Photo Talk: Spring Leaves

June 03, 2015  •  Leave a Comment


Spring Leaves | Sigma SD1M + 70mm F2.8 EX DG Macro



This photo was created during a test run using auto ISO with the Sigma SD1 Merrill (SD1) camera. The SD1 is not your typical DSLR camera. It has a few quirks and is not exactly state-of-the-art when it comes to functions. As an example, it does not have Live View, the RAW processing software is the slowest software on the planet, and it is about useless above ISO 800 for color work, but what it does have, is an incredible Foveon sensor.

The Foveon sensor is not easy to shoot with. Under the best lighting conditions, the sensor is very hard to beat, but walking around in a shaded park without a tripod is one sure way not to achieve the best conditions to shoot under. Some Foveon users have tested their cameras against full-frame and non-AA filter cameras and state the Foveon can out resolve them. That is pretty incredible considering the SD1's sensor is an APS-C size. Some say CMOS sensors produce plastic looking images when compared to the Foveon, all I know is, the results I can achieve with the SD1 pleases me more than any other DSLR I have used thus far.

My Nikon D700 was an absolutely beautiful camera, but I grew tired of luging it around with its heavy lenses. During that time, the photographic industry began making great progress in mirrorless and compact cameras, so I stashed my D700 away and began shooting with a NEX-7 and Sigma DP Merrill (DPM) compacts. After shooting the DPMs for a year, I decided I wanted a Foveon camera with a prism finder and specific lenses. Now I was headed back into DSLR territory, so I sold my Nikon gear for the SD1. It is the detail and color the Foveon sensor is capable of producing that I find desirable, but it comes with limitations, and it requires a strict set of boundaries with its quirky exposure latitude. 

The high resolution of the SD1 requires the best lenses, the best exposure and focusing techniques, and lots of patience. The patience is for the processing speed and small buffer. The SD1 can take seven images before the buffer is full, and then begins a waiting period like no other camera or digital back I have used. You can loose shots during the wait time and because of this, the SD1 (and the DPMs) can really frustrate you if you do not understand its limitations. Would I shoot a wedding with this camera; no way! Would I go birding with this camera? I am trying, but I am finding it frustrating.

When I shoot the SD1, I usually have it anchored to a tripod and bracket for the best exposure or for multiple exposures for blending, but when you shoot handheld, exposure blending is no longer possible, at least for me it is not. This shot's inspiration comes from wanting to use the SD1 for handheld, walk-around photography, which IMO, is not always easy to obtain with this camera with all things considered. The DPMs are better designed for walk-around Foveon shooting due to their compact size and weight, but they lack a viewfinder.

After shooting with the SD1 for a little bit, I decided I needed to push it to the limits so I could understand its thresholds. I would spend a few hours photographing with the ISO set to auto and see what the results were; I also needed to find its limitations with my handheld shooting capabilities because it can become heavy depending upon the lens. In this example, the results were pleasing after a little extra post-processing step was added.




The most technical part of this image was in post-processing. Walking around with the camera set to auto ISO with a set limit of ISO 800 is not hard to shoot, unless you know in advance the sensor performs best at ISO 100 (technical guilt). As I walked around the park, I knew I would not be happy with the majority of my shots because of the high ISO, but I was pleasantly surprised. There were two shots from this shoot I could add to my flora portfolio. I found I can shoot the SD1 up to ISO 400 and be pleased. I also found the Sigma 70mm F2.8 EX DG Macro lens was capable of handling the task. I eventually resorted to bracketing my exposures and used manual focusing when shooting at f/2.8. Overall it was a productive walk in the park. I made three images of this composition, with one keeper.

Shooting Conditions
SIGMA SD1 Merrill
70 mm
105 mm
1/160 at f/2.8
Not fired
+2/3 EV
Auto bracket
Aperture priority
ISO 400

The extra post-processing step was adding a textured background to help bring depth to the out-of-focus areas. I have a library of textures I have purchased over the years and some I have made from various shots of different surfaces. I generally use the blend modes: multiply, screen, soft light or hard light when applying textures in Photoshop, but highly recommend experimentation. Here is a link to a free instructional video: Applying Background Textures to a Portrait. I have been a fan of the video's author, Aaron Nace, for years and like his instructional style. Aaron's site is and if you sign up for emails, he will send you some freebies. 

As you can see from this post, I found valuable information about my camera's capabilities by pushing its limits. I learned I can handhold the SD1 when an adequate shutter speed is reached within an ISO range of 800, but would prefer ISO 400 when given the choice. Before this testing, I would never take the ISO off of 100, which limited me by three stops. Experimenting with our tools is how we learn what they can do and more importantly, what we can do with them. This image was awarded Editor's Pick from which tells me it pays to experiment!



Prints and Cards are available for purchase here.


No comments posted.