First, let’s start with the headline news: Sigma has announced a major upgrade to their Compact Mirrorless fp camera and added a detachable EVF. The new “fp L,” is identical to the extremely compact body of the original fp released in 2019. However, the “L” has significant new features under the hood including an all-new Full Frame higher-resolution CMOS sensor, (a whopping 61MP, up from 24MP), improved focusing capabilities, and a removable electronic viewfinder, (which can also work with the original fp). The camera will be available for purchase in Mid-April at $2,499US for the Camera body only. The EVF-11 is priced at $699US, and there is a kit including an fp L and an EVF-11 at $2,999US.
I’m going to concentrate here on the cine features I am interested in for my work as a DP, although one of the great features of this type of mirrorless model is that it can also be an outstanding stills camera. Since this is my first time exploring the fp, I’m not just looking at the improvements, but the many features, old and new, for cinema applications. When my friends at Sigma contacted me about reviewing this new camera, I was already planning to do a deeper dive into the many models from a variety of manufacturers in this product category. In my last article for our Digital Cinema Society eNewsletter, Crossing The Blurring Line Between Still and Motion Picture Cameras, I determined that it was finally time for me to invest in a mirrorless camera. Now I just have to figure out which one.
I’m planning to similarly explore models from Sony, Canon, Panasonic, Fujifilm, and Blackmagic, then report on which one I settle on along with a detailed analysis of my reasoning. So, let this review serve as the first in the series, “A Deeper Dive Into Crossing the Blurry Line….”.
So what did I find to love about the Sigma fp? In a word…versatility. Not only can I use it as a super compact cinema camera, as well as a first class stills camera, but also for such things as a Director’s Viewfinder. The modular and minimalist design allows it to be used with or without a grip, without a viewfinder, and even without a hot shoe. However, it can be built up with those and other accessories to fit into a variety of production situations.
Sigma not only makes great lenses, but also excellent adapters. The fp has an L mount that is perfect for keeping the camera extremely compact and light weight, with fine tuned focus assist abilities. This is an ideal configuration for use on gimbals or drones, or just carrying it around all day for point and shoot capture. However, add a PL adapter and you can go to town with virtually any cinema lens including anamorphic. The small size of the camera and extremely crisp 3.15″ 2.1m-dot touchscreen LCD make for a really nice Director’s Viewfinder.
I’ve shot with mostly S35 format spherical lenses over the years, and I pretty much know what the angle of view and shot size will be at any given focal length. However, with growing sensor sizes and especially with anamorphic, I find a Director’s Viewfinder really helpful. The fp really excels here; it not only has various sizes of anamorphic de-squeeze, but also most format sizes programmed into the software that generates the frame lines. Set the size of your sensor and whatever aspect ratio you’re going for and you’ll get an accurate frame indicator. It even has popular cinema cameras from ARRI, Sony, and RED along with their various sensors as a selectable preset with frame guides for 1.33:1, 1.85:1, or 2.39:1.
You can use an optional hood for the LCD if you’re working outside, or flip a switch and use the new EVF, which features a 3.68m-dot OLED panel with a 90° upward tilting for low-angle viewing. I appreciate this modular approach and especially the way these accessories mount. For example, the LCD quickly, but securely, hard mounts to the bottom of the camera with an attached 1/4”- 20 screw. In fact, the body features three 1/4″-20 threaded mounts, two on the sides and one on the bottom, for securely connecting accessories, mounting on a tripod, or attaching to a cage. It also has very solid strain relief for connectors such as HDMI and USB-C. These are small, but important features when cameras are subjected to rough and tumble cinema applications. The body seems quite ruggedly built with good dust- and splash-resistance for working in inclement weather conditions.
So, let’s talk resolution; I’m not one to put much stock into megapixel counts, but having all that extra resolution, (61 Megapixel, effectively 9520 x 6328,) can be handy for such things as reframing and post stabilization. The fp can also perform digitally cropped zooms in-camera to effectively extend the magnification. I have to admit that I didn’t see the value of this until I thought of the situation where some unknown person down the post pipeline might be reframing my work. I can definitely see how it could sometimes be beneficial to control that in the field to protect my creative intent. Another such control feature is the ability to bake in adjustments over color and tone. Various Color Modes can be applied and adjusted directly to the footage including Powder Blue and Duotone which are newly added with the L model.
In addition to the heightened resolution, the updated sensor also incorporates phase-detection autofocus using both contrast-detection and phase-detection for greatly improved focusing speeds and accuracy. It can also more efficiently track moving subjects and has 42 selectable points that can be changed via the touchscreen interface.
Recording options are numerous, from UHD 4K up to 30p and FHD 1080 up to 120p internally, as well as UHD 4K with 12-Bit CinemaDNG RAW externally via a USB-C output. Losslessly compressed 14-bit raw stills can also be saved as DNG files for post-production flexibility. The broad sensitivity range from ISO 100-25600 and the dual base ISO also bolster the camera’s versatility. For example, I was shooting an extreme close up of bees who had nested into the dark recesses of an old tree, using a light hungry microscopy lens which I’ve also been testing lately, (more on that to come in future essays). The fp gave me plenty of exposure with crisp clean images, and again the solid lens adapters allowed for easy use of such unique lenses.
Some other nice features I made note of are electronic image stabilization to reduce camera shake when recording video and the way the fp L can be used as a webcam by simply plugging the camera into a computer via USB-C. Which reminds me of another small but helpful feature, the built in mic. Plug in one small cable sending both video and audio signals to the computer and you’re ready to Zoom or webcast.
All in all, the Sigma fp is a real contender for me to consider as my next camera investment. It will not take the place of any of my cinema cameras, but it can be a really good addition to the package adding increased versatility and mobility.