“Mini but powerful, Sigmas Fp is not afraid to stand out.”
Ultra compact design
24MP full frame sensor
No mechanical lock
No built-in viewfinder or hot shoe
Auto focus only with contrast detection
Bad battery life
Sony. Canon. Nikon. Panasonic. Leica. Five companies made mirrorless full-frame cameras before Sigma got into the fray with the Fp. It is a highly competitive arena. So how can Sigma hope to get noticed?
Apparently by building a very strange camera.
The Sigma Fp is a different breed. Inside and outside, it does not meet the design standards of other manufacturers. Nevertheless or because of this, the Fp is one of the most fascinating cameras on the market. Depending on your point of view, it’s either a miniature miracle or a frustrating flop. It will appeal to videographers the most, but for the purpose of this review, I will consider the Fp mainly as a still camera.
The Fp can’t do many things that other cameras in the $ 2,000 price range can do. But it can also do things that others cannot. For example, it doesn’t have a viewfinder or mechanical shutter, but it records RAW video and has a computationally low ISO of 6. Yes, ISO 6. This makes it a difficult camera to compare to its peers because it doesn’t seem to to compete directly within its own price group.
Maybe it doesn’t even have peers, but calling it “incomparable” seems to be a compliment too strong. It is certainly unique and it is exciting.
Design and specifications
Let me trace back a moment. It’s not entirely fair to say that the Fp doesn’t adhere to design standards, as it includes two that help it gain a foothold.
On the one hand, the Leica L-frame is used in contrast to the Sigma-owned SA-frame, so that in addition to the Sigma frame, it is also compatible with a range of lenses from Leica and Panasonic.
Second, a regular 24.6 megapixel Bayer sensor is used instead of the Foveon X3 chip from previous Sigma cameras such as the SD Quattro H. I hope that Foveon development will continue as it offers advantages for certain still image applications, but the change was necessary to give the Fp such powerful video functions.
The Fp looks and feels like a small, matt black brick. Measuring 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 inches and weighing less than 15 ounces, it is the smallest and lightest full-frame camera. Sigma made sacrifices to achieve this size, but not in build quality. The camera feels like it can survive anything but a direct nuclear strike. Several different handles are available to improve ergonomics.
Between the body and the LCD screen sprouts a rib pattern that runs along the edge of the camera. This is not a design statement, but a heat sink. This keeps the camera in its optimal temperature range even with long RAW video recordings. Despite the exposed heat sink, the camera is completely weatherproof.
However, there is some bad news. The Sigma Fp lacks an electronic viewfinder, the touchscreen is fixed and the shoe holder is not installed, but a screw attachment that protrudes from the side of the camera.
I found all of this to be forgivable, but the Fp lacks one thing that cannot be ignored: a mechanical lock. Without one, distortion from the electronic roller shutter is a constant threat when panning or picking up fast-moving subjects. Worse, it means the flash sync speed is limited to 1/30 second for JPEG and 1/15 for RAW. If you ever shoot with flash, whether on or off camera, the Fp won’t work for you.
In fact, I doubt that, given the specs, Sigma intended the Fp to be some kind of still camera. Series pictures can be taken with up to 18 pictures per second, but only for 24 pictures. It uses an autofocus system with only contrast detection and 49 points and is not a “fancy” type of contrast detection like the depth from defocus technology in Panasonic L-mount cameras. Due to the ultra-compact design, it also has a small 1,200 mAh battery. Sigma doesn’t indicate battery life, but after about 50 exposures, the display dropped to 50%. I’ve probably checked photos more often than the average person, which could have led to a rapid decline – and the indicator is probably not 100% accurate – but I still wouldn’t expect more than a few hundred shots per load.
However, the news is better on the video front. The camera records internal RAW videos in Adobe CinemaDNG format with up to 24 fps in 4K or 60 fps in Full HD. 4K RAW is internally limited to 8-bit, but 12-bit output via USB-C is directly supported on an SSD. Full HD can be recorded internally with up to 12 bits. In addition to RAW, the Fp can also record .MOV videos at 440 megabits per second in 4K at 24 or 30 fps or up to 100 fps in Full HD.
Some currently missing functions are planned for a future firmware update. These include in-camera playback of CinemaDNG files, RAW output via HDMI and a protocol profile to maintain a larger dynamic range for .MOV recording.
As a video camera, the Fp could very well be a game changer.
Taking pictures with the Sigma Fp is fun. Combined with the 45mm F2.8 pancake lens, it feels more like a point-and-shoot camera than a full-frame mirrorless camera. It’s a refreshing experience, especially in the L-mount area, where other cameras are known for their mass (the Lumix S-series cameras weigh more than most DSLRs; the Leica SL2 is not far behind).
