SIGMA fp L Review and Sample Footage

The SIGMA fp L camera has just been announced and we were lucky enough to put it through the paces. With a new 61 megapixels full frame sensor, hybrid autofocus and “crop zoom” recording function, how does the new model compares with its predecessor, the original SIGMA fp? Let’s take a closer look with this first impression SIGMA fp L review.

SIGMA is continuing to show its commitment to our creative community by introducing a new filming / photographic tool. From the outside, you won’t spot any differences (apart from the letter “L” craved in black), but don’t let cosmetics alone mislead you. Under the hood there are a few fundamental changes. Please head to Jakub’s article if you are interested to know more as he shared the full list of new features and improvements and Gunthers’ complete camera lab test. Me on the other hand, will highlight what really caught my attention and right after, share my thoughts about working with the new camera.

SIGMA fp L (Right), SIGMA fp (Left). Image credit: CineD

SIGMA fp L – New Key Elements and Features

July 10th 2019. I’m on my way to Japan to attend what will be a well organized SIGMA event. A day later, and SIGMA’s owner and CEO Kazuto Yamaki-san is on stage introducing a few nice new lenses, and while he is doing so I keep thinking to myself, that it can’t be that such an orchestrated event is being held only to talk about lenses. And indeed, a few minutes later Yamaki-san “pulls the rabbit out of its hat” and he is introducing the new SIGMA fp camera to the world for the very first time. If there is a single visual memory that I will keep from that event it’s this “moment of pride” photo that I took while at the event.

A moment of pride! Image source: CineD

Fast forward to today, and the team at SIGMA is again very busy, but due to the circumstances it is all being done as an online event. The SIGMA fp L has just been introduced, promising to keep and even enhance the essence of its predecessor.

So in a nutshell, here are the new elements and features that captured my attention:

  • 61 megapixels Full Frame Sensor: While the original fp camera was riding on the wave of mirrorless cameras that can shoot video, the new fp L is loudly winking to photographers as well. (Hey, I might have just found the reason to why the new fp has an “L” in its name…)
  • Hybrid Autofocus: Since I wanted to understand what “hybrid autofocus” exactly means, I contacted SIGMA’s fp product planner Wakamatsu-san. He was kind enough to explain to me that this new camera is actually using contrast base AF and phase detection AF too. It all depends at what “crop factor” one is using. More on that in a moment as this is where things gets a little bit complicated.
  • Crop Zoom: With such a high resolution sensor, it is now possible to “crop into the image”. Up to x2.4 in UHD mode and up to x5.0 in full HD. Now please bare with me here, too as this “crop factor” has a fundamental roll in how the camera performs all together.
  • Touch Screen LCD: While with the previous model only the menu could be “touched”, the SIGMA fp camera allows full LCD touch screen for better user experience like choosing focus points or “punch in zoom”.
  • Enhanced Power Management: The camera supports USB-C external battery charging while it is on and recording.
  • QR Code: This is a genius idea. Share your camera settings with another SIGMA fp camera (Original or fp L), simply by scanning a QR code. Further more, if in the future SIGMA releases some dedicated camera settings, one will be able to obtain them via QR code, too.
UHD crop factor x2.5 left and HD x5.0 right. Image credit: CineD

The “Crop Factor”….

First, a “little secret” to share: We’ve already ran the camera through our lab test (dynamic range, latitude test and rolling shutter). Results will be published right after we’re done analyzing it. Before conducting our test we approached SIGMA’s Wakamatsu-san and asked him to share the camera’s best possible settings with us (ISO, frame rate, resolution and such, like we ask all manufacturers). One figure “alerted” us and it was the request to set the camera on X1.24 crop. (Which results in less than full frame and more like APS-H sensor size). Now, throughout the back and forth conversation with Wakamatsu-san I’ve learned that the image pipeline in this camera is rather complicated. So it goes like this: Remember “Hybrid AF”? Depending on the crop factor, the camera will “decide” if to work in contrast base or phase detecting AF mode. Resolution (or rather picture quality?) works the same; different crop factors will pull off different results. And last but not least, different crop factors will also influence the fp L’s dynamic range performance.

So, on the one hand a bit confusing, but hats off to Wakamatsu-san and SIGMA for the complete transparency! I can only hope that in the near future an online guide with different “best scenarios” crop factors will be published or even “ONE crop factor setting” that will accommodate the recommended crop of overall best A>F performance, DR and resolution.

