Sigma’s second-generation fp L is meant to live side by side with last year’s fp, not replace it. The fp L ($2,499, body only) shares the same body style, cementing the fp’s position as the smallest full-frame model with swappable lenses you can buy. The fp L ups sensor resolution from 24MP all the way to 60MP, continues with support for Raw 4K recording internally, and is available with a new EVF. On paper it’s a serious upgrade, but its electronic shutter reads out slowly enough to distort moving subjects, making it a nonstarter for photographers.
The fp Concept Continues
The fp L uses the exact same body style as last year’s fp. It strips the camera down to the very basics. The body is slim and gripless, coming in at 2.8 by 4.4 by 1.8 inches (HWD) without a lens or accessories. With a card and memory loaded it weighs 15.1 ounces.
To actually use the camera, you’ll need to add a lens—the Sigma I series primes are a perfect fit if you’re trying make a small kit, but you can use any L-mount lens. To use it comfortably you’ll need to add the strap lugs, consider buying an add-on grip, and think about the newly introduced EVF accessory.
This means the camera costs a bit more than its $2,499 MSRP. A small grip is $58 and the larger one (pictured in this review) is $95. The EVF is another $699, though you can buy it bundled with the camera for $2,999. Sigma promises that the EVF will work with the 24MP, but you’ll have to wait for a new version of the fp firmware. The update is forthcoming.
With the viewfinder and handgrip, the camera rises above $3,000, putting it in the same conversation as more traditionally designed camera bodies. The Sony a7R IV sports a very similar 60MP sensor for around $3,500 and the 45MP Nikon Z 7 II is priced around $3,000.
Controls and Interface
The fp L uses a mix of physical and touch-based controls. The top plate includes toggle switches for power and quick switches between Cine and Still modes. There’s a Record button to start and stop video, a shutter button to snap photos, and a control wheel.
The rear includes a flat command dial along with an exposure lock button (AEL), Quick Shift menu access, and the standard Menu, Play, and Delete controls. Sigma also includes Tone and Color buttons at the rear. The fp series includes a number of creative color profiles that match popular cinema grading looks. The Teal & Orange profile continues, and the fp L adds Forest Green and Powder Blue, among others.
Buttons and dials are supplemented by touch controls. The 3.2-inch LCD is sharp and bright enough for use outdoors, though glare is an issue if the light reflects off of it directly. It is fixed, though, so you can’t angle it to avoid direct glare, and it limits use at low angles.
The add-on EVF-11 comes in handy when working lower to the ground or from a tripod. It offers 90 degrees of tilt adjustment. It installs on the left side and includes pass-through connections for USB-C and 3.5mm headphone monitoring.
The viewfinder offers high magnification (0.83x) and plenty of resolution to match its size (3.7 million dots). It’s good enough for precise manual focus, especially if you take advantage of frame magnification. There are some drawbacks, though—there’s no automatic switch between EVF and LCD, so you’ll need to use a toggle. The image playback in the EVF is soft too, you’re better off using the rear LCD to confirm that an image is perfectly focused.
Connectivity and Power
The fp L includes micro HDMI, USB-C, and 3.5mm connection on its left side. The EVF blocks all but the microphone when it’s attached, but does have a pass-through for USB. It’s important, because the fp L supports external SSDs for storage and power delivery through USB-C—you won’t lose access to either when adding the viewfinder.
The battery loads in the bottom, in the same compartment as the single UHS-II SDXC slot. Battery life is way behind the curve, just 240 shots, roughly half of what you can expect from most alternatives.
The fp L doesn’t include Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Despite being sized for travel, sending photos from the camera to your smartphone via an app isn’t a supported feature.
Autofocus and Imaging
The fp L includes a phase detection-based focus system, a step up from the contrast system used by the fp. It covers a good portion of the sensor, but doesn’t extend to any edge. Face and eye detection are available, so you can snap portraits using just a wide area of focus. You can also select from one of 49 focus points or areas, each with adjustable size to pinpoint an area of interest.
The focus system is fast and capable. It’s good enough to track moving action, even though the camera itself isn’t good at making those types of images. The sensor readout speed skews moving subjects.
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The paltry buffer is the other issue. Even when using the fastest UHS-II memory available, you only get about a second of action when capturing photos at 10fps—14 JPG or 12 Raw photos. There’s an exceedingly long time required to clear the buffer, making the camera frustrating to use for even short bursts of action.
The distortion is a consequence of the camera’s fully electronic shutter. Cameras with mechanical shutters are able to freeze motion as quickly as they can open and close, often 1/8,000-second, and sync with external flashes at 1/250-second.
