Sigma SD Quattro Review – The Strangest Camera I’ve Ever Used

Sigma SD Quattro Review – The Strangest Camera I’ve Ever Used

1800 1013 Jarrod Hills

Have you ever fallen down the camera research rabbit hole? I have, many times. Only, this time, it was a search without success. Because the camera that I was trying to find information on, the Sigma SD Quattro, is a true oddball. Though there’s a decent Sigma group on Flickr and a few old SD Quattro reviews, there’s little information beyond that and nobody seems to own one. I quickly decided that I needed to see for myself what this strange Sigma’s all about. 

First impressions – it’s a weird one. A camera designed with originality. It’s got a weird lens mount, unorthodox ergonomics, and a decidedly un-digital methodology. It’s a camera that forces our habits to change if we want to get the most out of it. But most unique of all, it has a sensor that everyone (even people who hate everything) say is great, so long as you stay within certain parameters.

All About the Sensor

The Sigma SD Quattro is a digital interchangeable lens mirrorless camera first released in the year 2016, with a 29 megapixel sensor that punches above its weight to create images with depth more akin to those of a 40 MP sensor. Is this witchcraft? Actually, it’s Foveon. Never heard of it? That’s okay; most people haven’t. Foveon is a sensor that’s very unique in consumer photography products. They’re rare, and that’s largely because only one company produces these sensors. That company is Sigma. 

Now, I consider myself to be a bright guy. I’ve restored cars. I can take things apart and get them back together (mostly). So, I’m going to take a stab at going through what makes this camera’s Foveon image sensor (and by extension the camera itself) such an interesting and unique product. 

Here goes everything. 

Your average digital camera sensor is of a Bayer design. So, when it captures information, it is actually stripping the colors down at the pixel. Each pixel is designed to only capture one particular color (red, green, or blue) in a sort of mosaic weave pattern. What Foveon sensors do is layer red, green, and blue color-sensitive diodes on top of each other. This means that every single pixel is actually capturing color, unlike the typical Bayer sensor. 

What else does this mean? It means that the sensor is recording information on a massive scale. I can see the question forming in your head. “But it’s only 29 MP, and that is not massive.” Well, let me try and explain that one.

Due to the three layers, the top layer of pixels records mostly blue (but red and green as well) and luminance information, and equates to approximately 20 MP. The second layer records mostly red (again, also a little bit of blue and green) and is approximately 5 MP while the third and final layer captures another 5 MP of mostly green (once more, also a little red and blue). Every pixel captures the three main colors, luminance is separated out for noise reasons, noise is reduced, and the images (especially color images) are phenomenal. 

The math does not work out, I know. 20 + 5 + 5 =/= 40. But, somehow, images from this camera are up to that level. I checked. My regular digital camera is a D610. That is 24 MP of full frame sensor. It has never been accused of having a bad sensor. In fact, it is pretty damned good. The Quattro has slightly more megapixels but APS-C, so at a disadvantage in terms or detail and depth, right? Let me tell you now, the Nikon gets smoked. When I look at D610 RAW files versus the DNG RAW files of the Sigma for the first time, I laughed. Seriously. Out loud. My daughter ran into the room to see if I was watching something funny. When she saw that I just had a photo on the screen, she left. 

According to an interview I read, the benchmark for this APS-C sensor was the Nikon D800E. A full frame 36 MP beast which was possibly the best DSLR of its generation. The Sigma SD Quattro out-resolves it. Easily. 

Have you ever taken a photo of black lines on a white piece of paper? Have you noticed that those black lines always look colored? I saw this and had to replicate it. It does exactly that. The way a Bayer sensor works by not absorbing color information leads to that. I replicated this with the Sigma SD Quattro and what did I see? Sharp, clean, black lines on a white piece of paper. No weird color ghosts running up and down the line. 

I have no doubt that the image files on the screen were of 40 MP quality. No doubt whatsoever. And you know what else? They were clean. They were sharp. The colors are vibrant without any bleed. I normally like to play with the color wheel when it comes to editing. I started to and realized that it would be an insult to the files. What I went for, in the end, with every photo was to try to create an E-6 film-worthy edit. I tried to edit to make colors as true to life as they can be. And it was not difficult at all, because everything is just there in the raw data. 

“Wow! This sounds amazing! Why isn’t every manufacturer using these sensors?” You ask.

Patents? Some other reasons, maybe? I truthfully don’t know.

“Well, why isn’t every photographer using a Sigma SD Quattro?” You ask.

