Just forward of the LCD is a button to illuminate the display. The shutter release is forward of that, on top of the grip. The control dial surrounds it.** ******** ****Bottom**The Sigma SD14 has a hearty metal tripod bushing centered under the lens axis. That provides good balance, and in some cases makes it easier to align the camera using a tripod's pivots. The battery compartment is under the hand grip, and its door is not a robust item – it fell off the prototype camera we examined at Photokina after we opened the compartment. It snapped right back on, much to the relief of the booth attendant.
**Viewfinder**The Sigma SD14 uses pentaprism optics, which generally provide brighter, more contrasty results than pentamirrors, which are a less-expensive alternative. Sigma says the viewfinder is 98 percent accurate both horizontally and vertically, and that it offers 0.9x magnification. The accuracy figure is impressive, but the magnification is not as high as we'd like. The diopter control is easy to set, and offers a wide adjustment range. The viewfinder shows various exposure information, flash status and focus confirmation. All the data are easy to see, even for glasses-wearers. **LCD Screen The Sigma SD14 has a 2.5-inch, 150,000-pixel LCD. Most mid-level DSLRs have higher resolution than that. In our first look at the camera, the view suffered from the lack of resolution – it wasn't very sharp, and the color was anemic and contaminated. Without being able to compare the LCD with recorded images on a computer, it's hard to say how bad the LCD is, but it does not seem as though the display can show the full resolution of a '14-megapixel' file. The display's brightness and contrast can be adjusted, and it may be that these controls could improve its performance significantly. The small monochrome LCD on the top deck of the SD14 is sharp but lacks contrast. Its icons are very small, and may be hard for some users to read. Flash The SD14's flash flips up from the viewfinder hump, so it is centered over the lens, which minimizes shadows when the user shoots horizontals. It isn't motorized or spring-loaded – the user has to pull it up into position. The mechanism is simple, but it is not heavily-built. Sigma lists a guide number of 11 for the flash, and coverage for lenses down to 17 mm. The SD14 syncs at up to 1/180 of a second, while other mid-range cameras sync a half-stop faster, at 1/250. Sigma's external flashes offer dedicated exposure control and wireless dedication. The camera itself won't act as a base unit – one of the compatible flashes has to be connected to the hot shoe to wirelessly control a second flash. That's how Canon does it, while Nikon integrates a wireless transmitter into several of its cameras, so there's no need for more than one flash. ****Zoom Lens**The Sigma SD14 does not yet have a kit lens, though Sigma makes a number of lenses that are candidates. The prototypes were fitted with the 10-20mm f/4 – 5.6. It's an impressive lens, but an unlikely choice for a first lens purchase.
**Model Design / Appearance**The Sigma SD14 is a bulky camera. Its styling is a pleasing combination of curves and edges, with a design emphasis on solidity and substance – the camera is bigger, and seems more substantial, than typical entry-level DSLRs. That's a reasonable thing, given that it costs about twice as much.** ****Size / Portability**At 5.7 x 4.2 x 3.2 inches and 24.7 oz., the SD14 is larger than entry-level DSLRs. Its dimensions are close to those of the Nikon D200 and the Canon EOS 5D, though it weighs less than either. The typical user will carry the SD14 in a camera bag or on a shoulder strap – it's not the camera casual users will stuff in a backpack compartment. The fit and finish of the prototypes we examined was very good, even though the battery door fell off. We'd infer that the environmental seals on the SD14 have at least one weak spot from that surprise, though. **Handling Ability**The SD14 is easy to hold securely – the grip in front is comfortable and nicely textured, and the thumb rest on the back in excellent. Because we saw the SD14 at a demonstration booth at Photokina, we saw several people hold it. The grip seems natural for many users. Nearly everyone cradled the lens in their left hand, supporting the camera's weight and operating the zoom ring from underneath. **Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size The Sigma SD14 has only one control dial, so a number of functions require the user to turn the dial while pressing a button. Fundamentally, that's slow. We also had trouble avoiding the auto focus button while trying to press the exposure compensation button and turn the dial simultaneously. The Function button is tricky too – the SD14 scrolls one step through a series of adjustments each time the button is pressed, and the user has to hold the button down while turning the dial to adjust each option. It's a waste that several buttons work only in Playback mode. The magnification controls are very prominent, but don't provide any shooting function. They could take the function of a second control dial. The star button, which marks, protects and rotates images, and initiates slideshows, also does nothing in shooting mode. Menu**It seems as though menu structure is driven by marketing more than many other aspects of camera design. New features, or features that allow the camera to catch up with its competition. The SD14 has three separate means of accessing typical menu controls. Most prominently, its ISO/Quality/White Balance button brings up four controls on the LCD, laid out to match the 4-way controller. The top control is ISO, which scrolls from 100 to 1600. The bottom control is white balance, which scrolls through Auto, several presets and manual. The left control sets file format – RAW, or 3 levels of JPEG compression. The right control sets the file's pixel dimensions. Typical choices for the 4-way controller are ISO, white balance, flash sync, auto focus mode, metering pattern, burst mode – controls that users are likely to adjust frequently while shooting. JPEG compression really isn't like that, but it's making a first appearance on the SD14, so Sigma apparently gave it the pride of place. The Function button controls several options with an interface on the top LCD. These are: metering pattern, auto focus mode – single versus continuous focus – wireless remote control channel, flash sync, Extended ISO and "AL," which no one at the Sigma booth could identify. As if to reinforce the contention that the SD14 is still in prototype, the extended ISO setting did not work on the sample we examined – the range ran from 100 to 1600 regardless of the setting. The camera should stop at 800 when not in extended mode, according to Sigma staff. The matters left for the main menu range from fundamental to rarely-used, but they appear in a single, scrolling list. The type size is small for the screen's resolution. The settings are:
Ease of Use **The SD14's controls are needlessly convoluted. Though it has plenty of buttons, they're not sensibly assigned. It's more important for a camera to be efficient in shooting than in image review, but the SD14 has more dedicated controls for review than shooting. It's easier to access JPEG compression than metering pattern or flash sync mode. It's inefficient to have to scroll through options including ISO extension and remote control channels to get to basics like metering.
