The Sigma fp L: Pushing the Envelope for Modular Mirrorless Cameras

Never afraid to be unique, Sigma has just released the fp L mirrorless camera. The second member of the fp Series of compact, modular, hybrid cameras, the fp L storms in with an all-new, higher-resolution sensor, improved focusing performance, and even brings an accessory electronic viewfinder to the system. When the original fp was released in 2019, it stood out due to its minimal design and distinct feature set that clearly catered more to video applications over stills. The fp L is a revised take on this approach, with more attention given to photography needs, overall speed, and even handling, without giving up its characteristically small stature and customizable ergonomics.

Using the 61MP sensor to show off detail and texture. Taken with the 65mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary lens.
Using the 61MP sensor to show off detail and texture. Taken with the 65mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary lens.

The Top Features

What are the new features the fp L brings to the plate? Here’s everything you need to know in quick form.

  • Full-frame 61MP BSI CMOS sensor: Up from the 24MP sensor of the original model, the higher-res sensor boosts detail while still keeping an impressive dynamic range and sensitivity range. Its back-illuminated design also yields an especially clean image with low noise.
  • Phase-detection and contrast-detection AF: Compared to the contrast-detection-only design of the original, the hybrid focusing system of the fp L proves to be faster, better for tracking moving subjects, and more precise in tricky lighting conditions.
  • There’s now an EVF for the system: The EVF-11 Electronic Viewfinder is an accessory component for both the fp L and the fp and is a 3.68m-dot OLED panel with a 90° upward tilting design for low-angle shooting. It’s available in a bundle with the fp L or separately for use with existing bodies.
  • Same exact body design as the original fp: Not necessarily a new feature but, rather, a reaffirmation of the successful design of the compact and portable form factor of the first fp. This also means that all previous accessory grips, cages, the hot shoe unit, and loupe are all compatible with the new model.
  • Continuous power via USB-C: The original fp allowed charging the battery inside the camera while it was turned off. The fp L lets you continuously power the camera via USB-C, which is perfect for time-lapse work, recording longer clips, or for working with the camera in a stationary position, like if using it as a webcam.
Improved focusing speeds help catch a quick-moving train. Taken with the 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary lens.
Improved focusing speeds help catch a quick-moving train. Taken with the 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary lens.

A Look Back

Before digging more into the new features of the fp L, it’s important to take a look at Sigma’s history of camera design, and why the fp feels like a significant step for the company as a camera manufacturer. Prior to the original fp, Sigma was best known for its use of Foveon sensors, which are still to this day among the most unique sensors available due to their immense color depth and sharpness, albeit with the tradeoffs of reduced sensitivity, dynamic range, and higher noise levels. The fp from 2019 was Sigma’s first camera to adopt the more conventional Bayer array sensor, which offers improved flexibility in terms of dynamic range and sensitivity; as well as benefits video recording capabilities.

More than the unique-for-Sigma Bayer sensor, the original fp stood out in the field of mirrorless camera designs for a number of other reasons: It’s still one of the most compact full-frame models available; it doesn’t contain a physical shutter, rather relying on an electronic shutter function; and it’s designed to be modular so each user can build the camera up however they see fit—two different hand grip options are available from Sigma, along with a loupe viewfinder, an accessory hot shoe, compatible third-party cages and grips, and so on.

Late afternoon scene mixing harsh, deep shadows with bright, sunlit surfaces. Taken with the 65mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary lens.
Late afternoon scene mixing harsh, deep shadows with bright, sunlit surfaces. Taken with the 65mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary lens.

Looking Forward

The fp L doesn’t stray from these unique features but does offer a wealth of refinements to push this bold release further, especially with how photographers approach the concept of a modular and multimedia camera. The original fp didn’t quite click with many photographers due to its relatively slow focusing performance, the lack of an electronic viewfinder, and because of the lack of a built-in hot shoe and subsequently cumbersome method for working with flash. Responding to this, Sigma made sure to address most of these points—faster phase-detection focusing and a new accessory EVF—although it still has the electronic shutter only design, and associated 1/15-second flash sync speed, and likely won’t be anyone’s first camera choice for flash photography applications. Conversely, though, the plus side to omitting a physical shutter from a camera’s design is the smaller, lighter-weight design, quiet operation, and theoretically improved durability since there are fewer moving parts.