That’s a question more easily answered.

The Body – What?

Let me say this again; what? It’s a mirrorless camera. It’s actually lightweight and looks to be extremely weather proof. Everything has a rubber plug or a latch. It also has an SLR lens mount with an SLR-length flange distance. On a mirrorless? Yup. Let’s take a look at that quirk, first. 

The Sigma SD Quattro is a mirrorless camera with an SLR lens mount for the Sigma-made SA mount SLR lenses. Not a big deal, as far as lens availability, since Sigma makes every Sigma ART lens in that mount (I was using the 30/ 1.4 A exclusively). But it is an odd choice for a mirrorless camera. In order to allow mounting of Sigma’s SA lenses, Sigma designers needed to add a shoulder onto the body of the SA Quattro to approximate the mirror box of an SLR camera, and to get the flange distances correct. This is similar to Pentax’s treatment of the mirrorless Pentax K01, which used their SLR K mount. Except Pentax did it more elegantly than Sigma.

In Sigma’s case, the SD Quattro has a big round protuberance on the front of what is actually a very comfortable camera. So that this bulbous bulge is not a complete waste of space, Sigma did throw the on/off switch on top of it. In addition to allowing lenses to mount to the camera, the SA mount also makes it a very front heavy camera. Attach a lens to it and it instantly tips forward. Prime lenses aren’t egregious. An ART series zoom though? Forget about it. This is 100% a two handed camera. One on the grip and one supporting the lens. You have absolutely no choice. 

The Sigma SD Quattro has a rangefinder style body. Yeah! Rangefinders are super popular. A good viewfinder in the corner so you can kind of frame with both eyes open. Except you can’t. Not with this camera. The viewfinder screen is on the right part of the body, about three-quarters of the way over. Closer to the grip than where you would normally find an RF viewfinder. This is a bit odd as you are so far removed from the centerline of the lens. 

You might be thinking that it’s a mirrorless, so who cares? What you see is what you get. Sorry, but no. The viewfinder’s placement did create some composition issues for me. You naturally line up a shot based upon where the viewfinder is and where the lens is. They are normally close to each other so it works out. Here though, it never did. I always had to move a little if I just walked up and pointed the camera at the subject. I would have to turn it on, look through the viewfinder/screen and frame up while composing. I had to use the camera to compose, not my eye. If I were shooting a grand landscape where everything is f/16 or higher, it would not really matter. But in more open apertures where focus point placement mattered, it was a little more difficult. 

And the Sigma SD Quattro has an undeniably odd design. Just look at it. Why is the grip higher than the rest of the body? I do not know. But though it looks odd, it is comfortable to hold and manipulate. I have big hands. The grip fits me very well. It’s sculpted with finger recesses, and very rarely did my pinky slip below the camera.

The dials are easily reached, but everything else is most inconvenient. Focus point selection is through a button on the bottom. Five straight days of using the camera and I still had to look to see where it was. Same thing with the direction pad, and the AF-L (back button focus) button. The shutter release button is okay. It’s a piece of plastic that you push down. There is no real resistance. Basically it’s a laptop key. There’s no half-press feel in it. The button is, however, where you would expect it to be.

Let’s talk about screens. Normally I wouldn’t care much about a camera’s LCD, but this is a mirrorless and they live and die by their screens. The Sigma SD Quattro has a big, fixed, rear screen with a sub screen for basic setting information (hugely useful) and a big viewfinder screen. The problem is that they are pretty awful. I will be the first to admit that I prefer an OVF over a screen pretending to be an OVF. Size does not mean accuracy. If it was not for the histogram being displayed in the finder, all of my shots would have been off. Seriously, it is amazing just how much the image in the OVF differs from reality. It lags, images seem jagged at times, and it’s slow to resolve. 

On my last day of using the camera, I took it down to the shore and set it up on a tripod. In order to keep the sky from blowing out, I slid a two stop soft Haida grad filter into place. With my D610, or any other OVF camera, I would watch and stop lock in the position based on what I could see. Two stops is a visual difference. Looking through the viewfinder, and even the rear screen on the Sigma, I could not tell where anything was! The only solution, again, was to watch the histogram and keep sliding the filter down until the highlight side started to slide away from the edges! It seemed to work but should not be that way. 

These belly-aches noted, one great aspect of the camera screen set up is the small, black and white sub-screen that allows you to see and quickly change basic settings. It’s like having the top panel LCD screen that many cameras offer, but with the added bonus of being able to change things right there.

