Product shots by Dan Bracaglia
The Sigma fp L is a high-resolution development of the company’s compact full-frame interchangeable lens camera. It gains a 61MP BSI CMOS sensor, providing a more stills-focused platform than the original fp 24MP L-mount mirrorless camera.
Rather than looking at existing categories of cameras, Sigma says it’s aimed to make a user-oriented camera that’s designed to be flexible, adaptable and fun to use. The fp L certainly isn’t readily comparable to other existing models, but it is the smallest and lightest full-frame interchangeable lens camera on the market.
Alongside the fp L (literally and figuratively) Sigma has crafted an add-on viewfinder. The EVF-11 connects to the camera’s USB and HDMI ports and provides a large, tilting 3.69M dot display. More on this, later.
- 61MP BSI-CMOS full-frame sensor
- On-sensor phase detection
- Eye-detect autofocus
- Compact body with twin control dials
- Dedicated Stills/Cine switch
- Full-time silent electronic shutter
- 8-bit UHD 4K/30p video in MOV or CinemaDNG
- 4K output as up to 12-bit CinemaDNG to SSD, or Raw to external recorder
The Sigma fp L will be available in mid-April with a list price of $2499. A kit including the EVF-11 viewfinder will retail for around $2999.
Phase detection autofocus
The fp L also gains on-sensor phase detection autofocus, a first for the company. As with all phase detection systems, this allows the camera to calculate how out-of-focus it is, and hence how far it needs to drive the focus. This technology underpins some of the fastest and most reliable AF systems we’ve encountered from other manufacturers, but isn’t a guarantee of either of these things. The Sigma fp L we’re using is not yet final, but focus certainly seems improved over the original fp model, showing slightly faster and more decisive focusing, especially with smaller AF points (though there is still a little wobble/hunting at times).
|The fp L is the first Sigma camera to offer eye-detection AF
Panasonic Lumix 85mm F1.8 | F2.2 | 1/100 sec | ISO 800
Processed in ACR: WB warmed, exposure, highlights and blacks reduced
Photo: Erin Carey
The fp L also gains eye-detection autofocus, to help achieve perfect focus when shooting portraits and social photos. Our initial impressions are positive, with the Sigma detecting eyes even when they’re small in the frame.
The fp L also has a subject tracking AF system, which works within a 7×7 rectangular grid of focus points. We’ve not tried it for anything serious yet, but from our limited use so far, it seems to work.
One of the main ways the fp L makes use of its high pixel count sensor is with its crop zoom mode. This provides a series of crops from the sensor to provide a tighter angle of view (effectively digital zoom, if you then view at the same size).
You can set the maximum and minimum region of the sensor the camera will use, from full-frame all the way down to a ‘Full HD’ (1920 horizontal pixel) crop. These are indicated as 1.0 to 5.0x crops, which take you (for example) from a 24mm field of view up to around a 153mm equivalent, if you have a 24mm lens attached.
Naturally, as you crop in, you use progressively smaller parts of the sensor and, if blown up to the same size, you’ll pay an increasing cost in terms of noise for doing so, as well as decreased resolution. Our calculations suggest that the maximum 5.0x zoom will be using a sensor region around the size of a traditional compact camera with 2.4MP resolution, so it’s worth considering where to set your limits, and whether you’d prefer to crop in post.
New color modes
Sigma has added two extra color modes to the fp L: Duotone and Power Blue. Duotone imposes one of ten contrasting color gradients on the image, while Power Blue offers a cool, pale tint to the images.
These additional modes mean there are now 15 color profiles. Sadly there’s still no in-camera Raw conversion option, so you can’t change your mind about which color mode you want for your JPEGs, after the fact.
Composite Low ISO Expansion
Perhaps fittingly for a camera that’s likely to lend itself well to landscape shooting, the fp L has a series of composite Low ISO settings. These take a series of exposures and combine them to give the effect of longer, lower ISO shooting. There’s no motion correction between frames, so you’ll need a steady tripod, but it opens up the option of using exposures all the way down to the equivalent of ISO 6.
On the movie side of things, the fp L is well-equipped. It can capture 8-bit MOV or 8-bit CinemaDNG files internally, with resolutions extending up to UHD 4K at up to 30p. It’s one of the few cameras to shoot true 24p video, as well as having a 23.97p option.
