Sigma Photo Pro 5: free RAW conversion with extra's
|The Sigma SD1 Merrill and the Sigma DP1, 2 and 3 cameras have a Foveon sensor, which gives an exceptionally natural and surprisingly beautiful image. This is due to the special Foveon sensor, which differs from CMOS sensors in terms of design. The individual pixels of a CMOS sensor register only one color: red, green or blue. In order to display all colors, the CMOS pixels copy the missing colors from their neighbors. Furthermore, most cameras with CMOS sensor apply a moiré / low admittance filter, which blurs the light falling on the sensor. At a later stage, the sharpness of the CMOS RAW file is restored by the camera. However, with a Foveon sensor, every pixel captures red, green and blue. So, you do not need a moiré filter and software enhanced sharpening of the RAW file with a Foveon sensor. Hence the exceptional image reproduction. The different design of the Foveon sensor also means that you cannot open the RAW files of Sigma cameras in Lightroom or Photoshop for example. This is where Sigma Photo Pro comes in.|
Sigma Photo Pro installation
|Sigma Photo Pro is a stand-alone program that allows you to manage, view, edit, save and print images taken with Sigma cameras or convert them into a slideshow. Each of us probably has several favorite programs for these operations. Nevertheless, you should use Sigma Photo Professional to view Sigma X3F (= RAW) files and to convert them to a TIF or jpg file, because this is not possible with Lightroom or Photoshop. |
The latest version of Sigma Photo Pro is free to download. Windows (compatible with Windows 8) and Mac versions are available. We have viewed version 5.5.1 on Windows Vista (64 bit). After downloading, you open the program that installs itself using a Wizard. The program is available in 10 languages including two Chinese versions. Unfortunately, a Dutch version is not (yet) available. The installation is straightforward and unproblematic.
|Tip: When opening the program for the first time, press F1 or open the help function in the menu bar (Help/SIGMA Photo Pro Help). In a clear manner with minimal words, it is revealed how you can use this program. Even people who think they can do without consulting the manual will save a lot of time by going through the Help function for a few minutes. Where is the button for a 100% frame? What does the image style "FOV Classic Blue" do? The help function helps you on your way. |
To Photoshop or Lightroom as quickly as possible?
|If you work in Photoshop or Lightroom, you can import jpg files from Sigma cameras and edit them. The jpg files look good. However, in some situations, you will prefer editing a RAW file. Because just as with the RAW files from other camera brands, photo editing (such as repairing washed out highlights or drastic adjustments to the white balance) exists that causes jpg (and 8-bit tif) files to lose much quality compared to RAW files. To maintain the highest quality, you ensure that you convert the X3F files to a 16 bit TIFF file with the Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB color space. A 16-bit TIFF file has the same high image quality as an X3F file and can simply be opened and edited in Photoshop or Lightroom.|
|Tip: Batchgewijze X3F conversion If you want to optimally use the high image quality of the Foveon sensor in Photoshop or Lightroom, but you do not want to edit images in Sigma Photo Professional, this is possible of course. The trick to do that efficiently is to select multiple X3F files in Sigma Photo Pro and then choose "Save Images As". Choose the settings as shown below. Only the folder in which you want to save the converted jpg or tif files ("Destination") will be different in your case. Press OK and all selected images are transformed by the PC into a tif file in one batch and stored in the destination folder specified by you. |
|Cropped image, Sigma DP3 (50mm) @ 100 ISO, f/3.2, 1/500|
|Click on the image above for an example of the Sigma Photo Professional Explorer / Image browser.|
Sigma Photo Professional consists of two parts: a screen for managing photos (open and save) and a screen for editing files. The user interface ("GUI") of Sigma Photo Pro 5 is of quiet design, with a dark background. The photo management section works with folders, similar to the Windows Explorer. In the beginning, it is difficult that the text under the buttons is almost as dark as the background, as you can see in the screen dump above. The Sigma Photo Professional photo editing program opens with a thumbnail preview by default. The red arrow indicates where to click for a 100% frame. If you know the program better, it is not so disturbing anymore that the text is difficult to read and it appears to be a very quiet interface.
