The Sigma fp was announced as the "digital camera that changes everything" and it just might be.
When a company develops a product for the first time something will be inevitably overlooked. The fp is Sigma's first attempt at a mirrorless camera with a full-frame sensor and what they were able to accomplish is quite outstanding. It's built around a 24.6MP back-illuminated Bayer CMOS sensor, which is also a first for Sigma as they exclusively used the Foveon sensor for its previous APS-C camera models.
Even with the larger sensor, Sigma set out to create the most compact camera on the market that is not only scalable, but offered still and video features associated with high-end image capture. They managed to do it all with impressive results for under $2,000.
- 4K UHD (3840 × 2160)
- 12-bit CinemaDNG
- MOV H.264 ALL-I/GOP
- Electronic Shutter
- Independent UIs
The fp has many features video shooters will enjoy including RAW internal recording, over 10 stops of dynamic range, zebra pattering, waveform display, timecode support, and a responsive touchscreen.
It’s also part of the L-mount ecosystem and can be paired with any L-mount lens from Leica, Panavision or Sigma, including its cine lenses. While the fp is designed for both stills and video, this will detail more of its video features.
The fp's most noticeable quality is its size. It's tiny. Small enough to fit nearly anywhere. Blackmagic's Pocket series cameras were game changers in terms of footprint and features, but the fp is about the size of a pack of playing cards at 4.4 x 2.74 x 1.78" (112.6 x 69.9 x 45.3mm) and weighs less than pound (422 g).
Sigma was able to shrink its size without the fp overheating thanks to a massive heat sink. The reason why you need a good heat sink is because full-frame sensors get warm, and a 4K full-frame sensor that promises minimal rolling shutter, will get even warmer. During tests, heat was never an issue. It felt warm to the touch but never felt overheated.
The rectangle design has a straight-forward layout with easy-to-read menu buttons and a touchscreen LCD that packs approximately 2.1 million dots. A switch found on the top toggles between still and cine modes which activates separate user-interfaces that are customized for each mode.
On the rear, the menu is navigated by a traditional selection button and wheel. There is no joystick. Quick menu buttons for tone, color, and mode are also on the LCD side of the camera.
Located on each side are 1/4-20" mounts for a screw-in style neck strap or they can be used as mounting points for accessories. This is nice touch by Sigma that more manufacturers should pick up on. The 1/4-20" mounts also allows the fp to be easily mounted vertically.
A nice standout feature Sigma included on fp is part of its battery system. When using an external battery, a small rubber door has been added that allows the external battery cable to snake through. It means the battery compartment door can now be fully closed. While on the subject of the battery door, it is longer in length and that could potentially interfere with tripod plates. It's something to keep an eye out for. It's also worth mentioning the fp battery is interchangeable with the Panasonic DMW-BLC12 battery found on DMC-GH2, DMC-G5, DMC-G6, DMC-G7 DMC-FZ200, and DMC-FZ1000 cameras.
At the time of publication, the most dynamic file size fp can shoot internally is CinemaDNG 8-bit at 4K UHD 25fps, 1670Mbps. 23.98fps is available at 1600Mbps. If you record externally to a SSD or recorder, options for CinemaDNG 8-bit, 10-bit, or 12-bit are available with it topping off at 12-bit 4K UHD 23.98fps, 2400Mbps.
For testing, the fp was paired with Sigma ART lenses, Sigma High Speed Zooms cine lenses, and XEEN CF lenses. A Wooden Camera PL to L-mount adapter was used when needed. For handheld work, the setup was mounted on a Ronin-SC. While the weight of everything was around 3.9 lbs, the Ronin-S is better suited for the fp.
Both the 12-bit and 8-bit CinemaDNG footage handled grading very well. With increased latitude in 12-bit, there was less noise and artifacts. Noticeably different? Yes. 8-bit CinemaDNG will be more robust than H.265/H.264 All-I or GOP and provides good rendition, but 12-bit CinemaDNG is the way to go if your pipeline supports it. The flexibility of CinemaDNG is huge, but the downside of the format is it takes a lot of processing power to work with.
Rolling shutter can get worse with large sensors increase because the shutter has a longer physical distance to "roll" and can lead to longer refresh times. Sigma has done a good job limiting rolling shutter artifacts. While rolling shut is present in faster pans, during practical use its minimal.
There is no optical low pass filter (OLPF) on the sensor which means aliasing might appear. Why didn’t Sigma include one? It’s about trade-offs. When including an OLPF, resolution is sacrificed. Sigma felt good enough about its processing power that it wasn’t worth losing any resolution. During testing, aliasing was minimal.
The fp has a Director’s Viewfinder mode which creates framelines on screen that mimic aspect ratios found on RED, ARRI, and Sony cameras. The mode leaves a dim but useable lookaround outside the framing area. It’s a useful tool for filmmakers who want to block shots with a lightweight alternative or it could be used for scouting purposes.
Unfortunately, the Director’s Viewfinder mode was a source of frustration that could be fixed with a future update. As of now, you can't record the Director’s Viewfinder mode internally. One needs to use an external recorder like an Atomos or Convergent Design. However, with firmware version 2.0 expected summer 2020 this will change. The update will allow the fp to record the Director's Viewfinder internally. This will be a huge time-saver.
A-cam, B-cam, or C-cam?
The big question is can we use fp as an A-camera or as a secondary camera in a larger setup. For the latter, say you're shooting on the Alexa LF. You could easily set the fp up as secondary camera with the same glass. The one question is will the fp footage seemlessly cut with the Alexa LF footage? Absolutely. With a little bit of effort in post, the fp definitely be used as a B-cam or C-cam.
What about as a main camera? Sure. That’s why they made it. We can see the fp used for many different types of storytelling. The combination of a big sensor, RAW imagery, and small footprint is going to be useful for many.
However, breakout accessories will need to be considered, especially for sound and video input/output as well as a cage. Even with that, the fp is ideal for music videos, web spots, indie features, and doc work.
Stills are gorgeous, especially when combined with the Sigma Art lenses. However, the mechanical operation felt slow. Not slow enough to be an issue, but noticeable to mention it. That said, the fp doesn't feel like a still camera that's going to be your go-to for action sports or live events. It is entirely possible this is something that could be fixed via firmware.
Sigma has its MC-31 PL to L-mount adapter but an adapter that incorporates Cooke's i/Technology would be advantageous. Lens data is big for VFX workflows since it can provide focus, iris, and zoom information. Say you want to composite an element into the background. Having that information removes the guess work and objects can be placed with precision.
The fp should start supporting more recording formats including Blackmagic RAW and Apple ProRes RAW. CinemaDNG offers beautiful images, but files sizes can be very large. Even if the fp supports more RAW formats externally only, it’s better than none.
The small form factor, 12-bit CinemaDNG recording (to an external recorder), minimal rolling shutter, and features like the Director’s Viewfinder mode are all fantastic starts for this first-generation camera.
If you’re looking for a primary camera under $2,000, the fp is worth considering. It produces attractive images, it's packed with features, and it's easily adaptable. The biggest thing of all was that it was able to create such pleasing images in a form factor that feels both fresh and mature. Fresh in that it's sort of the "dream" form factor (super tiny, massive sensor). But mature in terms of all its details that add up to a pleasant user experience.
For a first-generation camera, Sigma has tuned a solid device right out the gate. It will be interesting to see what the company comes up with next.