Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sigma SD1 Drops Price By More Than Two Thirds

In a move that absolutely no one expected, the hilariously overpriced Sigma SD1 has had its first price drop.

The camera started off life at $8,000, dropped to around $7,000 before launch, and has, I'm sure, sold no more than five across the entire planet. Sigma's CEO tries to save face by saying that manufacturing issues forced them to price the camera as high as they did. This is, of course, total nonsense.

If your company has a product that exceeds manufacturing expectations to the degree that this camera supposedly did, you don't increase the price to the point where no sane person would buy it, you either eat the loss or you don't make the product. Those are the only two choices that make good business sense.

Eating the loss allows you to ramp up production until costs drop, you then make up the loss on later profits. Not making the product at all allows you to continue developing the product in preparation for the day with it can be made. Pricing the product into the stratosphere maximizes your loss.

No, Sigma's pricing decisions was based on wishful thinking. They hoped that people would buy the marketing and actually think that this camera was the equivalent of a medium format camera. I'd call it arrogance if it hadn't been so foolish.

At its new price, the camera is a much more feasible tool. Obviously, enthusiast photographers who will want to do a wide variety of things with their camera need not apply. The lack of video and bottom-of-the-class ISO performance limits the camera's versatility. But for two groups of people, the camera is not un-tempting.

Studio photographers have been dealing with moire ever since the inception of digital cameras. It's an unavoidable consequence of the Bayer array. The Foveon sensor is immune to this effect. 100% immune. As digital cameras, especially those aimed at pros, are increasingly including light anti-aliasing filters, or no filter at all, the moire effect is maximized.

For most people, it's not much of an issue, but for anyone who has ever done shots in a studio with lots of fabric, the pain of moire is well-known. For them, the SD1, especially at its current cost, could make a lot of sense.

The other group that may want to look at this camera are landscape photogs. At base ISO, the performance of the Foveon sensor is very good. It falls off a cliff after ISO640, but that's irrelevant. Colors are rich and varied, and, most importantly, transitions into shadow are exquisite. As long as you aren't a resolution whore, the new Foveon sensor is a good choice. Sigma claims a resolution equivalent of 30MP. I've found it closer to 24-25MP, but I still think that is enough for most landscape applications.

The SD1 is not the camera for me, but it can be the camera for others. Its new price stops me from laughing in their face and instead makes me take their product quite seriously indeed. I think that it still needs work and refinement. It needs details that other, cheaper cameras have. It also needs much better workflow. That is something that companies who have never dealt with the pro market don't realize is important. Workflow can literally make or break a system.

I wish Sigma the best of luck, and I hope that the inevitable SD2 fixes all of the issues with this camera and truly brings Foveon into the mainstream.

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