Archive for Sigma

Canon 24-70mm f2.8L vs Sigma f2.8 IF EX DG HSM

Posted in Articles about Photography, Lens Review, Photography Gear, TCBlog with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2011 by Darwin

Note: To see all future reviews please note this blog is no longer active, please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

On full frame cameras a 24-70mm lens is the standard zoom lens for most professional photographers whether you shoot weddings, portraits, journalism, sports, travel or landscape. A 24-70 f2.8 gives you a fast lens with a wide angle, normal and short telephoto capabilities. Almost every professional I know owns and relies on a 24-70mm lens.

For years I owned a Canon 24-70mm f2.8L lens and it was a workhorse lens for me especially for my photographs of dogs and kids and outdoor recreation.. I also used it for landscape photography (until I started using tilt-shift lenses). I sold my lens about two years ago anticipating that Canon would release a Mark II version of the lens that was image stabilized and a bit sharper and with less distortion at the wide end. To date (August 2011), that lens is not yet out. So for almost two years I lived without a 24-70mm lens, waiting for the new and improved Canon. In the meantime, Sigma lent me their 24-70mm f2.8 pro lens to test out. I borrowed Wayne Simpson’s Canon 24-70mm Canon and spent three days in the field shooting with the two lenses. Here is what I found out:

Prices:

Canon 24-70mm f2.8L at B+H Photo = $1399.00 (weight 950g)

Sigma 24-70 f2.8 IF EX DG HSM = $899.00 (weight 790g)

The Sigma 24-70 f2.8 and the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lenses side-by-side

As you can see from the photo above the Sigma lens is significantly smaller (and lighter) than the big Canon 24-70mm lens and the Sigma costs 40% less than the Canon lens. Can the smaller and less expensive Sigma lens hold its own in the field?

First a note on the design of the lens. The Canon lens physically gets larger when zoomed to 24mm and is shortest when zoomed to 70mm. This is a strange design feature because most lenses are physically longer at longer focal lengths like we see with the Sigma lens (see photos below).

Sigma at 24mm (left) aad Canon at 24mm (right)

At 24mm the Sigma lens is short and compact but the Canon lens is fully extended at 24mm.

The Sigma (left) and the Canon (right) at 70mm

At 70mm both lenses are the same size. Canon’s design means that the lens is larger and extends even longer at 24mm. This may seem counter-intuitive but it is actually kind of clever because the lens hood on the Canon then becomes fully functional at all focal lengths. The hood attaches to the lens body with a bayonet mount right above the red line on the lens. The hood is long and when the lens is extended to 24mm, only about 1/3rd of the hood is used. Pulled back to 70mm the full hood length is used. The Sigma lens has a short hood that is optimized for 24mm and when the lens is zoomed out, you still have a 24mm effective hood. So with the Canon you have a fully functional hood but with the Sigma it only works its best at 24mm.

So… the price you pay for the clever functional zoom within a long hood is that the Canon lens is bigger lens that weighs 20% more than the Sigma lens! If you do a lot of backlit photos then the Canon 24-70mm and its functional lens hood will better prevent flare.

A 24mm is a 24mm right?

Both the Canon and Sigma lenses are 24-70mm focal lengths so I expected both lenses to give me the exact same coverage when I swapped the lenses on the tripod-mounted body. I was surprised that with the camera in the exact same position that the two zooms gave very different angles of view at the same focal length!

The Sigma 24-70 at 24mm

The Canon 24-70 at 24mm

What the heck??? How can the two lenses both zoomed to 24mm and mounted on the same camera body on a tripod (nothing was moved) give such different coverage? Is is because the Canon extends out at 24mm and so the front of the lens is closer to the subject?

If this is the case, then at 70mm when both lenses are physically the same size then we should see the angle of view be exactly the same. But both lenses produced different coverage even at 70mm even when the camera was fixed in position on a tripod. Note how Brando the dog is slightly larger in the frame with the Canon lens.

The Sigma lens at 70mm

The Canon lens at 70mm

The Sigma gives wider angles of view than the Canon when both are set to the same focal lengths. Which one is more accurate is hard to say but for reference I tested both against my 24mm TS-E lens and the Sigma and the Canon 24mm TS-E had almost exactly the same coverage. I don’t think the Canon 24-70mm lens is truly a 24-70!

What About Close-Focus Abilities?

This one is easy, the Canon can focus significantly closer than the Sigma at both 24 and 70mm.

Sigma close-focus at 70mm (top), Canon close focus at 70mm (bottom)

But which lens is sharper at close focus? Below is the same scene at the closest focus for each lens. The camera is tripod-mounted, live view, manual focus was used, mirror lock-up and an aperture of f8 was used.

The detail close-up scene

Sigma lens at 70mm f8 (top); Canon lens at 70mm f8 (bottom)

Center sharpness (above 100% magnification in Photoshop) was similar at close focus at 70mm for the two lenses but with the nod going to the Canon 24mm F2.8L lens.

Edge sharpness at closest focus at f8 for both lenses was disappointing and both lenses suffered from fairly severe chromatic aberrations at closest focus at 70mm (see below).

Edge sharpness at f8 for the Sigma lens (top) and the Canon lens (bottom)

What about Bokeh?

