Musings on the Quattro sensor . . .

Started Aug 29, 2014 | Discussions thread
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Scottelly Veteran Member • Posts: 8,688
Musings on the Quattro sensor . . .

To me, for Sigma to produce a 20 MP sensor that makes blue skies SO clean (no visible noise), while maintaining the size at APS-C, it seems obvious that the Quattro design is to be applauded. How much difference can it (the Quattro design) make to the level of photon shot noise captured in pixels? I don't know, but those blue skies I'm seeing sure look clean, and the resolution of the Quattro vs. Merrill seems higher to me, and the noise appears to be lower or the same as what we saw in the lower-resolution Merrill sensor, so I'm quite impressed, and now I see a path for Sigma to take the Foveon sensors in the future, considering how there are 24 MP sensors the same size, and considering that a full-frame Quattro sensor could hold 39 MP on the top layer of the sensor, which would be perfect for 8K screens (and 4K screens, by down-sizing to "Half size" or 50% horizontal and vertical), yet it would/could still have the same noise characteristics that the current APS-C Quattro sensor has, while doubling the MP count from today's sensor. Could Quattro be the answer to a new APS-C sensor with the ability to produce usable 30 MP images? Maybe the Quattro design is the step that will allow Sigma to continue increasing resolution over the next few years, while retaining the APS-C sensor size.

This early in Quattro production I'm glad to see such performance - we've now had a chance to view dozens, if not hundreds of raw samples, use multiple updated versions of SPP, and see how the sensor performs on bright sunny days, cloudy days, dark nights, indoors, etc. The Quattro cameras first came out at the beginning of the summer, right? Now we're at the end of that summer, and in just a few weeks the Quattro has gone from being a brand new sensor to what I would consider a proven sensor. Of course there is certainly more do be done. For instance, I think we will see another firmware update or two over the next few months, but I think now we can really get a good idea of what the sensor is capable. I've been seeing some pretty spectacular results. No, it's not a huge leap from the previous sensor, like that sensor was from the sensor before it . . . but the Quattro is something drastically new, and I think Sigma may have decided to err on the side of caution (if they erred at all). I think they made an adjustment to their resolution standard at the same time. I think they're matching the screens out there now (in a manner of thinking). Today's S-Hi mode fits 8K screens perfectly . . . and it fits 4K screens with a 50% reduction of horizontal resolution. To me, that's something worth noting.

I'm not saying I'm ready to jump on the Quattro band wagon with a purchase yet (though in the past I have stated my next Sigma camera would probably be a Quattro). I might still buy a Merrill camera before I get a Quattro. I think I'll wait for the DP3 Quattro or maybe even the Quattro DSLR, before I buy a Quattro camera, but it seems to me that the Quattro is a winner and a real upgrade, if only a slight one. I guess only time will tell how much of an upgrade it really is, but the future looks very promising, from the early results I've been seeing so far.

My feeling at the moment is that people might gradually change their minds about the purity of the Merrill sensor, and we may see an end to the 1:1:1 Foveon design. In some ways I hope this is not the case, because I feel a little nostalgic about that sensor design. But if the Quattro design is indeed better, producing lower noise, while maintaining the true detail of the scene, there is really no need for another Merrill sensor. Still, I'd like to see Sigma make a full-frame Merrill sensor to match the resolution of a full-frame Quattro sensor.

THAT would be something, wouldn't it? There could be a battle of titans . . . a 58.5 MP full-frame Quattro vs. a 117 MP full-frame Merrill (39x3) both producing 39 MP "same size" images. Unfortunately I doubt we will see such a battle ever happen. I can't see Sigma making two almost identical performers like that. It would be cool though.

There is an advantage that Quattro has over the Merrill - an advantage I think has rarely, if ever, been discussed here before. It's a perception thing. It has to do with what people see as "claimed" resolution. Today's Quattro is a 29 MP sensor. That's what Sigma calls it, and the truth of the numbers is that the sensor has that many photo-sites. It's important that people believe that the sensor is capable of producing images that the sensor resolution number is perceived to claim. The Quattro sensor performs better than its number claims, and I like that. This is the first time that Foveon sensors can be taken seriously, when their actual sensor "megapixel number" is used to describe them. Now when Sigma makes a sensor with 40 or 50 or 60 megapixels, nobody will say it doesn't have that resolution. In fact, people will say that the Sigma sensors capture more detail than their MP number suggests, which may become an advantage that will help make up for the not-so-good high-ISO color performance of Foveon sensors.

Yes, it's a perception thing . . . but perception is important, isn't it? It matters to me that in the future there will be cameras with a Foveon sensor. I guess if Fuji makes a four-color X-Trans sensor that blows away everything else on the market, and I can make better photos that hold more detail with one of those, I would probably end up buying a camera with one of those Fuji sensor designs. So maybe it doesn't matter. But I think that the more sensors there are out there, the better it is for photographers. Competition is a good thing, right? (Well . . . that's USUALLY the way it goes.)

Some day we might see a radically new sensor come on the market . . . something truly different. I can't imagine what it might be, but it would not surprise me if we see in in the next few years. Some would say the Quattro IS THAT SENSOR. Frankly, I wouldn't argue. After-all, it's truly something new, never seen before, right? Could we be witnessing the beginning of a revolution?

With the introduction of Canon's split-pixel sensor design and the Foveon Quattro sensor design, could we be seeing just the first few different sensors in a whole range of different sensor designs that will be coming on the market in the near future? Could Quattro be a big part of that? I think it's possible, and I think the Quattro design will go down in history as an innovation worth noting . . . the first one in the Foveon world since the invention of the multi-layer sensor. Quattro really is BIG . . . now that we can be sure it really works.

 Scottelly's gear list:Scottelly's gear list
Olympus TG-860 Sony SLT-A65 Sigma SD1 Merrill Sony DT 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 SAM Tamron SP AF 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5 Di II LD Aspherical (IF) +14 more
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