Of course, this changes when you mount a larger lens on the Fp. In addition to the 45 mm, I also tested the new 14-24 mm F2.8 type and 35 mm F1.2 type. While these are part of Sigma’s new mirrorless “DN” line, they are significantly larger than the Fp. The 14-24 is impressively compact for what it is, much more than the older DSLR version, but it is still strong. The 35mm F1.2 is weirdly big.
Performance is reasonable, but not great. The autofocus works perfectly for portraits and other static subjects. Eye detection gave me a precise focus when I took pictures with the 35mm F1.2 wide open. It also works well in low light conditions. Sigma says it’s good for -5 EV, although it depends on the contrast in your subject.
Compared to phase detection autofocus in cameras from Sony, Canon and Nikon, however, the Fp is slow and inconsistent. Fast recordings are therefore difficult.
Ergonomics and autofocus play less of a role in video production. Videographers will love how adaptable this camera is to both different lenses and different environments. With additional 1/4-inch threads on each side, you can attach the camera vertically to a tripod or attach additional accessories directly to it. It is well suited for aerial work, as its light frame is said to facilitate mounting on a drone. I can imagine that it will also be used as a crash cam. You could stick it anywhere on a car, and it could be just strong enough to survive the impact.
While Sigma sees that this camera is used by everyone from vloggers to Hollywood directors, I hesitate before recommending it to the former. Without a flip screen, there is no way to monitor yourself without an external monitor, and continuous autofocus is unreliable for everyone except the simplest of shots.
For every production that has a crew, including a small one, I think the Fp will be fantastic. You’ll need a few accessories to take full advantage of it, including a fast SSD and an external power solution. However, the results are worth the extra work.
The Fp delivers solid results for still images – with one unfortunate exception. The 24MP full frame sensor is predictably great when it comes to dynamic range and high ISO performance. ISO 6.400 is very usable, and even the maximum 25,600 showed an impressively low noise level. Under the right conditions, you can get stunning still images out of your Fp.
However, there is a problem that ruins the picture. The electronic shutter not only severely limits the possibilities of the flash, but also creates stripes when you work indoors under fluorescent or LED lighting (see photo below). For many photographers, this is simply a deal breaker. Photo-specific LEDs, such as the Lume Cube Panel, with which I illuminated the picture above, are flicker-free and work perfectly.
On the positive side, Sigma continues to prove itself as a leader in lenses. The 45mm lens isn’t the sharpest in the world, but as a compact lens, it’s not the right thing. The 14-24mm and 35mm type lenses are excellent. I will save the in-depth analysis for their own reviews, but it is enough to say if you are worried about the availability of good glass on the L-bracket, do not.
As for videos, I’m not set up to process RAW 4K footage. I have neither computing power nor storage space. Even in 8-bit form, 4K CinemaDNG burns 128 GB in just 10 minutes. I recorded some short test clips in 1080p and wow, RAW video is really a game changer if you need exposure or color adjustments in the post. Nine times out of ten, I would transfer the 12-bit full HD from Sigma Fp over the compressed 8-bit 4K from other cameras – but it does show some aliasing for sharp details like text, where 4K would be an advantage.
I have to applaud Sigma for not being afraid to try something different. The Fp is far from perfect, but it is an impressive first step. RAW video in the camera, an ultra-compact housing, excellent build quality and versatility in the L mount are all advantages. Many videographers will love it.
Still photographers will be less impressed. Without a shutter, viewfinder or other special features such as phase detection, autofocus and stabilization in the body, there are better and more user-friendly options. Should Sigma ever create a “Mark II” version of the Fp that addresses some of these issues, this could be a real competitor. We hope.
Is there a better alternative?
The Panasonic Lumix S1 is the closest competitor within the L-bracket. It costs you more, but it is also a complete camera that does not require any additional accessories. However, it is much larger and heavier and offers good 4K videos but no RAW videos.
In addition to the L bracket, the Sony A7 III is another good choice. It doesn’t have the Fp’s video chops, but still image functions are better, especially autofocus. Sigma also manufactures all DN lenses for the Sony E-Mount in addition to the L-Mount, so you don’t miss anything.
How long it will take?
This is a solid machine, and a plus without a mechanical lock is that it can break or wear very little. It should easily take 5 years if not more, and it looks like Sigma plans to keep it up to date with firmware updates.
Should you buy it
No, not for still pictures. Video is a different story, but the ideal use of the Sigma is a niche.
Updated January 14 with additional battery life comments.