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New SD9 Firmware and Software available

By dpreview staff on May 14, 2003 at 12:51 GMT

Sigma has today posted (as promised) firmware v1.4.0.1302 and Photo Pro v1.1 (1302). The firmware has three major features; support for Lexar WA (write acceleration) technology, a bug fix for occasional hangs in long exposures, compressed preview images resulting in smaller X3F files. The new version of Photo Pro has a wide variety of fixes, the most important of which is improved JPEG output quality by using 4:4:4 downsampling (fully sampled chroma).

Click here to download Sigma SD9 Firmware

Click here to download Sigma Photo Pro

Sigma PhotoPro v1.1 versus v1.0

The new version of PhotoPro appears to have addressed at least two important (and perhaps related) issues. Firstly the sampling of color is now at a full 1x1 pixel level which means completely smooth color with no jagged or 'interlace-like' JPEG artifacts as seen on the right side of the comparison below. It also appears to have fixed the odd dark pitting which occured occasionally in bright reds. The beauty of shooting RAW is that owners can now re-process their X3F files with the new PhotoPro to gain this improved image quality.

Source X3F: ISO 100, 1/2 sec, F13. Crops below are at 200% magnification.

Sigma PhotoPro v1.1 Sigma PhotoPro v1.0
JPEG Quality 9, 914 KB JPEG Quality 9, 942 KB

Source X3F: ISO 100, 1/180 sec, F13. Crops below are at 200% magnification.

Sigma PhotoPro v1.1 Sigma PhotoPro v1.0
JPEG Quality 12, 1,948 KB JPEG Quality 12, 2,461 KB

Reduced noise

The new firmware also appears to have reduced the level of noise, especially in large areas of solid color, something which we reported after posting our initial review. The crops and noise measurements below were taken from TIFF output from PhotoPro. The standard deviation figure below the gray and red crops are a measure of luminance noise, lower numbers are better. It appears to me at least that Sigma / Foveon have managed to address the red noise issue previously associated with the SD9.

Source X3F: ISO 400, 1/20 sec, F5.6. Crops below are at 100% magnification.

Sigma PhotoPro v1.1 Sigma PhotoPro v1.0
Std. dev. 1.99 Std. dev. 2.03
Std. dev. 2.02 Std. dev. 4.82

Technical notes:

Sigma PhotoPro and SD9 Firmware -- Update v1.1 (1302) Release

May, 2003 -- Copyright (c) 2003 Foveon Inc.

Technical Details of v1.1 Changes

Files

1. EXIF 2.2 metadata is now saved to all TIFF and JPEG output files. Only two of the new optional EXIF 2.2. tags are used, since the "EXIF Print" concept is at odds with the concept of using PhotoPro to give users control over image rendering. All output files are tagged as "Custom Rendered" to discourage printer software from re-rendering the image. All output files now include the tag "FocalLengthIn35mmFilm," which is set to 1.7 times the actual focal length of the lens. Furthermore, some of the values saved for older tags have been modified to bring the data more into conformance with the EXIF specification. In particular, "Software" and "DateTime" now correctly represent the Sigma PhotoPro software and date/time of creation of the TIFF or JPEG file, not the camera firmware and original shot date/time as in v1.0; these values are modified by other software that you may use, such as Photoshop, to edit the file. The "DateTimeOriginal" tag represents the original shot date/time. The "DateTimeDigitized" tag represents the date/time of rendering of the image to TIFF or JPEG, and will not be modified by subsequent editing software. The v1.1 software is also modified to display file date/time based on the "DateTimeOriginal" tag when it is found. All times are local times, not convertible to/from GMT, since the EXIF spec has no provision for time-zone information.

2. JPEG files generated by Sigma PhotoPro v1.1 combine ICC profiles and EXIF metadata in a way that is compatible with all current software that we have been able to test with. In v1.0, the user had to choose between JPEG/EXIF to get metadata and JPEG/JFIF to get an ICC color profile for the chosen colorspace, because the standards for ICC profile embedding and EXIF metadata embedding are formally contradictory. Following typical industry practice, v1.1 embeds ICC profiles according to the JFIF specification but without the JFIF tag that conflicts with the EXIF specification. Since the EXIF specification does not specifically provide for ICC profiles, but does allow a tag to specify sRGB colorspace, v1.1 embeds an ICC profile whenever the chosen output colorspace is other than sRGB. When the chosen colorspace is sRGB, the colorspace that is standard for EXIF files, v1.1 saves JPEG files that fully compliant with the EXIF specification.