Bokeh is the the aesthetic quality of the blur in the out-of-focus areas. With fast lenses like a f2.8 zoom, the quality of the blur is important as a counter point to the sharp areas. To test how each lens rendered out-of-focus areas I shot various scenes at different focal lengths all at f2.8. Below are several sample photos. For me both the Sigma and the Canon seemed to render the out-of-focus with similar pleasing blur (but I give the nod to the Sigma for softer bokeh at 24mm).

Sigma lens at 24mm f2.8

Canon lens at 24mm f2.8

Sigma at 55mm, f2.8

Canon at 57mm, f2.8

Sigma at 70mm, f2.8

Canon at 70mm, f2.8

Overall Sharpness

I tested the sharpness of both lenses using my Canon EOS-1ds Mark III. I always use Live View and manual focus to test sharpness because auto-focus can vary with various lenses and each lens needs to be micro-adjusted for precision of focus. Live View with manual focusing gives consistent sharp results.

Both lenses are optimized for sharpness in the f2.8 to f8 range. Higher apertures like f11-f22 suffer from diffraction and yield less resolution than wider apertures. For example check out the 100% magnifications of the images below. The top photo is f2.8, the middle one is f8, the final one is f22. You can see that f8 is the sharpest, f2.8 next best and f22 trails far behind in sharpness. This was true for both lenses at all focal lengths.

Canon 24-70mm lens aperture resolution; f2.8, f8, f22

At 24mm the Sigma performed better than the Canon at all apertures in both center and edge sharpness. Below are two samples the first center sharpness at f8 where there is only a minor difference between the two lenses and then edge sharpness at f8 where the Sigma does a better job.

Center sharpness at 24mm at f8, Sigma (top), Canon (bottom)

Edge Sharpness at 24 mm at f8, Sigma (top), Canon (bottom)

In tests at 35mm, 50mm and 70mm, the Canon was slightly sharper in the center and at the edges of the frame than the Sigma but not by much. At f4 both lenses performed equally at all these focal lengths. From f5.6 to f22, the Sigma was sharper than the Canon at all of these focal lengths. As well, the Canon lenses produced darker photos than the Sigma lens even when both were shot at the exact same shutter speed and aperture. The Sigma photos were lighter and a bit more contrasty.

Center sharpness at 50mm at f8, Sigma (top), Canon (bottom); both at 1/30s - note differences in angle of coverage at 50mm

Overall I give the edge in sharpness to the Sigma lens which was a better performer at 24mm and as good or better than the Canon at all other focal lengths from f4 to f22. The Canon was better at f2.8 at 35, 50 and 70mm. If you are a landscape photographer the Sigma has less diffraction than the Canon at f16 and f22.

The overall scene - Sigma at 24mm, f22

Below is a 100% magnified view of the scene above shot with the Sigma and Canon lens at 24mm and f22 — the Sigma lens handles diffraction at small aperture openings much better.

Sigma at f22 (top), Canon at f22 (bottom)

Auto-Focus Tests

Both lenses were fast and responsive in auto-focus. I could get sharper photos with both lens using manual focus and 5x Live View, but auto-focus was pretty close in sharpness. I calibrated each lens using Lens Align and micro-focus adjustments in-camera and once calibrated each lens accurately popped into focus. Neither lens seemed better nor faster than the other when it came to action photography.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 24-70mm lens at 34mm, f2.8

Image Look

Both lenses produced images that looked similar. The Sigma lens produced slightly brighter and slightly more contrasty images than the Canon lens when both were shot in the same light at the same settings but overall both lenses produced crisp, sharp images.

Sigma 24-70mm lens

Canon 24-70mm lens

Final Considerations

The Canon lens has a filter size of 77mm which is common for Canon L lenses. The Sigma lens has an odd size filter thread of 82mm. If you use filters the odd size filter size on the Sigma might be a serious drawback requiring an investment in larger sized filters. For me, I use a Cokin Z-Pro Filter holder on my lenses and to get filters on the Sigma lenses was just a matter of buying an 82mm adapter ring for my filter holder. It would have been nice if the Sigma lens use 77mm threads which is a more common filter size than 82mm.

So Which One Should You Buy?

As always that depends. If you are a wedding or sports photographer who always shoots at f2.8 and likes to use back light, then I think the Canon is a good bet because it has better lens sharpness (by a small margin) at f2.8 and at all focal lengths except at 24mm. As well, the well designed lens hood/zoom mechanism on the Canon helps to prevent flare my having a more functional lens hood. Also the close focus ability of the Canon is better and sharper at 70mm than the Sigma lens and for detail photos at a wedding (rings, flowers, cake, tight face shots) this close-up capability would be welcome.

On the other hand, if you are looking for an all around travel and landscape lens, I would give the Sigma higher marks because it is smaller, lighter, sharper at 24mm and at all other focal lengths at apertures f4 and higher and it suffers less from diffraction at small f-stops (like f16 and f22). I also like that the 24mm setting on the Sigma is more true and more wide than the Canon 24mm setting. Also the Sigma lens is much less money which is always good. Both lenses seem to be robustly built and should handle the rigours of use well. Personally I prefer the mechanics and feel of the Sigma lens over the Canon lens.