Assuming you’re a photographer who can forgo the need for faster flash sync, then the fp L rewards with the sensor design that includes phase-detection AF for accurate moving subject tracking. In use, this felt like one of the more apparent upgrades over the fp, along with the higher resolution. Focusing is snappier and more accurate, regardless of the type of subject with which you’re working.

The 61MP sensor is great for picking out and emphasizing details in ordinary scenes. Taken with the 65mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary lens.

And then there is the 61MP resolution, which puts the fp L squarely in the realm of an objectively high-resolution camera. In practice, this spec is sometimes a bit too much resolution, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. With the spare resolution, so to speak, Sigma also incorporated a new Crop Zoom feature for “zooming into” the scene by simply cropping in from the full-frame image area. It’s a nice tool to have in-camera, since you can preview the look of a tighter crop while shooting, especially if you’re just working with a single lens that’s a bit too wide for the shot you want.

In addition to the major updates, the fp L also received some more minor, but welcomed, additions: There is now a true 24.00 fps frame rate for video recording, Duotone and Powder Blue color modes have been added, custom camera settings can be saved and shared to other cameras via a QR code, you can take screenshots of the camera’s rear LCD, and the Director’s Viewfinder has been updated with new cine cam models and custom frame line options.

More emphasis on details with this shot of peeling paint just before sunset. Taken with the 65mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary lens.
More emphasis on details with this shot of peeling paint just before sunset. Taken with the 65mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary lens.

fp L vs fp

Comparing the fp L to the original fp, you’ll see the few changes between the models and how they look on paper. The interesting thing about comparing the two cameras, though, is that most of the differences are just an “on paper” matter, since they share the same body design and user interface. On the other hand, this comparison goes to show how just a few changes to a camera’s spec list can truly shake up how one interprets a camera.

fp L

fp

61MP BSI CMOS
36 x 24mm; Bayer Array

Sensor

24.6MP BSI CMOS
35.9 x 23.9mm; Bayer Array

UHD 4K up to 30p
FHD 1080 up to 120p
CinemaDNG 8-bit recording

Video (Internal)

UHD 4K up to 30p
FHD 1080 up to 120p
CinemaDNG 8-bit recording

DCI 4K at 24p
Raw 12-bit recording

Video (External)

DCI 4K at 24p
Raw 12-bit recording

Phase-detection and contrast-detection

Autofocus

Contrast-detection only

ISO 100-25600
Expandable ISO 6-102400

Base ISO—Stills: ISO 100/400
Base ISO—CinemaDNG 12-bit and raw output: ISO 100/1250
Base ISO—MOV/CinemaDNG 10-bit, 8-bit: ISO 100/250

ISO Sensitivity

ISO 100-25600
Expandable ISO 6-102400

Base ISO—Stills: ISO 100/640
Base ISO—CinemaDNG 12-bit and raw output: ISO 100/3200
Base ISO—MOV/CinemaDNG 10-bit, 8-bit: ISO 100/640

Electronic shutter
1/8000 sec to 30 sec
Bulb up to 300 sec
Flash sync up to 1/15 sec

Shutter Speed

Electronic shutter
1/8000 sec to 30 sec
Bulb up to 300 sec
Flash sync up to 1/30 sec

Up to 10 fps

Continuous Shooting

Up to 18 fps

Compatible with EVF-11

EVF

Compatible with EVF-11 via future firmware update

3.15" 2.1m-dot touchscreen LCD

LCD

3.15" 2.1m-dot touchscreen LCD

BP-51 lithium-ion battery
Approx. 240 shots/charge

Battery

BP-51 lithium-ion battery
Approx. 280 shots/charge

USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C

HDMI Type-D
3.5mm Microphone
Remote and timecode via microphone port

Interface

USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C

HDMI Type-D
3.5mm Microphone
Remote and timecode via microphone port

4.4 x 2.8 x 1.8"

Dimensions

4.4 x 2.8 x 1.8"

15.1 oz with battery and SD card

Weight

14.9 oz with battery and SD card

Who Is the fp L For?

