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Sigma SD15 - Performance and Results

By Cliff Smith



Our Score:


One of the upgrades introduced with the SD15 is a new processor which is supposed to provide faster performance, but I have to say that I couldn't detect any significant improvement. It still starts up quickly, and in single shot mode it can shoot at just over one frame a second in both Raw and JPEG modes, although in the former the buffer fills up after approximately 16 shots and it slows down. In continuous shooting mode is can manage 3fps, but only for 21 frames . This is a bit on the slow side by modern DSLR standards; the Nikon D5000 can manage 5fps, while the Pentax K-7 can shoot at 5.2fps.

The autofocus system is also a bit primitive, lacking the cross-type sensors used by most other manufacturers. It is comparatively slow and is also inclined to hunt around, especially at long ranges or in dim light. The SD15 does feature a decent AF assist lamp, a bright white LED on the front near the handgrip, but this only helps at short range.

Battery duration is also not as good as it might be. The camera is powered by a large 1500mAh Li-ion cell, which one would think should be big enough. Sigma makes no particular claim for its performance, but I found that it only lasted for approximately 170 shots, with few using the built-in flash and with minimal use of the LCD monitor.

Of course the main claim that Sigma makes for the Foveon X3 sensor technology is that it produces superior image quality compared to other types of sensor. The colour reproduction in good light is certainly exceptional, with rich vibrant hues, outstanding tonal range and good detail even in highly saturated areas. However it does have a couple of drawbacks. Dynamic range in low light conditions is lower, and image noise in JPEG mode is much worse than any of its rivals, showing obtrusive noise and saturation reduction even at 200 ISO. Image noise in Raw mode can be corrected to some extent in either the supplied software or more effectively in Adobe Camera Raw, but it's still a problem.

However the main drawback with the SD15 is the sheer lack of resolution. Sigma can call it 14.06 megapixels until they're blue in the face, but there's no getting away from the fact that the final image size is only 2640 x 1760 pixels, 4.64 megapixels, and that's where it counts. The vastly superior resolution of most modern APC-C CMOS sensors, as well as their superior light-gathering ability, especially from the new back-illuminated designs, simply trumps any advantage that the three-in-one Foveon sensor design imparts. Yes, it is certainly much better than a conventional 4.6 megapixel sensor, but it's competing with technology from five years ago. These days even the cheapest entry-level DSLRs have more than double that resolution. Considering its price tag of nearly £800, the SD15 simply can't compete on features, performance, versatility or image quality with smaller, lighter cameras costing half as much, which ultimately makes it pretty poor value for money.

There's no denying though that the SD15 can take a very nice picture under the right circumstances, and I do believe that the Foveon X3 sensor holds some promise, as demonstrated by the Sigma DP2s compact, so I will hold out a hope that the 15.3-megapixel Sigma SD1 due out next year will finally realise the potential that the technology has been tempting us with for so long.


Although the Foveon sensor technology certainly has potential, as it stands the SD15 is only an incremental upgrade from the three-year-old SD14 and can't compete with the current range of consumer DSLR cameras. It is expensive, the design is bulky and heavy, it has relatively poor performance, and it simply doesn't produce the kind of image quality to compare with its rivals, especially at higher ISO settings.

Josef Salon

October 22, 2010, 1:31 pm

Sigma should make lenses and forget about cameras, who needs this one especially for this price?

Philip Angell

October 22, 2010, 1:33 pm

I was wondering whether the foveon sensor might mitigate the problems of stage photography under LED lights?


October 22, 2010, 2:05 pm

I love Sigma Cameras, but the SD15 was just a quick money maker until they release the SD1, if I had bought this camera I would be looking at the SD1 spec sheet and crying.

But its still nice see the review, I hope you guys get to review the SD1 soon, that camera will either blow away the competition in image quality or its gona be a lemon.


October 22, 2010, 3:16 pm

What planet are they on, releasing a camera where ISO 400 looks comparable to ISO 12800 on a good body?


October 22, 2010, 5:35 pm

It almost makes me feel sick to imagine someone walking away from a shop with this camera, at that price.


October 22, 2010, 8:02 pm

Well, you don't know until you shoot with it. It has something Hasselbladish. It has an outstanding image quality, especially when it comes to details, but it's a camera that should be used only with controlled light environments, like studios. When it comes to price, it's something like Hasselblad - why pay 20.000pounds for an H2D-22 when it cant use high ISO and can't take more than 2fps? It's because they are the essence of photographic equipment, not gadgets who take photos from time to time. Even Nikont takes presentation photos with PhaseOne backs.

I own a few Nikons and used many Canons but my SD14 it's in a class of it's own (a low-end Hass).


October 22, 2010, 10:39 pm

"I own a few Nikons and used many Canons but my SD14 it's in a class of it's own (a low-end Hass)."

A very, very low-end Hass. About the only thing they have in common is the speed of use, or lack thereof!


October 22, 2010, 11:53 pm

Lordie me! Another over-priced, under-specified camera whose only true prowess will be in convincing the gullible to sell it to themselves on some fanciful grounds that it's a step on The True Path To Photographic Righteousness.

Thanks to Sapporodan for hitting this waste of time and money on the water-line, amidships. Camera brands should take clear note when they disappoint their own fans, but never pay attention to sycophants. Sigma should have avoided shooting themselves in the foot; they have a great and hard-won reputation as a lens outfit to nurture.

Have we had an SD1 review yet? If not that seems to be an excellent idea; give Sigma a chance to come up smelling of roses.


October 23, 2010, 3:21 am

Absolute short term financial desperation can be the only reason to release this camera. Shocking. It might be great under controlled conditions, but only if those conditions also include a limit on the size of the picture you're taking.


Ed 3

October 23, 2010, 4:46 am

I just can't imagine anyone choosing this over a Nikon or Canon, Samsung or Olympus, Sony or Pentax...why oh why...especially with that noise at iso 400! Mind boggling!

Ian Syme

October 23, 2010, 8:49 pm

As an SD14 owner I had hoped for great things from the SD15 but alas no......Still the same noise problems and processing speed limitations. Don't get me wrong, the SD14 takes superb images in the right situation but is not the camera to buy to do everything you want from an SLR. Forget serious work at anything higher than iso 100 and RAW format. Guess I'll just have to wait for the SD1 but judging from past endeavours it may be a long wait!


November 4, 2010, 10:47 pm

I have this camera for a few months now. I only shoot raw. It captures images that are better than anything I have seen in my life in this category (DSLRs below 1000 euro).

I agree with that it has serious limitations when it comes to features but image quality is superb.

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