The promise of the L-Mount Alliance has always been formidable, with the cooperation of three camera manufacturers, and arguably the best lens manufacturer in the world, combining efforts behind one interchangeable mount system. Except all of the cameras were borrowing Panasonic’s relatively terrible contrast-detect autofocus system… until this morning when Sigma announced the FP-L camera, which uses both that “DFD” system and phase detect in a hybrid AF system that also includes eye detection.
That this camera shoots 10 frames per second with eye-detect and 61 megapixels vaults Sigma into the top class of mirrorless cameras that number only a half dozen. But, Sigma being Sigma, it has a few surprises in here to keep things strange. The camera does not have a mechanical shutter. Given that the industry is familiar with this Sony sensor, few expect the rolling shutter effect to be well controlled. Also absent in the camera is in-body image stabilization (IBIS) – something that is particularly useful when shooting Sigma’s excellent Art series prime lenses, none of which have their own image stabilization units.
Most of the industry press is trying to figure out how this little point-and-shoot form factor camera can be a video behemoth as well as – with the borrowing of the Sony A7r4’s sensor – a landscape shooter. It appears to be breaking some reviewer’s minds, as they fail to figure out the milestone that just happened. It isn’t about the form factor, or the video features, or the hi-res sensor. The L-mount now has a versatile camera with autofocus that is somewhat acceptable, and things are going to get interesting.
It should be noted that early reviews aren’t glowing about Sigma’s autofocus, but they all indicate it is better than the old-school DFD tech. In recent years, AF systems of Sony, Canon and Nikon have advanced rapidly once they adopted phase autofocus.
If the L-Mount Alliance turns out to succeed years from now, this camera will likely be seen as a milestone, producing an autofocus system allowing some very large classes of customers to consider the mount. Action, event, wildlife and sports shooters have tried and subsequently avoided the Panasonic cameras due to unacceptable autofocus. When it came out, the Lumix S1R was the answer to reach-limited photographers’ dreams, but for the DFD autofocus system. Sigma and Leica, neither of which were cutting edge mirrorless camera developers were stuck with the Panasonic contrast-based technology. It will now be interesting to see if the Sigma system moves back to Alliance compatriots Leica and Panasonic.
Hard on Sigma’s painful aborting of its Foveon sensor-centered full frame camera efforts, it appears much of the technology they were developing for that has been repurposed to the new CMOS-sensor release. Speculating as to Sigma’s intent or market positioning based on the design of the camera body may be misleading, as Sigma has always kept its camera design deliberately on the avant-garde side of the street. Its previous efforts produced minimalist designs that attempt to pack unexpected quantities of raw power and capability in a deceivingly inviting shape.
Where the original FP camera appeared to have been designed as a video “box” camera developed in tandem with the now-defunct Sigma Foveon camera efforts, the functional limits appear to have been lifted from the FP line.
The FP-L may indeed be designed to appeal to the Asian market, with a bit more emphasis on video and certainly a strong emphasis on compactness and style. The addition of 15 “color styles” also suggests this is geared to more of the Instagram crowd than the Adobe Lightroom set.