written by: Sean Fears•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 10/31/2008
Since the announcement of the SD15, Sigma's SD14 digital SLR has dropped in price, leaving it a viable option as an entry-level DSLR option. Find out its strengths, weaknesses, and quirks in this review!
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The first thing I noticed when I opened the box was the sheer size of the camera; the Sigma SD14 is a very large and heavy DSLR; by comparison, the Canon Digital Rebel XSi is about two-thirds the weight (body only). The two control wheels and minimalist controls make it feel much more like an old SLR camera than the digital-SLR camera that it is. Then again, Sigma has a reputation for such, so it shouldn't be surprising.
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For someone who has experience with Nikon, Sony, and Olympus interfaces, I found the Sigma took some getting used to. The configuration allows fast access to storage format, white balance, ISO, and image quality. The Sigma SD14 has a function button to allow access to other settings such as the extended ISO mode and metering. Navigating these settings required a quick look at the manual, but made sense in retrospect. Overall, the interface works, but does seem a little slow and awkward at times.
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The Sigma SD14 is not a camera you want to use if you’re in a hurry. After taking a photo, it takes the SD14 a few moments to save the image; if you’re taking one or two pictures at a time. This quirk isn’t too much of a problem, but it might quickly become one if you were taking pictures of fast action. The maximum image size in RAW format is 2652 × 1768, though it can interpolate to 4608 × 3072 in JPEG at the cost of losing image processing versatility. Overall, the image quality of the camera has been relatively consistently equated to a Bayer-based 10 megapixel camera. Don’t swich over to JPEG if you want to take high ISO shots though, as the provided photo software does a much better job of producing quality JPEGs anywhere above ISO 400 than the camera does itself. The sensor also does an excellent job of coping with color, as mentioned in this article on digital imaging strategies.
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Sigma has a lot of lenses to offer; the Sigma website lists 50 lenses (excluding discontinued models). Quality may vary from mediocre to great, depending on the grade of lens and the amount of money you spend, but high-quality Sigma lenses (and the ones targeted to digital cameras in particular) are certainly competitive with other major lens manufacturers. The 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC lens adds heft as well as versatility to the system, and was my lens of choice, given that this is my secondary camera. It has enough range to be considered a “superzoom" (11.1x) and a small enough size to be considered easily portable. It’s a great choice for situations when you can’t afford to carry around a lot of lenses.
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The Sigma SD14 addresses the issue of dust (a bane of DSLR owners) by placing a dust barrier just behind the lens - it’s the first thing you see when you remove the body cap from the camera. The extremely novel thing about this is that the dust barrier doubles as the infrared filter and is removable, allowing the camera to be converted to IR-capable in moments. (Replacing the dust barrier is a rather more delicate process!) Combine this with the color sensitivity, and you get a DLSR camera that can definitely produce quality results in the right hands.
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Overall, I would recommend the Sigma SD14, but with caveats: only purchase it if you're looking for a bargain entry into the DSLR category that will push you to develop your photography skills, or if you're interested in exploring infrared photography. If either of those things hold true, you'll be satisfied. If you're looking for a camera that "shocks and awes" you or goes easy on you, this probably won't be it - this might be a factor of it's non-entry heritage or Sigma's design philosophy, or both. Ultimately, how you choose to use it will determine whether you get your money's worth, which is not necessarily true of all entry-level DSLR cameras.