Wish List

For both the Canon and Sigma lenses I wish both manufacturers made a 24-70mm lens with image stabilization (optical stabilization for Sigma). Having a stabilized lens would really help photographers get the most of a fast f2.8 lens so that we can hand-hold at lower shutter speeds. Both lenses also suffer from chromatic aberrations at the edges of the frame and are not as sharp as they could be when focused close. I expect better performance from such high end pro lenses. Overall either lens is a fine tool that will serve most photographers well. Which one you choose, depends on your interests and budget. I have no idea whether Canon or Sigma plan to update these work horse lenses but it may be worth waiting to see if they do unless you just can’t wait. Either way, you’ll get great images with these two lenses but be aware of their shortcomings.

©Darwin Wiggett - Canon 24-70mm f2.8L - great for tight close work!

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 24-70mm lens - great for landscape, travel and general use!

Note: I am sponsored by Sigma Canada and they provide me with lenses to use. I report things the way I see it and am not paid or influenced to bias the review. I use Sigma lenses whenever they perform better than Canon lenses. When they don’t I use Canon lenses. For my style of photography the Sigma 24-70mm lens is a better choice for me. Your mileage may vary.

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Samsung EX1/TL500 Review – A Canon G11/G12 Killer?

Posted in Articles about Photography, Camera Review, Photography Gear, TCBlog, VWBlog with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2010 by Darwin

Note: To see all future reviews please note this blog is no longer active, please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

This past weekend I went with Samantha to visit her brother Andy Simpson. Andy had taken a Samsung EX1 digital point-n-shoot camera to Maui for two weeks and was raving about the camera. He said I needed to try the camera and see how I thought it compared to Canon’s G11/G12 cameras. Andy let me use the camera for a day of dabbling and I compared the Samsung EX1 with the Canon G11 and the Sigma DP1x (the two point-n-shoot cameras that I own). Here is a brief summary of what I found.

(Please note, I am not sponsored or paid or receive kickbacks from either Canon or Samsung. This test was purely for my own interest. Be aware however that I am sponsored by Sigma Canada. I have provided a detailed and I believe fair review of the Sigma DP1x here. The results of this field test are mostly between the Canon G11 and the Samsung EX1 because those two cameras are feature for feature very similar. The Sigma DP1x is included only out of passing interest. I have yet to actually use the Canon G12.

Canon G11 Features:

  • 10 MP 1/1.7 inch sensor
  • 28-140mm equivelant lens
  • 2.8 inch tilt-swivel LCD
  • RAW image capability
  • dedicated exposure comp and ISO dials
  • face detection
  • image stabilization (2-stop shutter speed gain)
  • great macro capabilities (to 1cm)
  • 15 seconds to 1/4000 shutter speed
  • f2.8-8 aperture range
  • VGA Movie Clips

The Canon G12

  • all of the features of the G11 and…
  • front control dial (in addition to rear control dial of the G11)
  • hybrid IS for close-up photography (4-stop shutter speed gain)
  • multi-aspect ratio shooting
  • HD Video
  • HDR shooting mode
  • HS system (better high ISO performance)

The Samsung EX1/TL500

  • 10 MP 1/1.7 inch sensor
  • 24-72mm equivalent Scheider-Kreuznach lens
  • 3.0 inch tilt-swivel LCD
  • RAW image capability
  • front and rear control dials
  • face detection
  • image stabilization (2-stop shutter speed gain)
  • multi-aspect ratio shooting
  • great macro capabilities (to 5cm)
  • 16 seconds to 1/1600 shutter speed
  • f1.8-f7 aperture range
  • HDR shooting mode
  • VGA movie clips

The key selling feature for me of the Canon G11 and G12 series is the tilt-swivel LCD. Anyone who followed my Daily Snap for 2010 knows how much I loved the G11 for the tilt-swivel LCD to get really creative angles that are difficult without this feature. I love the feature so much that I feel lost without a tilt-swivel LCD. There are very few point-n-shoot cameras on the market with a tilt-swivel LCD and RAW capability (which is the second most important camera feature for me). Samsung’s EX1 not only has a tilt-swivel LCD and RAW just like the Canon G11/G12, it also has a feature list that compares well with Canon’s G-series cameras. But the Samsung betters the Canon cameras with a bigger LCD, a super fast lens (f1.8!) and a wider angle lens (24mm equivalent). The Canon’s have more telephoto reach, slightly closer macro capabilities and the G12 has HD video.

I took out the Canon G11 and the Samsung EX1 and shot the same scenes with both cameras. I was interested in how well each camera handled (ergonomics), how the files compared to each other and how useful were the slight differences between the Samsung and the Canon G11.

The Tilt-Swivel LCD

Both the Canon G11 (the G12 is the same) and the Samsung EX1 have a tilt-swivel LCD with the same range of movements. I preferred the Samsung LCD because it was physically bigger and the images was displayed larger on the LCD. I also liked the look and feel of the images on the Samsung LCD better, but this latter is a matter of personal taste. Really, all three of the cameras have a great LCD display that most people will love.

The f1.8 Aperture

The ability to shoot fast (f1.8-f2.4 depending on the zoom range) with the Samsung EX1 is a blessing. I loved it to do indoor existing light photography. Also it was great to get a shallow slice of focus which is difficult to do with a small sensor point-n-shoot camera. I can see this as a great advantage for travel photography and low light shooting. Below is a shot taken hand-held at 1/10th of a second at f1.8 at 80 ISO with the EX1

Samsung EX1 at f1.8 for a thin slice of focus

The Wide, Wide View

I am a wide angle lens fan. I see the world from a wide angle point of view. On my full frame camera a 24mm lens is my absolute favorite and so it is easy to understand why I prefer the big wide view of the Samsung over the Canon G11/G12. You would think that there is not much difference between 24mm equivalent (Samsung) and 28mm equivalent (Canon G11/G12) but check out the photos of Brando below taken from the exact same spot.

