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Sigma FP Review

Introduction

Initially released in the fall of 2019, Sigma’s FP (Fortissimo Pianissimo) brings high-level functionality into the world’s most compact body. The FP is Sigma’s first full-frame cinema camera. And weighing under a single pound, it holds steadfast as the smallest and lightest pocketable full-frame camera released thus far. Yet, one that aims to be a highly customizable platform perfect to suit a broad demographic of users.

On paper, it marks the first interchangeable lens camera that offers 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW recording, a full-time electronic shutter, and much more. So despite the otherwise compact body, this camera provides enough performance to meet the needs of serious productions. And it comes to market to compete with Panasonic’s S1, Sony’s A7 III, Black Magic’s Pocket 4K, Nikon’s Z6, and Canon’s EOS R. In today’s post, we address its strengths and weaknesses and answer whether it is the ultimate run & gun cinema camera.

editors-choice-badge

“Full-frame, pocket-friendly, but quite RAW.”

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sigma FP? 

Pros:

Image Quality

It features a 24.6MP full-frame BSI CMOS sensor without an Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF). And the images this camera produces are excellent, closely matching several Leica Q, SL, and M series cameras. It’s 14-bit DNG (RAW) images have ample detail, accurate rendering, and 12.5 stops of dynamic range, allowing you to recover information at 3-stops underexposed. And the removal of the OLPF helps to capitalize on the true power of this sensor.

Sigma-FP-camera-specs

 

It obtains the Fill Light option, a feature typically reserved for their Photo Pro development software. This particular option uses fill light to adjust an image’s brightness by lightening the shadows without increasing the highlights’ exposure. And it gives users more control to produce well balanced high dynamic range images. Sigma’s also expanded the adjustment range to ±5.0 EV stops.

Interestingly, Sigma’s opted to remove the traditional mechanical shutter. Instead, they’ve gone forth with a full-time electronic shutter, simplifying the camera’s design, removing shutter shock, and improving long-term reliability. And it also enables the camera to offer continuous shooting speeds of 18 FPS, silently, without a blackout. And the buffer depth is modest at 14 RAW or 18 JPEG before slowing.

Video Quality

It shoots 4K UHD 30p and 1080p Full HD video up to 120p to the MOV format via the H.264 codec with 4:2:2 8-bit color. The camera also offers the higher-end All-I (Intra) compression, which shoots at 440 Mbps, to maintain image quality and prioritizes post-processing flexibility. Or standard Long GOP compression, which shoots at 120 Mbps, prioritizing file size and maximizes recording time. The main highlight feature, however, is the debut of 12-bit 4K UHD 30p CinemaDNG RAW recording, available internally or externally via HDMI—more on this below.

The camera itself produces 4K by downsampling from a 6K readout, creating an uncropped video. And the video quality it makes is excellent and arguably class-leading at this price point. Even when not using the CinemaDNG RAW format, the standard 8-bit 4K 30p footage has enormous detail and plenty of latitude in dynamic range.

Note: The maximum recording time of a single clip is two hours, even if there’s enough free space to record for longer.

The camera also offers the CINE Mode, transforming it with special functions comparable to a professional cinema camera. Namely, it changes shutter speed to shutter angle, aperture to iris, and it enables waveforms for exposure or color. And it’s an excellent option for filmmakers who are already used to working with these functions.

Note: the lowest ISO for CINE is ISO 100, so you will still need ND filters if you want to shoot wide-open outdoors.

You can start movie recordings even when in the STILL mode. And the camera records the movie based on the settings configured in the Recording Settings.

You can also capture stills during video recordings, recorded as JPEG Fine but vary based on the resolution configured.

It has zebras for highlight clipping indication, which you can adjust to showcase highlights or exposure levels. The camera also offers Waveforms to gauge the brightness level of a given location.

Firmware version 2.0 brings along HDR movie support, which combines two frames of different exposures into a single video with a greater dynamic range.

It features built-in Time Code, and you can adjust the relevant settings via the menus.

