Pros and Cons of Sigma sd Quattro‘s SFD Mode


The SFD mode is one of the most important features introduced with the Sigma sd Quattro. It is a kind of multiple exposure feature, which captures 7 X3F files, which then get converted into a single X3I file. Just like X3F files the X3I file can be developed in Sigma Photo Pro, whereby you can adjust all the usual sliders and settings, among others exposure, white balance, contrast, sharpness and X3 Fill Light.

Some pieces of info, before we begin:

  • I used identical settings to shoot both X3I and X3F files. The only thing I changed between the shots was the mode.
  • The X3I crops in the comparison images are always left; X3Fs are right.
  • Where it was possible or necessary, I tried to adjust the settings in SPP in such a way, that the resulting images look as similar as possible. It wasn’t easy because X3Is are less contrasty and brighter and have different colors.
  • You can find all of the photos shown here and view them in full resolution in my Flickr

 

What does an X3I file look like?

X3I files are something like pimped out X3F files, which have very low contrast. They are akin to HDR images without tone mapping. Below I have included two images for you to compare – the first one is a JPG created using an X3I file, while the second JPG was created using an X3F file. Neither of the two photos was edited.

SFD-no-edit
SDIM0336_einzel_angeglichen

Dynamic range and highlights recovery

The fact that X3I files look dull is no coincidence. This is due to their much higher dynamic range, which allows for far greater post processing headroom. The first JPG was created without editing using an X3F file, which was shot for comparison purposes, and shows what the scene looked like quite accurately. The small part of the building front is clearly overexposed.

SDIM0338-einzel

When editing both the X3I (left) as well as X3F (right) file I tried to recover all the highlight detail. This didn’t work as well with the latter file as it did with the former.

SFD-Highlight-Recovery

What becomes apparent immediately is that the crops look different. This isn’t due to different settings – the settings were the same – but rather due to sliders in SPP having a different effect, depending on whether an X3I or an X3F file is being edited.

 

Noise performance

Even in the photo of the construction site, which was included in the beginning and which doesn’t contain really deep shadows, there is an obvious difference. The X3I file (left) has a huge advantage in regard to luminance noise and color blotches.

SFD-Shadow-Noise-Crop

What’s also interesting is that the sky appears to be much cleaner in the JPG created using the X3I file.

SFD-Sky-Noise-Crop

In some of the food photos I shot for the purpose of this comparison, the X3I files seem to offer an even greater advantage in said areas. This is due to deeper shadows and stronger noise in the X3F files.

 SDIM0341-mehrfach-angeglichen

SFD-Shadow-Noise-Crop-3

SDIM0343-einzel-angeglichen

SFD-Shadow-Noise-Crop-4

 

Micro contrast and sharpness

I’m not sure what the reason behind it is, but X3I files seem to have a tad higher micro contrast and sharpness as well. Whether this is due to lower luminance noise or my tripod, I cannot say. Below are the same two food photos, but this time with two different crops.

 SDIM0342-einzel

SFD-Micro-Contrast-Sharpness

SDIM0344-mehrfach-angeglichen

SFD-Micro-Contrast-Sharpness-2

Moving subjects

As one would expect from a shooting mode, which is based on multiple exposure, the SFD mode is not suitable for moving subjects. The following crop of a crane from the photo of the construction site embedded at the beginning of the article, shows what happens if something is moving in the frame during capture. It is to be expected, that the effect would be even stronger with faster moving subjects.

SFD-ghosting-Geisterbilder

Conclusion

I didn’t expect much before I began experimenting with the SFD mode. I was therefore positively surprised by the vast improvements in regard to dynamic range and noise performance it brings to the table. Higher micro contrast and sharpness are a nice bonus, which wasn’t really necessary considering Foveon’s already high level of sharpness. It is really unfortunate, that this mode isn’t usable for moving subjects.

 

 

  1. Thank you for this post. As a fellow SD Quattro user I have been interested in the SFD mode, and I’ve tried it a couple of times with limited success. Your post shows that it has the potential to be phenomenal on still scenes. Though most of my photography doesn’t lend itself to tripod use, it is nice to know the capability is there if and when it’s needed.

    I do hope that Sigma will continue to develop features for the Quattros, like perhaps a 16bit TIFF output, or maybe 7 jpegs written from SFD mode. either of these would be particularly useful for HDR processing, and the jpegs in particular would consume much less card space than an X3I file. And before you mention it, yes I know that I can output either of these from SPP, but the amount of time required is prohibitive. Actually my preferred output format is jpeg because of the rapid processing capability in Lightroom.

    Reply

    1. Tom you are welcome! Thank you for your nice comment.

      The SFD mode has its limits, I agree. But for still scenes it has so much potential. I also agree regarding the additional features you have mentioned. Having more options is always good. I never know when you might need one. I wish you a happy new year and all the best!

      Reply

  2. Hi everyone. Have no idea how you achieve such a good result in processing SFD in SPP. Got recently a DP0 quattro and my attempts, especially indoors look terrible. Any advice about how to process in SPP? Thank’s!!!

    Reply

    1. Sigma DP cameras don’t have the SFD feature, only sd Quattro and sd Qauttro H have it. As for how to make indoor shots look good. I would start with the lowest ISO and tripod. Anything above ISO400 is too high and won’t look good regardless of processing. Next you should use a grey card, if you can. This should make it easier to adjust white balance. There is also a trick to reduce color blotches, should you have a problem with those. Use a mix of low amount of chroma noise reduction in SPP and another pass of chroma noise reducion in Lightroom, if you have LR. Something like 25 for “color” and 100 for “smoothness” looks best.

      Reply

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