A tiny Sigma SD14 vs Nikon D90 comparison..

Some time ago I had this photo session for a company – some portraits made “on location” using my Quadra. Now, I had this 18-50 lens that I adore but that had a bit of a focus issue on my SD14 so I brought one of my photo students Nikon D90 to be on the safe side (same sensor as seen in the D300s). I took all shots with both cameras. The Nikon had the regular 18-105mm VR lens – I have no idea how that one compares to Sigmas 18-50 but the Nikon cost about the same when it hit the market (about $400).

The Nikon has been shot at F10, the Sigma at F8. Nikon with ISO200 and Sigma at ISO100. (ISO200 is standard on the D90). Also, notice that the Sigma is slightly closer. Nikon is set at 66mm and Sigma at 50mm. So the Sigma’s at maximum zoom level (which normally is a disadvantage).

Sigma on the left, Nikon on the right.

You can’t click the above shot to zoom in, but the other two shots below.  Notice that the Sigma has no extra sharpening applied. Just standard from SPP3. Nikon is sharpened normally in Lightroom 3.

Sigma with 4.6MP | Nikon at 12,3MP (here at 100% crop - click for full)

At 200% crop | Sigma processed using Sigma Photo Pro, Nikon using LR3 (click for full)

Conclusion?  Those 4.6MP’s are truly insane!

About Carl Rytterfalk

Welcome to my blog! I'm Carl Rytterfalk, a swedish photographer who loves everything that is interesting in the world of photography. In 2002 I fell in love with the three layered Foveon sensor and has since then been an addicted user of Sigma cameras. Though I use Canon and Nikon as well. :)
This entry was posted in 18-50, Flash, Nikon, Sigma SD14 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to A tiny Sigma SD14 vs Nikon D90 comparison..

  1. [img]http://www.rytterfalk.com/wp-content/upload/SDIM1538.jpg[/img]
    I just did a comparison this week during the PDXSUG trip, really just Mike Earussi and myself.
    Here is a landscape shot, both cameras at native ISO like your test F8 with appropriate shutter speed.
    SD14 with 18-50EX DC @35mm SPP 3.3
    D90 with 35mm DX Nikon View NX conversion.
    Sigma kicks the Nikon through the Goal.

  2. Totally the reason I invest my time into the Foveon system ^____^

  3. Pingback: Nytt och spännande hos Sigma | bildpunkt

  4. Bob van Ooik says:

    I noticed that sigma systems often can easily keep up with the files from the d700 in full day- or well controlled light in regard to detail. In this case you didn’t choose the sharpest and most contrasty lens for nikon. A higher quality lens like the 85 1.8 might help the case for the Nikon a bit. But still the sigma does not be ashamed at all :)

  5. Marc says:

    I think it doesn’t really make sense to compare a prosumer camera with average optics to the Foveon sensor, quite obvious that the Foveon delivers better IQ, but it would be interesting to compare a high-end Nikon with professional glass to the SD14, I think the difference would be dismal with the Nikon offering a clear advantage in everything ranging from speed (AF, frame rate), high iso, ergonomics etc etc etc.

    A missed shot is a missed shot, you won’t even get to compare images if you don’t own the shot first hand …

    Plus there’s post-production … Anselm Adams and many many other (analog) photographers worked their images in the darkroom, ALL high-end imagery that’s been out there for the last 100 years has been in some way retouched and post-proded, so I really don’t get that exaggerated focus on how images look ‘straight out of the camera’ it doesn’t matter that much really as long as you have sufficient information AND resolution to start a real post-production … and in that case 4.6MP is just too flimsy, even if they’re ‘awesome pixels’, on the other hand there’s a lot that can be done with 20MP, 30MP and so on.

    So to me the whole debate of film vs. digital, foveon vs. bayer is mostly waged by ‘lazy’ people who either do not have the knowledge or the disposition to get some real post-production going.

  6. Marc says:

    And … I mean the whole debate is somewhat absurd, look around … ALL the ‘big official’ stuff that is visually surrounding us, the glossy ads, the glamorous editorials, the art prints are shot with Bayer-type sensors, all the greatest photographers are working with … Bayer-type sensors. I mean honestly nobody gives a rats ass about Sigma, the Foveon … many professional photographers I happened to talk to even know about it. C’mon guys, if the foveon thing would be so incredibly awesome and the bayer so horrible as Carl tries to make believe … I mean wouldn’t that have reflected one way or another in the photographic community?

    Plus there’s another thing … good photography is mad of good ideas, not of pixels. If you have a fantastic subject in one form or another, or if you have a real story to tell you can shoot the thing with a friggin mobile phone, it will still make a great image. Nobody cares if a run-off-the-mill landscape or vegetal shot is that 5% better because it’s shot with a foveon, there’s gazillions of phtographs like that on flickr, the real diference lies in the subject.

