Sigma introduces a quick update to the Sigma fp with the new L that brings some nifty new features but new frustrations.
The Sigma fp is a fascinating camera. It was so interesting with so many design decisions that it opened our eyes and sparked new desires that we didn’t know we had. The best example is that it offered director finder modes, but that just left us hungry for better integration of this feature into storyboard and pre-vis workflows. Sigma has released a new version of the fp, the new one Sigma fp L, which strangely suffers from some of the same problems as the original.
It’s ambitious and fascinating, and it drives things forward, but in a way that makes you want more.
We talked about the body format in our original review (“It’s just bigger than a deck of cards! You can rig it anywhere!”), So we’re just going to talk about the big improvements the new revision made over the original here.
Autofocus is one of the key marketing points for the new L as it upgrades the platform to a hybrid autofocus that uses a combination of phase-detection and contrast-detection autofocus.
Hybrid autofocus is popular in the video industry for good reason: it’s the technology that finally took autofocus seriously by motion shooters. Auto focus was so terrible just a few years ago that video shooters ignored it, but now modern cameras (especially the Sony a7S III and the FX9) have such excellent auto focus that it has really become a key feature of the tools.
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I am sorry to announce that the autofocus in the Sigma is so bad, poor fp L that it is basically unusable.
We were working with the latest 35mm lens that promised to really take advantage of everything on offer, but it just wasn’t a tool we could use. His “hunt” was too obvious, and too often wrong, to be a useful tool.
We asked Sigma about this and they say they are hoping for improvements to the AF with future firmware updates, but at the moment it just isn’t a realistic tool in this camera.
This is a huge disappointment. We started working with that more and more often Sony a7S III, and one of the main reasons it’s because the auto focus is just so good it’s hard to do without. For any fast-moving job, it simply becomes necessary to be able to rely on the camera to help you keep things in focus. Especially with social distancing rules that mean smaller crews, being able to save yourself a first AC for a small job is just huge.
We were hopeful when we saw the upgrade to hybrid autofocus with the Sigma fp L, but it didn’t work.
Sigma fully upgraded the sensor to capture 8K still images, but it still only captures 4K video both internally and externally via HDMI.
This is frustrating given both the resolution of the sensor and the quality of the 4K you get. It doesn’t seem like scaling down from this high resolution sensor to the lower resolution format is very challenging, and the images don’t feel like they do justice to such a high quality sensor.
If you look at these examples, you can see that while the video is 4K, it doesn’t feel as clear as we associate it with 4K videos.
We continue to be fans of the Sigma fp range of color rendering, both the original and the new L. They seem to be slightly desaturating skin tones in our eyes, which is an interesting but not a bad approach.
Given how much online opinion is driven by thoughts about skin tones, taking a hair of the saturation off this spectrum is actually a smart move.
One of the big frustrations with multi-camera recording is making sure that all of the settings on all cameras match perfectly. I can’t tell you how often in one cut on a multi-camera shoot on a lower budget we find that one camera was set to true 24fps while the other two were 23.98, had different color profiles, or other issues.
Taking the time to align all of the cameras is a habit every shooter should establish at the start of a multi-camera shoot, but it takes a little while to go through all of the menus and double-check.
Sigma has a great solution for this: set up a camera and it can create a QR code that the others can scan and match perfectly. It’s so cool, and a great example of out-of-the-box thinking, that we hope every other maker pulls down on it right away.
But what it really wanted was the ability to create QR codes for each of my lenses and store lens data when I was in Directors Finder mode. If I could put a QR code on every lens cap (or very small on the lens body) and mark the lens when I put it on and let that data pass, then I would really have a super tempting tool to use in the pre-vis – and photoboard preparation.
Or even better, if they could attach a tiny little QR code reader to the body of the camera to automatically read the QR code on my lens (for lenses like older PL mount glass that don’t have smart connections), would that be heaven, although of course I know that this is where I dream.
I want to love the Sigma fp L so much. It uses the lens mount that I wish had more support. It introduces improved auto focus technology. Do interesting things with QR codes. But it’s just not the total package I was hoping for.
The resolution doesn’t feel great, especially when compared to the competition. The autofocus is functionally unusable. If you’re looking for a fully manual focus camera, the camera may have a place in your kit, but manual focus is increasingly becoming a single tool in a wide range of shots. Even for jobs where I’m mostly manual focus, it’s nice to know that you can put an AF lens on and set something up and lean on the AF a bit.
Hopefully this is just one step towards something where the pieces that are so close together come together better. Sigma is a big company with big resources (not Sony big but not tiny) and they clearly have a vision. A major firmware update that repairs the autofocus, or better the downsampling of the internal resolution (or both) would completely turn this camera upside down. Or the next revision, maybe switching to CFexpress and a large resolution could do the same thing. It’s so, so close to getting together, but it just doesn’t quite make it.