Sigma is well-known for their high-quality lenses at excellent prices, but they have also made cameras for many years. Recently, there’s been a whole lot of excitement about Sigma’s fp L camera among videographers and filmmakers. It offers a lot of interesting features for moving-picture makers.
But what about still photographers? Does it continue Sigma’s tradition of image excellence above all?
I’ve been using the new 61-megapixel camera in many situations. I’ll show you a whole lot of pictures and describe my experience.
Spoilers up front
Let’s just cut to the chase: I like this camera. The pictures are excellent. Its color and dynamic range are very impressive. The viewfinder is big and comfortable. It’s the smallest and lightest full-frame camera on the market, and combined with Sigma’s new I-series lenses, it’s easy to carry along.
Many other reviewers say that it’s hard to use. They say it’s cumbersome, too small, not enough buttons, etc. I heartily disagree. Since when did photographers become prima donnas who need everything to be easy?
For decades, we made art that required glass plates and toxic chemicals. Framing pictures while looking at them upside-down was common practice.
If the means justify the ends, why should learning to use a new camera and becoming proficient with its functions inhibit us from making great photographs?
Cowgirl up and learn how to use your camera. The Sigma fp L is worth it.
Bright, sharp and colorful
While making great photos is up to you, this camera has the potential to make excellent picture files. Its dynamic range is exceptional, which means that it records detail in both the highlights and dark areas well. I was able to reduce the brightness of the clouds in many instances without getting blotchy results.
Likewise, the shadows can be brightened. But you can tell the quality of the shadows because when they are brightened they maintain color fidelity. Other cameras end up with lots of colored dots (noise) in the dark areas when you manipulate them on the computer, but the fp L files are incredibly good.
Also, its high resolution is a real bone. I use the Lumix S1 daily, which is 24 megapixels, and I frequently have issues with moiré in synthetic clothing. But the 61-megapixel fp L hasn’t had any issues. The pictures are incredibly sharp, with no moiré. I think it’s because the resolution of the sensor is higher than the resolution of the weave of the fabrics, whereas the 24-megapixel sensor is about the same resolution. When the resolutions are similar, you get the moiré pattern.
I have found the pictures to be excellent. The included profiles from Sigma are also wonderful. These are the built-in color and contrast settings that ship with the camera. They’ve even included similar profiles to those from their earlier Foveon-sensor cameras.
Lightroom offers LUTs for RAW files in the Profile menu that mimic the built-in options. But, if you have to use JPEGs from the camera you can be sure that they’ll look great, too. The black and white options are particularly good (which makes me use RAW+JPEG so I get both).
Now, this isn’t a highly technical review. If you want to know the numbers for the color gamut and the exact dynamic range and how the ISO compares to some Sony camera, I’d look elsewhere. Just don’t listen too closely when others talk about usability.
Amazing lens options
Given the option between a camera manufacturer’s lens and a Sigma lens of similar specs, I’d choose the Sigma lens every time. I’ve used Sigma lenses on Nikon and Canon bodies for ages, and now I use Sigma lenses on my Lumix cameras. I love them. They are the workhorses that I use all day, every day.
All available lenses (Lumix, Leica and Sigma models) for the L-mount are remarkably good. There aren’t any cheap or bad ones. Any lens you choose for the fp L will perform well. I love their new I series lenses that are compact but fast and less expensive. I use the 35mm f/2 on every shoot and use it for walking around.
All the pictures here were shot with the 35mm f/2 and the 135mm f/1.8.
This is the smallest full-frame interchangeable-lens camera on the market, so you can expect that it doesn’t have all the buttons on the outside like a Canon 1D X. However, utilizing the quick menu and assigning functions to the available buttons makes this camera simple to use.
The shutter is responsive and I found that autofocus was quick to acquire subjects. Some cameras require the shutter button to be pressed to wake from sleep, but the fp L wakes when you touch any button, which I appreciate.
The menu is not my favorite. It’s easy enough to navigate, but features may be nested a few layers deep and you have to use particular buttons to back out to the main menu. It’s not as easy to use as a Nikon or a Lumix, but again, it’s not that bad. After using it for a few days, I was able to navigate and find the settings I needed to swap with regular speed.
With one exception: I don’t know what it is, but I was doing something wrong with the autofocus controls. Choosing the focus point didn’t always work as intuitively as I’m used to, and just when I thought I had it figured out, it would react unexpectedly. I’m sure I was doing something wrong, but I do think these controls could be improved.
It’s got a touch screen, and it functions well for the menus. However, using it to drag the focus point around wasn’t very good, as I said above. The screen does not tilt because it’s mounted to a ventilation fan which keeps the camera running fast.
Despite not quite understanding the controls of the autofocus, I thought the autofocus worked very well. It has hybrid contrast- and phase-detection autofocus, which is the best kind. It’s fast and accurate. The 42 focus points work to -5 EV, which means it works well in low light, and that was my experience. It worked well across the view, not limited to just in the center.
