'Sanctuary' Sigma SD Quattro-H + 12-24mm Art lens. LEE Filters SW150 0.6 medium grad + little stopper. Induro Tripods UK GTT104M1.
If you've been following me for any length of time you'll probably be aware that I'm very fond of the Sigma Foveon cameras. Having been very grateful to receive Sigma's latest offering, the SD Quattro-H, I was more than a little bit excited to see what it could do.
This is not a technical review as such, it's more a blog post of my time in a beautiful region and my personal approach to photography. Although certain technical aspects will unavoidably crop up, this is my own personal and unbiased experience of my time with this camera, paired with Sigma's Art lens range. I find kit talk interesting to an extent but it can begin to sound rather tiresome when people begin to bang on about which kit to use and scrutinising megapixels etc. I do like nice kit as much as anyone, but I need to use kit that works for me and suits my style of photography. At the end of the day I am an artist, not a technician. Let's begin with a little bit of tech-talk however, simply to explain how the Sigma Foveon sensor differs from those of other cameras.
Other camera systems typically use a single-layer photo sensor covered by a 'Bayer' filter mosaic, which comprises 50% green, 25% blue, and 25% red squares. In contrast, the Foveon X3 Quattro direct image sensor uses no low-pass filter and is able to capture 100% of the data for blue, green, and red in each of its three separate layers. It is claimed that due to this unique structure, the Foveon sensor can generate up to twice the resolution data of sensors using a Bayer filter. The Sigma SD Quattro H features a newly developed APS-H size sensor (26.7 x 17.9mm) with 25.5 megapixels in its top layer for an equivalent total of approximately 51 megapixels. This larger sensor takes Foveon image quality to the next level, delivering more detailed images than ever before.
Enough tech-talk for now, photography for me is, after all, about the adventure and connecting with these beautiful landscapes, whilst attempting to portray the feelings that we encounter when we're on location.
The Wester Ross and Assynt regions in the North West Highlands of Scotland are an area that I've wanted to visit for the past couple of years. Before photography took over my life I had many trips to the Highlands, mountain biking, white water rafting and Munro bagging, mostly in the Cairngorms and the Trossachs. I feel a strong connection with the Highlands, there is so much to see that you could spend an entire lifetime exploring them! Mountains, rivers, lochs, sea lochs, stunning coastline, ancient woodland, wildlife, it has everything for those that are passionate about nature and of an adventurous spirit.
'Da Beith' Sigma SD Quattro-H + 12-24mm Art lens. LEE Filters SW150 0.6 medium grad + little stopper. Induro Tripods UK GTT104M1.
In the above image 'Da beith' (which in Gaelic translates as 'Two Birches'), two trees keep each other company in this highland sanctuary. These two trees sit on the banks of a sandy beach at Loch an Doire Dhuib, which lays beneath the imposing presence of Cùl Mòr. Nestled between the surrounding mountains, with the famous Stac Pollaidh behind, this spot was utterly blissful, it felt safe and peaceful sheltered between the mountain peaks. I embarked on this trip with an idea in my head that had been floating around for some time. I'm heavily influenced by eastern art, in particular the works of Hokusai for example. Just as with my coastal work, I'm aiming to simplify the scene. This is easier to do at the coast, but mountain terrain is more difficult to simplify, this trip is the first in which I'd applied this approach in the mountains. This image is a four second exposure, if you look closely this gives us the sense of movement in the trees, thus giving us clues as to the weather conditions, obviously there is a breeze evident here, taking inspiration from Hokusai's image 'A Sudden Gust of Wind at Ejiri'.
'Ardessie falls' Sigma SD Quattro-H + 12-24mm Art lens. LEE Filters SW150 0.9 medium grad + little stopper. Induro Tripods UK CLT303L.
Waterfall scenes can be a bit 'busy' for my liking, the monochrome treatment simplifies this somewhat, with less distraction as to what's actually going on here, enabling us to focus on the movement of water and the texture. I spent the whole morning here from sunrise and yet again it was absolutely blissful, despite falling on wet rocks, saving the camera but smashing my knee! (no serious harm done!). I hadn't realised that I had actually chipped the corner of my little stopper, and when I took it out of the holder, the sharp edge sliced my thumb, so a little bit of blood was lost in the making of this image. The perils of clambering up Highland waterfalls! ;-)
'Ardessie falls detail' Sigma SD Quattro-H + 12-24mm Art lens. LEE Filters landscape polariser + little stopper +
0.6 soft grad to further soften the highlights in the water Induro Tripods UK CLT303L.
One of the main reasons that I enjoy using Foveon cameras is for the immense detail they pick up, this is really evident in the prints too, which have an almost 3D like quality to them. I love looking for beauty in the details, seeking abstract compositions and looking at form, lines and geometry in the landscape. The Foveon sensor is brilliant for this, rendering rich and punchy images, straight from camera.