A Film Shooter’s Digital Camera

I will admit that a lot of what I’ve written might sound kind of negative. It sounds that way because it is. There are many odd things about this camera. What redeems it then? The fact that shooting the Sigma SD Quattro is like shooting a 250 frame roll of Provia. Yes, that is what you can squeeze out of the camera battery and a 32 GB flash card. Yes, 32 GB for 250 photos. I put a 64 GB card in and was told that I had about 560 shots worth of room. The files, due to the sensor’s method of capturing all color information at every pixel, are approximately 108 MB in size (DNG RAW files). You can save yourself some room by shooting JPEGs. Those are only  around 55 MB each… 

Let me explain the slide film analogy. The colors are crisp and the camera makes its best shots at ISO 100. Anything higher and things get noisy and ugly. Shooting with this camera was like looking at slide film for the first time after shooting only negative film. 

Now, I will readily admit that I am used to seeing 24 MP Nikon files. No one complains about those being terrible. The look of images is massively different from the Sigma and its Foveon sensor. The blacks are deep, the whites are bright, and the colors are amazing. There is clean contrast and sharp lettering everywhere. No need to mess around with sliders or color wheels to find a saturation that best reflects what was there. It’s already there. It’s almost as if you shot a roll of Ektachrome or Provia and then scanned it. Except the scanned film would still require some messing with in order to get the final shot closer to where the Sigma files already are. 

Besides the colors and sharpness, what makes this a film shooters digital camera? Pace. You absolutely cannot rush this thing. Start up time is sluggish. Composing is not quick due to the situation I described above with the screens. You are limited to basically ISO 100. Every shot takes some time to process and save to the card. It’s a camera that rewards set up and deliberation. It is digital, of course, but it’s also somewhat anti digital. It’s not a snapshots camera. The published burst mode frame rate is high but due to the slow-to-focus nature of it, it is basically a single shot at a time camera. You need to think before you shoot. Because of these limitations, you look for things that you would not ordinarily look for. I found myself looking for textures and shadows. For colors and contrast. I became incredibly interested in moss for some reason. Vibrant greens and browns. Contrast and texture. Moss! Never in my life did I feel like that was worthy of a shot. 

Were there issues? Absolutely.

Problems, there were a few. Wait. Let me rephrase that. There were not a few. That implies more than I mean. In reality, there was really only one or two things that I would classify as a problem. The rest were mere inconveniences that are no big deal, as long as you shift the way you use a digital camera. The actual, real and tangible problems were overheating and metering. 

The camera overheats. Granted, it has been 95 degrees with 85% humidity, resulting in what feels like temps of 105 degrees, but I’ve never used a camera where shooting stills has brought on a heat warning. The Sigma SD Quattro, however, changed all that. And turning it off really didn’t help. It never froze completely, and the moment I got the warning I took the shot, turned it off, and placed the camera in my bag. The next time I brought it out for use, I got a couple of shots before encountering another heat warning. Apparently this is common, but it’s also not something I want to mess with. Putting the camera in front of an air conditioning vent helped a lot.

The second problem was the metering. Again, just like with the screens, pay attention to the histogram. This is something that I am not accustomed to. I absolutely never pay any attention to the histogram. With this camera though, it is a necessity. The screens do not give you an accurate picture of what you are shooting. They are there merely as an approximation. For me, I needed to be 2/3rds to 1 stop under-exposed to get the photo that I was looking to capture. If I went with the meter, the skies would have been blown out and unrecoverable. The files are so large and flexible that I could recover shadows while having my brights still be there. 

Now for the inconveniences. Slow start up and a weird shutter lag. Turn it on and wait. Frame a photo and then press the shutter to take the photo. Problem is that the auditory response to pressing the shutter is delayed, so the first couple of days of using this camera, I had this feeling like all of my photos were going to be blurry. They weren’t, as my shutter speeds were properly high to avoid shake, but pressing the button and then moving on created a split second panic of ruined photo due to the delay. I’m not sure if this delay is due to the processor, or the massive file sizes, but there is a delay in the taking and then writing to the card. Which brings me to another minor inconvenience. The file sizes. They are large and you will need a large card. And a decent computer to handle it. The moment I loaded my files into Capture One, the fans kicked on and basically stayed on the entire time. 