3. In v1.0, the color information in JPEG files was sub-sampled to 2x2-pixel blocks, as is typical practice in digital cameras. This was a bug, since the typical practice for conventional Bayer-mosaic cameras could not adequately represent the fine color detail in images from an X3 sensor. In v1.1, the default behavior of the JPEG encoder is overridden to specify fully-sampled chroma information whenever the JPEG quality level is set to 7 or higher, and 2x2 sub-sampling for 6 and lower (this choice matches Adobe Photoshop's behavior). The EXIF specification only specifically allows for 2x1 and 2x2 chroma subsampling, but no compatibility issues have been found with fully sampled (1x1) chroma; if strict EXIF compatibility is required, it can be achieved by choosing JPEG quality level 6 or lower.

4. In v1.0, the camera firmware stored preview images in the X3F raw file as uncompressed 567x378x3 8-bit data (0.64 megabyte). The v1.1 firmware stores the same size preview using a lossless compression that cuts the size about in half, to reduce file size overhead (the difference is an appreciable fraction of file size and CF write time for LO-res images, and a smaller effect for MED-res and HI-res). Sigma PhotoPro v1.1 includes support for the new preview compression. New v1.1 images processed in the older v1.0 PhotoPro will not see the new preview, and will fall back on using the smaller thumbnail image as a preview (the preview is the image shown in PhotoPro's Review Window while the main image is developing).

5. The folder path selected for saving TIFF and JPEG files to, in the "Save Image As..." and "Save Images As..." dialogs, is now "sticky." That is, it is remembered so that the user does not need to navigate to an output working folder each time he saves.

Performance

6. Changes to internal details of inter-process communications have reduced processor overhead and led to overall faster processing on all platforms, with a most significant effect on Mac platforms (about a doubling of speed to process or save an image on Mac OS X).

7. Modified strategies for dealing with user input have led to much faster responsiveness, for example to change to a new image when processing is still ongoing.

8. In v1.0, browsing JPEG and TIFF files was very slow, and it was sometimes slow to switch between thumbnail sizes for X3F files (especially in changing to the large size). New thumbnail reading strategies in v1.1 remove or greatly improve these issues.

Image Quality

9. The v1.1 software includes updates and adjustments related to using information recorded in the raw file to reduce noise in processed images. Minor bugs in v1.0 sometimes caused subtle deviations from the optimum result, and sometimes (rarely) even caused dramatic failures.

10. The "Auto" and "Default" processing modes leave sharpness at the default "0" setting, but users have found that a much better general-purpose result is obtained by adding more sharpening, so in v1.1 the "0" has been redefined. To avoid adding much noise due to extra sharpening, the sharpening algorithm has been improved. The default sharpness is now approximately equivalent to Photoshop's "unsharp mask" filter with radius 1, amount 100%, and a small threshold, applied to luminance channel only (the previous default in v1.0 was approximately like 50% and zero threshold). Sharpness settings below -1 blur the image.

Drivers

11. The v1.0 PhotoPro would not connect to the camera using USB on Mac OS9; v1.1 now works (all combinations of USB and IEEE1394 with Mac and Windows systems are now supported).

SD9 Camera Firmware

12. Lexar now offers "WA" (write acceleration) technology in their CompactFlash storage cards, and the SD9 v1.1 firmware now supports this capability, which removes some wait time in the CF write sequence for each image. To get any advantage from this change, you need to use the new CF cards that support the WA feature; even then the speedup may not be dramatic, as suggested by this review: "While the times...aren't earth shattering, I feel the WA technology is making a difference in big frame bursts!" (Moose Peterson, on testing with another camera brand http://www.nikondigital.org/reviews/wa_flash/lexar_wa_review.htm).

13. Sometimes the camera would hang during long exposures (8-15 seconds or BULB). This problem is resolved by the v1.1 firmware.

14. As mentioned in item 4 above, the v1.1 camera firmware compresses the preview image in each X3F file, saving some file space and CF write time. The compression algorithm used is lossless and is very simple, so it does not add any appreciable processing time.

Installers and License

15. The software license agreement has been liberalized, for example to allow a licensed user to make multiple copies of PhotoPro for use on their several computers. A user can become licensed by agreeing to the license agreement, without buying a camera with its CD-ROM. A license agreement screen comes up each time an installer (software or firmware installer) is run, or the first time Sigma PhotoPro is run if it has not been fully installed, on each machine. PhotoPro will not run until the license has been accepted on that machine. See the license agreement page for a copy of the new agreement.

In addition to these changes, numerous changes were made to remove minor annoying malfunctions, slowdowns, etc.

Remaining Known Problems

A. TIFF and JPEG files have some tags not in ascending numerical order, in violation of the standards, which may provoke a complaint from some image reading software. Most programs do not care.

B. JPEG/EXIF files saved from PhotoPro v1.0 that showed a correct date/time in v1.0 PhotoPro actually have a wrong date/time tag in the file, due to confusions about time zones, so will show wrong date/time in v1.1.

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