There are two pop-up windows that you can bring out if you want to edit an image. On the one hand, there is a window with a navigator - which is important if you have magnified the picture so much only a part is visible - and a histogram. The other panel contains all editing possibilities. Both pop-up windows can be moved around to a place where they are not in the way.
|Sigma Photo Pro provides sophisticated functionality, which is deliberately limited to the important parameters for editing photos: |
The various editing functions are above each other and behind each operation is a +. If you click on it, the menu is dropped down and you get a submenu for exposure, color, etc. The extent of functionality provided is not comparable with real image editing programs. For example, you cannot cut, paste, retouch or work with filters, layers and masks. As with the software that Canon and Nikon deliver when buying a camera, Sigma Photo Professional provides a carefully chosen set of basic operations. In terms of image quality, Sigma Photo Professional does well: it turns your X3F images into beautiful jpg or tiff files.
Sigma Photo Professional also includes correction profiles for Sigma lenses with which you can correct any leftovers of lateral chromatic aberration. You will see little of it, but you can trace it back from the choice you have between "Profile" and "Manual" in the tab Chromatic Aberration. Many Sigma lenses have very little problems with chromatic aberration (read our reviews of Sigma lenses), so this function is probably not often used. I make this functionality my request number for the next version of Sigma Photo Professional: correction of distortion will be used more often than correction of lateral chromatic aberration. Wide angle lenses often have, especially on a camera with a full frame sensor, a considerable distortion. Unfortunately, this cannot be corrected in Sigma Photo Pro. Sigma provides Photoshop and Lightroom with high quality lens correction profiles, so why not use them in your own software?
On Internet forums, I have often encountered reports of the previous versions of Sigma Photo Professional being unstable. I have noticed little of that with version 5.5.1 on Windows Vista 64-bit. In a period of a few weeks, the program has only stalled once.
Move your mouse over the right image for the adjustment menu in the Monochrome mode.
|Sigma DP3 (50mm) @ 100 ISO, f/2.8, 1/1250 |
Click (2x) on the image above for a 100% fractional magnification.
B & W
Since version 5.5, it is also possible in Sigma Photo Professional to turn photos into black and white. Using the color mixer, you can vary the ratio of red, green and blue and assess the impact on your screen. There is a Sigma Photo Pro 5.5 Monochrome Demo & Tutorial video. on the site of Sigma America. The function to add film grain to your black and white images to strengthen the retro effect is funny. Real B&W die-hards may well prefer B&W plug-ins from Topaz, Nik or Aliens Skin, because those programs offer many more possibilities. Nonetheless, these plug-ins are expensive and for those converting an occasional shot to black and white, Sigma Photo Professional provides a nice image quality.
Sigma SD1 Merrill, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 @120mm, 200 ISO, f/5.6. 1/500
In-camera B &W vs B &W mode
|Some photographers choose to perform the monochrome conversion in the camera. That is a shame, because you can see many more variations with a color image later, before choosing the final version. To illustrate, the image here is converted to black and white the standard way, by setting the white balance to monochrome. That is an action that corresponds to saving a monochrome image directly in the camera: you lose a lot of color information without you having an influence on the conversion to black and white. The water drop on the lower petal of the picture on the left has become almost invisible in the conversion to black and white, because the flower has become very white in the black and white conversion. Making the black and white picture darker does not make the water drop more visible in the black and white photo: the entire flower becomes gray. |
In the right image, the image is only converted to black and white, after a setting has been chosen with the color mixer making the drop on the leaf clearly visible.
Conclusion Sigma Photo Pro 5.5.1 review
| || |
|Sigma Photo Pro is a stand-alone program with which you can manage, view, edit, save and print images taken with Sigma Foveon cameras or convert them into a slideshow. Those normally doing all these things in Photoshop or Lightroom, will concert the X3F (RAW) files of the Foveon sensor to 16 bit files in a batch and edit them in Photoshop or Lightroom, because Sigma Photo Pro is no match for Photoshop or Lightroom in terms of speed and usability. The program is not designed for that either. |
Sigma Photo Pro is a handy stand-alone program for the photographer without Photoshop or Lightroom, fallen in love with the image quality of a Sigma DP3 or Sigma SD1 Merrill, in which the high image quality of the X3F files - also in black and white – comes out well. The low speed of Sigma Photo Pro will however test the patience of the photographer.