There are a couple of other things that bothered me, but they are nitpicky. The battery life is not amazing (about 250 shots) and the BULB mode seems to actually be timed to about 40 seconds. The camera is a deliberate shooters camera. Not a walk around snap shots, whatever catches your eye kind of thing. This doesn’t mean you can’t use it that way. I did. It just means that you need to really think about what you’re doing in order to get the most out of it. 

Odds and Ends

I didn’t try shooting moving objects, as that’s not necessarily what the camera is meant for, but I did try to put the Sigma SD Quattro through its paces. I shot landscapes, people, street photography. I was out in the early blue to golden hours and in the height of the afternoon heat and sun, and here are some rapid-fire final thoughts.

The focus is slow, but that’s okay. You want to get your shot in as few attempts as possible. I thought of it as a film camera loaded with a $12+ roll of slide film (i.e. not to be wasted). The best ISO is the base ISO, so set it to 100 and leave it there. This sometimes means that you need a tripod. You’re going to start looking for different things. As I mentioned earlier, I was looking for colors and textures, not things that I would normally choose as my primary subject. I was using filters far more often than usual to protect highlights (much like you would with slide film). The body is oddly shaped, but it handles incredibly well with the lens being the perfect place to position a hand while you hold the grip with the other. The 30mm f/1.4 ART lens is, well, amazing. Even down to 1.4 it is sharp.  

Who is it for? Should you buy one?

Who is this camera for? I’m honestly not too sure. It’s not convenient, but it does reward. Would I keep it? Yes, I would. I have general-use digital cameras and lenses. And a digital point and shoot. What this camera offers is something that those cannot. A different way of looking at the world. It rewards a slower, more deliberate pace. It rewards thought. My only regret is that I was not able to road trip out to some deserted town to photograph derelict buildings and maybe some grand vistas. 

As a purchase today, the Sigma SD Quattro is very reasonable. You can get the body and that excellent lens for $699 brand new, which is a pretty good deal. Even better buying second-hand, where gently used units can be found on eBay for under $450.

I realize that the “different way of looking at the world” line sounds cliché and something that all camera manufacturers would love for you to believe. The fact is, however, that this camera absolutely does do that. Its limitations are also its strengths. You cannot just simply jack the ISO up to match available light, rely upon enormous dynamic range, or use IBIS (it has none) as a crutch. You cannot bend it to your will. You have to work with it. And after working with one for some time, and in no small part because of the impressive color depth an incredible clarity of the images it makes, I really like the Sigma SD Quattro.  

Buy a Sigma SD Quattro new from B&H Photo

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Jarrod Hills

Jarrod Hills is a high school teacher, father to a five-year-old daughter, and a fan of everything on wheels, being outside, and capturing family moments.

All stories by:Jarrod Hills
  • I have the Sigma DP0 Quattro with the fixed 14mm f2.8 lens. It gives me a rendering I just don’t get with my other digital cameras. The other thing I love about it (aside from the Foveon sensor) is the 21:9 aspect ratio. It’s the closest digital version of my Hasselblad XPan. The DP0, just like your SD, has a lot of quirks and “limitations”. But working around them makes me more focused and deliberate and gives me images rich in detail and color so unlike most cameras. Well worth the time and effort. I’m glad you are enjoying your SD.

  • Bo Belvedere Christensen September 16, 2020 at 1:32 am

    Nice article, I too love the camera for its ability to require you to act differently and then leave you with amazing results.
    I think I know the explanation to the long distance between lens and sensor. Actually, most mirrorless cameras are on the limit of how close you can put the lens to the sensor. The reason being that light rays hitting the sensor at a sharp angle are likely to be reflected and not absorbed by the individual pixels. This is even more the case with the foveon sensor due to its “deep” pixels (as you explained in the article).
    By the way I don’t understand your comment about the problem with the EVF being offset from the lens. I’m very often using rangefinder cameras and one their digital pendants the Fujifilm X100. The offset there is massive compared to the Sigma Quattro and I don’t find this to be any kind of challenge.
    Best regards,

    • I can explain the comment about the viewfinder a little bit. I had an issue with the viewfinder positioning. It really just makes no sense to me. I guess it is positioned in that location so that the flash port can be positioned there. It is just weird that the viewfinder is to the right of the hot shoe, very close to the control pad and the grip itself. It took me a couple of days to get used to the fact that the relation to the lens and the subject was not what it “felt” like it should be. You use an SLR/ DSLR and you know exactly where it is pointing. Even with a typical rangefinder, you have a decent idea of where the lens is pointing. In some cases, you can even see the outer rim of the lens itself in the OVF. With digital, I suppose you can place it wherever you want since it is just a question of real estate and some wiring but there? Why? Oh, and lord help you if you are left eye dominate. Your nose and thumb would be competing against each other when trying to move AF points on that directional pad. I suppose I am just used to either having the camera body centered on my face or, less ideally, a rangefinder with the body small and hanging off the right side of my face.

