COBA 8th Meeting

Members of the Camera Owners of the Bay Area received first-hand looks at two exciting cameras Wednesday evening, the Canon EOS-1Ds and the Sigma SD9, featuring the Foveon X3 imaging sensor. Among the featured speakers were Jim Rose from Canon and Dick Merrill, Tim Whitehouse, and Eric Zarakov from Foveon. The meeting also featured a record crowd for a COBA meeting, as I counted over 85 people in attendance!

Jim was first up with his presentation of the EOS-1Ds. Many people were familiar with the camera, since it’s largely based on the existing EOS-1D DSLR. Noted improvements included the 11-megapixel CMOS imaging sensor, extended battery life, and magnified image playback. While the quoted list price of the camera was $8,999, Jim mentioned that will likely sell for cheaper. With Kodak’s DCS-14n at $4,000 and the SD9 at $1899 (list price), there’s a big gulf for Canon to cover in the price range.

A number of people had comments for Jim to relay back to Canon including improving Mac OS X support, multiple image resolutions (6mp in addition to 3mp and 11mp), better firmware (ala Kodak), and using up-to-date battery technology (LiON instead of NiMH).

In addition to the 1Ds, Jim brought along the EF 400mm f/4.0 DO IS, which was an extremely light telephoto lens. I had the opportunity to test the lens in poor lighting conditions. All of the following images were shot handheld (albeit greatly assisted by image stabilization), ISO1600, 1/60th second at f/4.0.

Altogether a very impressive lens! Tim brought along several Sigma lenses, including a gigantic telephoto that Hoon is admiring in the photo that graces the top of this entry. The meeting was a great opportunity to see the wide variety of equipment that’s available for photographers, be they Canon users or Sigma users.

Following Jim’s presentation, Dick Merrill, Chief Sensor Designer, gave a detailed presentation on the history of photography and of the X3 sensor. His presentation was similar to the one given by Carver Mead back in May, although Dick’s was tailored to a more technical audience. One of the slides showed what is generally considered to be the world’s first photograph, by Joseph Nicephore Niepce. The photo is part of the Ransom Center’s Photography Collection at the University of Austin, Texas. When I visited Austin last Christmas, I saw the photograph first-hand!

A number of questions flowed from the crowd, eager to learn more about the sensor and how it stacked up to existing products on the market. Erik mentioned that the SD9 camera would go on sale on October 21st in Japan and the Americas, followed by a rollout in Europe next year. He also explained that, contrary to rumors, there is no exclusivity pact with Sigma regarding the use of the Foveon X3 sensor. It would take a minimum of 6 months for a company to incorporate their technology into a new camera, as it’s more than just a simple swap in and out of imaging sensors. The market really belongs to the consumer point-and-shoot cameras, not to expensive DSLR’s, so I’m guessing that the next camera will be a 1.5-megapixel (with 4.5 million full-color photodetectors) X3-based point-and-shoot.

I found it interesting to note that the Sigma SD9 camera does not support in-camera creation of JPEG files. Tim and Erik mentioned that it was a time-to-market decision that also followed Foveon’s general philosophy of generating the highest quality images straight out of the camera. This philosophy also led Foveon and Sigma to limit the camera’s sensitivity from ISO100 to ISO400 (ISO800 was too noisy). Given time, however, we should expect the sensitivity to increase, which would be a boon for anyone who lives at high ISO ratings (i.e. sports, photojournalists, etc.).

The prints that were displayed of both the Canon 1Ds and the SD9 were quite impressive. I was particularly impressed by the sharpness and color quality exhibited by the Foveon prints. Moiré was non-existent, and the images looked very film-like. I encourage people who came to the meeting to post their comments on the meeting using the comment system at the end of this entry. What are you thoughts and impressions of both cameras?

The next meeting of COBA is tentatively set for November 13th. See the COBA web page for additional information.

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