  7. Marc says:

    To further illustrate the point, here’s a shot I did with a Canon 1Ds Mark II, how does THAT compare to the D90?

    100% crop, maybe it’s not ‘awesome pixels’ but who cares about that when it’s being offset by the pixel count?

  8. Marc says:

    And here is what happens when you scale the Sigma image to the Nikon’s pixel count … already some of the sharpness lost :


    A tiny bit of sharpening for the Nikon to compensate for the softer image inherent to Bayer sensor’s Anti-alias filter.


    OK … I don’t wanna go into arguing that the Nikon is in any way BETTER, my point is that the difference, in the end, is neglectable … we’re talking about peanuts here. On the other hand a fast and accurate autofocus does make a REAL difference … otherwise you wouldn’t have brought the Nikon to your shoot ; )

  9. Hi Marc! This has always been a hot potato and don’t we all love to have a bite? :) Thanks both for your input (which I fully understand) and for your shot and your time with my shot (which nicely illustrates your point).

    But, with lots of PP then most images will look dramatically better, but getting “that” is a bit harder. And it’s also about colors. Hmm.. If a picture comes out as “film” – you know that deeper coloristic, without that redish, magentish overall tone that most bayern has – that sort of dead, flat feeling?! :).. And, having less pixels to start with that you know you can interpolate to whatever desired size.. Of course, I will not likely train my PP skills as much as you do. That’s true.

    (Shot with SD14 + 70mm)

    Back to your points. I’d love having a 645+digital back – playing with 30-60MP’s is always fun, especially with the larger format. But I’m pretty sure that a slow 645 will probably give you less chance of getting “That” picture if you compare with the SD14 that suddenly looks like a speed moster compared. ;). And don’t get me started on the SD15.

    But, with the Mark II/III, D3, D700 etc – they all have something that Sigma lacks with todays cameras – and that’s something I would like to have as well – and that’s Speed (both AF and fps), high ISO and also some sweet lenses missing as SA. But resolution itself or handeling has never been the reason – and I’ve always been a bit sad working with those files as they do lack a little something – the something I blog about. :)

    Image shot with SD14 + 30mm. I was swimming when taking this one..
    Last one, a shot taken during my years in China using the SD9 or 10. None of these shots has seen Photoshop, except for branding. :)

    Marc, as you pointed out – there is a reason to why I often borrow cameras from my friends – and I hope that with the SD15 I’ll borrow less. :)

  10. Marc says:

    Hi Carl, yes I fully agree that the Foveon would have been the ‘ideal sensor’ if only the mainstream big companies would have adopted it … a Canon 5D MKII with a 20MP Foveon Sensor? Yes sir!! I would desperately love to have one …

    Unfortunately and as it so happens humanity has a tendency to opt for the crappy choices there are, Peace vs. War? They’ll go straight to war. Shit happens, and so it is a pitty that they ignored the Foveon when it surfaced, because the Bayer was a more trusty, mature technology which could keep pace with new product launches (yes in the end it’s all about marketing)

    And it IS true that if you want nice IQ, the colors etc. with a Bayer sensor you’ll have to work that baby in post prod to make it sing. I recently worked on a project for Bettina Rheims with her retoucher, she’s older, made the transition from analog to digital and she confirmed this : with Analog you could just pull out naturally good looking pics with lovely, lively saturation … with the digital stuff it is POSSIBLE but you need to work your way through (She showed me the P45 files before and after and there was some serious modeling going on). But it is possible, that was my point. Personally I like the process of fiddling around with colors and curves, the grading etc. so I don’t really have an issue with it, plus the trend is somewhat not reversible so I’m just being pragmatic about the whole issue.

    So I do agree with you on the philosophical standpoint, but from a pragmatic and professional point of view I’ll just grab one of the Bayer things because they get the job done (more or less quick and dirty ; ).

  11. You’re a good writer Marc and it’s interesting reading not only for me but others as well. So thanks. I’ve been inches from getting myself a Canon 5D Mark2 (to get both film/video and high ISO) and also other systems such as the D700 for the speed, ISO and FF but now with the SD15 I’ll have to wait. Hopefully my friends will continue to lend me when needed. :)

  12. Marc says:

    I’ll definitely give the SD15 a spin too.

    Also, when you do are forced to use the Canon / Nikons make sure to try out Phase One’s Capture One, it delivers very noticeably better IQ and (specifically) less flatter pics (they have more ‘bite’), I tried LR3 and it’s a improvement but the pics still look way more boring and lifeless than the output from C1.

