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Hands-on: The Sigma fp is shaping up to be an impressive camera for video pros

13 Nov

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

The Sigma fp is the world’s smallest full-frame camera. Built as a hybrid stills / video platform, the fp is highly modular and packed with features that many stills photographers would find esoteric in the extreme. The fp has clearly been designed with filmmakers in mind, and after using one for a few days, we suspect that they’ll love it.

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

Measuring 112 x 70 x 45mm and weighing only 422g (just shy of one pound) with a battery and memory card, the aluminum-bodied Sigma fp is a very small, very light camera, considering its sensor format. We’re told that fp stands for ‘fortissimo pianissimo,’ which Sigma is interpreting as ‘very loud and very soft’. One way of interpreting that is ‘a lot of power in a small package’.

Sigma has achieved the fp’s compactness in a couple of different ways. Firstly, the body is the core of a very modular system. There’s no built-in viewfinder, no integral flash, and no grip. Leaving these things out means some serious space savings, and furthermore there’s no in-body stabilization, and no mechanical shutter, either. The fp is all electronic shutter, all the time. This has one major advantage for stills photographers – totally silent shooting – but a couple of disadvantages: a very slow maximum flash sync speed, and the potential for rolling shutter (‘jello effect’) and banding in some lighting conditions.

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

From behind, you can get an idea of the fp’s minimalist ergonomics. The rear of the camera is dominated by a large, touch-sensitive LCD, with only four direct control buttons to the right, plus a control wheel / 4-way controller. The accessory grip adds a protruding thumbrest but without this, the back of the camera is essentially flat. Below the screen you’ll find five more buttons, mainly geared to video shooters.

Because the form factor of the fp is essentially a flat-sided rectangle, with barely any protuberances anywhere, it’s easy to incorporate into a video rig.

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

This view shows the interesting design of the accessory grip, which is formed from a single curve of metal. It also shows off the fp’s very simple upper control layout. A control dial and integrated shutter button, a ‘REC’ button and a very simple ‘Cine | Still’ toggle for fast switching between capture modes. In a nice touch, when the switch is set to ‘Cine’, the switch moves to expose a bright red painted backing, providing quick visual feedback that the camera is set to record video, even when it is powered off.

Also visible in this shot is a row of vent holes, above the rear LCD. More on those in a moment.

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

Here’s the fp without the accessory grip attached. The grip, straps and tripod socket all use 1/4-inch threads, which makes modifying the camera pretty simple and gives videographers multiple attachment point options for incorporating the fp into a cage or shoulder-mounted rig.

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

Here are those same vent holes viewed from the base of the camera. The fp is passively cooled, via a large heat sink designed to dissipate heat away from internal components and out of the camera. The system is ‘passive’ to the extent that it does not rely on mechanical fans to do so, hence it will not create any operational sound: a potential issue when shooting video.

The vents do not lead directly to any of the fp’s delicate innards. As such, if dust or moisture make their way into them, it doesn’t present a problem. The fp is fully weather-sealed at 42 points, and Sigma is confident that the fp should stand up under use in poor weather.

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

The fp does not feature an integrated hotshoe, and Sigma has opted not to make an optional EVF. Instead, for cinematographers that really need a viewfinder, there’s the LVF-11 finder, which attaches physically to the rear screen and offers a 2.5X magnification, for precise focus and composition adjustments in (say) bright ambient light.

While not as flexible as a true electronic finder, for video work the LVF-11 works very well, and the additional stand-off distance from the back of the camera actually ends up being very useful when the fp is built up into a multi-module rig…

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

…a rig like this Zacuto one, where as you can probably imagine, the close proximity of the LCD screen to the operator’s face would make focusing on composition and focus very uncomfortable. With the LVF-11 attached, the operator can both hold the camera and look through the finder in a comfortable working position.

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

This rig demonstrates the fp with an optional HU-11 hotshoe adapter attached, allowing for the addition of a range of accessories, such as an external microphone, or of course a flash (assuming you can live with the 1/30sec max flash sync speed).

It also shows a Samsung T5 SSD drive (right) attached to the fp via USB 3, into which 12-bit CinemaDNG Raw video can be recorded directly.

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

Here’s the USB port, alongside the HDMI port and mic socket. The six gold connectors are proprietary, and carry power to the accessory hotshoe unit.

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

According to Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki, the fp was developed on the basis of knowledge gleaned from the creation of Sigma’s ‘Cine’ range of Art-series prime lenses. The 35mm T1.5 is shown here, dwarfing the fp. But cine primes are typically heavy things, and every ounce saved from the total setup is precious, especially for filmmakers working with shoulder-mounted rigs.

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

We’ve only had a full production-quality fp for a few days, but that’s long enough to form some preliminary impressions. Right now, we’re pretty positive for the most part, with some caveats. Stills photographers might be a little shy of it at first (I did find myself really wishing for a conventional finder, and I’d personally take a bigger body for the sake of IBIS) but with one of the optional grips attached, the fp handles pretty well. The most serious handicap for stills shooting is likely to be rolling shutter, which does introduce distortion in some situations, albeit not to a problematic extent in many shooting scenarios.

Although the fp uses a contrast-detection autofocus system, it is reasonably fast and responsive (with the L-mount 45mm F2.8 and 14-24mm F2.8 attached) and finds faces and eyes fairly quickly and accurately, assuming your subject is facing the camera. That said, overall autofocus performance is definitely a step behind the best of the mirrorless competition, with noticeable lag (for example) when placing the desired AF point by touch.

Hands-on with the Sigma fp

Realistically though, the fp is a video camera that can shoot stills – not the other way round. And video pros have a lot to be excited about. In the fp, Sigma is courting them pretty aggressively, with features like HDR video (coming via firmware), 12-bit Raw video output to an SSD and ‘Directors’ Viewfinder’ which allows filmmakers to simulate the different viewing angles and fields of view of other popular video cameras for framing.

So that’s the fp, coming soon to a store near you for an MSRP of $ 1,800. With the potential to be a seriously powerful tool for filmmakers, along with some solid stills photography features, the fp is an interesting prospect, and a bold move for Sigma. Watch out for more analysis – including a detailed look at its video capabilities – soon.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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