But easily, the main highlight in this regard is that the FP now becomes the first compact interchangeable lens camera (ILC) to support 12-bit RAW recording. And the camera shoots 12-bit 4K 30p at 2980 Mbps and 1080p 100p at 2530 Mbps. Shooting in this format delivers uncompressed video, which provides unrivaled flexibility in post-processing that’s currently unmatched amongst compact ILCs. However, to shoot to this format, an external recorder or portable SSD is recommended. Otherwise, you’ll only get 8-bit 4K 24p or 12-bit 1080p 60p video. Firmware version 2.0 also brings about in-camera DNG playback. And it also now supports the Atomos Ninja V and the Blackmagic Video Assist recorders.

Note: Sigma recommends the Samsung T5 1TB or 2TB SSD drives for external recording media.
Note: Firmware Version 2.0 also brings BlackMagic RAW or ProRes RAW codecs via the micro HDMI port, reducing file size and increasing compatibility.

The camera can also act as a webcam via USB.

Low Light Performance

It features a native ISO range from ISO 100 to 25,600, further expandable to a low setting of ISO 6 and a high of 102,400. And low light performance is excellent for the class. Users can easily expect usable images up to ISO 12,800 or 25,600 with minimal processing.

Note: The LOW ISO Expansion ISO of 6 only works for stills. And this feature takes multiple images sequentially and combines them to produce better gradations and less noise. Since it stitches the images in-camera, it’s not ideal for moving subjects, as misalignments will occur. Nevertheless, it allows you to shoot in some circumstances without having to attach an external ND filter, as it provides a 4-stop reduction in overall exposure. And it does help expand the general usability and versatility of this camera for photographers.
Note: Firmware version 2.0 brings a dual base ISO of 100 and 3,200, improving low light image quality when working above ISO 3,200. And it does so by using dual gain channels for better signal optimization.

Focusing Performance

For focus, it uses a 49-point contrast-detection AF system with Face and Eye-detection and AF support down to – 5EV. This 49-point system is likely from the Panasonic GX9, G95, or similar. But, it’s not identical, as it provides modestly better low light acquisition.

Even so, the camera performs effectively for stills. And the tracking works well, so long as the subject remains within the frame and doesn’t move sporadically. However, it’s not well-suited for long-term continuous tracking, particularly if the subject moves away, turns profile, or wears accessories. We will cover these particular findings in the cons section below.

It offers the Focus Limiter, which limits the focusing range to improve AF speed.

The camera also offers focus peaking, MF Display scale (for compatible lenses), and MF magnification for manual focusing.

Battery Performance

It uses the BP-51 battery, and battery life is good considering this is a compact cinema camera. Sigma rates the camera to deliver 280 shots per change or approximately 70 minutes of continuous recording.

The camera does also support charging via USB when powered off. So you can charge it while not in use on location.

Display & Viewfinder

It features a 3.15-inch touchscreen LCD with a resolution of 2.1M dots and 100% coverage over the imaging area. The display itself is sharp, detailed, accurate, and bright enough to use outdoors without glare. And the touchscreen supports various touch gestures, touch AF, touch focus, pinch to zoom, and swiping in playback.

Note: You can also adjust both the brightness and white balance of the rear display.

User Interface

The user interface itself is straightforward and well-designed. Sigma’s organized all of the Main Menu’s key items into the Shoot, Play, and System page hierarchies. From there, each item is broken into applicable sub-menus or relevant second-level pages. Overall, new users shouldn’t find mastering this interface particularly difficult or overly cumbersome. The menus aren’t unreasonably deep, and the settings displayed are relevant and well thought out. And previous Sigma users will find them equally as intuitive and simple to navigate.

The camera also offers independent interfaces individually optimized for stills and video. Each mode has separate UI’s, control systems, and a display that shows relevant functions. The Setup menu also varies based on the position of the CINE/Stills switch. Overall, this separation is well-executed on Sigma’s part, as it makes it easy to access and change mode-specific settings.

The back AEL Button is customizable and functions as an LV magnification button and various AE settings.