*** ***Auto Mode The Sigma SD14 offers program, aperture priority, and shutter priority automation. It doesn't have a full-auto mode in the style of entry-level DSLRs or compact cameras. It also lacks scene modes, another option for casual shooters. White balance can be automated, but not ISO. Movie Mode**The SD14 does not have a movie mode. The Foveon X3 imaging chip is hidden behind the reflex mirror and the shutter except during exposure, and therefore cannot pick up data for movies. **Drive / Burst Mode**Sigma reports a burst rate of 3 frames per second for the SD14. Our rough test at the Photokina booth bore that out approximately. Shooting RAW, we got off a 5-frame burst. Sigma reports that the camera will be capable of longer bursts when shooting low-resolution, compressed JPEGs. Again, we did not test in a controlled setting, but the write time after shooting a full burst was long – on the order of 20 to 30 seconds, we estimate. **Playback Mode We noticed some glitches in playback on the SD14, driving home the point that the camera is still in prototype. When we reviewed an image shot at ISO 1600, the color shifted as we enlarged it in playback. The SD14 offers a thumbnail mode showing 9 frames at a time – not many, but then, the 150,000-pixel screen isn't all that sharp. A jump feature works in thumbnail mode, jumping a screenful of images at a time. It balked a couple of times as we played with it, suggesting another software glitch. Playback also magnifies images significantly, though we couldn't tell the precise magnification. We didn't feel the magnification and screen quality combined to give a solid measure of image sharpness. Individual images can be displayed with extensive shooting data and a small but detailed RGB histogram. The histogram isn't easy to look at, but it does have plenty of information in it. The SD14 also offers a slide show feature, which allows the user to show sequences of images at intervals from 2 to 10 seconds, plus a manual advance. It can show selected images or all images. The SD14 can rotate images, protect them, delete single images, delete a marked set or delete all images from a card. ****Custom Image Presets**The SD14 does not offer custom image presets, perhaps because it is being marketed to manual shooters who are primarily concerned with image quality.
**Manual Control Options**The SD14 offers full manual control of exposure, white balance, and ISO. Though not all of the controls are convenient, the do exist. **Focus***Auto Focus*The SD14 has 5 auto focus sensor points. One is centered in the frame, and the others are above, below, left and right of center, about midway from center to edge of the frame. In moderate light at the Photokina booth, we found the focus slow but accurate. The lens on the test camera was a 10-20mm wide angle with a maximum aperture of f/4-5.6, and we don't quite trust the view on the LCD, so it's hard to say how accurate it really was. Competing mid-level cameras tend to have faster focus and more sensor points. We’ll have to wait until we get our hands on a final production model to asses the camera’s low light focusing capabilities. *Manual Focus*We found the SD14's screen a little dim and grainy, but that is due in part to the relatively slow lens we used, and the moderate lighting. The focusing action on the lens was smooth and comfortable. Our manual focus efforts were about as good as the camera's auto focus. **Exposure The SD14 offers full manual exposure control, with an over- and under-exposure indicator. Its program mode offers shift, which changes the shutter and aperture combination while holding the exposure value steady. Aperture priority, shutter priority, and program mode all allow plus or minus 3 stops of exposure compensation in 1/3-stop increments. Bracketing is available over the same range and increment. Metering The SD14 offers evaluative, center-weighted and center-area metering. Evaluative metering takes several measurements all over the frame, and compares them to settle on an exposure. Center-weighted takes a single reading that covers the frame, but with a bias toward the center. Center area reads from a circle in the middle of the frame. The circle is large – its diameter is about half the height of the frame. Look for more complete tests of metering performance in our full review – it wasn't possible to test the meter well at the Photokina booth.