When the original fp was released, most of the reviews and debates talked about who the camera was actually designed for. While I got along with it, surprisingly from a photographic perspective, most saw it as a compact cine camera that could handle photo tasks in a pinch. The fp L is clearly setting out to sway this balance back to a 50/50 split of users, welcoming both the photographers who want to shoot video and the cinematographers who want to shoot photos to the user base. I’m much more of a photographer, and I see the fp L as a valuable tool despite its apparent drawbacks. The compact size, quietness, and uniquely customizable design far outweigh the slow flash sync for the type of shooting I mainly do. Landscapes, travel shooting, natural light portraiture and lifestyle imagery, and even product shots and still lifes using constant light are all perfect subjects to tackle with the fp L.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the fp L using phase-detection focusing to keep up with fast-moving distant subjects! Taken with the 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary lens.

Another strength of Sigma’s fp-series cameras, too, is their participation in the L-Mount Alliance—a three-way partnership between Sigma, Leica, and Panasonic—that further contributes to it being one of the most adaptable systems out there, which is perfect for shooters who like to dabble between manufacturers.

And Then the EVF

Directly confronting the many requests for a “real viewfinder” on the original fp, Sigma has responded with the EVF-11 Electronic Viewfinder. In fp system fashion, this finder is an auxiliary EVF and attaches to the side of the camera body, much like the included HU-11 Hot Shoe Unit does. This optional EVF connects via the USB-C port and is secured via the side ¼"-20 mount, and the EVF itself has additional headphone and USB-C ports and another ¼"-20 mount for the strap. The finder has a 90° upward tilting design that suits shooting at low angles, and it has an integrated switch for changing between the EVF and LCD for shooting and reviewing images. While the switch works great for changing, it would have been great to see Sigma incorporate an eye sensor for automatic switching between the body and the finder. Otherwise, this 3.68m-dot OLED is just as good as pretty much any other EVF on the market and felt like it had minimal impact on overall battery life in a regular day of shooting.

The EVF-11 is the perfect tool for working in bright and direct light conditions, such as during sunset. Taken with the 65mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary lens.
The EVF-11 is the perfect tool for working in bright and direct light conditions, such as during sunset. Taken with the 65mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary lens.

It’s no surprise that I am a fan of the original fp, and it goes without saying that the fp L makes even more sense to me from a photographer’s standpoint. It’s still an undeniably quirky camera, but the fp L tames the quirkiness quite a bit and stands as a serious offering for a variety of image-making tasks.

What are your thoughts on Sigma’s sophomore L-mount mirrorless effort, the fp L? Are you a fan of the modular design and unique feature set of the fp L? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section, below.

14 Comments

With the amazing ability to record raw 12bit with external recorder, how it will be possible with a viewfinder that uses the hdmi output? And, if this camera is intended to a more photographic experience, how can you use the flash if the viewfinder is using the hot shoe space. The idea of modular is amazing, but if it is possible to bild anything around the camera, not one thing instead of others.

Hi Gustavo - 

Please e-mail us for a deeper dive into this camera and its compatible accessories:  askbh@bandh.com

Hey Gustavo, in my opinion, I think Sigma is looking for the best compromise between keeping the camera small while still trying to offer the best feature-set. With regard to HDMI output, I think Sigma is assuming you'll be working from a mounted position (either a tripod or a rig) if you're using an external monitor, and thus would be using the rear LCD or an external monitor. I see the EVF (in general) being more of a tool for photographers than something for filmmakers.

And in regard to the flash, that's a point I touched on in the review, and would agree it's a bit of a divisive point for Sigma. The fact that the camera itself doesn't have a hot shoe or a sync port built in is already pointing out that the fp L isn't the best choice for flash photography. This is a consequence of forgoing the use of a mechanical shutter and using only an electronic shutter. Losing a reasonable speed flash sync is unfortunate, but the pluses include a smaller camera size, more reliable operation, and silent operation. The fact that the EVF doesn't have a provision for flash sync feels like a further concession that this camera simply isn't the best choice for flash photography. It's definitely worth considering how often you realistically use flash, though, and how much that weighs on your choice of camera. If you're a studio photographer, then it's obviously a deal breaker. If you're primarily a landscape photographer and you use flash while shooting handheld maybe once or twice a year for experimentation, then consider your priorities for choosing a camera: small size and modular design vs flash sync with the auxiliary EVF.

