The Sigma SD15: An SLR Minus Bells and Whistles

The Foveon X3 sensor has created quite a splash in the photography world when it was first introduced in the Sigma SD9, in 2002. Sigma’s latest offering, the SD15, comes with the same sensor, but this SLR camera lacks a lot of standard features found in today’s DSLRs. Surprisingly, its utilitarian interface doesn’t feature even the most basic functionalities such as slideshow playback, in-camera editing, and Wifi-to-Facebook upload. Simply put, it is just like a 10-year old SLR but with a revolutionary sensor.

Design and Features:

The SD15 is surprisingly large and bulky, and we cannot help but wonder if the body design is slightly old-fashioned. It weighs 680g (without the battery) and measures 144 x 107.3 x 80.5 mm. Compared to its peers like Nikon D5000 (560g) and Cannon EOS 550D (530g), the SD15 is quite heavy. However, the SLR’s plastic body is sturdy and well crafted. Also, thanks to its square shape, the camera is quite easy to handle in spite of its heaviness. We loved the nicely-sculpted rear thumb rest and the big handgrip – both of them let you hold the camera comfortably even for hours at a stretch.

Control Interface:

Besides minor upgrades, the SD15’s control interface looks similar to that of the SD14. The LCD display panel is so dim and tiny that you may have to struggle a bit to notice what’s going on. The Function Menu lets you adjust the AF mode and flash mode, and helps you select the focus target. The camera has another Quick Menu to control a photo’s quality, size, white balance, and color settings.

Performance and Results:

The Foveon X3 sensor produces superior image quality, with vibrant colors, vivid details, and good tonal range. The camera shoots just 2 frames per second in RAW as well as JPEG modes, but in continuous mode, the performance is slightly better at 3fps. The auto-focus system works great even in low-light conditions, thanks to the AF assist lamp, an LED located near the camera’s front side.


The SD15 comes with a large 1500mAh Li-Ion battery that lasts for over 250 shots, even with continuous use of the in-built flash and LCD monitor.

How is the Forveon X3 sensor different from conventional sensors?

A conventional camera sensor relies on an RGB mosaic filter to provide color information whereas the X3 sensor records RGB colors at every photocell area of the sensor. Since the functionality of an X3 is entirely different, there’s some confusion in determining its true resolution. As the sensor contains 14 million photo cells, Sigma calls it a 14 megapixel sensor. But, the resolution of the SD15’s images is just 2640 x 1760 pixels, a mere 4.64 MP.

What does the Sigma SD15 lack?

While most of its rivals offer HD video recording (with stereo audio), the Sigma SD15 has no video recording mode at all. The next biggest feature missing on this SLR is a live monitor view. The X3 sensor has no self-cleaning mechanism (the camera doesn’t need one), but there’s a sealed glass cover right inside the lens mount to protect the sensor and mirror from foreign particles.

Who can buy the SD15?

The SD15 appeals to anyone who is looking for a minimalist SLR camera with no bells and whistles. In fact, if you’re going to teach SLR-based photography to serious beginners, this is the camera we highly recommend. Since there’s no chance of video and scene-assist modes, the SD15 helps you learn to adjust the aperture and shutter priorities from scratch.

The Infrared (IR) capability of Sigma SD15:

Thanks to its IR-cut filter, the SD15 is the only SLR right now that can be swapped between Visible and IR-plus-Visible spectrums. The camera’s user manual provides clear instructions on how to remove the IR filter to switch to IR+visible mode. We really loved the IR capability, but we’d have liked the Sigma SLR more if it had an in-built IR white-balance option.


Although the Foveon X3 sensor has some potential, the Sigma SD15 doesn’t have any mind-blowing updates over the age-old SD14. At around $750, it is quite expensive and simply cannot compete with today’s DSLR cameras from brand’s like Cannon, Sony, and Nikon. With that being said, this isn’t a bad shooter, and if you want a good SLR camera minus bells and whistles, you may actually consider buying it.