For now, please see below the recommended crop factors for EACH scenario:

  • For the best Resolution, x1.3 – 2.48
  • For phase detection AF, x1.0 and x1.53
  • For best dynamic range, x1.24
SIGMA fp L with EVF-11 and original SIGMA grip. Image credit: CineD

EVF-11

SIGMA also just released a new Electronic View Finder, the EVF-11. Priced at $699 I find this essential accessory to be very useful, especially since it can connect to the camera itself WITHOUT any additional cables of any sort (HDMI or power). But like most things in life, there is no free lunch…

What I like about the new EVF-11

  • Good resolution (it was very easy for me to focus)
  • No ghosting
  • Diopter adjustable
  • Headphones output! As both, the original fp and fp L cameras don’t have headphones output socket, SIGMA solved the issue in a clever way. As the sound (together with a video signal) is being outputted via HDMI to the EVF anyway, they created the possibility to connect headphones via a standard 3.5mm jack.
  • USB-C output. The capability to record directly to SSD is being retained by having that extra USB-C on the EVF.

What I wish could be better or improved

  • The possibility to record ProRes RAW or BRAW to an external monitor/recorder is a thing of the past. Unfortunately there is NO HDMI output on the EVF. This leaves us with the possibility to record only in Cinema DNG (And MOV of course).
  • No eye sensor. The actual switching between viewing the image on the LCD or EVF is being done by an actual button. In most cases it’s fine, but there is an audible “click” when doing so, so if you are in the middle of recording an interview inside a quiet room, only do this if you have a sound person there with you…
  • By attaching the EVF to the left side of the camera, you are actually eliminating the possibility for additional accessories that where designed especially for that side of the camera, like cold shoe attachment for example. The way it is now, if you need to attach a shotgun microphone, you will need to use a magic arm (iFootage recommended) or a camera cage.
  • I find the friction point that allows the EVF to rotate to be a bit too soft. The result is, that when pressing your eye agains the EVF, there is a chance that it will “slide”.
SIGMA fp L ready for action filming. Image credit: CineD

Conclusion

What I see here with the new camera is an evolution and not a revolution. That said, the new SIGMA fp L is simply a nice camera to work with and somehow it feels to have matured a bit to a refined device from its predecessor. The higher resolution sensor will be a joy for photographers (although for us filmmakers it means scarfing lowlight performance). The crop zoom is very useful when working with prime lenses (Actual change of field of view on a single lens with hardly visible loss of picture quality). Better AF performance (at the recommended x crop factors), but still, needs to be refined. Audio is very clean (On the above video, all audio was recorded directly with the camera). And last but not least, very clean and nice images when filming in Cinema DNG, EVEN on 8bit. (The above video was recorded in Cinema DNG 8bit, on a fast angel bird SD card). Battery life was fine (had 5 of those and used 4 throughout the day and it was cold)!

For the next model…I hope that IBIS can be considered (like its predecessor there is an electronic stabilizer function that works in MOV mode only). I also hope that MOV recording quality can be improved, as filming in Cinema DNG is not always the preferred way, especially if there is a need and desire to keep the camera’s size small.

When it comes to the EVF, I have to say that although not so modestly priced, it works very well! Yes, you will lose some camera functionalities (compressed RAW output), but you will learn a better way to work with your camera.

SIGMA fp L with EVF-11 and 28-70mm contemporary lens. Image credit: CineD

Oh and one more thing…

Always wanted to use this sentence….I really want to mention the SIGMA 28-70mm 2.8 DG DN Contemporary zoom lens. It was simply a joy to work with it.

About the video above: shot on a SIGMA fp L camera, UHD, 25p, variety of ISO settings, color mode “off”, x1.24 crop, Cinema DNG 8bit. RAW developed in DaVinci Resolve with recommended settings supplied by SIGMA. (Made for the original fp, but worked like a charm for the fp L). LUTs made possible by Lutify.me.

A special thank you to Julian Yo Hedenborg. It was truly fun spending the day together. Please find out more about his passion to music by visiting his website. Also and as always, a big thank you to Luciano our in-house editor for doing a great job putting it all together!

EDIT: As requested by many of you guys, here is a screenshot of settings suggested by SIGMA for developing cinema DNG RAW in DaVinci Resolve (This is for the original SIGMA fp, but works like a charm with the new camera too)!

Guys, what do you think about the new camera? Are you considering to buy it? What feature caught your attention when reading about it? Please share with us your thoughts in the comment section below.

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