If you are using the HDMI port for an external recorder, they are monitors as well, so why do you need this compact EVF? You could also use the loupe on the back screen instead of the EVF.

Like I was saying to Gustavo, I think Sigma sees the EVF as more an accessory for photographers rather than videographers. Photographers won't be using the HDMI port while shooting, so it's not much of a loss for them to use that port in conjunction with the EVF. When recording video to an external monitor, you're totally right that the EVF isn't really the most realistic accessory for viewing. The LVF-11 loupe viewfinder for the rear LCD is a great tool here or you could use the monitor on many recorders. Since the camera is designed to be modular, Sigma makes it easy to build the camera up and strip it back down depending on how you're using it; photographers have different demands than cinematographers and it's nice that the ports can be used according to different needs.

I'm waiting for Canon to offer an R mount full frame like this (under 16 oz.) for the smaller RF lenses like the 50 F1.8.  As a portable companion to the R5.

This is the camera I've been waiting for. I fly both cinematic multirotors and fixed wing mapping drones. The latter being my primary focus and around 90% of my use. Just last month I was looking at the FP, thinking "this is the perfect sized camera for me, I just wish it came with the sensor from the A7R IV......" 

The high resolution still capability is perfect for my mapping. I will be able to fly a smaller plane than I had otherwise planned for the A7R IV. I will have to test one to see if there is any issue with rolling shutter whilst mapping (flying at 35-45mph), but I'm optimistic.

The non IBIS nature is perfect for my cinematic and general video use. Even switched off, the A7R III and IV IBIS has a propensity to mess up the shot unless you fly it EXTREMELY gently. I had planned on buying an A7R IV and a BGH at tax time to replace my A7R III and old BMPCC but this looks like it could replace both with one tiny camera. Well done Sigma, I am really impressed. 

It still could use IBIS (but for all I know that may be impossible in the space limitations of the camera).  If I could have a choice between 61MP and IBIS, I'd much prefer the latter.  And the same goes for a mechanical shutter.  Still, which camera is without its weak points or trade-offs or compromises---call them what you will!  The FP L does move the ball forward, and Sigma can only be applauded for its originality and for the high quality of its products at very reasonable prices.

I agree that IBIS would be a great addition but I have a feeling you're right about spatial concerns, especially with the importance of keeping identical dimensions between the original fp and the fp L. A mechanical shutter would be great, too, but I think there are some definite advantages for only having an electronic shutter: fewer moving parts leads to greater reliability, and it's inherently quieter and lighter. I get the benefits of flash sync with a mechanical shutter, but assuming you don't have the need to use flash in daylight conditions, it's not too big of an issue for how I like using this camera.

Yeah, well, the original fp all electronic shutter was terrible, with movement artifacts everywhere.  I'm not convinced this is an improvement.

I'm still a user of the original fp and haven't experienced movement artifacts with how I shoot- in which situations were you seeing motion artifacts?

I'd agree that both the fp and fp L are likely not the first-choice cameras for photographing super fast-moving subjects, like sports and wildlife subjects, but I also don't think that's their intended application. The fp L does have the benefit of phase-detection AF for tracking and quicker focusing overall, and when I was working with the fp L and photographing moving subjects I didn't notice any artifacts, either.

This feels like a camera I want to have a reason to use, but is not practical for me at all. I really need an in-between option of 8-bit h.264 and 12-bit RAW for video work. Really hope Sigma keeps making unique cameras!

In terms of in-between recording options, there are still a decent number of options: UHD 4K with 8-bit CinemaDNG internal recording or FHD CinemaDNG at 8, 10, or 12-bit up to 60 fps internal recording is possible. The standout feature is definitely the 12-bit raw external recording to an SSD, but there are a decent number of other options between that high-end spec and the base H.264 option to help save space, too.

That's definitely interesting and something I missed my first read through on the specs. I will say I haven't used CinemaDNG in quite a while, but it was a bit frustrating to work with when I did. Things might have improved in the time since then, and I will say the recovery example in the video was very impressive. I still think as someone who does video primarily with a little bit of photo work, my money is probably better spent saving up for something like the a7sIII. I honestly don't know what I would do with 61MP!

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