      All of that being said, I would 100% own this camera. Even with its drawbacks. I have had the Quattro H and a couple of primes sitting in the cart for a couple weeks now. Again, more Sigma weirdness there. APS-H. Bigger than APS-C but not quite full frame? Either way, the images spoke to me. I absolutely fell in love with the way this thing made colors pop. Especially greens. Holy cow, the greens! The one things I regret not doing is popping the sensor filter off and running it for IR black and white.

      • I have the H and have shot IR in Maui. the photos are absolutely stunning and so easy to do. Just need the ND filter to block the visible light.

  • Sigma Quattro is actually a compromise, it does not use the real Foveon X3 sensor (found in Sigma DP Merrill cameras) where all 3 layers have the same number of photodiodes and no interpolation takes place. In Sigma Quattro, the lower two layers have only 1/4 photodiodes compared to the top layer, so the engine has to do some interpolation. See this article:
    I use the Sigma DP2 Merrill. I bought one of the last ones available, after the Quattro appeared. They’re truly special.

    • Emil, five years ago I acquired a DP1 out of curiosity about the sensor. I didn’t find the colour reproduction any more of an advantage than my Fuji X-trans cameras, and which I much preferred. However, there was something about its b/w rendition that I did like and the easy to use manual focus wheel and which with a little rangefinder in the accessory shoe gave me a very olde worlde shooting experience.

      At the time, the DP2 Merrill was more than I cared to pay, but today used ones are more reasonable in price. However, one comment I’ve read and this would concern me, was the shot to shot time delay of 20 seconds. Is this correct? If not, can your furnish any more reliable info, please?

      • It depends. I shoot raw, and the X3F files are quite large: 50 to 60 MB. It happens quite often that it takes 20 – 30 seconds until the camera finishes writing them to the card. But it does not block you, you can shoot a new picture while the camera is writing the previous one. I guess shooting JPEG directly might improve things, but I did not tried it.

      • The Merrill cameras have 2 processors, one takes care for the camera to operate and the other is busy processing and writing the files to the memory card, which should have at least 45Mb/s, a faster card does not make things better, the bottleneck will be the processor.
        This means one can shoot after 1 or 2 seconds another picture RAW & JPG, in boost mode you can shoot 7 pictures in some 4 seconds, this is the size of the buffer, then the camera is really busy for some time, but even so, after the first picture is written on the card, you can continue shooting pictures. It is not that bad and since Sigma cameras are really not made for action, one can very well live with it.

  • I can explain the comment about the viewfinder a little bit. I had an issue with the viewfinder positioning. It really just makes no sense to me. I guess it is positioned in that location so that the flash port can be positioned there. It is just weird that the viewfinder is to the right of the hot shoe, very close to the control pad and the grip itself. It took me a couple of days to get used to the fact that the relation to the lens and the subject was not what it “felt” like it should be. You use an SLR/ DSLR and you know exactly where it is pointing. Even with a typical rangefinder, you have a decent idea of where the lens is pointing. In some cases, you can even see the outer rim of the lens itself in the OVF. With digital, I suppose you can place it wherever you want since it is just a question of real estate and some wiring but there? Why? Oh, and lord help you if you are left eye dominate. Your nose and thumb would be competing against each other when trying to move AF points on that directional pad. I suppose I am just used to either having the camera body centered on my face or, less ideally, a rangefinder with the body small and hanging off the right side of my face.

    All of that being said, I would 100% own this camera. Even with its drawbacks. I have had the Quattro H and a couple of primes sitting in the cart for a couple weeks now. Again, more Sigma weirdness there. APS-H. Bigger than APS-C but not quite full frame? Either way, the images spoke to me. I absolutely fell in love with the way this thing made colors pop. Especially greens. Holy cow, the greens! The one things I regret not doing is popping the sensor filter off and running it for IR black and white.

  • I am surprised that you didn’t mention how easy it is to do IR photography with these systems.