Canon G11 at widest angle setting = 28mm

Samsung EX1 at widest angle setting = 24mm

The Long View

The Canon G11/G12 has a longer telephoto setting than the Samsung (140mm equivalent vs. 72mm). For a lot of people the longer reach is really important. I am often racking the Canon G11 all the way out to pull in distant landscapes and make extractive intimate details. I admit to missing the extra reach on the Samsung. Pictures like the image below of a distant landscape across a river are hard to do with the limited telephoto range of the Samsung EX1

Telephoto landscape with the Canon G11

Fast and Easy Camera Controls

Anybody who follows this blog is likely to know that I really dislike the layout and buttons on the back of the G11. They are too crowded together and leave no room for my thumb to hold the camera (see here for more complaining!). The Canon G12 will be a little better in this regard with the addition of a front dial to the camera. But even that camera has a back panel of crowded buttons and dials that would drive me crazy. The Samsung also has a rear and a front dial but there is more space for my thumb on the back of the camera than on the G11. I simply can not use the Canon G11 with gloves on and so winter photography gets a bit chilly. I tried the Samsung with gloves on and had no real problem operating all the controls. I found the controls intuitive and user friendly (more so than the Canon G11).

The Lens

Samsung touts the use of a Schneider-Kreuznach Lens on their camera as getting the ultimate in sharpness. Schneider optics have a legendary reputation among photographers. So it is no wonder Samsung uses the optical company’s name to help sell the camera. But does the great lens really make a difference? I took an image of the sign below at f5.0 on both cameras hand-held using auto-focus and 1/100th of a second. Both RAW images were processed exactly the same way in Adobe Camera RAW.

©Overall Photo of Sign

Here is a comparison of center sharpness:

Canon G11 - Center Shapness

Samsung EX1 - Center Sharpness

The sharpness at the center of the image looks very similar to me. There might be a slight edge to the Samsung, but in practical terms, you’d be hard-pressed to see any difference in prints between the two cameras. Where the differences in the lens quality starts to show up is at the edges of the frame. Below is a scene taken with both cameras at f5.0, ISO 100, hand-held (this time at 1/160th of a second).

Overall tree scene

The next two photos compare edge sharpness between the Canon G11 and the Samsung EX1:

Canon G11 edge sharpness

Samsung EX1 edge sharpenss

The Samsung more clearly wins the edge sharpness test. Also the Samsung has less colour fringing at the edges of the frame. In the photos below colour fringing becomes stronger at the edges of the frame in out-of-focus high contrast areas on the Canon G11; Here is the overall scene:

Old Building - overall scene

And here are the frame edges showing the amount of colour fringing exhibited by each camera:

Canon G11 fringing

Samsung EX1 fringing

Overall, there are not huge differences in image quality between the Canon G11 and the Samsung EX1 but the Samsung does have the edge when pixel-peeking. In the real world of print and publication these differences are really minor and negligible.

Video

The real winner with video at least on paper would be the Canon G12 which gives HD video where the others do not. I did not test video between the cameras.

Practical Controls

I mostly use aperture priority and manually select my focus point. Exposure compensation on the G11/G12 is easy with a dedicated dial. On the Samsung the front dial does the job just as fast. To alter the focus point on the G11/G12 you need to push the focus point selector and then use the rear thumb-wheel to move the selector around. Same on the Samsung, but on the latter I could do with gloves on, I could not with the G11.

File Quality Compared to a Big Sensor Point-n-Shoot

Just for fun, I took a few comparison shots between the Samsung EX1 and the Sigma DP1x which is a point-n-shoot with an APS-sized sensor. The Sigma has a dSLR-sized sensor, a prime lens (28mm equivalent) and delivers stunning image quality. How did the Samsung shape up in this comparison? Here is the overall scene:

Fort overall

Fort Detail - Samsung EX1

Fort detail - Sigma DP1x

The Samsung can not compete with the big sensor on the Sigma but the Sigma is a specialty camera with a fixed prime lens. Really, it is not fair to compare the two cameras but we can clearly see less colour fringing and much better resolution in the Sigma file. To see how the Sigma DP1x compares to the Canon G11 and the Canon Rebel T2i (a 35mm dSLR camera) check out this review.

Conclusion

The Samsung EX1 gives the Canon G11/G12 a run for the money. For those who love a fast wide angle lens, the Samsung comes out on top. Personally I am willing to give up some telephoto reach for a lighting-fast super-wide lens. But that’s me. I think the controls on the Samsung are better than on the two Canon cameras mostly because I hate Canon’s crowded back panel. And I prefer Samsung’s bigger LCD. The Canon G11/G12 has the edge for longer telephoto shots and closer macro. The G12 has HD video and 4-stop image stabilization. I did not do any high ISO comarisons so I can not comment on whether the new HS system on the Canon G12 gives better high ISO performance or not. Personally I prefer a faster lens at lower ISO than a slower lens with better ISO performance. In the end, I think it is a draw and which camera you choose depends on your needs, wants and preferences. If I did not already own the Canon G11, I would definately buy the Samsung EX1/TL500. If you want a tilt-swivel LCD point-n-shoot camera then your two top choices to consider would be the Canon G12 or the Samsung EX1 followed by a used Canon G11. Based on current prices the Samsung EX1 is the best buy of the bunch – see below!