  13. Marc,
    Your example shot in the backseat of the car tells it all in the detail blow up. The texture of the subject is “platic” looking it all contributes to the “presence” of of the whole shot. This is where no amout of photoshop wizzardry can truly replicate fundamentally good data. Basically its Garbage in Garbage out.
    I am painfully aware of the limitations of the X3 and the many shortcomings of the SD bodies like the flaky metering, slow operation, upredictable color and barely useable output under artifical lighting.
    I own a Nikon system to keep my sanity for most general shooting but when I really want to so something special its time to pull out the Sigma. A Nikon is like a dependable car, its comfortable and gets you to work every day. Sigma is like a Ferrari it needs lots of care and attention but its not fun to drive to work everyday.

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  15. Marion says:


    I´d love to meet You on Dpreview.com Sigma forums.Great shots.

  16. poloriton says:

    The comparison Foveon/D90 n’ is not realistic : SPP with clearness 0 brings a rather strong stressing, whereas l’ stressing owing to lack of LR2 is very weak.
    My own tests with a DP1 and D80, treaties both in LR2, show virtually identical piqué, but after upscaling of file DP1 it is with the drag. What n’ do not prevent that I currently qualify the DP1 of better compact

    • Hi Poloriton, I used LR3 for the Nikon shot. But I guess I should have used something more dramatic. ;) (Raw Developer, Phase one, Capture One, Silkypix or Bibble?) But using Lightroom to process any of Sigmas raw files is in my opinion not an option as I think it brings a plastic look. But I agree it’s not a fair fight but it shows a little how it compares.

  17. Bob van Ooik says:

    yeah you should’ve used RD ;)

  18. The best developer for the Nikon is using the provided View NX or ponying up for Capture NX. It has all the best Nikon Algorithms plus give selection of color modes and provides all the goodies like lateral color aberration correction.

  19. Marc says:

    Hi Paul,

    If the Canon and Nikon gear is good enough for top photographers to shoot Vogue Covers it’s good enough for me and none of my clients ever complained about plastic looks.

    Here’s a Vogue cover shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and vinoodh Matadin, I was actually in the parc during the shoot and it was done with Canon 5D MK IIs.

    Other photographers who work with that gear are Annie Leibovitz, Serge Leblon, and one of sweden’s top stars, Mikael Jansson. I mean these people are heavy hitters, they charge up from (yes, UP from) 50 K a day on commercial assignments, how would these price tags be sustainable if the files delivered by these cameras are so fundamentally flawed?

    My point being: there’s a long way to go before you can blame the camera and the technology for not delivering inspirational material. These people obviously prove that it is possible. After that it’s a question of personal preference and taste, and yes I’ll probably buy a SD15 to take on week-end trips and holidays because I agree that the out of the camera results are beautifull and inspirational, if only there was more resolution it would even be a option on professional assignments.


    Shot with Canon:

  20. Marc, you are exactly right CFA sensors are good enough and that is why I bought a Nikon rig from the start. I love it and use it alot. But I always had Sigma on my mind with its very special look of its shots. Almost 2 years ago I bout the Sigma when they were clearing out the SD14s.
    The SD14 has been everything I read it would be. Brilliant and Aggravating. I ticked me off so bad one time almost a year ago it almost got chucked in the Columbia River.
    Last summer I upgraded from my D70 to a D90, I still own the D70 but it is starting to show its age with the CF card interface flaking out. The D90 has been everything I expected a solid dependable friend. I shoot lots of sports and family stuff. I especially love having the Green Auto mode where it does everything when I need to hand it over to the spouse or children to get a shot. The Sigma yields very few keepers out of my hands. Enamored with my new toy I considered liquidating the Sigma but just could not bring my self to it.
    Those stunning big prints hanging on the walls of my home were a constant reminder of what the Sigma could do. Something the Nikons have never been able to match, even though they have some very good output and awesome shots. Like most who do not know or understand I could merrily live without the Sigma.
    A good analogy is like the mega brew Beer we all used to be perfectly happy drinking in the USA. Miller, Bud, Heinekin or whatever. Fortunately some enthusiast knew beer could be something better and started brewing their own in places like here in Oregon. Today most folks know better and can readily enjoy things like Widmer, Descutes, Bridgeport and many more.

  21. Adam Hayder says:

    well i read it all and im still lost, im not a pro i just love photo, i have my D80 and my wife give me one sony a200, i want to sell one in order to get a SD10 (sigma) (on sale).. any help??

  22. Kristoffer says:

    Hi Carl!

    This is a wonderful read. Kristoffer here from Manila, Philippines.