The fp L relies on electronic readout to snap photos. That means very limited support for flashes—the fastest sync speed is 1/15-second, not useful for most situations. Its readout speed isn’t quite that slow, but does noticeably skew moving subjects, like the train passing by in the photo above. You simply can’t freeze certain types of motion, even when using the shortest 1/8,000-second exposure option.
It comes into play when you move the camera during an exposure, too. It’s very noticeable when panning along with a subject—take a look at the lines of the electrical tower behind the gliding egret above, which aren’t angled that steeply in real life. Panning and subjects moving across the frame show the issue at its worst, but it can happen in any shot if you’re not careful to hold the camera still, especially if when using telephoto lenses.
The sensor is similar to the 60MP imager Sony uses in the a7R IV, but it’s not identical. The Sigma edition includes an anti-alias filter. It’s a sensible decision for cinema use—rainbow moiré artifacts are a concern with high-resolution sensors. There’s a slight cost to fine detail, but there are plenty of pixels here already.
Its ISO can be set from 100 through 25600 in the native range, and offers extended settings all the way up to ISO 102400 and down to ISO 6. The lower extension range blends multiple, shorter exposures to get there, but can help net longer bright-light exposures when you don’t have neutral-density filters available. The lower you set the ISO, the longer the camera takes to net a finished shot—the processor has to do some work to combine them.
The sensor performs as expected through its standard range. When using the camera’s Raw DNG image format, you see very little visible noise and excellent detail through ISO 800. A tight grain pattern emerges around ISO 1600, and while it increases along with the sensitivity, you can expect excellent results through ISO 6400. There’s a loss of resolution and more noise at ISO 12800 and 25600, and the noise takes on a larger, rougher pattern at ISO 51200.
Raw photos capture a wide dynamic range too, so you can open up shadows or reduce contrast, reign in highlights, or adjust color to taste. If you prefer JPG capture you can use any number of color looks, ranging from the typical, natural standard profile to the more artistic Forest Green look. Detail doesn’t hold up as well at high ISOs when using the camera in JPG mode, but there’s also less visible grain, the expected result of in-camera noise reduction.
The fp L is loaded with features for video. It records Raw video internally, 8-bit CinemaDNG to SDXC and up to 12-bit quality if you record to an SSD. Compressed video is also supported, good news if you’re not ready to think about a Raw video workflow. The same color profiles available for stills are included for video—there’s a low-contrast look that can handle a grade, but no true Log profile included.
The resolution tops out at 4K. Instead of taking advantage of the extra pixels in the sensor to get 8K recording (something Canon includes in its 45MP EOS R5), Sigma opts to use them to offer an in-camera digital zoom, without dropping below 4K resolution, as well as digital stabilization.
The stabilization is effective, but does come with a 1.24x crop. On the other hand, if getting closer to the action is the goal, you can punch in with a 2.5x digital zoom without dropping below 4K, and to 5x at 1080p.
The 4K frame tops out at 30fps, so don’t look to it for slow motion. You can push 1080p to 120fps, good enough for a five-times slow-mo effect at 24fps or four times at 30fps. If you want an L-mount camera that can record slow motion at 4K, think about the Panasonic S5 or S1H, both of which support 4K60 video.
A Bit Too Limited to Recommend
The fp L shows Sigma’s commitment to making cameras to go along with its generally excellent lenses. The idea here is a sound one—an extensible, full-frame camera that can be built out to meet your needs. It’s one that can take advantage of the latest autofocus lenses, but is versatile enough to take cinema and classic camera lenses with manual control.
It’s in the execution where things fall apart. There’s some promise of the ultra-small, a familiar marketing cry, but by the time you’ve added a grip and the funky side-mounted EVF, the camera is as large as any other full-frame mirrorless. There’s a bit of an upside—you can certainly build it into a smaller rig if you drop the EVF from the equation.
The deepest pitfall, and the reason we simply can’t recommend the fp L to most creators, is its shutter readout speed. It limits the camera’s usefulness for handheld photography, and the sync speed makes it a nonstarter for studio work with flashes.
There’s hope for the future. Stacked sensor technology is becoming the norm for high-end cameras. These sensors read out much more quickly, making fully electronic shutters viable for action and flash work. The Sony a1 offers 50MP of resolution, and while it still includes a mechanical shutter, its fully electronic readout is capable of freezing motion and syncing with flashes.
But the fp L isn’t powered by such bleeding-edge tech, and it suffers for it. We hope Sigma continues to explore the concept, and for now recommend photographers and cinematographers check out the 24MP edition of the fp with fewer pixels and a quicker, more useful electronic shutter. It’s a better version of this camera.