For other reviews of the Samsung EX1/TL500 see:

Luminous Landscape

dpreview

Steve’s Digicams

Buy the Canon G12 ($450), buy the Samsung EX1 ($350), buy the Sigma DP1x ($600) — the Canon G11 is discontinued and only available used.

A Field Review of the Sigma DP1x

Posted in Photography Gear, TCBlog with tags , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2010 by Darwin

Note: To see all future reviews please note this blog is no longer active, please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

The Sigma DP1x was announced in Feb. 2010 but didn’t really make it into stores until this September. The Dp1x is a niche camera designed for photographers interested in high quality files in a compact package. This is a small camera with an SLR sized sensor. In fact, the sensor is from 7 to 12 times larger than the average point-n-shoot camera. The camera comes with a 16.6mm f4 lens (equivalent to a 28mm on a full frame dSLR). In theory, the combination of a prime lens and a big sensor should give this point-n-shoot a real advantage in producing quality files over a regular compact camera.

I thought it would be fun to try the DP1x as a landscape ‘point-n-shoot’ camera. I am a fan of wide angle lenses for my landscape photography (24-28mm is my most used lens range) and I am also a fan of prime lenses, so for me the DP1x was  great to try (one lens, small camera, ‘big’ results). I am not going to spend a lot of time on the technical aspects of the camera. For that stuff  go to the Sigma Dp1x site which explains the concept and design of the camera. All I was interested in was how the camera handled and what kind of files it produced in field conditions. As well, readers should note that I am sponsored by Sigma Canada. I hold no punches in this review but some people might be hesitant about my objectivity. I direct reader’s to some other review sites if you want other opinions: Trusted Reviews, Let’s Go Digital.

One last caveat, I am a working photographer and not a camera reviewer. All I can tell you is what I like and dislike about a camera. Also I can only compare this camera with other digital cameras I own or have owned. The only point-n-shoot digital cameras I have used extensively are the Canon G9 and the Canon G11. I do make some comparisons about performance of the Sigma Dp1x against the Canon G11 (and against its bigger cousin the Canon Rebel T2i)  even though this is like comparing a cheetah with a house cat.

First Impressions

When I first unpacked the camera it struck me as a little ‘plain’. Let’s just say this camera is not a fashion statement. But later I learned to appreciate its simple design and layout. Secondly, I was surprised that the lens which sticks out of the body actually expands out even more when the camera is turned on. I suppose this is a design function of the large sensor but it just seemed weird to have a ‘retractable’ fixed lens. Also the camera does not have a built in shutter-like lens cap like the Canon G-series but instead uses a regular lens cap like a dSLR. The controls seemed pretty intuitive but I did need to look up a few things up to understand how they worked (like how to get auto bracketing). Finally the LCD screen on the back of the camera is disappointing, not too large and not very bright and ‘snappy’.

In the Field

I took the Sigma DP1x in the field with me on the Fire and Ice Photo Tour 2010 and then used it subsequent to that to make photos around the house and on short excursions. To see some samples of the kinds of shots I took with the camera check out the my Daily Snaps. To summarize, below is a list of things I liked and disliked about the use of the camera in the field:

Dislikes

  1. I really do not like to have a lens cap on a point-n-shoot camera. I am used to the built-in lens cap on the Canon G11. I hate having to remove the lens cap on the Sigma DP1x whenever I want to shoot (I always misplace it in some pocket). Also the camera won’t turn on unless you remove the lens cap. This means if you just want to playback photos for review, you’ll need to take off the lens cap before the camera will turn on. Can you say annoying?
  2. The LCD is smallish and not too bright or snappy. The LCD is functional except in bright sunlight where it is too dim to really see what your doing. I had to use a Hoodman Loupe over the LCD in bright daylight to compose photos. And in dimmer light like dawn and dusk, the LCD was very grainy. Canon cameras, and especially the G11/G12 have an amazing bright, snappy, beautiful LCD. The display on the G11/G12 just out shines the  Sigma display (see photo below).
  3. Auto-focus in dim light was sometimes problematic. The Canon G11 could focus in much dimmer light than the Sigma DP1x.
  4. Sometimes white balance would appear to change from one shot to another or from one ISO setting to another. White balance seemed most consistent at 50ISO. No problem if you shoot RAW, but a real problem if you shoot in JPEG mode.
  5. When shooting RAW images it takes ‘forever’ to write the images to the SD card. Faster cards help but the Sigma is notorious for being slow at writing RAW files. A single RAW images takes 5 to 7 seconds to write to the card. Do an exposure bracket of 3 RAW shots for HDR and you’ll be waiting for about 20 seconds before the camera is ready to shoot again! This wasn’t so bad for landscape photography but for street photography, this might be a serious drawback.
  6. Movie mode is pointless at 320 x 240. Why have a big sensor with such tiny movies? Why have a movie mode at all?
  7. Battery life  is ok, but not great (250 shots at 25C). I could shoot all day on one battery even in cold conditions (around freezing) but I needed to keep the camera fairly warm between shots in order to keep the battery charge up (I carried it in my coat)
  8. No macro mode. The Sigma only focuses to 30 cm (1 foot) and so macro photography is out of the question.
  9. No face recognition auto-focus. I have gotten spoiled by face recognition on the Canon G11. It works great to automatically recognize and on a face in the frame. The Sigma DP1x is not a spontaneous people camera.
  10. Why is the lens only an f4? I was hoping for at least a f2.8 lens for lower light and thin slices of focus applications.
  11. And why no Optical Stabilization built into the lens? A point-n-shoot is for hand-holding and OS (IS on Canon) really helps us get sharper shots.
  12. No tilt swivel LCD screen. I am getting addicted to the tilt swivel screen on digital cameras and wish every camera (even pro dSLR’s) had these wonderfully flexible displays.