The camera offers three Custom Mode Settings, accessible by the Mode button, allowing you to recall full shooting setups.

It features the QS (Quick Set) button, which recalls the QS menu. The QS menu acts as a quick menu for your most used camera functions, where eight total functions are accessible. And you can customize it to your liking via the System menu to any of 38 different settings.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

Physically, at only 307g body alone, this is currently the smallest and lightest full-frame camera released to date. And it’s quite a feat to see any manufacturer accomplish this, considering most full-frame cameras typically weigh around 600-750g. In size, this camera even outcompetes most APS-C cameras. Instead, it matches several smaller 1-inch equipped cameras, such as the Sony ZV-1. And given its size, it’s arguably the ultimate solution for traveling creators or to mount on a drone, crash cam, or a vehicle.

The design itself follows a minimalistic approach, with a handsome sleek finish and form factor matching the Fujifilm X100V and Leica Q2. And the camera’s design is very unobtrusive, direct, with a focus on functionality and getting the job done. Gone are any unnecessary buttons and ports. Instead, it provides the essentials to simplify workflow.

Internally, the camera uses a die-cast aluminum front and rear panel to improve the structural rigidity while keeping it lightweight. And it also has a 42-point seal, making it thoroughly dust and splash-proof. Additionally, Sigma made great leaps in heat dissipation. With this release, they added a large heat sink, inspired by larger cinema cameras, between the LCD and exterior chassis. And they’ve also coupled this design with a dissipation coating, which together makes the camera highly effective at reducing the heat generated by 12-bit RAW videos. So, you should find that it overheats in most circumstances.

Overall, the physical design of this camera is excellent and closely matches the pricier Leica Q2. It’s very robust, hefty, and it feels quite substantial, despite its light footprint.

The camera also features several 1/4-20″ threads, two for the strap holders on each side of the body and one below for the tripod. These extra threads provide more flexibility in how you mount the camera or attach cages and accessories.

It features the Tone & Color Control Modes, with dedicated buttons for accessing each. Tapping the TONE button recalls the Tone Control menu, allowing you to adjust the in-camera tone curve. While tapping the COLOR button recalls the Color Mode menu, with 12 selectable profiles. And this camera now becomes the first in Sigma’s line to debut an effect slider, which allows you to adjust the effect between 11 levels from -5 to +5. Together, these options give you more fine-tune control over the camera’s color and contrast settings.

It features a dedicated record button to begin recording quickly.

It features dual adjustment wheels to control shutter speed and aperture.

It has a dedicated CINE and Stills toggle to switch between each mode.

Niche Features/Extras

It has a USB-C port, which supports USB 3.1 Gen1 speeds, bus power for SSDs, and charging when the camera’s powered off.

It uses a Micro-HDMI Type-D port. While this isn’t the preferred size, it’s understandable here, given the camera’s size.

It has a microphone input, which also doubles as the release terminal.

It has an SD card slot that supports UHS-II class cards.

It has a tally lamp.

It features electronic image stabilization (EIS), which takes advantage of the electronic shutter to reduce handshake. But like all EIS based systems, it results in a crop. In this case, a mild 2.5% for stills and approximately 1.2x for video.

Note: Enabling this feature limits the maximum shutter to 1/4000 seconds.

It has the DC Crop Mode, which applies a 1.5x APS-C (Super35) crop to the frame. It’s a useful option if you want to extend the reach of your lens.

It has HDR for both stills and videos. And it uses the electronic shutter to take three frames of different exposures for stills or two videos by doubling the frame rate. And the camera then combines them into a single image with greater dynamic range.

It has several bracketing options, including Exposure (AE), White Balance (WB), Fill Light, Focus, and Color Mode bracketing.

It offers several lens compensations, including Distortion, Lateral Chromatic Aberration, Diffraction, Vignetting, and Color Shading compensation.

It has a bulb mode, with a maximum of 5 minutes or 300 seconds, at which point the shutter automatically closes.

It offers bonus aspect ratios, including 21:9, the wider cinema format, and 7:6 to replicate film.