**White BalanceThe SD14 offers auto white balance, manual, and six presets: sun, shade, cloudy, fluorescent, tungsten, and flash. Look for a full test of color balance in our review, but the SD14 did not overcome the remarkably ugly lighting in the Sigma booth, in either auto, or with manual white balance. On the LCD screen, the flash preset looked blue, but that might be a problem with the LCD. Unfortunately, the SD14 does not have a white balance fine tune facility, a feature that is turning up on many cameras. **ISO**The SD14 is reported to have a normal ISO range of 100 to 800, incremented in full-EV steps, with an extended range up to 1600. The prototype we examined ran from 100 to 1600 whether or not extended range was activated. Onscreen, the images started to look noisy at ISO 400, and 1600 was downright ugly. Again, full tests of the camera will show if we observed a limitation of the prototype, the LCD, or the image.
The SD14 has a shutter speed range from 1/4000 to 30 seconds. It also has a bulb setting, but that too is limited to 30 seconds. The standard range can be set in 1/3-EV increments. Flash sync tops out at 1/180, which is a bit too slow for fill flash in bright daylight.
Aperture **The SD14 sets aperture electronically, and allows increments of 1/3-stop. The SDD14 has not been paired with a kit lens, but Sigma offers a range of choices, including some wide-aperture primes.
*** ***Picture Quality****/ Size Options**Sigma is unusual in that the SD14 shoots RAW files at three different pixel dimensions: 2640 x 1760, 1776 x 1184, and 1296 x 864. In JPEG, it offers the same resolutions, plus a high, interpolated one at 4608 x 3072. JPEGs can be recorded in any of the pixel dimensions with Fine, Normal, or Basic quality. **Picture Effects Mode**We didn’t see any weird effects on the SD14, which makes sense, given Sigma's emphasis on the camera's RAW files. It is possible to adjust saturation, sharpness, contrast and color space, however.
**Connectivity****Software *The Sigma SD14 ships with Sigma's Photo Pro 3.0, which the company touts for a RAW workflow. Look for our full review to learn more about the software. *Jacks, Ports, Plugs*The SD14 has a USB jack, analog video out, and a jack for an external power supply. Its hot show is compatible with Sigma dedicated flashes and non-dedicated generic flashes. It also has a PC terminal for studio flash. The SD14 can be controlled with a wireless remote as well. Direct Print Options*The SD14 does not appear to offer PictBridge or DPOF printing capability. *Battery *The SD14 uses a small Li-Ion rechargeable battery. Li-ion has become the leading battery technology for digital cameras, combining low weight, small size, and high capacity. Look for our full review for our impressions about the SD14's battery performance.
*Memory The SD14 accepts Compact Flash cards, the most common media for DSLRs. Compact Flash is relatively cheap, available in many sizes, and durable. *Other Features***Image Dust Protector - Sigma hit upon a simple solution to dust on the sensor – the SD14 has a glass cover just under the lens mount, in front of the shutter and the reflex mirror. It's easy to clean there, and according to Sigma, if any dust lands on it, it's too far away from the sensor to leave a focused shadow on the image – hence, no dust spot. *Pentaprism - *With many cutting corners by using mirrors instead of prisms in their viewfinders, it's good to see Sigma use the more robust prism.* **
**Value**Sigma promises great image quality from the SD14, and unfortunately, we can't judge that in a First Impressions review, particularly when we weren't allowed to save any of our own images. It looked as though the prototypes had a serious noise problem at higher ISOs, and the sample images Sigma showed were shot at ISO 100, according to their captions.However, this may or may not represent the final production model's capabilities. If the SD14 really produces superior color, it may well command the premium price Sigma is asking – just as Fujifilm has done well with its FinePix S3, with its extended dynamic range. The problem is, the mechanical aspect of the camera, including interface, burst capacity and auto focus performance, do not justify its price. **Who’s this Camera For?***Point and Shooters*** - Casual users won't like the SD14's lack of scene modes and full automation. They'll be happier, and spend less, get an entry-level camera *Budget Consumers* - The SD14 charges a premium for its unique sensor, and reputed higher image quality. Not many budget users will seek out those attributes. *Gadget Freaks* - The SD14's prime gadget, the Foveon X3 sensor, is buried deep inside a pedestrian camera. Most freaks want their cool features to show a little more. *Manual Control Freaks* - The SD14 is a manual camera, and it promises the image quality that this group demands. If the image quality is really there, this group might be interested. We wish the controls made more sense, though. *Pros/Serious Hobbyists* - Again, we expect this group to adopt the SD14 only if its image quality is something special – but most of these users will regard the camera's body as something to put up with, not an asset.
Conclusion**It's hard to get excited about the SD14 in its current state. Either the Foveon X3 is a big advantage, or it's not, but Sigma isn't ready to let us see for ourselves. They share images of some very beautiful women, lit spectacularly. The images are sharp and the tones are smooth, but it's impossible to say what's due to the production values, and what the camera can do. What we can say is that the SD14 does not offer an advanced interface or mechanical system. The value of this camera rests entirely on the possibility that its image quality is superior.
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