©Darwin Wiggett

The Sigma LCD on the left is very dim and flat even with the screen turned to its brightest setting (as it was here). The Canon LCD at default settings is bright, contrasty and colourful (overly saturated IMO). I think the Sigma shows colours accurately but the screen is often too dim to compose photos well.

Likes

  1. I like the simplicity of the design. The Canon G11 has so many buttons and dials that it reminds me of an airplane cockpit. The Sigma is clean and sparse and the controls are intuitive and well laid out. How refreshing!
  2. My biggest pet peeve with the G11 is that they put a whole lot of camera controls on the back of the camera right where your thumb is supposed to rest to hold the camera (the same is true of the G12). I am always accidentally hitting some button with my thumb on the G11 when I do not want to. And forget about wearing gloves when shooting with the G11! Imagine my joy to find that the Sigma has a ton of space for the thumb (see photo below). And the controls are easy to access even with gloves on. Winter photography is easy with the Sigma camera. I could even use the controls on the Sigma by feel when looking through the Hoodman Loupe.
  3. With both the Sigma and Canon cameras, I almost always select my focus point manually. The Sigma is much faster to use in this regard than the Canon.
  4. If I need to use manual focus it is super easy with the Sigma with the handy manual focus thumb dial. Trying to manually focus the G11 is like trying to milk a cow in handcuffs (with your hands behind your back and with giant mittens on).
  5. Changing the aperture, using exposure compensation and getting into auto-bracketing mode is so much easier and so painless with the Sigma. Canon requires that you push three buttons, stand on your head and sing the national anthem backwards to change these things (except exposure comp).
  6. The QS (quick select) button on the Sigma makes changing ISO, white balance, flash modes, metering modes, image size, picture style and motor drive settings so fast and simple. Hurray! Canon makes these cahnges an obstacle course!
  7. In aperture priority the Sigma meters and functions down to 15 second exposures. The Canon G11 stops functioning at 1 second in aperture priority. In order to shoot exposures longer than 1 second with the Canon G11, I need to switch the camera to manual mode and then changing aperture and shutter speed is painful requiring Canon’s famous three button, thumb smashing, curse the world dance.

The Canon G11 back controls

The Sigma DP1x back controls

The Sigma DP1X (bottom photo) has tons of space for the thumb and the controls are well spaced out for easy access. The G11 (top photo) has no space for the thumb and all the back panel controls are jammed together in a minute little space. Good luck not accidentally hitting one of these buttons when you hold the camera!

Image Quality

For me this is where the wind meets the sail. Does the bigger sensor and the Foveon technology of the Sigma DP1x give us great images as promised? Let’s take a look.

Below is a comparison shot of the same scene taken with the Canon G11 at maximum aperture of f8, the Sigma Dp1x at f11, and the Canon Rebel T2i (an APS sized dSlr) using a Sigma 17-50 f2.8 lens at f11. All images were shot at 100 ISO and all images were processed with the same settings in Adobe Camera Raw. There are distinct colour differences between each file, none are right or wrong, just different. Which one is ‘best’ is simply a matter of preference.

When we look at the details of each file, we notice a difference in sharpness between the small sensor G1 (top photo) and the larger sensors on the Sigma (middle) and the Rebel (bottom). I enlarged each photo at the point of focus (the grass blade to the lower left) so that differences in DOF are not responsible for differences in sharpness. To my eye the Sigma is slightly sharper than the Rebel but not by much.

Moving on to a more colourful object (my jeans on my bed), the image below shows how each camera renders the scene. Each camera was set at f5.6 this time at 100 ISO and all images were processed using the same settings in Adobe Camera RAW. The top photo is from the CanonG11, the middle photo from the Sigma DP1x and the bottom photo from the Canon Rebel T2i outfitted with a Sigma 17-50 f2.8 lens. Again we see differences in colours and in contrast. To my eye (as I remember the scene) the Sigma seemed to handle the accuracy better (but this is purely subjective).

When we look at the details of each shot at the point of focus we see that the larger sensor cameras had more detail than the Canon G11 (top) but the Sigma DP1x (middle) significantly outperformed the Rebel (bottom). Also the colours of the Sigma  DP1x really are vivid but true in hue (the Foveon sensor advantage?).

In another test with just the two point-n-shoots battling it out in a high contrast scene, the two cameras gave very different results. The G11 is the top photo, the Dp1x is the bottom photo.

When we look at details of the two photo, the Sigma just blows away the Canon in terms of resolution.

