Sigma SD15

Continuing with the unique Foveon X3 image sensor, the latest DSLR from Sigma has new features and improved image quality

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Most photographers know Sigma as a lens manufacturer, but the company also makes cameras, including a line of DSLRs that began in 2002 with the SD9. The new SD15, like its SD9, SD10 and SD14 predecessors, stands out for its unique Foveon image sensor and straightforward, no-nonsense design concept.

Unlike the sensors used in all other DSLRs, the Foveon records all three primary colors at every pixel site. This eliminates the need for a Bayer-array filter grid over the pixels, an image-softening, low-pass filter to minimize the resulting artifacts, and the complex demosaicing algorithms that interpolate the missing colors at each pixel site by using information from neighboring pixels. The result is images with detail beyond their horizontal-by-vertical pixel count, and natural-looking fine details—especially nice when photographing bird feathers and foliage. Sigma purchased Foveon in 2008 and so is likely to continue to be the only brand offering the X3 sensor.

Convenient Mode Dial
Some of the bells-and-whistles DSLRs require locating and pressing a button while rotating a dial to set the desired exposure mode. With the SD15, just rotate the mode dial to P(rogram AE), A(perture-priority AE), S(hutter-priority AE) or M(anual), and you’re there.

Built-In Flash
Fill-flash is an important outdoor tool. The SD15 has a built-in, pop-up flash unit; and two shoe-mount accessory units are available—one with wireless, off-camera capability.

Drive Dial
Again, selecting a drive mode or locking the mirror up for a shot can be a tad complex with many DSLRs. With the SD15, just rotate the drive dial to single-shot, continuous, mirror up, etc.
Dust Protector
There’s no sensor-shake dust remover as found in other DSLRs, but the SD15 features a dust protector that can be removed for easy cleaning—and infrared photography.
Foveon X3 Sensor
The Foveon X3 Direct Image Sensor records all three primary colors at every pixel site, yielding images with fine detail beyond their horizontal-by-vertical pixel count—perfect for photographing bird feathers and foliage

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Wide Range Of Lenses
Sigma made its name as a lens manufacturer, and offers nearly 40 lenses for the SD15. These include circular and full-frame fisheyes, many close-up lenses, macro lenses in 50, 70, 105, 150 and 180mm versions, and zooms from 8-16mm to 300-800mm. There’s even a 200-500mm ƒ/2.8 zoom, the fastest 500mm DSLR lens around. Many incorporate Sigma’s HSM focusing motor for quick, quiet operation; and several offer Sigma’s optical stabilizer (OS) for sharp, handheld shots.
3.0-Inch LCD Monitor
The SD15’s 3.0-inch, 460,000-dot LCD monitor is the largest and highest-resolution to appear on a Sigma DSLR. A simple, intuitive user interface makes it easy to use the monitor menus.
SD Media
The SD15 stores images on SD cards, and is compatible with SDHC media.

Improved Buffer
An improved buffer permits the SD15 to shoot up to 21 RAW images at 3 fps.

No-Nonsense Design
The SD15 is a photographer’s camera, not a bells-and-whistles enthusiast’s device. Its rugged body features a clean, straightforward design that makes it quick and easy to set everything, and it doesn’t require an evening with an owner’s handbook to figure it out.


Image Sensor: 4.7x3 MP Foveon CMOS
Max. Resolution: 2640x1760 pixels
Sensor Size: 20.7x13.8mm (1.7x)
Video: none
AF System: 5-point phase-detection
Shutter Speeds: 30 to 1/4000 sec., plus B
ISO Settings: 100-1600, plus 50 and 3200
Continuous Firing Mode: 3 fps
Recording Format: RAW, JPEG, RAW + JPEG
Metering: 77-segment, 8.8% central area, CW average, 1% spot
Storage Media: SD/SDHC
Dimensions: 5.7x4.2x3.2 inches
Weight: 24.0 ounces
Power Source: Rechargeable BP-21 lithium-ion battery
Estimated Street Price: $1000
Contact: Sigma, (800) 896-6858,


