One of the biggest gripes about Sigma's previous dSLRs was the lack of native JPEG capture. While those models forced you to shoot Raw and then process your images in your computer to get a standard file format, the SD14 will process images in the camera and yield standard JPEG images without the need for a computer. However, unlike most dSLRs, the SD14 won't let you shoot both Raw and JPEG files at the same time. Since I usually do shoot both, this became rather frustrating to me over the course of the review process.
In our lab tests, the Sigma SD 14's performance was not impressive, especially considering its price. The camera took 1.8 second to start up and capture its first JPEG. After that, it took 0.8 second between JPEGs with the flash turned off, and 1.5 seconds between JPEGs with the flash turned on. When capturing RAW images, the SD14 takes 0.9 second between shots without flash. Shutter lag measured 0.7 second in our high-contrast test and 1.4 seconds in our low-contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively. In continuous shooting mode, we were able to capture highest resolution and highest quality JPEGs at an average rate of 2.3 frames per second.
Under the right circumstances, the Sigma SD14 can create very nice images, but once you move up to higher ISOs, the image quality degrades significantly. At ISO 100 or ISO 200, colors look quite accurate and the camera's white balance is generally neutral. If anything, colors looked slightly oversaturated in our test images, especially reds and oranges. As you increase the ISO, however, not only do you see a increase in noise, but the entire color profile of the camera shifts. Our lab test images took on a serious magenta cast at ISO 1,600, and green patches on our color-checker chart turned nearly neutral gray. At the same time, a careful eye will notice that certain colors, including skin tones, look just slightly more accurate with the Sigma than they do with many CMOS- or CCD-based cameras.
ISO noise, and the noise reduction techniques that go along with it, don't behave the same way in the SD14 as they do with most other cameras. While noise is often more noticeable in the darker parts of the grayscale in most cameras, the Sigma spreads its noise out more evenly amongst the colors. Also, the noise tends to manifest itself as off-color blotches with less defined edges than the speckles that appear in most other SLRs. We began to see noise in our test images at ISO 200, but at that point it is only really noticeable on monitors and is minimal at that. This increased significantly at ISO 400, while decreasing the overall dynamic range, shadow detail, and finer detail. At ISO 800 noise becomes even more pronounced, taking on a tighter, more grain-like patter while further chipping away at shadow detail and finer detail. At this point, we also noticed a pronounced decrease in the saturation of greens, and erratic color shifts in other parts of the color spectrum. At ISO 1,600, noise takes on a heavy coating of grain with separate, larger, very noticeable off-color blotches appearing, and as mentioned above, greens lost almost all saturation. Given this camera's bizarre performance, I suggest you don't use it above ISO 400. This severely limits its usefulness.
If you're only intending to use this camera below ISO 400, for studio portraits, or perhaps for landscapes or infrared photography, then you may want to consider the Sigma SD14. However, even then that probably wouldn't make sense, since there are many other cameras that are available for the same price or less that can provide just as good, or better performance and image quality. In fact, here is a list of five cameras that cost less than half of the SD14's approximately $1,600 street price (as of the publish date of this review) and will give you significantly faster performance and much better image quality performance across an equivalent sensitivity range: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi, Nikon D40x, Pentax K10D, Sony Alpha DSLR-A100. On some of those, you'll lose the wireless flash control capability, but other than that, you'll get equivalent or increased resolving power, and a much more versatile and enjoyable shooting experience.
(Shorter bars indicate faster performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate faster performance)
|Frames per second|