I did a shot in low light in my bedroom to see how well each point-n-shoot handled longer exposures (4 seconds at f2.8 for the Canon, 8 seconds at f4 for the Sigma) and how much I could force a shallow slice of focus by using the widest aperture on each camera. Also it was interesting to see how both cameras handled the green apple colour of the walls. Again the Sigma (bottom) really seemed to give accurate colours while the G11 (top) struggled with the intense greens turning them more yellowish. Also notice the distortion in the Canon lens at its widest setting (barrel distortion). The Sigma does give a better thin slice of focus than the G11 which has a hard time giving blurred backgrounds even at f2.8.

I rarely shoot with any of my cameras at higher ISO’s. I prefer to use ISO 100 or lower whenever I can and I use a tripod a lot. But I did a comparison of ISO between the two point-n-shoot cameras and the Sigma seem to fare better than the Canon as would be expected for a bigger sensor camera but not by as much as I thought. It looks like the Sigma gets a little softer as ISO goes up. I processed all the files at the same settings with no noise reduction in Adobe Camera Raw. The Canon G11 is on the left and the Sigma is on the right. The ISO settings from top to bottom were ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200.

I need to test further the ISO performance of the Sigma DP1x and see if it can perform as well as the Rebel and other APS sensor dSLRs. More on that in a later post.

Conclusion

The Sigma DP1x is a specialty camera, no question about it. It is not an all around point-n-shoot that is versatile to use like the Canon G11. If you want a ‘do everything camera’ then the Sigma Dp1x is not for you. But if you want really great files and do not feel limited by a prime wide angle lens, then the Sigma is a top performer. I absolutely love the handling of the camera (Canon take note!) but the main short coming for me is the DP1x’s weak LCD display (it is dim in bright light and performs poorly in low light). If Sigma upgrades this camera with a better display screen, gives it a faster lens with OS (Optical Stabilization), and improves auto-focus in low light then they would have an absolute killer point-n-shoot camera!. For me, as it is now, and despite its shortcomings, it has still found a way into my camera bag because of its amazing image quality and use-ability. Now I take two cameras with me, the G11 and the DP1x. I almost always go for the Sigma first especially for important images where quality is my number one concern.

Below are my review ratings for the Sigma DP1x

Image Quality 9/10

Build Quality 8/10

LCD and Image Display 6/10

Handling 8.5/10

Features 7/10

Price 6/10 ($800 MSRP)

Total = 7.4/10

The Daily Snap – November 29

Posted in Photography Gear, The Daily Snap with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2010 by Darwin

©Darwin Wiggett - Canon G11

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma DP1x

Here is the same scene shot with the Canon G11 and the Sigma Dp1x. Interesting how the two cameras render the same scene quite differently in terms of colours. Which rendition is ‘best’ is a matter of personal preference. What was obvious though is the bigger sensor size of the Sigma made for much better files – see below:

Canon G11 detail

Sigma DP1x Detail

Sigma Canada’s Join and Win Contest

Posted in Good News, Monthly Photo Contest, Photography Gear, TCBlog with tags , , , , , , , on October 18, 2010 by Darwin

Gentec International proudly announces its new Sigma Canada website showcasing the lenses, cameras, filters and accessories from Sigma, the world’s leading independent lens manufacturer. The new website will become a comprehensive resource for Sigma in Canada. The goal of the new website is to provide photographers with all the latest Sigma news and product information, plus a wealth of reference charts, photos, videos, and more. By joining the site, Sigma enthusiasts will receive product updates, promos and advance information as they are announced. In addition to joining the site, photographers can also upload their photos taken with Sigma lenses and cameras. The Sigma User Gallery is an ideal forum for photographers to share their best images with others in the Sigma Canada community, as well as with other photographers visiting the site.

To celebrate the launch of the new Sigma site, Gentec is offering a chance to win a fantastic photo prize package. Anyone who joins the Sigma website or posts photos to the Sigma User Gallery by December 15th, 2010 will be eligible to win (the winner will be randomly chosen and notified by January 15th, 2011 by Gentec International). The prize package, valued at $1000, includes a Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS lens, a Gary Fong Lightsphere® Collapsible flash diffuser, a Black Rapid RS-4 camera strap, and a Roots TRZ40 DSLR system backpack. Contest open only to Canadian residents.

Not Canadian?? Not to worry Gentec has given me a 20mm prime lens (in the lens mount of your choice) to give away to any winning photographer anywhere in the world (Martians need not apply!). Just head over to Visual Wilderness to enter. The contest theme is Visually Wild and we have some great entries already. Deadline Oct 31, 2010.

Walking in the West – July 24

Posted in Good News, Photography Gear, Techniques, Workshops and Seminars with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2010 by Darwin

As part of Scott Kelby’s Third Annual Photo Walk we all sauntered down to the Bar-U Historical Ranch south of Longview, Alberta for some authentic old time ranch scenes. What fun! With old buildings, lots of tack, ranch gear and actors in period costumes there was a wealth of stuff to photograph. We had classic Alberta Blue skies and for those photographers who could ‘see’ beyond the high contrast mid-morning light they were rewarded with great opportunities.

Personally I only made a few images in between helping out fellow photographers and the four ‘keepers’ I made are below. I definitely need to go back to shoot more from this absolute gold mine for photographers. I must also say that we had an amazing group of friendly, helpful, and talented shooters come out. The best part of the Photo Walk was meeting wonderful people and making new friends. Thanks all for making the event a success!

