Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The New Sigma SD14: 4.7 Megapixels = 14 Megapixels?

Photokina is going to be one hell of a show this year, and one of the many secrets being released and teased is that Sigma is coming out with with another DSLR, the SD14. Just from the name, DigitalDingus assumes it will be marketed as a 14MP DSLR, but will actually be a 4.7MP imager. Confusing? Yes, and the tradition continues in the world of image sensor spinning.

Preliminary Results? Pretty Good

The SD14 appears to put out some great images, just like the SD10 and the SD9 did many years ago. And this I won't really debate because how can a person debate a camera in and of itself? What is to be debated, is the way Sigma and Foveon present their cameras in relation to all the other competitors on the market.

Sell Your Camera, Not Your Spin

The DSLR market is certainly competitive. The Megapixel Wars have been battling each other several years now, but why add to the problem of an already confusing consumer product by adding subjectively different terminology as well. Fuji is another company which loves to hype it's "Honeycomb" sensors. In fact, Fuji and Sigma (along with Foveon who make the imagers for Sigma's SD DSLRs) are the two companies which I really have an issue with over any other camera manufacturers.

Sigma and Foveon are still telling the consumer, there is more than one "pixel" which is absorbing light in their cameras. Not true. If this were true, the imager wouldn't be 3.34MP in the former Sigma SD10 (as in 10MP imager--3.34MPx3). With the SD14, I'm assuming Sigma and Foveon have not actually made a 14MP imager. If they did, I'd certainly revise my preview and would be congratulating both companies for taking a giant leap in technology and honesty. I still have a small grain of hope come September 26, 2006, when Sigma will announce the full details (however, I am sure we'll get a hold of the specs much earlier and post them well as a gazillion other camera forums).

Why Sigma DSLR Images Look Good

Pixel. Pitch. Those two words need to be ingrained in every camera users brain. The reason why Sigma's DSLR images have looked rather good, is because the imagers have an exceptionally high pixel size (i.e., pixel pitch) which are in the same league as the Canon 1DMKII imager. Having fairly large pixels in a DSLR will consistently produce great images. In fact, the Canon 1D, only a 4.2MP DSLR, released over 5 years ago, is still used by many professionals. Why? The pixel size is 10.8µm x 10.8µm. We will discuss pixel sizes in another article, but for now, the general consensus is the larger the pixel, the better the image. The larger the bucket of water, the more water you can capture...

Resolution Does Matter In The Overall World Of Photography

While pixel size is certainly the #1 priority in my book, if your overall resolution is not in the same ballpark as your competitor's, your imager's benefits become less of a benefit. For example, Nikon has released the D200 10.2MP and D80 10.2MP DSLR. Canon has released their 13MP 5D. If the Sigma SD14 is actually 4.7MP, we have at least double the pixel count and over 25% more resolution from other competitors (we have to remember in order to get twice as much resolution, you would need four times as many pixels).

Now, Sigma and Foveon are attempting to make a claim you don't need high resolution imagers. This is somewhat confusing. Maybe Foveon just doesn't have the technological and financial resources like Canon and Nikon have to make larger imagers. It takes a lot of money to research and develop larger imagers with more resolution, while still maintaining or exceeding image quality of a comparable smaller imager. Canon has virtually endless financial resources and in-house imaging, and Nikon already has Sony making most of its imagers, so these two companies already have a formula for creating competitive DSLRs.

Regardless of a manufacturer's methods, the result has been creating an imager with more resolution. Why is it we see a few companies twisting the definitions of pixels and resolution, and duping an already-confused DSLR consumer market?

Resolution in itself is certainly not the only answer to a camera's quality. We see many compact cameras announcing higher megapixels every 6 months. Compact camera resolution and DSLR resolution are pretty much in different categories since DSLRs still have larger pixels, and the image quality, is by far much better. So please don't think I am saying resolution is better 100% of the time because in some cases, it is not. However, when you follow Nikon and Canon's image sensor technology, their images have become better over the years in parallel to more resolution. This is not easy. And it's not cheap. Which is why many camera manufacturers are not producing 10MP DSLRs currently.

Being The Oddball Sells

In today's world of consumerism, not only does popularity sell...but being the outcast as well. If you have a competitor, or a few of them, and you know darn well there is no chance to compete because you flat-out don't have the personnel or resources to compete on the same level, simply create a reverse-popularity market, and create yourself as the oddball product that is better than your competitor. Believe it or not, it works. And it works darn well. Take any popular product and do a little research on the smaller competitors. Then look at the smaller competitor's marketing strategy. More than likely, you'll see a form of "oddball advertising". And on a curious note, some major competitors even use the smaller competitors' strategies to further their market share! Overall, it's a sea of marketing disinformation and confusion.

Don't Compete With The Big Guys, Just Sell Yourself

Another point I'd like to make is if you're a manufacturer who is struggling to survive and can't compete with the big guys...don't. Don't compete with them. Just sell yourself. Just sell your product. If Foveon and Sigma would just sell their product for what it was, and not compare it to proven camera giants like Canon and Nikon, you wouldn't be reading this editorial preview article. You'd simply be reading a preview on a cool new DSLR, improving on its previous DSLR model.

Would I Recommend A Sigma DSLR?

Well, I will not debate the SD DSLRs image quality because they are darn good. If I begin to compare them to other DSLRs, the amount of lenses available, the lens technologies such as Canon and Nikon, as well as new imaging technology from Canon and Nikon, the Sigma DSLR option becomes much less significant. If you're a Foveon imager fan, then the new SD14 is certainly going to get you excited. But I would like to request if you are going to purchase a Sigma DSLR, you conduct some simple tests.

Most camera shops have displays of the latest DSLRs available and you can bring your own media card and take images, then go home and open them up in your favorite image editor. What I recommend, is waiting until the SD14 becomes available in stores, take some images with the SD14, then take some images with a Canon 20D and a Nikon D80 or D200. Take all the images home which you've shot and compare them. If the Sigma seems it's better, then I am not one to tell you, you should do anything different. Buy the SD14. But if you like the other images from the Canon or Nikon, then go in that direction as well.

©2006 by Jason Busch (

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