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Sigma Photo Pro

The SD9 is quite a different beast, those who had experience of Kodak's DCS digital SLR's in the late 90's will be used to not having in-camera JPEG / TIFF, however in the last couple of years we haven't seen a single digital SLR which can't shoot straight to JPEG. No doubt quite a few people will see this as a major limitation, certainly for field photographers who need to quickly transmit images over relatively slow communications links it's going to be a show stopper.

That said it's clear that Foveon have taken a strong 'RAW is best' approach, weighing heavily on the fact that RAW is the only true digital negative (unmodified data straight from the sensor), that it provides the best archive format and that it allows for flexibility and future improvements in computer based RAW conversion (we don't need to give you a firmware update, just download the latest version of Photo Pro).

The Photo Pro application provided with the SD9 is the only tool currently available which can view / manipulate / convert the SD9's X3F RAW files. Photo Pro is clearly a Foveon development, it has elements which have a similar look and feel to their previous studio camera software. It's also clear that Foveon know a fair amount about how the photographer works with his/her images once back at the computer, and Photo Pro is very good at that task.

Captures below from the Windows version of Sigma Photo Pro running on Windows XP, the software is provided for both Windows and Macintosh operating systems.

Browser / File manager

Here you can see the main image browsing window, from here you can navigate through images on your computer or on the camera (if connected). You can browse X3F (X3 RAW), JPEG or TIFF images, you can of course filter out and just see X3F images if you prefer.

As you can see the user interface is slightly unconventional, it looks like a Windows user interface but doesn't work like one (there's no right-click support). You can multi-select using SHIFT-click and CTRL-click, you can also drag and drop images to move them to other folders however there's no capability for creating folders. You can mark, lock, delete and rotate images either one by one or as a selected group. The browser UI can at times feel 'clunky', especially when deleting images which seems to take an age.

In this mode their are four different thumbnail size / information options.

Small thumbnails Medium thumbnails
Large thumbnails Thumbnails with detail

Selected images can be 'Reviewed' (viewed full screen with the ability to adjust) or saved by clicking on the 'Save Images As...' button. One thing you can't do in batch is modify white balance, the only setting which is actually stored in the X3F file. It would also be nice to be able to apply previously saved adjustment settings to selected or marked images rather than having to be selective about your processing (see below).

Save Images As...

Clicking on 'Save Images As' displays the dialog box shown below. You can process all images in the folder, marked images or selected images. Adjustments can be default, auto or a previously saved custom adjustment set. Images can be output at the same, half or double size in a variety of color spaces (sRGB, Adobe RGB, Apple RGB, Colormatch RGB) and you can choose from TIFF (8/16-bit) or JPEG (EXIF/JFIF) formats.

Information window

Another option at the browser stage is to display the information window, this can be positioned beside the browser and will display detailed shooting information for the selected image (as shown below).

Review mode (Single image adjustment)

Double click on an X3F file from the browser to enter 'Review' mode. This is the main mode for adjustment of individual images or the creation of adjustment sets. Here the Review window is shown Adjustment window shown on the left (click on 'Adjustment Controls' to show / hide this window).

The absolutely best thing about Review mode (and credit for this must go to Foveon) is the instant feedback design. Change any Adjustment and as you drag the slider the image in the Review window instantly changes, this is invaluable and will change the way you work with digital images. Gone are the long and tedious delays of some other RAW converters, Foveon really know how us digital-shutterbugs like to work with our images. Oh, and the histogram is also great it provides R,G,B as well as luminance information and also updates instantly.

Note that you can enable a Magnification Loupe (as above) which allows you to inspect an area of the image under the mouse cursor at a choice of magnifications (although obviously 100% is most useful). This is smooth and fast and keeps up with mouse movements instantly. It also provides a readout of the RGB value at the mouse position. What a simple, neat solution, now why haven't Adobe done this in Photoshop?

Adjustments

Shown on the left above is the Adjustment window. You can opt for Default conversion (straight out of the camera), Auto where the software decides things like exposure compensation, contrast etc. (based on the histogram) or you can manually adjust any of the settings to produce a Custom Adjustment (which can be saved and reused).

  • Exposure (EV compensation +/- 2.0 in 0.1 EV steps)
  • Contrast (+/-2.0 in 0.1 steps)
  • Shadow (+/-2.0 in 0.1 steps)
  • Highlight (+/-2.0 in 0.1 steps)
  • Saturation (+/-2.0 in 0.1 steps)
  • Sharpness (+/-2.0 in 0.1 steps)
  • Color Adjustment (CMY balance adjustment)

I'll be examining each one of these in more detail on the next pages of this review.

White Balance

One other setting which isn't described above is white balance, you can change the image white balance by selecting the appropriate menu option or pressing CTRL+B. This displays the white balance selection window (see below), when white balance is changed it is saved back into the X3F file, this is the only setting which is tied to the individual image. As I noted above it's a shame you can't do this in the browser window. It's also a shame that adjustment settings aren't memorized on an individual image basis.

It's worth noting that in addition to selecting the nearest white balance you can also fine tune this by applying a color adjustment, this is simply a case of placing the eyedropper over a grey or white area of the image and clicking, Photo Pro will calculate the correct color adjustment to ensure perfect white balance.

Exposure Warning Indication

The Adjustment window also allows you to enable under / over exposure warnings. When enabled any area of the image which exceeds the maximum warning level (250 default) is shown in red, any area of the image which is lower than the minimum warning level (10 default) is shown in blue. As you can see below there are areas of the bridge in this deliberately 'pushed' image which exceed the maximum warning level and that the boat in the foreground may be under exposed or so dark it is loosing detail. You can change the minimum / maximum warning levels at will.

Warnings Not Shown Warnings Shown
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