  • I’ve long wanted to try this camera. I have the DP2 Quattro and I have the exact same experience. I actually sold my whole kit once only to find myself buying it all over again a couple years later. Because there is absolutely just some way these Foveon cameras see the world that is unlike any other camera I’ve owned. It always gets looks when I’m out with it and when people ask me what’s so great about it, I usually end up telling them all the negatives leaving them totally confused. Again though, at the end of the day, within those parameters, there’s just nothing like it.

  • I purchased a used Sigma dp3 Merrill last year. I have also owned a D800 since 2012. I can confirm that under the right conditions, the detail captured by the Sigma is as good as, or better than the D800. If you are willing to keep the Sigma locked down to the lowest iso settings, and can avoid camera shake… the images are great, and the colors can be amazing. The older cameras require processing the raw files in Sigma’s software before importing them as Tiffs into your favorite tools, which is also something to consider. I hope Sigma continues to innovate with the Foveon tech… it would be a shame if it disappears from the market.

  • I have the SD Quattro and the SD Quattro H. I also have the Panasonic S1, S1R and Canon EOS R. Funny enough, the SD Quattros are the most rewarding cameras I have to use because you have to work for each glorious image. Most won’t understand but once you have one, you’ll know.

    • Wow, that is quite a list! I have to agree with you. Once you look at the files, it is hard looking at the files from my D610. They just do not compare.

      It is such a limiting camera though and I think that really helps explain why more aren’t trying it out. You really have to consider the scene and the elements. It is like a digital slide film camera.

    • Hallo Garry,
      Since you’ve used both the SD Quattro & SD Quattro H, can you compare their output? thank you.

  • Foveon cameras truly are digital film cameras. If the public would judge them on that basis, rather than compare them to digital cameras I think they would celebrate the conveniences they offer versus film cameras (more than 36 shots per roll, the elimination of developing, adjusting WB in post, and other improvements that RAW editing provides, etc.) instead of the drawbacks versus digital cameras (ISO limitations, battery life, the use of PhotoPro for those who dislike it). My dream camera would be an M-mount rangefinder with a Foveon sensor.

  • Hey there!

    I’m going back to shooting hybrid after shooting MF film for the last 1.5 years, and have really been interested in the SD Quattro. I was wondering if it really is as awful as people say at ISO 400 and 800 (Camera Store TV / DPReview guy in their videos made it out to be usable), but everyone else says base or its horrible. With an F1.4 Lens and ISO 800, it’s already a bit more flexible than my film cameras, but as I’ll be selling my gear to repurchase I’m wondering if it’ll be a downgrade from my Fuji XT-1.

    Is the sensor really that awful at ISO 400 and 800 that it would be worse than a Fuji XT-1 at 800 and 1600 respectively? (as Fuji is 2/3-1 stop higher “base” ISO)

    Really worried if I do purchase it I might really regret it, and may be better off getting an X-E3. Being used to film and using almost exclusively for pictures, I don’t mind, it’s mostly a quality / colours thing.

    Thanks in advance! And great review

    • Hi Norman, sorry for the delayed response. i can say that yes, as you leave the base ISO, the quality of the photo decreases significantly. I cannot call the file unusable but it gets very noisy at that rating. I think of it like pushing film. At a certain point, the grain is so heavy, the sharpness is gone.

      The SD is an upgrade to the XT1 in terms of file and sensor ability. It is a downgrade in everything else as it will not be as flexible in ISO or in autofocus ability. Will you regret it? Only you can decide that. If you are looking for a digital camera version of slide film, this is your ticket. If you are looking for a little more flexibility in use, I would say that you should look at the Fuji bodies. They will be more usable in all conditions.

  • I’m thinking of using the quattro h with 70mm art macro on a digital copy stand setup. Anyone using this camera tethered to a newer macbook using capture one or similar? These files look amazing! Thanks for the detailed review

    • Hi Don.
      I use the SDQH with 70mm Art macro for copying film from 35mm to 6x9cm in a glassless holder. From there, digital processing is via the Negative Lab Pro plugin for Lightroom Classic. I couldn’t ask for better in a hybrid setup and the combo hoovers up every scrap of detail in the negs.
      The SDQH is also wonderful for the b & w IR I love and any other shooting in between.
      I’m lucky and can indulge all kinds of photo inclinations – from the SDQH and a brace of ‘Art’ lenses, to full frame and APS-C Canon, Micro 4/3rds and 35mm and medium format film cameras.
      The SDQH really tickles the brain cells and I have to be ‘film like’ in planning and executing ideas.
      Wish you well with it.

