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Sigma SD-10 SD10 Test Review
© 2006 KenRockwell.com

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WARNING: I've gotten a lot of hate mail about this page from people who own this camera. I offer my thoughts below because many people want to know my opinions. If you're more comfortable reading glossy commercial magazines that say everything is perfect then you may want to avoid reading further.

Many people loved this camera. Here was a site all about it. It went away - another reason to avoid SLR cameras from other than Canon or Nikon. A lot of brands have no future and minimal system expansion potential. You could get stuck with an orphan if the company gives up as Contax did.


I get more hate mail and phone calls, usually from Europe, about this page than any other. For my personal uses I find this Sigma camera the lowest performer among digital SLRs. So what? It seems other people who love this camera have a problem with the fact that I don't. Big deal. If it works for you ignore me and get over it. Hey, lighten up! If you 'd like my opinion read further, if you don't want it or disagree with my opinion then God bless you and your right to dissent. The right to dissent is more than a privilege of being an American, it's a requirement. Your culture may differ.

I first shot with this camera in February 2004. I don't like it. It feels cheap, and the images were much noisier than other Nikon and Canon DSLRs like the D70 at real ISO speeds like ISO 800, and of course you can't do anything with the Sigma images unless you go through a song-and-dance converting the raw files into something useful first. At least the included software installs and runs easily on Mac OS 10.3.2, but still takes about a minute a photo to convert on my 800MHz G4. Also the latest upgrade to Photoshop CS' camera RAW plug-in v2.2 reads the Sigma RAW files.

A huge advantage the Sigmas have over the Nikon and Canon DSLRs is that Sigma has a sealed box in front of the image sensor so dust is not a problem. Bravo! The SD-10 also has a clever "restore last delete" button in case you erase a good shot by accident.

Sigma introduced a unique 12-24mm f/4.5 - 5.6 lens which covers the full 35mm film frame making it the world's widest rectilinear lens for 35mm SLRs, displacing the 13mm Nikkor that has been special-order only since the 1970s. I do want to review one of them in depth; the one I tried seemed pretty good for the insane zoom range it offers.

I honestly see no need for this camera since in my opinion you can get much better performance with other cameras for less money. Yes, the concept of the Foveon sensor itself is magnificent, unfortunately it's only made available in a camera from a source which, for me, has a lot of shortcomings. Don't buy a camera based just on a novel sensor, since many more things are more important. The way some well meaning people worry so much about a small issue like sensor technology instead of paying attention to the broader issues reminds me of the joke about Mrs. Lincoln being asked, after President Lincoln was murdered at Ford's Theater, "So, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" There are more important issues than just the sensor.

For me performance means the ability to make great photos fast, not to waste my time dithering over invisible technical minutiae, limited lens selection and mandatory RAW post processing. (read more about why I avoid RAW files here.) If I want to spend time and get superior results I shoot 4x5" film. If I want to shoot digital I want fast and so I shoot Nikon or Canon.

The 3MP Foveon sensor has been shown at the more technical sites to be about as good as a conventional 4 or 5 MP CCD. This was slick a year or two ago when the SD9 came out, but today every DSLR has 6MP, superior to the Sigma. There is a lot of funny business going on about how the various manufacturers lie about pixels and photo sites and resolution and I have not gotten to writing about about all this yet. The Sigma is great in that it really has 3MP, but in order to lie like all the other makers with conventional CCDs Sigma now lies about it being 10.2MP. Nope, it's not 10.2, and no, most of the 6MP CCDs really aren't 6MP either.

The SD-10 is an improvement over the SD9 I first saw in May 2003.

It seems the SD10 may have fixed some, but not all, of what to me are fatal flaws of the SD-9. Specifically, the battery fiasco is fixed and shutter speed and ISO limitations are eased, but the rest remain, and the shutter speed limitations and ISO limitations still apply somewhat. These flaws are:

1.) It can't even make standard JPG images! It only makes a special RAW format which cannot be read in any computer unless that computer already has the special Sigma software running on it to read these files and convert them to some form you can use. This is a huge drawback for practical photography, adding an extra step all the time at best. Of course if you work in a laboratory or are a magazine reviewer you might not worry. If you actually need to shoot and get hundreds and thousands images out to people on a regular basis this is a royal pain.