'The Spear' Sigma SD Quattro-H + 12-24mm Art lens. LEE Filters 0.6 medium grad, landscape polariser + Big Stopper (10 stop filter)
Induro Tripods UK CLT303L.
Located in the Wester Ross region of the north west Highlands, the above mountain on the horizon is Slioch (also known as the Spear), standing guard at the head of beautiful Loch Maree. It was a grey old day, but I often prefer these conditions for the mood they evoke. I like strong, bold compositions, my aim always being to lead the eye around the image in a pleasing way, as I often refer to it, my 'Visual mantra'. I'm looking for peace of mind in these landscapes. Here again, the Foveon sensor picking up glorious detail and rich colour.
'Miotag Point' Sigma SD Quattro-H + 12-24mm Art lens. LEE Filters 0.6 hard grad + Little stopper (6 stop filter)
Induro Tripods UK CLT303L.
The north west Highlands is also home to a stunning coastline as well as dramatic mountains. This image was made on an overcast evening but with plenty of structure in the sky, just how I like it for coastal photography. On this very calm, warm evening, the midges were out in force and I was being eaten alive! I use minimal photoshop but on this occasion had to clone out a few midges which had made my LEE filters their home, no doubt they were enjoying the view over Gruinard Bay! Hopefully the image is worth the effort.
'Gruinard Bay' Sigma SD Quattro-H + 12-24mm Art lens. LEE Filters 0.6 hard grad, landscape polariser + Little stopper (6 stop filter)
Induro Tripods UK CLT303L.
Another from the coast, using a polariser to further enhance the wonderful colours in these rocks, again the Foveon sensor picking up rich texture and colour adding a unique depth to the imagery.
A little more about the Sigma SD Quattro-H.
I hope you enjoyed my first tour of this region through the imagery above, it's always a little overwhelming on your first visit to a new destination. It takes time to get to know a landscape and I foresee many future visits to what is probably the most impressive and beautiful part of the UK that I have ever seen. Additionally, I hope you can see from these images what the SD Quattro-H is capable of. As well as the points I've already made about the richness of the images, particularly the prints, there are quite a few other reasons why I choose to use Sigma cameras. They are incredibly well built and feel good in the hand, another major point, and this is something that I heard Joe Cornish allude to recently, albeit about another camera system, is that they don't suffer from "the curse of automation". The operation of the camera is stripped down to the basics, without countless menus and functions that, as a landscape and fine art photographer, I don't actually need. The image below shows us the Quick Start menu, which is simple to navigate and operate.
Foveon images are often compared to medium format, whilst I have my doubts about that comparison having used various medium format systems over the years, I can say that they certainly have a unique look, kind of filmic. As I have already stated, this unique look results in very rich images full of depth and clarity, I use Foveon based cameras for 85-90% of what I do. Why not 100% I hear you say!?
Sigma themselves know that these are niche cameras. Best at low ISO's, you can rule out things such as astro-photogrpahy, additionally the longest exposure the camera is capable of is two minutes. So if you like experimenting with particularly long exposures, you're probably best looking elsewhere. For this reason I also carry with me a little Sony a7R with Sigma's MC-11 mount converter, this enables me to use all of my favourite Sigma Art lenses on the Sony, for the rare occasions when I feel like indulging in a spot of starry night photography or very long exposures.
All of the images in this blog have been shot with the Sigma SD Quattro-H and the 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 II DG HSM Art lens. This particular lens has blown me away actually, I generally prefer a prime lens, the two I normally carry with me being Sigma's 20mm & 24mm Art lenses, which have won many awards. However, you can think of the 12-24mm Art as a very versatile prime, such is quality and clarity of this lens, producing contrasty, punchy, pin sharp images every time. It's very rare that I'll shoot as wide as 12mm as I prefer a more intimate scene, but with the 12-24mm covering the focal range of my two favourite primes, it makes a perfect companion to the SDQ-H, particularly if you want a one lens option for walking up mountains and exploring. Having weighed these three lenses, I am saving 0.5kg by carrying just the 12-24mm, rather than the 20mm & 24mm primes, and I only need one set of filters, so more weight saving to be had there.
In summary, you may have gathered that I love the Foveon look, I find Sigma cameras a joy to use, allowing me to concentrate on what's really important, composing the scene and enjoying the landscape. The system is not for everyone, but for the landscape photographer looking to take their images to the next level, I can highly recommend this system. Foveon gives immense clarity and richness for what is a relatively low cost camera, particularly when compared to medium format. With the new, larger APS-H sensor cramming in around 30% more detail, I'm very happy using what is Sigma's best camera to date as my main system.