There was much fanfare in advance of the Sigma SD Quattro’s arrival. It all seemed so positive. We weren’t expecting it to answer all our hopes and dreams, since it was clear from the offset that it wasn’t going to be a journeyman camera, but rather a specialist one. However, we are sad to say that the Sigma is so particular in its needs that none but the most hardcore Sigma collection completionists or die-hard Foveon X3 sensor fans (seriously, they exist) should be considering the Quattro.
The Sigma is a camera that ‘could-have-been’ so much. Its resolution and colour capture is actually fantastic, flatly beating out images from APS-C Bayer CMOS sensors and surpassing the full-frame Bayer CMOS sensors by a whisker…but only when it’s set to ISO 100.
This would be fine for shooting in highly controlled situations such as in-studio or outdoors in bright sunlight, but it’s pointless in dimmer conditions. Even though we were slightly worried with how this camera would handle higher ISO settings before we got our hands on it, actually seeing the pixel count drop as we dialed the ISO up is utterly painful.
Between ISO 100-400 it will hold at a respectable 19MP. At ISO 800 it’s already fallen to a worryingly sub-smartphone 4.9MP. By the time we get to reasonable low light needs at ISO 1600-3200 we’re at an awful 2.1MP. When you’ve finally hit the top at ISO 6400, you’re left with a pathetically sad 1.2 MP to play with. It is maddening how quickly any semblance of resolution is lost.
That said, you may only want to use the Sigma in controlled circumstances – it’s how it handles that’s important, right? Unfortunately the Sigma SD Quattro is a letdown in that department too.
Everything about the way the Quattro functions is languid and sedate. The startup is slow as are responses to button presses and navigating the LCD screen. Even the AF is slow AF. The lag alone between switching from the average quality LCD screen to the average quality viewfinder is so atrocious that you’ll probably not only miss the shot, but you’ll also have time to update your Facebook status to complain about it before everything loads up.
If this wasn’t infuriating enough, may your chosen deity help you if you want to shoot in RAW. To do that you need to run the “Sigma Photo Pro” software tool which (you guessed it) is extremely slow and unresponsive. The tool re-renders the image every time you make the slightest adjustment, and that takes five to ten seconds. When you add up all that wasted time for a single photo, RAW is hardly worth it. This is made all the more aggravating since shooting JPEG is a total waste of this sensor.
When using Live View, the electronic shutter creates rolling shutter artifacts on-screen. Note that these don’t appear on actual captured photographs since the mechanical shutter takes over for that, but they are nonetheless cringeworthy.
On the surface, the SFD (super fine detail) mode sounds like an impressive addition, but yet again we were frustrated with its implementation. The mode takes 7 continuous shots with different exposures, from -3EV to +3EV. Despite the name however, this doesn’t raise detail at all, and instead tries to lower noise, albeit poorly. What’s more, the SFD mode is extremely situational. It simply cannot deal with anything that moves, and we mean anything. Even when utilising it on landscape shots, leaves swinging in the wind or waves crashing on the sea will ruin any photo.
In fact, as a side note, flash was a problem in general since out of three highly compatible flash triggers we tried, only one (Yongnuo RF-602C) was able to work with the Sigma SD and that was by pure luck since there was no kind of compatibility guide to speak of.
So far, this camera is plodding, buggy, and can’t handle darkness to save its life. But the problems of the Sigma SD aren’t just internal but external. It suffers from clunkiness in a few bizarre design choices of the body. The location of the on/off button is placed so closely to the MF/AF toggle that accidently switching off the camera was a regular occurrence. Likewise, the “lock” button on top of the camera doesn’t act as you’d expect. Instead of locking the f-stop and shutter settings in place, it locks playback, the menu, AF-L/AE-L and all the other buttons on the camera back in a completely nonsensical fashion.
One element that many people have found fault with is the sheer size and weight of the Quattro SD. I personally prefer a heavier cam with heft and stability to it, but I also understand that’s not what most photographers look for in a mirrorless body. Though I found it easy to keep steady, others will simply find the camera cumbersome. The size was necessary in its construction to accommodate Sigma’s SA Mount, which requires a longer flange distance than other mirrorless cameras.
So in conclusion, though it’s quite affordable at US$799 compared to the competition, we cannot recommend the Sigma SD Quattro unless you plan on using it exclusively in a brightly lit controlled studio. For a boost in resolution and in colour, you are generally sacrificing too much in all other situations. You’re also simply not going to be able to use this as a street shooter because of its slothlike reaction to input. This is a camera designed for an incredibly patient photographer in a clinical environment.
Since this isn’t for regular photographers, as there are Canon, Nikon and Sony full frame cameras available for that, who is it for?. This isn’t for protogs, as there are medium format cameras that would work far better for them. Sigma fanboys? Well we’d still say don’t do it – but well, they’ll probably buy it anyway.