modes are like applying filters to the recorded image. They’re done so destructively. Meaning once applied they are baked in.
Color modes include standard, vivid, neutral, portrait, landscape, monochrome, cinema, teal, and orange, sunset red, forest green, FOV classic blue, FOV classic yellow. Each color can have its tone and contrast adjusted further. Using a slider you can select the effects from -5 to +5.
The Tone menu button on the back allows you to adjust the tone curve of an image on the fly. There are options for strong, mild and manual adjusting.
In cine mode, the ISO range is 100 to 25600 and can be extended to include 6, 12, 25, 50, 51200, 102400. The ISO base is 100.
There are 12 types of white balance: auto, auto lighting source priority, daylight, shade, overcast, incandescent, fluorescent, color temperature, flash and three custom options.
The HDR in cine mode will be available in a future firmware update. It’s currently available for stills.
The fp supports time code offering options for Free Run or Rec Run where you can switch from Drop-frame (DF) and Non-drop frame (NDF) to send timecode out the HDMI input.
The fp records Linear PCM 2ch 48Khz 16-bit stereo audio. There is a 3.5 external mic jack on the left side. There is no headphone jack. When asked if Sigma is considering 24-bit audio, Ivy said it is something Sigma could look at in the future.
The fp uses a Li-ion battery BP-51. There is also an AC power option and you can connect the fp to larger batteries using its DC connector CN-21 accessory option. It is worth noting when powered off the USB-C connector can charge the battery.
The dimensions are 112.6 x 69.6 x 45.3mm. It weighs 370g without battery. Including battery approximately 422g. For perspective, the 2013 BMPCC is 355g without battery. The body is covered with die-cast aluminum on the front and back. A heat sink is mounted between the LCD and the camera body. The fp is dust and splash-proof. If you’re familiar with the discontinued Sigma DP1X or DP1 Merrill series the shape and feel are similar but more robust. There are three 1/4"-20 connections – one on the bottom and one on each side to connect accessories.
NFS: Is there a reason behind the fp size and shape?
JI: Sigma was trying to make the smallest package they could with a full-frame sensor that included a heat sync. For scalability, they wanted something utilitarian in a way. To put the ports where they needed them… it couldn’t be curved or have an angular look. The shape is the best way to try and fit everything into that package.
If you don't have L-Mount lenses, Sigma offers a PL-L MC-31 adapter and a Canon EF-L MC-21 adapter. There's no hotshoe on the camera but it comes with a hotshoe unit HU-11 that connects on the side via 1/4"-20 and can lock the HDMI cable. Sigma also offers the aforementioned viewfinder LV-11, a small HG-11 and large HG-21 hand grips, a flash EF-630 and different baseplates and connectors. Like we mentioned before its modular so you can build it out to preference.
Other Things of Note
- The fp can shoot stills in cinema mode.
- It supports UVC (USB Video Class) - meaning you can connect the fp to your computer and use it as a webcam or live stream camera and still record the footage.
- It can create cinemagraphs in camera
- It has a fill light function to adjust the brightness of an image without altering the exposure or highlight regions.
- A newly introduced A size mode that shoots in √2:1. Other aspect ratios: [21:9] / [16:9] / [3:2] / [A size (√2:1)] / [4:3] / [7:6] / [1:1]
We do want to point out again we only had the fp in hand for about an hour. That said we can tell you we enjoyed the build quality and feel. Ergonomically, it's small. Based on your hand-size you'll have to figure out what grip works best for you – and be careful not to bump the mode button on the lower right side. While operating it with the 45mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary kit lens it was light and had decent balance. This might change when operating it with a heavier cine lenses.
The HDMI, UBS-C and audio jack are located on one side - the left while facing the LCD. The ports have rubber protection covers but it's worth noting the HDMI cover comes off completely in order to accommodate the hotshoe adapter. You'll need to keep somewhere for safe keeping.
Booting up is fast. The button layout is something we liked too. Simple, straight-forward. We did like the Quick Selection (QS) menu button and used it for the majority of setting adjustments. Sigma also made it easy and grayed out the unavailable recording formats depending on the selected media.
The separate UIs for cine and still mode is a very nice touch. Another nice touch is for those still photographers not comfortable with a cine display. Sigma included the option in cine mode to change the display settings to be more photo-friendly. Under the system menu, you can change the shooting style to "Still-Like", so things like shutter speed switch to f-stop instead. The camera is thorough in its options which is good for those who like to dial things in on a micro level. It's still nimble enough to put everything on auto and go.
Also when navigating the menu some options are touch screen while others are not. It will be something that you will need to get used to.
We shot some sample footage indoors around the Sigma location and only had access to a SD card so the max recording was CinemaDNG UHD 4K, 25fps, 1670Mbps, 4:2:2 8-bit. We processed the footage using DaVinci Resolve – Rec. 709 and a slight gamma curve. The footage looked good and was generally moire free considering the mix of uncontrollable fluorescent light and natural light in the office building. it's also worth noting while there is a neutral color profile there is not a flat profile.
We also shot ALL-I, UHD 4K, 29.97fps 440Mbps, 4:2:2 8-bit using the standard color profile. The MOV H.264 ALL-I footage looked good too. Straight out of the camera it had a digital look, like most mirrorless cameras seem to have, but it didn't have too much contrast and the colors looked natural. What was nice about the standard color profile MOV footage was there was no added warmth or saturation to the image. We did insert a Delkin Prime SDXC V60 II UHS-II 64GB SD card and it was able to record the ALL-I footage seamlessly.
Processing CinemaDNG footage is CPU hungry even at 8-bit. If you plan on shooting 10-bit or even 12-bit it's important to make sure your post workflow has the processing power to handle the images. Even UHD 4K at 440Mpbs can strain a machine.
There was some lag when tracking moving objects but without a side by side comparison with something like the Sony alpha or Canon EOS it's hard to tell how good it really is. Lag is lag and it will always be noticeable. How much lag you're ok with ultimately depends on the scene.
Lack of audio jack is a bummer. It would also be nice to have 24-bit internal.
We cannot tell you about how good/bad the rolling shutter is, if the 12.5 stops of dynamic range is accurate, what the dynamic range on MOV files are, random bugs, nor can we tell you how good the battery life is. When the fp was on it didn't feel like it was draining too fast.
Because of its size, we can see the fp easily be used for drone or gimbal work. Same for tight spaces or inside cars. But it's more than that. The fp has a lot going on in a small package. Hopefully, we'll be able to detail the ins and outs and provide a more in-depth review at a later date. In the meantime, you can check out sample footage shot by Mikio Hasui, Timur Civan and Ani Watanabe.
Are you interested in the Sigma fp? Do you have any questions about our hands-on experience with the camera? Let us know down in the comments.