I was surprised at how well it worked on moving subjects. I think it worked better than my S1 on continuous and the tracking was also good. I don’t think this is a great action sports camera, but it’s not because the autofocus isn’t good — it just doesn’t have the outboard controls necessary for sports.
High ISO is good
I’ve got no complaints about the noise from long exposure or high ISO. I find the grain is natural-looking and random and, most importantly, the colors remain true at high ISO. Here are a bunch of examples. See the captions for details and click to view larger.
Although the screen doesn’t tilt, you can add an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that does tilt. The viewfinder is a necessary accessory for photographers, and it’s excellent.
There’s a big switch on the side that alternates between the back LCD and the EVF. It is bright and sharp and very large. It does two things that all mirrorless cameras should do.
First, the viewfinder tilts. This is a feature on the Lumix GX8 that makes it my favorite camera, still. It enables you to make pictures from more interesting perspectives more easily.
When your camera is low, like on the ground for a wide-angle landscape, you can look down into the viewfinder instead of laying on your stomach. Many people use the screens on the back for this function, but it’s infinitely better to have a shielded eyepiece that eliminates glare and lets you study the composition closely.
Second, the viewfinder is mounted on the corner, which is awesome. There’s no reason that viewfinders should be mounted over lenses when you’ve got a mirrorless camera — there’s no prism like a DSRL has to show you the scene.
On the corner, though, half the population gets the huge advantage of not smashing their noses into the back of the camera to make a picture. I’m right-eyed, so when I bring this to my eye, my nose is out in space, not greasing up the screen. If you’re left-eyed, you won’t notice a change. Why not mount all viewfinders like this?
My gripe about the viewfinder is that it’s difficult to mount to the camera. You remove the rubber cover for one of the ports, but the other cover bends back and stays on the camera.
This makes it difficult to line up the mounting screw. I thought it would become easier to do, but I mounted it at least 20 times and only got it to fit on the first try about half the time. It’s a little annoying, and if I owned the camera I would seriously consider removing that other port cover permanently.
So why does the fp L have a removable viewfinder? Well, it is nice … sometimes. I took the camera backpacking for several days, and I was glad to not have the extra weight and bulk. Plus, the video guys prefer it without so they can mount a giant screen on top.
Grip and hot shoe
There are also a couple of accessory grips that can be added, and I think they are necessary. Without the supplemental grips, this camera is just a small box with a lens. Since the fp L is a sister to the original Sigma fp, there are also many aftermarket options.
The fp L comes with a hot shoe attachment, too. However, it mounts in the same spot as the viewfinder, so you have to choose one or the other. Also … I couldn’t make it work. I wanted to use it with my Godox flash trigger for portraits, but I never got it to work.
From the manual, it seems that it may only work with certain models of Sigma-made flashes. I could use one of those as an optical trigger for my other lights but didn’t have that chance. It could be that I’m wrong, and I wasn’t using it correctly — I ran out of time to troubleshoot more. If I could make flash triggers work, I would be so in love with this camera.
I also like that there are 1/4″-20 threaded holes on all the faces. You don’t have to have a right-angled bracket for this camera.
Battery life is a big complaint from other reviewers, but I found it to be pretty good, and a great value. The thing is, you have to utilize the power settings. Don’t leave the LCD screen on. Use the EVF. Switch the camera off. Make the sleep settings engage quickly. Turn off the automatic playback.
I’ve shot all day hiking on one battery several times by using these tips.
The fp L uses the BP-51 battery. That is incredibly good because it’s the same battery they used in the DP0 and other cameras since then. It’s the same battery that goes in my wonderful Lumix GX-8 and other Lumix cameras. These batteries are small, lightweight, surprisingly long-lasting and, best of all, very inexpensive. You can buy extra batteries cheaper than almost any other new mirrorless camera out there. I also like the Wasabi Power and Watson batteries.
Who is this for?
Can you imagine Ansel Adams standing at a tripod with an Olympus Pen camera explaining, “Well, this is so much easier than my large view camera?” No, he used the appropriate tools to make the pictures he envisioned.
If you want to make high-resolution photos with excellent lenses and get terrific results, then this camera could be for you. Is it harder to use than an iPhone? Yup. Is it harder to use than most DSLRs? No, it’s just unfamiliar. Give it just a couple of days and you’ll be using this camera as well as your current camera.
If you’re a photographer who uses strobes all the time, this may not be the camera for you. The hot shoe attachment doesn’t seem to work universally with all flashes, and that’s really too bad.
But despite that, the Sigma fp L makes excellent picture files. With an additional grip and the EVF, it is a pleasure to use. I enjoyed using it and seeing the results. I think you might like it, too. Check out the Sigma fp L for yourself.
Sigma fp L
The new SIGMA fp L is the world’s smallest and lightest mirrorless camera with a 61-megapixel image sensor. Designed to provide extremely high-resolution capability and improved usability for photographers, the fp L also includes new features for video creators, making this camera an impressive all-in-one imaging tool.