Conclusion - Pros
- The best resolution per output pixel we've ever seen, X3 lives up to the hype
- The first digital camera to offer true single pixel resolution, goes beyond Nyquist frequency
- Resolution of enlarged images virtually indistinguishable from six megapixel Bayer D-SLR
- Relatively good tonal balance although default curve can be a little contrasty
- Color accurate if a little under-saturated, especially foliage greens
- Good automatic white balance, pre-programmed WB settings work well
- Nice channel split histogram, can magnify in histogram mode
- Undelete feature (recover last image deleted)
- Fast operation, good startup / operation time, slightly slow CF write performance
- Auto focus relatively fast, worked well even in lower light levels
- Sigma Photo Pro RAW conversion software is superb, lots of adjustment and all in real-time
- Firewire (IEEE 1394) and USB connectivity
- Well designed LCD cover (allows access to delete button)
- Easy to understand control layout
- Dust protector
- IBM Microdrive compatible
- Once familiar the sports finder is useful, especially horizontal / vertical alignment
Conclusion - Cons
- No in-camera JPEG, storage implications of shooting RAW
- Color clipping / gray halos - not clear if a sensor or Photo Pro issue
- Unnatural blue skies / chromatic aberration sensitivity - linked problems?
- Disappointing long exposure performance
- Limited sensitivity, some softness at higher ISO, noise higher in red hues
- Long exposures limited to one second at ISO 200 and 400
- Half-stop exposure compensation / adjustment can feel limiting
- Awkward power solution (two different sets of batteries)
- Heavier and bulkier than some of the competition (although never feels too big)
- Sigma QC should ensure no dust on sensor from factory
- Continuous shooting rate limited to 2 frames per second at Hi resolution
- No onboard PC Sync flash socket (req. optional adapter)
- Photo Pro JPEG output quality issue
- First of a kind
Foveon (a previously not-so-well-known technology company) and Sigma (never before produced a digital camera) have had the guts and innovation to come to a very aggressive and critical market with a totally new concept in digital image capture. They have made the first step in what must be seen as a revolution in digital photography.
Nobody can doubt that the X3 sensor is capable of doing much of what the hype promised, capture single pixel resolution, single pixel color. Indeed, in our tests it managed to perform beyond our expectations in matching the EOS-D60 for resolution. Time after time you find yourself opening images in Photo Pro, gliding the magnifying loupe over the preview and gasping at the incredible detail this camera can 'see'.
Always shooting RAW requires a change of mindset, most other digital SLR's provide image parameter control in-camera, this means you shoot a virtually finished image (JPEG) which is ready to use as soon as you can transfer it to a computer. Digital photography with the SD9 is a two stage process, firstly the photographic step of actually taking the shot, then processing each image. Thankfully the supplied Photo Pro software is excellent at this. At first you think you will simply process all your images with 'Default' or 'Auto' settings but soon the application draws you in to experimenting with its flexibility and you realize how much can be achieved with this tool. Foveon deserve credit for this software alone.
That's not to say this "first of a kind" isn't without its problems. Sensitivity is limited and image sharpness and color response seem to drop off at higher ISO's. More serious is the tendency to clip color in a highlight, something I've described as "color clipping" and "gray halos". At this stage it's unclear if this is a sensor issue, a Photo Pro processing issue or a combination of the two. We're hoping Sigma / Foveon will be able to issue some kind of fix on this issue. For the time being shooting carefully so as to avoid overexposure is the key.
The future success or otherwise of the X3 sensor depends on Foveon's abilities to address these issues and to continue to strive forwards with development. Sigma should be proud of the SD9 and what it's capable of, but my hope and the hope of many other photographers is that the other major camera manufacturers will now take steps to evaluate the Foveon X3 for themselves.
So which one should I buy? A question I get asked several times a day, and I wouldn't like to say. In a new addition to my reviews (after the amount of feedback I normally get) I've added a link to a specific forum in which you can discuss the review or ask me specific questions which I've not answered in these pages.