      • I use the exact same setup for my mega and it it’s fantastic. Put on SFD mode and you have yourself something that will outperform a flatbed or a dedicated scanner every time.

  • Congratulations on posting a review that accurately describes this camera, bar one thing (I’ll come onto that in a minute), many people simply don’t understand what this camera is for, and concentrate on its (often unpopular) quirks. I’ve had mine for a few years and love it to bits, when you nail a shot nothing comes close, I’ll never get rid of it. I’ve grown to love the quirky and unusual design, which I’ve grown used to, it does actually make sense when you use it regularly enough, and who wants a camera that looks like everything else?

    So where I think you’re wrong is the ‘ISO 100 only’ part, and I’ll explain why. Now most people think this is a raw only camera, and that’s a big mistake, because the jpeg processing engine on this camera is phenomenal, it’ll do a better job of processing your files than anything else, including Sigma Photo Pro in my experience. You can shoot colour up to ISO 400, and black and white to ISO 800, and get great results from jpegs. Yes there is some degradation when you go up the ISO scale, but because of the clarity of the foveon pixels you can still print and display to very large sizes. Obviously you need to be careful with your exposures, but I’m used to using the histogram, which you rightly pointed out is important. This might seem counter-intuitive for a camera like this, but trust me, the jpegs are stunning, and there are plenty of options to tweak them in camera. I usually shoot X3F+jpeg (DNG files are not as good as X3F in my experience) and only use the X3F files when I need to. I also do any minor tweaking in Darktable, which seems to get the best out of the jpegs for small adjustments. I recommend you try shooting jpegs with it, I think you’ll be surprised, and it’s a great time saver.

    Anyway, that was a very fair and generally accurate review, the SD and SDH Quattro’s are what they are, you either love them or hate them. One other thing, if you think the 30mm F1.4 is good on this camera, wait until you get a load of the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 on it, that’s a match made in heaven (albeit a bit weighty), the files from this combination are spectacular. If you want a smaller but still excellent zoom, then the Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 is also excellent, and a steal, it also does auto-focus accurately, at least mine does anyway.

  • Hi Jarrod,
    i used the Sigma Quattro H in Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Higway 1 and in Scotland. I can assure you that the Camera and the lenses, were reliable in those difficult environments. Together with a 24-70 its a great Combo. Yes it’s true, its not a point and shoot camera, it never will. But as you described, if you use it within its limitations, the reward will be awesome. Especially if you shoot black and white, and you cant afford a Leica M, the Quattro is one of the best Tools you can get.

    Take Care

    • Those sound like ideal places to use this camera. Detail, color, everything in those places. If you are willing to approach the scene a little bit slower and work within the limitations, it is a phenomenal camera.

  • Hi I wonder if anyone reading this has owned both the Merrill series and this Sd Quattro? I have a DP2 Merrill which possibly is my all time favourite camera ( yes even with all its niggles!) and given that I keep looking at the few SD Quattros that show up on EBay and wonder if they might be like a Merrill with a viewfinder….but other discussion sites often say the Merrill is the pinnacle of that ‘Foveon pop’ and so I wouldn’t be gaining anything with the Quattro. What do you think?

    • @du2711 I own all 3 DP Merrills and the SD Quattro, the SD Quattro is my favourite of them all. The Merrills excel in giving superb quality in a small package, with all the caveats that I’m sure you’re aware of. However, the SD Quattro gives superior colour and handles the shadows a lot better in my opinion. It’s also a lot nicer to shoot with if you can live with the size and gives slightly more resolution, though not enough to make that the decision for buying one (Prints at 40×60 size are virtually identical). Personally I don’t buy the whole ‘Merrills are the pinnacle’ argument, they’re just different, but in a good way. The Quattro is the closest thing to shooting slide film in the digital world, and can’t be beat at that, the Merrills give a more gritty micro-contrasty look, both are excellent. It took me a little while to warm to the Quattro, but now I love it, it’s my favourite camera bar none, and the jpegs are incredible. If you set it up right, nailing shots straight out of camera is easy.
      You don’t get the murky colour colour cast in the shadows you can get with the Merrills, get the exposure right and it’s job done. I also love the design and interface, everything you need, nothing you don’t. You can also shoot IR black and white really easily. It does need good lenses on it, I use the Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 as my standard lens, but also have the 18-35mm F1.8, there’s less between them than you think, apart from the the obvious aperture differences.
      In your shoes I’d grab one while you still can, they’re getting harder to get hold of, and you could always sell it on if you don’t like it. All I can say is that is that it’s the one camera I’ll never sell, I have a whole suite of lenses for it so I’m good forever on that score, I can’t pay it a higher compliment than that.