It has a built-in interval-timer for time-lapses.

It has in-camera image marking. And the camera transfers these ratings to Sigma Photo Pro.

With the optional DC connection (CN-21), you can power the camera indefinitely from a V-mount battery, which helps film for extended periods.

It features the Director’s Viewfinder Function. It’s an interesting feature that helps users simulate different angles of view of various cinema cameras, such as the ARRI ALEXA and RED MONSTRO. But, it also supports several film cameras and several anamorphic lenses. And you can now capture both stills and videos in this mode and de-squeeze anamorphic lenses with Firmware version 2.0.

It features in-camera Cinemagraph, which are animations that fall as a hybrid between still images and video. In many ways, these cinemagraphs create in-camera GIFs, where some parts are still while others move. But, it’s a unique function that produces a distinct result that creates an animation. And you can not only make them. But, you can also play them back in-camera.

It has built-in DNG development, allowing you to adjust exposure compensation, WB, image quality, color mode, and more.

It obtains the Teal & Orange Mode, replicating the popular color grading style of many Hollywood films. And this option is available for both the CINE and stills modes.

This camera leverages the L-Mount, initially launched in 2018 with the L-Mount alliance. This particular design’s benefit is that it is optimized explicitly for mirrorless cameras and offers a shorter flange distance. And with this alliance comes the support of not only Sigma glass but also Leica and Panasonic. In total, users have 56 native lenses across their entire ecosystem. And dozens more across Panasonic and Leica. And this sheer versatility ultimately becomes a key selling point over rivals.

Cons:

Image Performance

The choice to use a full-time electronic shutter has its disadvantages. Namely, it creates uneven exposures and banding under flickering light sources, as the camera lacks anti-flickering. Thus, you’ll see streaks within the frame and potential changes to white balance. Therefore, you’ll want to use a slower shutter speed to combat this. Additionally, the electronic shutter will cause distortion and rolling shutter when shooting fast-moving subjects, as the camera’s quite susceptible to this artifact. This is primarily because the sensor doesn’t have a fast scan rate, so you’ll see skewing in both stills and videos. Overall, beware and stay cognizant of these facts beforehand, as it can be quite distracting depending on the scene.

The camera’s fastest flash sync speed is 1/30 seconds, which drops to 1/15 seconds when shooting 14-bit RAW photos. So it’s not the right choice if you rely on using strobes or external flash units.

Video Capabilities

It lacks any real log profiles. Instead, the only options here are using the TONE Mode, adjusting the curves, and turning off the color profile modes. Even so, shooting outdoors in highly contrasting scenes will likely result in a loss of dynamic range unless you use the appropriate lens filters. Otherwise, the only real way to bypass this is by using an external recorder or an SSD to shoot CinemaDNG RAW.

The camera doesn’t offer 10-bit color in any compression format outside of CinemaDNG. With that, you’re stuck with only 8-bit color. And this may be a slight disappointment for some wanting the extra color information, but not the added file size or hassle of RAW video.

This is more of a note, but with such high data rates, expect to use an external SSD with this camera, particularly if you desire to record CinemaDNG footage. As even the fastest UHS-II cards on the market will fill after only a few seconds of footage and terminate recording.

Strangely, zebras stripes don’t work while recording. Instead, you can only adjust the relevant settings via the menus to gauge exposure. Then use that as your reference.

Autofocus Performance

With only 49 contrast AF points, continuous autofocusing performance is slow, sluggish, sporadic, and unreliable for video recordings. However, considering the demographic Sigma aims for this camera, it’s unlikely these users rely on autofocusing. And the camera does offer the full selection of manual focusing aids to make focus pulling a breeze. Thankfully, it’s conceivable to improve and refine the algorithms via firmware updates, as is the case with several Panasonic cameras that employ a similar AF system. But, until then, if you rely on autofocusing when recording videos, consider another camera. Save the autofocusing for still shooting instead.

