If you'd asked me prior to the fp's announcement which company was going to produce the world's smallest full frame camera, and one with some pretty serious video capabilities, I'm not sure Sigma would have been my first guess. But the specs made it look very tempting indeed.

Key Takeaways:

  • Powerful feature set in compact, adaptable body
  • Good selection of tools for video making
  • 8-bit footage with no Log option (or low-contrast mode) for non-Raw shooters
  • User interface has some oddities: no direct access to ISO setting, under-utilized touchscreen
  • Cine/Stills switch makes it easy to change shooting modes but most settings carry-over, demanding careful re-configuring as you change

We grabbed the fp to see how it would behave for a short (and suitably socially distanced) video project, to see how much Sigma has been able to get right, the first time. These are our first impressions based on that time spent shooting, and as this isn't a review, we haven't looked at all the major features just yet. But this is what we found:

What it gets right

The most obvious thing the fp gets right is its basic concept: a tiny video module (that can also take nice stills) stripped back to its core functions so that it can be adapted suit all manner of situations.

To deliver on this underlying idea, a lot of work has clearly been done to provide the features that videographers will want. For a start, there is a waveform display that provides a hugely useful way to assess exposure within a scene, and one that videographers will be familiar with.

The waveform display at the lower right of the screen is a valuable exposure tool.

Then there's the option to report exposure time as shutter angle, rather than shutter speed. The actual terminology can appear somewhat esoteric when you first encounter it, but even without worrying about what specific 'angles' might mean, it means you can easily change the frame rate you're shooting at without having to adjust the exposure time to match.

Perhaps the defining feature of the camera is its ability to record CinemaDNG files
to an external SSD

The way the zebra exposure warnings are handled will also be familiar to users of higher-end video gear: the fp gives you a choice of using zebras to indicate highlights (ie: indicate the areas exposed at 95% or brighter) or to monitor a specific exposure region (ie shot areas exposed as 70% with an adjustable tolerance level on either side). All of these are key videography tools.

Fins around the edge of the LCD hint at how the fp manages the heat, despite its compact size.

But perhaps the defining feature of the camera is its ability to record CinemaDNG files to an external SSD. There are some drawbacks to this: CinemaDNG can be a bit of a handful and isn't especially widely supported and, like the Nikon Z6, the footage is sub-sampled to keep the data sizes manageable, increasing the risk of moire. But it lets the fp output files that are more gradable than Log footage without requiring investment in any unusual card formats.

CinemaDNG wasn't a good fit for this particular project but we intend to look more closely at the results in future.

What's a bit odd

If you turn on zebras and focus peaking, the zebras don't appear to work. It turns out you can't have them both at the same time, so zebras simply don't appear.

You can easily work around this by defining custom displays modes, one of which has focus peaking turned off. This let me configure a manual focus display mode and an exposure display mode, that I could switch between as I prepared each shot, which is a pleasant-enough way of working. But modes like this aren't set up by default and nothing on the camera makes it obvious that turning on focus peaking is going to over-ride the zebra settings.

The menus themselves are laid-out in a fairly straight-forward manner

The menus themselves are pretty well laid out, with a Canon-esque horizontal array of pages, broken up into three, color-coded tabbed sections. Vertical tabs tend to be a little faster to navigate but the fp lets you scroll the front dial to jump between pages, so it's all pretty quick. There's no option to jump between tabs, though.

The bigger problem (for me, at least) is the camera's handling of sub-menus. If you go into a sub-menu page there's not much of a visual indication that you're no longer in the main menus (and hence need to press 'Menu' to retreat back up a level).

Configuring custom display modes is the easiest way to gain access to both focus peaking and zebra exposure warnings

Also, given the camera's willingness to stream data to an external drive, I was surprised there's no option to power the camera from an external battery if you need to record for extended periods. You can top the battery up between shots but the camera insists on communicating with anything connected to the USB port while it's powered on.

Then there are a few of bugs (or, at least, oddities). For instance, if you set a manual white balance, the camera will continue to add on any fine tune values that you'd applied to its previous setting, meaning your new white balance will be off by whatever correction you last used. The camera also seems to turn focus peaking off if left switched off for a while.

The fp also carries most settings (exposure mode, aperture value, shutter speed, WB and color mode) across from stills to video mode, which can entail a lot of re-configuring if you switch between the two. Using the shutter angle option creates a distinct video-only setting, so you don't accidentally carry fast shutter speeds across to video mode.

What it gets wrong

The single biggest omission I have found on the fp is the inability to adjust ISO using one of the dials. I tend to shoot manually, fix the shutter angle and use a combination of aperture value and ISO to adjust the look of my footage. There's no easy way to do this, which feels like a fundamental shortcoming.

The dials only control shutter angle and aperture, with no option to reconfigure that, meaning you can't adjust ISO on the fly. ISO is available in the QS menu, but this means you can't see your exposure tools (waveforms or zebras) as you're making adjustments.

The QS menu can be customized but it's not touch-sensitive, and some sub-options require a complex combination of button presses and dial operation

On the subject of the QS menu, it's disappointing that both this and the menu menus are not touch sensitive. Tapping on the option you want to change is much quicker than using the four-way controller to navigate. Similarly, just being able to tap between the three main tabbed sections of the menu would be faster than having to scroll though all the individual pages.

The other feature I found myself really missing was the option to shoot Log, to provide a middle-ground between the CinemaDNG output and the standard color modes. There's no 10-bit gamma-encoded (non-Raw) modes, so your choices are 8-bit H.264 or Raw. There are some interesting color modes provided (Cine and Teal & Orange) in particular but they all have pretty aggressive tone curves, even with contrast turned down: there's no out-of-the-box equivalent of Fujifilm's lovely, low-contrast Eterna mode or Panasonic's Cinelike-D.

Sigma has promised a significant firmware update, so we're hoping some of these issues can be addressed at that time. Sigma has announced a list of functions that will be added with firmware V2.0 but hasn't detailed any operational changes, so we hold out hope.

At the end of the project

Shooting early in the morning to avoid encountering people meant the need to just grab shots and keep moving, something which the fp's modest size and weight really contributed to. Having spent a couple of days familiarizing myself with the camera, I'd become pretty adept at manipulating the QS/AEL/dial combinations needed to change key settings (though apparently not so familiar that I didn't accidentally knock the camera into the wrong color mode just before starting).

Note the balancing point is roughly in the middle of the lens: the front elements of the 24mm F1.4 weigh nearly as much as the fp body does.

This rather short video, shot outdoors in around 50°F (10°C) conditions didn't present any temperature challenges for the fp and the roughly ten minutes of footage wasn't enough to assess battery capacity, but there was nothing to give cause for concern during the time the camera was in use.

It feels like Sigma has tried to address a videographers’ wishlist but doesn't yet have the experience to make it as slick as it could be

As anticipated, I found that a touch-sensitive QS menu and the ability to adjust ISO on-the-fly would help hugely, as would some more forgiving color/tone modes.

My overriding impression is that it feels like Sigma has tried to address a videographers’ wishlist but perhaps doesn’t yet have the experience in video to make the implementation as elegant as it could be. But Sigma has promised a major firmware update. And it's also apparent that there's a lot of capability crammed into the fp, even before exploring one of its defining features by shooting Raw footage.