March 3, 2020

Sigma fp Review

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.

Key Features

  • 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. 

Body

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.

The battery door has an opening for external battery cable


Battery 

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.

That big "CINE STILL" switch and vents everywhere really set the fp apart.

Recording Formats

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

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.

Aliasing

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.  

Director's Viewfinder

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

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.  

Improvements

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.

Final Thoughts

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.     

Update March 3, 2020: A previous version incorrectly stated battery compatibility with Panasonic cameras. It has been fixed. 

Your Comment

12 Comments

2,400Mbps is what, 16 min per Terabyte? yikes. I don't see how that makes sense for anybody with BRAW being such an affordable option now.

March 3, 2020 at 10:29AM

10
Reply
bsbrynn
Filmmaker
413

2400Mbps is 300MB per second. So that's approximately an hour per 1TB.

March 4, 2020 at 12:23AM, Edited March 4, 12:23AM

0
Reply
Vizz
1

True that, my bad

March 4, 2020 at 9:14PM

0
Reply
bsbrynn
Filmmaker
413

This is a rather superficial review. The camera has a whole number of known issues:
- CinemaDNG files are incompatible to Davinci Resolve (can only imported as separate image sequences and audio tracks);
- CinemaDNG is recorded from a 6K Bayer sensor matrix as a 4K pseudo-Bayer sensor matrix using line skipping and creating all kinds of line skipping artefacts; only 4K APS-C crop gives a clean image;
- CinemaDNG is difficult to expose/clips early since it's internally mapped into Rec709 color space, no RAW histogram;
- No 12bit CinemaDNG at 25p and 29.97p, no 24p (only 23.98p) and no DCI 4K (only UltraHD);
- Full linearisation curves missing in 10bit and 12bit RAW, as opposed to (strangely enough) 8bit RAW, thus artificially cropping the camera's dynamic range. Dynamic range is therefore poor in comparison to other cameras (Blackmagic, Panasonic SH1).
- Audio level adjustment is deeply buried in submenus and only goes to -36db (too little in loud environments with hot microphones)
- Bugs with unsteady black levels in certain ISOs (400-2000, 4000) and one-stop underexposes when shooting stills in Manual mode
- no zebras and focus peaking at the same time
- no focus magnification while recording video
- 1/10s shutter delay when shooting stills, recorded image is not the same as image displayed after pressing shutter; this and sub-par AF make the fp unsuitable for documentary/street photography
- no DOF preview when shooting stills
- Rolling shutter and banding (under energy-saving light) because of the electronic shutter in stills, no mechanical shutter
- exposure compensation buried in submenus when shooting in M mode + Auto-ISO

March 3, 2020 at 11:03AM, Edited March 3, 11:05AM

12
Reply
Florian
109

I had this camera for a few hours and while I loved what if can do when it comes to photography, the video part was quite not there yet. CDNG no one uses it (Mr. Haine, even admitted as much in one of a Podcast here).
The UI need a refresh, very hard to see what you are shooting when the UI is on top of the image and obstruct everything. Making changing ISO, for example, a real pain.

I still have hope that Sigma will fix a lot of these "features" in the future, hope that they will drop CDNG for External ProRes RAW or BRAW (would make so much sense). But as for today, this camera is nowhere closed to be useable for video.

March 3, 2020 at 4:23PM, Edited March 3, 4:26PM

0
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I hope they still keep the lossless CDNG as an option, because that gives you the best image quality. Right now Prores RAW can only be used in FCPX and while BRAW is a good option since it's half processed in-camera I wonder if it's doable with processing power of Sigma fp.

March 4, 2020 at 12:30AM

0
Reply
Vizz
1

You really need a GOOD computer for CDNG, especially if you want to use the 12Bit version...

March 4, 2020 at 5:13PM

7
Reply

You mentioned the battery of GH5 is compatible. I think it's it's the G85 NOT GH5.

March 3, 2020 at 11:11AM

10
Reply
ted ramasola
cinematographer/editor
89

A very amateur “review”. A review without any stills or video test... it’s not a review. Sorry.

March 4, 2020 at 3:26AM

17
Reply
Alfred G
139

I feel like this review is way too lenient. I owned the FP for a good two months before selling, and was quite underwhelmed. The highlight clipping was pretty bad, the AF was abysmal, not just slow but also very inconsistent- and yes, I know this is a cinema camera so I was pulling my own focus for shoots, but it is still marketed as a hybrid cine/stills camera and the stills side was pretty bad. And dynamic range, especially for a full frame camera, was lacking, to say the least.
Also the UI, switching between CINE mode and STILL mode, the shutter doesn't change depending on which mode you were in, your ISO doesn't switch between modes- ex. if you were shooting at 1/1000 for stills and then quickly switched over to CINE mode, you were now shooting video also at 1/1000, not intuitive at all.
Yes, not bad for the price, but definitely feels like a beta product.

March 5, 2020 at 10:18AM, Edited March 5, 10:20AM

2
Reply

Please forward to Sigma:
I urgently need this camera BUT only with a headphone jacket and preferably with 24-bit internal
Yours
Olof Thiel
Stockholm
Sweden

March 16, 2020 at 10:41AM, Edited March 16, 10:41AM

3
Reply
olof thiel
artist
8

....and can you add the possibility of ProRes RAW would it be fantastic (without taking away CinemaDNG)

March 16, 2020 at 7:58PM

1
Reply
olof thiel
artist
8