The amount of care and attention that Sigma has given to video in the fp L is impressive. Alongside focus peaking and zebras, which have become pretty standard, the fp L also has a waveform display, to help assess exposure. Furthermore, it offers the ability to control exposure in terms of shutter angle, rather than just shutter speed.
The fp L also offers its Crop Zoom function in video mode, letting you shoot 4K in any of 19 crops from the full width of the sensor all the way down to a native 3840 x 2160 region (around a 2.5x crop).
Like the fp, where the fp L really comes into its own in terms of video is when you attach external devices to it. If you connect an external SSD you can output 10 or 12-bit CinemaDNG Raw video. Alternatively, you can output a Raw video stream over HDMI that can be encoded as either ProRes RAW or Blackmagic Raw, depending on the external recorder you connect (though this appears to be less detailed than the CinemaDNG footage). Even if you don’t want to go down the Raw video shooting route, HDMI output also unlocks the option to output DCI 4K video (the wider, 4096 x 2160 format).
The fp L also expands the number of aspect ratios available in the ‘Director’s Viewfinder’ mode, used to simulate the coverage that various camera systems and their modes will give, were you to use the same lens on those cameras. This allows the use of the fp L as a means of previewing framing for directors using the Sigma alongside pro cinema cameras from Arri, Red or Sony.
Optional EVF-11 viewfinder
The EVF-11 (not to be confused with the LVF-11 loupe-style magnifier for the LCD screen) is an electronic viewfinder that screws into the side of the fp L’s body. It requires you to remove the HDMI port cover and hold the USB port door open, then plugs into both ports as you screw it on.
It provides a 3.69M-dot OLED finder with a large, comfortable eyepiece cushion, and it tilts upward at up to 90 degrees. On the side of the finder is a large LCD/EVF switch, which does exactly what you might expect (there’s no sensor to auto-switch as you bring the camera to your eye).
Just below this switch is a 1/4-20 (tripod-style) mounting point, which can be used to attach a camera strap and below this are a headphone socket and USB-C passthrough that means you can continue to output data to an external SSD. However, there’s no HDMI pass-through. The microphone input remains available since the EVF does not block it.
The rear screen of the camera continues to operate as an AF touchpad when you’re using the finder. It uses absolute, rather than relative, positioning so you’ll need to tap in the top left corner of the screen to position the AF point at the top left (rather than swiping, relative to the point’s current position).
The viewfinder will cost $699 if purchased on its own, but only adds $500 to the cost of the camera when bought as a kit.
The fp L uses the same BP-51 battery as the original fp. It’s a 8.7Wh unit that Sigma rates as being good for 240 shots per charge. This isn’t a lot, especially if you’re shooting video, but thankfully, the fp L can be operated and charged using power over its USB-C connector. This allows use for extended periods if you use an external power source, whether that’s for shooting video or using it as a webcam.
How it compares…
The fp L is a little difficult to compare to anything else. Without a mechanical shutter its high resolution but slow readout sensor ends up being a little limiting in terms of what you can shoot with it (artificial lighting risks banding and any significant movement will be distorted by the rolling shutter effect). These same factors also count against it in terms of its video, even relative to its 24MP sibling.
That said, it’s comfortably the smallest, lightest full-frame camera on the market, and priced lower than other cameras with such high resolution output. In situations where that’s valuable, there’s nothing like it.
|Sigma fp L||Sony a7R IV||Sigma fp||Sony a7C|
|MSRP at launch||$2499
($2999 w/ EVF)
|Image Stabilization||Lens only||Yes||Lens only||Yes|
3.69M-dot OLED, tilting
|5.76M-dot OLED fixed
3.69M-dot OLED, tilting
|3.69M-dot OLED fixed
|3.2″ 2.1M dot fixed||3″ 1.44M-dot tilting||3.2″ 2.1M dot fixed||3″ 1.44M-dot tilting|
|Video internal||UHD 4K/30p
FF to 1:1 in 19 steps. 8-bit gamma encoded or Cinema DNG
FF or S35
8-bit gamma encoded
FF or S35.