Display

The camera lacks an electronic viewfinder, which creates several contention points depending on your use case. Namely, if you plan on using this camera as a hybrid, you will find it quite difficult to use when shooting at high or low angles. And you’ll have to guess when composing images. For some, that, in particular, will ultimately become a deal-breaker. However, it’s unlikely the target user will find these problematic, as they’ll likely use external monitors.

The rear display does not support touch menu navigation or settings adjustment by the quick settings menu, which is a shame.

Ergonomics

For hybrid shooters, you may find the size and handling to be quite uncomfortable and a disadvantage. The optional handgrip accessories do improve the handling quite substantially. But, even so, if you have large hands, it’ll likely be uncomfortable, particularly with longer zoom lenses. And given its small form factor, it’s not ideal for long handheld photography outings. Ultimately, this camera is best suited within a larger rig.

It lacks an AF joystick.

Besides the AEL button, the camera lacks any dedicated, customizable buttons. So you’ll have to rely on the QS menu.

Lacking Features

It lacks built-in panorama, so you’ll have to capture these images manually.

Due to its size, it lacks a built-in hot shoe. Instead, Sigma supplies the HU-11 Hot Shoe Unit with purchase. And attaching this unit provides a hot shoe. Interestingly, the HU-11 also comes with an HDMI cable lock that prevents the cable from disconnecting, which is a helpful and thoughtful touch.

The camera lacks in-body image stabilization. Instead, you’ll have to use optically stabilized lenses or electronic stabilization. But, it’s vital to know EIS doesn’t work when recording CinemaDNG. So, you’ll have to take a hit by recording in another codec or rely on a stabilized rig or optically stabilized lens.

The camera lacks continuous USB charging. Instead, you’ll have to purchase the SAC-7P AC adapter for continuous power.

Due to its size, it lacks a built-in flash.

It lacks a headphone output.

Due to its size, it lacks dual card slots. And both the SD card and battery live in the same compartment underneath the camera. We complain about this every time as it makes quickly changing either quite tedious when using accessories, namely tripod quick plates.

It lacks built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC connectivity. So there’s no direct way to connect this camera to a smartphone or tablet for remote shooting or image transfer. For that, you’ll have to use a computer.

Is this a good beginner camera?

No.

This camera doesn’t provide any aids or guidance to help walk beginners through the basic functionality. And given its price, there are far more helpful and reasonably capable cameras for substantially less money.

Is this a good camera for you?

Possibly.

This camera is capable for photographers, especially given its image quality, dynamic range, and outstanding rendering. But it’s electronic shutter, shallow buffer, and slower autofocus doesn’t make it the ideal solution as a hybrid if you shoot with external lighting or fast moving subjects. So depending on your medium, better options may exist.

For videographers, this camera is arguably the best sub $2,000 camera on the present market. And you’ll be hard-fast to find a similarly configured camera with these capabilities at this price point.

In the end, Sigma’s FP is one of the most versatile platforms around for cinematographers. And it’s a camera that will seamlessly integrate into gimbals, rigs, drones, and even double as a high-quality webcam. Ultimately, it’s key selling feature is that it’s the smallest and lightest 12-bit RAW camera on the market today. And given this capability, coupled with its price and form factor, it stands as the most powerful and lightweight cinema camera money can buy. Of course, it’s not perfect and it requires investing in the ecosystem to capitalize on its versatility. And sure, you will have to overcome some interesting quirks. But, it’s a mighty contender nevertheless, particularly if you film in tight spots or in a guerilla-style. And this camera simply delivers unmatched flexibility in a package that was otherwise unavailable before its release. So, if you want true uncompressed RAW capabilities and a cinema camera that happens to capture beautiful still images to compliment, this is your camera.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
3.8

Summary

Sigma’s FP becomes the ultimate camera for those wanting true uncompressed RAW capabilities with maximum flexibility. Sure, it’s not perfect, and it indeed has some interesting quirks. But, it’s a surprising change over most rivals who primarily emphasize stills and focus little on video. And it proves their dedication to creating unique cameras in the market, rather than cloning the proven template of rivals. And the FP is merely an example of the larger potential here.