2.) It only takes Sigma brand lenses.

3.) It costs $450 or so more than the Canon Digital Rebel anyway. Can you believe they want $1,350 for the SD-10? I would much prefer the Rebel which sells for less, and also for less cost you can get the far, far superior Nikon D70 soon, also for less. The Canon 10D at $1,500 costs a little more and is two classes ahead of the SD-10, at least in my opinion, and is also made of real metal, not plastic.

5.) ISO only 800 maximum, 1,600 with a trick mode. (I regularly shoot my D1H at 800 and 1,600, one of the huge advantages of digital.)

6.) Crippled long shutter speed range, slightly eased with a trick mode.

7.) Just one AF sensor. Gimme a break, this must be the only camera left today with only one AF sensor. This means you cannot track focus on anything off center.

This Sigma camera has some huge drawbacks which, for me, eliminate it from any further consideration.

Any single one of these seven reasons would be enough not to buy it, but all seven together are astounding. I'd not bother any further with this Sigma since Canon and Nikon have better choices. Heck, Pentax just released a great looking DSLR camera in March 2003 and Minolta in 2004, too.


ISO is only 100, 200, 400 or 800, with a trick mode for 1,600. This is awful: a huge advantage of a digital SLR is the great performance you can get typically at ISO 1,600 which opens up a lot of new photo opportunities from what you could do on film. The Canon 10D and Nikon D100 and D70 and Canon Digital Rebel all go to 1,600 easily, and the Canon 10D and Nikon D100 both go to 6,400 in trick modes.

Even worse, the longest shutter speeds are limited, with different limits for different ISOs. This suggests very poor low light performance, which my test shots confirmed.

Flash sync is the typically slow 1/180. I've heard about a trick mode going up to 1/6,000, but even if it can do this it most likely is the FP mode which has very limited usefulness. Read why flash sync is so important here. The Nikon D70 is by far the class leader at 1/500.

Smaller than standard (for digital) 14 x 21mm sensor (1.7x factor), 2,268 x 1512 pixels. Of course 35mm film is a lot bigger. Watch out, this makes even the Sigma 12-24 effectively only a 20-40mm lens!

Buffer only 6 shots at 1.9 FPS. This is about as good as a $169 Canon A60, except the A60 clears its buffer faster, too!


Dead last as far as I can see in the DLSR field as of May 2004. It's sad that all the commercial magazines and websites never have enough guts to come right out and say this and make you read around all the lines which dance around all the defects.

The images I made were very noisy. The noise also had significant energy in chroma and at low spatial frequencies, meaning that noise reduction software or downsampling the images won't do as much to get rid of it as it can for other cameras. The other sites point out that the camera also gets less sharp at the faster ISO speeds, which I see as a way the camera designers are trying to keep the noise at bay, and that colors become less saturated at the faster speeds. I use these faster ISOs like 800 all the time, and on other cameras they perform without being crippled.

The rear image LCD looks pretty coarse, too.

I'm a photographer, not a piddler or reviewer. As of 2004 there are so many better choices for me that this would be the my last pick, so I'm not going to spend as much time working with it as I have the Nikons, for instance.


I'm not a fan of Sigma. Buy the far superior Canon Digital Rebel for $899, Nikon D70 for $899 or Canon 20D for $1,499 instead, since they have none of the problems I mention above and for my uses are far more productive and practical. I honestly see no need for the SD-10, since you can get much better performance with other cameras for less money.

I'm astounded how the people who write reviews for a living who are paid by the magazines who are paid by camera company ads just gloss over the huge disadvantages to this camera. Hey, if you like it then go for it; but for me it simply cannot do some of the things like long exposures and high ISO speeds and JPGs that I need. Everyone is different, and it's great that we all have such a large choice among DSLRs that we did not 3 years ago.

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