Also congratulations to Barry who was the first to sign up for the Photo Walk and won a canvas print from yours truly. The first person to sign up for any of the worksops, tours or lectures that Sam and I host wins a nice prize. Watch this blog and Sam’s blog for upcoming tour announcements. Also Hendrik won the draw for the ‘excess’ money we collected for the entry fee to the Bar-U ($125  just for hanging out with us – see… we need to pay people to be our friends!). Also John Fujimagari did a smashing job of taking our group photo. Thanks John!

©John Fujimagari

©Darwin Wiggett

I took the photo above with natural window light and I used my new Sigma 8-16mm ultra-wide lens (love it!) to take in an ultra-wide view of this scene from the Bar-U (click on the photo to see it bigger). I also used my new Canon Rebel T2i for this shot and was pretty darned impressed by its performance at ISO 800 (see 100% detail shot below).

©Darwin Wiggett - ISO 800, 100% detail, Canon T2i

There were wonderful opportunities for existing light photographs of ranch hands at work as we see here in the photo from the blacksmith shop.

©Darwin Wiggett, Canon T2i, Sigma 8-16mm lens

Here are a couple of more shots I did with the Sigma 8-16 on the Canon T2i.

©Darwin Wiggett - Canon T2i, Sigma 8-16mm

©Darwin Wiggett - Canon Rebel T2i, Sigma 8-16mm lens

To see how I made the shot of the Long Johns above check out this link. And finally if you want to see the results from the participants just go this Flickr group and watch as fresh stuff is uploaded over the next week or so.

Field Test – Sigma AF 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM

Posted in Photography Gear, TCBlog, Techniques with tags , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2010 by Darwin

Note: To see all future reviews please note this blog is no longer active, please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

I was lucky enough to be able to test Sigma’s new 8-16mm ultra-wide rectilinear zoom prior and during the recent Extreme Saskatchewan tour.  If you want rigorous lab tests of this lens’ performance I recommend PhotoZone and LensTip. Below are my impressions of the lens from shooting landscape images in the field—no lens test charts were harmed in the making of this blog entry!

Background

The Sigma 8-16mm lens (12-24mm equivalent on a full-frame camera) is specifically made for APS-C sized cameras and is available in Nikon, Canon, Sony, Sigma, and Pentax mounts. At 8mm, the angle of view is a whopping 119 degrees–that is wide! For  the full specs on this lens refer to the Sigma Website but in short this lens is the widest zoom currently on the market and has special FLD glass for reduced chromatic aberrations (you know to get rid of those nasty coloured edges along lines of high contrast). The spiffy glass goodies and tough build are meant to give pro quality images. Supposedly this lens delivers  punchy, sharp images in an extreme wide-angle zoom. Can it deliver?

Sigma's 8-16mm lens on a Canon Rebel

First Impressions

The lens is solidly built with a wonderfully smooth feeling manual focus and zoom mechanism. But the real surprise occurs after you take off the lens cap and the protective lens tube–it is crazy just how wide 8mm is… the whole world expands before you! This is a fun lens that demands you go out and play with its severe angles of view. Of course because of its bulging front element you can not filter this lens. But when you are this wide, things like polarizing filters are pointless unless you enjoy uneven splotches of polarized light across the wide scene. In scenes where I had a bright sky and a dark foreground I did miss being able to use a grad filter but that problem can be fixed by making several exposures and blending them together in post-production.

Results

I was impressed! The lens was very sharp even wide open and across all focal lengths. Mostly I was blown away by how sharp the lens was at 8mm even on the edges and especially at the apertures of f4.5 to f8. Also I was pleased by how little chromatic aberration I saw and how well the lens handled flare in backlit situations. I found I almost always used the lens at 8mm for extreme views and it was really nice that the lens performed so well even at its widest focal length.

I found that this lens performed best at all focal lengths at an aperture of f8 which gave great overall sharpness from center to edge and also gave the most even exposure across the frame. With APS-C cameras, small apertures such as f16 and f22 cause much diffraction and image quality suffers. With the two Canon Rebels I used (XSi and T2i) this lens gave image results that were of high quality at f11 but at f16 and f22 image sharpness suffered greatly. Frankly performance at f22 was really bad. I recommend using apertures of f11 or less with this lens. I always seemed to have enough depth-of-field even when limited to f11 with this lens so don’t let the limit of usable apertures worry you much.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 8-16mm at 12mm

What I liked most about the lens was how I could use the extreme wide angle to let me get it all in. I also liked to be able to exaggerate perspective and to create fresh and exciting viewpoints. I think this is a great landscape or travel lens that opens up worlds of creative possibilities. I sure had fun using the lens and I got some memorable images. As a final note if you have video capabilities on your camera you can make some crazy fun videos at 8mm! Below are a few more images I took with the lens–all I can say is each photo is sharp from edge to edge which really makes me happy because most wide angle lenses I have tried have not performed this good!

BTW if you want a chance to win this lens be sure to enter the Travel Photo Contest on this blog And thanks especially to Gentec who supplied a review lens and who graciously has offered a brand new 8-16mm lens as the grand prize in the photo contest!

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 8-16mm at 16mm

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 8-16mm at 9mm

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 8-16mm at 8mm

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 8-16mm at 8mm

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 8-16mm at 8mm

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 8-16mm at 8mm

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 8-16mm at 8mm