8-bit gamma encoded or Cinema DNG
FF, 30p with 1.2x crop
8-bit gamma encoded
|Video external||DCI 4K/24p
Up to 12-bit CinemaDNG
or Raw out to ext. recorder
4:2:2 8-bit gamma encoded
Up to 12-bit CinemaDNG
or Raw out to ext. recorder
4:2:2 8-bit gamma encoded
|240/- shots||670/530 shots||280/- shots||740 / 680 shots|
113 x 70 x 45 mm
|129 x 96 x 78 mm||113 x 70 x 45 mm||124 x 71 x 59 mm|
|(with finder)||157 x 92 x 56 mm||–||157 x 92 x 56 mm||–|
|Weight||427g (15.1oz)||665g (23.5oz)||422g (14.9oz)||509g (18.0oz)|
Body and handling
The fp L has the same diminutive body as its sister model. It’s a fairly simple box-shaped design onto which you can attach different accessories, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. The new viewfinder module significantly increases the available options.
The design makes a lot of use of a large command dial that encircles the shutter button, a second dial on the rear of the camera and the QS, AEL and Menu buttons above and below it.
The QS menu is a user-customizable quick menu that’s navigated by pressing the cardinal points of the rear dial/four-way controller, with settings being changed by turning either dial.
The menus are a rather Canon-style affair with pages arranged in horizontal tabs. Navigating them also uses Canon logic: main dial jumps between tabs and the rear dial scrolls up and down. This starts to break down a little as several menu option have their own sub-menus that are very visually similar to the top-level menu (they still show your position in the main menu structure even though you’re off in a sub-menu that you need to hit ‘Menu’ to back out of).
But, once you’ve overcome the occasionally fiddly button/dial interactions (when in doubt, try hitting AEL to see if there are more options), the fp L is full of well-thought-out little touches. For instance, video mode not only offers a (tiny) waveform display, it also lets you specify exposure in terms of shutter angle. Similarly there’s a good Auto ISO implementation with an ‘auto’ shutter speed threshold that takes focal length into account and can be adjusted to use faster or slower multiples of focal length.
No manufacturer that lets you pause live view to adjust the highlight and shadow response of the tone curve in one of its cameras can be accused of lacking attention to detail. But a little more thought about how to get to all these options would help. For instance, you can’t assign Auto ISO shutter speed threshold to a button, with the result that it takes between six and eleven button presses to access that function.
The Sigma fp L certainly doesn’t fit into any obvious product category. It’s not a wannabe DSLR for landscape shooters but, with its 61MP sensor, neither is it obviously the video/still module that the 24MP fp can be.
|You can’t fault the fp L for its level of detail capture.
Panasonic Lumix 85mm F1.8 | F8 | 1/160 sec | ISO 100
Image processed in ACR: straightened and cropped, highlights lifted, shadows reduced.
Photo: Richard Butler
That the 61MP sensor isn’t as well suited to video as the existing 24MP chip just draws attention to the camera’s lack of mechanical shutter. The sensor reads out very slowly (around 1/10th of a second in stills mode), which means the results are very prone to rolling shutter. This ends up having an impact on a lot of what you might want to do with the camera and is likely to end up restricting the ways in which the fp L can be used (you’ll see a LOT of banding at fast shutter speeds under any artificial light).
The viewfinder module adds a lot to the fp L’s utility, making it much more useable in bright light, especially given the fixed rear screen. The addition of a headphone socket makes it even more usable, and it’s nice to see the USB pass-through port that means you can still record CinemaDNG video to an external SSD.
|Adding the EVF-11 viewfinder gives the camera a headphone socket, but takes up the HDMI port and stops you charging the camera over USB.|
However, this USB passthrough doesn’t work for charging or powering the camera, as the one on the camera’s body does. Given the camera’s rather limited battery life, this could be a problem. Also frustrating, the EVF-11 fills the HDMI port, which means you can’t use an external recorder if you prefer ProRes RAW or Blackmagic Raw output but still want to monitor audio using the headphone socket the EVF-11 provides.
It’s nice to see that the camera’s rear screen still works as a touchpad when you’re looking through the viewfinder, but it was a real shock to recognize how much I’ve become accustomed to eye sensors to activate the viewfinder. Shooting with the fp L left me feeling like I was spending half of my time manually switching back and forth between EVF and LCD. Like the menu system, I’m hoping this is something I’ll adapt to once I’ve spent more time with the camera.
Overall, the Sigma fp L is a fascinating camera, full of clever ideas, but I can’t honestly say I know who or what it’s for, yet. I’m hoping this will become clearer as we spend more time shooting with it, but for now, I’m not sure such a slow sensor makes sense in this camera.
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