    I am planning to upgrade to Nikon D90 (from lower Nikon species haha). After your reading your article, I am now considering a Sigma SD15 instead. ;) While Sigma SD15 uses a ‘high-end’ technology to enhance the colors, does it translate to a better noise reduction system (vis-a-vis Nikon D90)?

    The reason I am planning to upgrade is my current DSLR has poor noise-reduction. I attended the country’s biggest festival (with dancing and stuff, held at night) and ended up extremely upset because majority of the pics were noisy. Hope to receive your response soon: taguro89@gmail.com

    [file]http://www.rytterfalk.com/wp-content/aliwan fest.htm[/file]

  23. adrian says:

    what a coincidence, same location as above.
    anyways, i’ve been doing a lot of reading and investigating pics coming from the Foveon sensors, the SD14 and DP2 these past few days.
    they’re great and think has lot more potential or refinement in the future.

    Kristoffer, from what i found, Sigma cameras won’t help you with the noise, they’re worse. it’s a bad idea to spend more such as buying faster lens or a new camera since the improvement is not much.

    best way to proceed is noise reduction through software either in Photoshop or software than can be found on the internet.

    by the way, the SD15 has not come out yet but I hope the all best for it since I am not really a fan of huge megapixel cameras since 3 megapixels.

  24. Jeff says:

    The B&W noise looks a lot more like film, and in my opinion, a lot more agreeable than bayer noise. The color noise on the other hand is splotchy and doesn’t look good, but hopefully the SD15 will be a bit better at that.

  25. Kristoffer: Hi Carl!This is a wonderful read. Kristoffer here from Manila, Philippines.I am planning to upgrade to Nikon D90 (from lower Nikon species haha). After your reading your article, I am now considering a Sigma SD15 instead. ;)…

    Hi Kristoffer, people has already answered you some but I better say something too. I will have a SD15 review sometime not to far from now and at that point I can tell you more about SD15 and noise. DP2 handles noise much better than SD14 / DP1 but it’s still true that when it comes to bad lit situations I’m pretty sure D90 will be a better choice.

    Time will tell. :)

  26. spalbird says:

    To Marc,

    all the Vogue pictures abover hurt my eye. Discussing the same topic over the last 5 years my current state of recognition is, there is a large group who have a different vision from X3F picture lovers. They focus more on resolution, while we focus on lively rendering, color richness, and consistent reproduction throughout the image.

    I have seen several really beautiful beauty/fashion shots from Bayer cameras. From enthusiasts w/o name. Or that of famous photographers which are well known. All professionals care more for effects (or repeating the look which was fashion the last few years), they don’t care about knowing a model in and out, waiting for the chance to document what they love most about the model. It is a one-day creation. The result after damaging all life by heavy postprocessing let the picture look like a 2 hours effort.

    As I am very sure you don’t know what I am talking about, I try to explain. The front cover of Vogue is a dream of a pro to place his picture. As it is hard you can expect only the best of the best has a chance, isn’t it? Instead, the picture you show lacks massively on anything, attractiveness of the model, she looks as she hasn’t slept for days, for a professional model she looks to static in an edged position, Vogues red letters dictated the oversaturated red costume and lipstick, the combination of her clothes is much beyond good taste and definitely not useful as a cult fashion. Color temperature of foreground different from background, choice of background dreadful, exposure foreground noticeably unnatural as too bright etc. This kind of shoot profits much from black-red-white contrast, therefore it proofed best model is a black haired pale. Probably that model is not pale enough, however, the skin color which became Bayer-typic reddish/orange, as many X3F lovers complain.

    Take a picture with a Sigma camera, and you will realise, everybody has a different skin color and color pattern. Maybe you have never have seen this in Bayer photos, and maybe you think this is a disadvantage. I thought so too. When checking the reality I realised, it is the truth. And I know, women love the gaussian filter and the glare around, as they hate themselves for not being beautiful enough. I much prefer a natural look…

    As you mentioned, no famous photographers with Sigma gear, there are very good ones which compare favourably with the best, IMHO.
    Steve Chong http://www.stevechong.com/
    Felix Wesch http://www.felixwesch.de/
    Georges Noblet http://www.pbase.com/ianvermeer
    Marcel de Jong http://www.pbase.com/mdejong
    and, of course, Carl Rytterfalk! :)

    There are a lot of limitations which make Sigma cameras less attractive to others, as lack of availability, responsiveness, battery life, AF accuracy, low light capability…, the list tends to become longer as the competition becomes better at a higher speed, and no lobby or advertisement. For some type of photography Sigma cameras are last choice, e.g. sport photography and photography indoors under very bad light conditions.

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