      • Great summary here; interestingly enough, I went in the opposite direction as you. After trying two of the DPQ’s as well as the SD Q I now own all three of the DP Merrills for landscape photography. The Quattro handles better and has richer shadows and color but I hate how easily it blows highlights. The M is much better in that regard, both in how subtly it renders highlights as well as how much recovery power the RAWs have. I find that the shadows are still quite nice, though not so lush as the Q. Q’s JPEGs out of camera are definitely better. But that combination of filmic colors plus the gritty microcontrast of the M is a treat.

        Not better, just different.

        • I wouldn’t disagree Earl, the Q does blow out highlights easier for sure, but I treat it like I would shooting slide film, some scenes are just not going to end well, it does also struggle with bright yellows at times. I like both sensor types, I just find that shooting with the SDQ is a more pleasurable experience, but the DPXM’s are great because they’re so small, different tools for different jobs really.

  • Thank you so much Tony….that definitely helps sway me. I like the Merrill so much I can’t help but think I will appreciate the SD Quattro as much if not more. Very few of them come up for sale…which I guess also means something! 🙏

    • You’re welcome, a couple of other things, although you can shoot DNG files, stick to the X3F’s or jpegs, I find the results are better in terms of colour. Also, if you go for one, try and get one with the 30mm F1.4, they make a great combination, and it’s a better lens than it’s sometimes given credit for, I find mine to be excellent. Good luck, I hope you find one and enjoy it as much as I do.

      • Thanks for the tips… really appreciate it

      • Hi I managed to get hold of a Sd Quattro with a 30 mm Art lens….but unless I’m being thick, it seems to be broken in that the focus ring on the lens won’t move when switched to manual focus! It auto focuses fine…. am I missing something obvious? Thanks for any advice!

        • The focus ring should rotate in both manual and AF mode, and focus the lens, the only difference in AF mode is that obviously it will autofocus when you half press the shutter button, so your lens must be faulty unfortunately.

  • Hi all – I have used the now discontinued sd quattro h for a few years with 30mm and 85mm art lenses. In terms of color and resolution and speed of use etc agree with above comments – absolutely amazing images been captured on this setup. As I have a need to work quicker these days the Sigma is starting to gather dust Im looking at potentially moving it on – if anyones interested the kit feel free to get in contact.

  • Foveon is a beast! I have the Quattro H with a fairly big selection of Sigma lenses. I LOVE the shape of the camera and the construction quality. Makes my Sony A7 III look like a toy. I would love it to have either a tilting back screen OR a tilting viewfinder…Yes, you should stick to low ISO for color (up to 400). B&W is superb and more forgiving (up to 800?). And learn to carry a tripod with you for the best results. It’s a specialist’s tool and being that it will never appeal to the fast clicking masses. And that is not a bad thing…😉

  • I am a bit late to the game but recently purchased an SD Quattro and I love it. It definitely has personality and the images are beyond compare for price point and image quality. I’m a 50 year old from an era of film when random spray and pray shooting was unheard of unless someone was bankrolling your film and processing costs. I often shot slide film then and the SDQ images are very similar. Being thoughtful, deliberate, and knowledgeable about what to shoot and how to shoot it is so much more rewarding. My D500 is insanely fast in all aspects and sometimes I think it takes the picture before I press the shutter out of impatience with my slow thought process only to find myself spending hours on a computer sifting through hundreds of pics. Now I’m back to basics and loving it. It’s definitely worth it if you’re familiar with film. A younger friend of mine who uses an Alpha3 absolutely hates it. He’s 35 and laughs when I whip out the AE1. The SD Quattro is a great camera but not for everyone.

  • Having owned one a month now I can honestly say I won’t need to look for an improvement for this camera I have stopped picking up my fujis (which I love) and just grab this or my yashica mat 124g (maybe connected by pace if shooting).
    The only thing I really dislike about it is the lack of post processing options but maybe doing too much post processing would destroy what I like about the images. I also need more lenses that are harder to find now sigma have discontinued their own mount.
    Oh another good thing is how easy it is to temporarily convert it to an infrared camera.
    This camera is me and how I think about photography and how I want my photography to be. I love it

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Jarrod Hills

Jarrod Hills is a high school teacher, father to a five-year-old daughter, and a fan of everything on wheels, being outside, and capturing family moments.

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