    Oh common the Foveon Chip might be nice but really, which serious photographer is content with less than 5 MPix. Even though there’s no interpolation for the colors there’s just the base resolution of 2640×1760. This is what they had in the SIGMA DP1s Compact Camera nearly 2 years ago. So why didn’t they at least try to reach 8 or 10 mpix on this DSLR. This would be much more interesting for print.

    just my 2 cents

    I agree mibreit, I often print at large sizes such as 16×20 and higher. The resolution offered here just would not cut it for my use and probably many other photographers as well. However, I would like to comment that I do use Sigma Lenses and have nothing but praise thus far which leads me to believe that Sigma, albeit taking baby steps with the camera division may well create an impact to us photographers in the near future.

    I think they are seeing the 4.7 and thinking 5Mp and not seeing the 4.7 x 3 for the 3 layers of the foveon sensor. If we looked at just one color on a normal sensor, say a 12Mp it would be a 4mp camera.

    Yes only the results matter. It always depends on what you are aiming at with your prints. In the end everybody has to decide for himself! I just thought over the last 2 years they would at least try to do some further development on the resolution part!

    Pros like myself use Sigma DSRS,lenses and take the foveon technology seriously. The SD15 produces images comparable to 12 mega pixal images. I have one of my foveon images, a 5×7 foot images hanging in the permanent collection of the Frost Art Museum in Miami,Florida. It was shot with a Sigma SD10. The foveon sensor’s unique way of capturing the information lends itself to very easy enlargements with little artifacts and degradation so I think this chip and technology has been proven very viable for professionals.

    I have to agree with Mr. Mercer. I’ve also used Sigma cameras and lens for the past few years, shooting action sports professionally. I began with their SD9, and I currently shoot with their SD14 and SD15. The megapixel debate may work when comparing various Bayer cameras, but it’s practically meaningless when comparing Bayer to Foveon. If a 4.7 meg Foveon image can be enlarged to 30″ x 40″, with comparable sharpness and image quality to a 14 meg Bayer image (which I and other Sigma shooters have done often), then megapixel numbers alone obviously don’t tell the whole story.

    As others have mentioned, the image that results from a particular camera system is the ultimate test of its quality. And, like others, I chose Sigma for its native sharpness, image quality and natural colors, all of which I find to be superior to Bayer systems.

    Foveon and Sigma have been different companies before 2008/11. It seems Foveon struggled with their strategy to provide small sensors for cellular phones to improve their shareholder value, as Sigma cameras didn’n sell in the once anticipated numbers. Sigma took over Foveon, that is only about 1.5 years ago, a mayor investment for not such a big company as Sigma is (around 1000). I am sure a new generation of sensor and camera is coming in near future…

    Talking about time lines… A new product needs around 3 years or longer from start to market. Realistically, let’s wait another year for an announcement and a new generation in 2 years.

    I had a short appointment with the SD15 in a shop where I tried the SD14 at the same place. A huge improvement where the SD14 was most critizised: Much better auto focus and responsiveness. There are other improvements under the hood, the high number of AE sensors now should provide better auto exposure which I found always difficult to use on my SD14, and the AFE (analog front end) which should give high ISO pictures with less noise.

    As I am able to try all present cameras in that shop I can easily agree with that e.g. a D3s is much superior in anything (but the image quality which I can’t judge on obvious reasons). Samples of photos of other systems show less DR and overall less exciting image rendering and colors compared what I am used from Sigma cameras (and if you see the sample photo albums of Sigma cameras, including first generation SD9 and SD10, they blame them all…) I decided to look at picture galleries before I bought the SD10, I highly recommend this to all but to consider many shortcomings as well, especially inferior low light capability under *artificial* light, less suitable for action photography and this includes taking pictures of kids, unfortunately (latter said for the SD14, exactly that should be tested with the SD15. For sure improved, but how much?).

    It is a very competetive camera where best IQ matters, e.g. still nature photograpy. Look at chaotic structures like foliage or people’s hair, and skin pores rendering. Join it with the best price/performance 50mm Macro for a second camera system to compliment the strengths of other systems…

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