Assynt, North West Highlands with the SIGMA fp Camera by camera ambassador Karl Holtby

Assynt, North West Highlands with the SIGMA fp Camera by camera ambassador Karl Holtby

Being a SIGMA camera aficionado for many years now, I’ve predominantly shot with their Foveon sensor cameras. Why? Well in brief because they offer amazing image quality that is often compared to medium format; Foveon has a unique ‘look’. Images are punchy, with amazing colour fidelity straight from camera. Importantly, my prints are full of depth.

When paired with a prime lens from the Art range, a Foveon image is a wonderful sight to behold. I’ve had the good fortune to use a wide range of camera systems over the years and I’ve settled with Sigma Foveon cameras for my entire career as a professional photographer. Although image quality is most important, for me a camera must also be a joy to use. I love the simple layout of the menu system of SIGMA cameras. Easy to navigate and with the QS (Quick Start) button, making it easy to adjust everything I need in an instant, without having to trawl through the expansive, horrid-looking menus of most other cameras. I genuinely do believe that SIGMA cameras suit the artistic photographer because of the ease of use which allows us to concentrate on what really matters – composing the image. For 90% of my work I’ve been using Foveon, which is not without its drawbacks. A Foveon sensor is really only good for low ISO work, so this leaves a bit of a gap that in the past I’d filled with a Sony a7R. Basically, I would get the Sony out when I needed to do any low light work or astrophotography, neither of which feature particularly heavily in my oeuvre but it is something to be aware of.

I don’t normally get excited when new cameras are announced; however, it was with great interest that I heard SIGMA would be releasing their first Bayer sensor camera. Not only is the fp Sigma’s first Bayer sensor, it also happens to be the world’s smallest full frame camera. Now I was excited!

The first thing I noticed when I got my hands on the SIGMA fp camera was its solidity. It wasn’t the size that was most striking, although yes it’s small, but the build quality as usual with SIGMA kit feels very robust. It’s a solid square block, functional in design and reminding me of the old DP Merrill series. However, this is an entirely new beast full of the latest technology. Upon firing up the camera I was relieved to see the familiar (to me), easy to navigate menu system. Moving quickly on, I have to say that this camera does a whole bunch of stuff that is way over my head. Firstly, the fact that this little camera has the ability to shoot professional quality video at the flick of a switch. There is a button on the top of the camera labelled cine/still. I know nothing at all about the dark art of videography, so I won’t even touch on that, leaving it to my esteemed colleagues. This article is simply my experience thus far as a landscape and travel photographer. I could be tempted to delve into the cine world at some point in the near future, but on my travels to date the button is in the ‘still’ position!

Image captured with the SIGMA fp camera + SIGMA 45mm

Ok, on with my travels. I spend a lot of time in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland. Recently I’ve visited every month from September 2019 until March 2020 before this whole ghastly situation that we now all find ourselves in. With the Highlands beginning to feel like a second home to me, I am working on a few long-term photographic projects up there. A lot of my work involves walking, doing recces which can involve anything from short walks by a loch to big mountain days in the most challenging weather conditions. If, like me, you enjoy the mountains and long walks into the wilderness, you’ll know the importance of lightweight kit. This is one reason to consider the fp. In January I went for a long walk along the wild shores of Cam Loch in Assynt carrying only the fp and the wonderfully compact 45mm DG DN lens. This tiny but potent package captured the image above. I’m constantly striving to find new compositions in wild places. I love a good lone tree shot, a lot of which are well known to landscape photographers. Personally I like to put the effort in to find my own, such as this wonderful tree with the majestic mountain of Suilven beyond. Hiking with lightweight kit is much, much more enjoyable and I try to travel as light as possible these days, in fact ever since I carried the most ridiculously heavy bag up to Muckle Flugga, which is the most northerly point of the UK; it was a memorable walk on which I fell into a peat bog with a backpack on weighing about a third of my bodyweight! I’d probably still be there now if my friend hadn’t dragged me out, once he’d finished laughing that is! Anyway I was really pleased with my efforts to find this particular tree. A long walk into the wilds is good for the soul, and if I find a great composition along the way, even better! Another thing to point out about this image is that it’s shot in one of the unique colour modes. Foveon sensors have always had their own unique colour modes, such as Foveon blue for example. So it was with interest to see these colour modes are also available on the Bayer sensored fp. The fp also features a new Teal & Orange mode. I was most intrigued by this as its aim is to mimic the colour grading of techniques used in Hollywood films. Amazingly the teal & orange mode really suited the Highland landscape. The Highlands are as moody as you could ever wish for but on occasion the colour of the landscape can appear quite drab. Yet the teal & orange mode has brought out the rich hues in the landscape, along with a polariser here I might add. I feel it gives my images a unique quality that would be much more difficult to achieve so easily with other cameras. I have adopted the teal & orange mode for many of the images you’ll see in this article, which were made over the course of two separate trips in January and February of this year.

Straight from camera, the teal & orange mode is quite intense, so I knocked the saturation back a little to keep it subtle.

24-105mm Art + MC21

I generally prefer to stick with prime lenses for most of my work but for these two trips I took along the SIGMA 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM | Art lens. I’d been using this lens for a few months and have been blown away by the sharpness of it throughout its focal range. As I treat a lot of my hikes into the wilderness as exploratory and I never know what I’m going to see on the first hike, I wanted the versatility of a zoom and the majority of the images here have been made with the SIGMA 24-105mm | Art lens. Often at a later date I’ll come back armed with a bag of prime lenses when I know what to expect; however, this lens is seriously good and it’s certainly up there as the best zoom I’ve ever used with a particularly useful range for the mountains. The  image above of Cùl Mòr is perhaps my favourite location on mainland UK. I love the energy here. I first discovered this spot in 2017 and produced an image which I titled ‘Sanctuary’. To return here again with snow on the mountains and a beautiful fast flowing stream was simply breath-taking. The fp camera and SIGMA 24-105mm | Art lens captured all of the wonderful detail and again in teal & orange mode. It’s quite a hike to this spot, but carrying a light set-up adds to the enjoyment. With the camera being small, this allows me to carry a smaller tripod and filter set too, although if the forecast is for particularly strong winds I’ll take my BIG tripod every time. But overall the reduction in kit size and importantly weight is most welcome for long days in the hills.

During my trip to Assynt in January, I had just the fp + SIGMA 45mm F2.8 DG DN | Contemporary lens. People are rightly concerned that small cameras can be a bit fiddly, particular if you’ve got large hands. I didn’t find the SIGMA fp  fiddly. The layout and buttons are spot on and, as I mentioned previously, this little camera feels reassuringly solid. I did encounter a little niggle however. If you see the picture above of the back of the SIGMA fp, I kept catching the ‘mode’ button during operation. It was quite annoying as I was trying to compose images to have the mode menu flash up. The BTS pictures above are from my February trip however and by then I’d taken delivery of the SmallRig cage. The cage has eliminated the problem and the camera now feels amazing in the hand. Other accessories are available from SIGMA, such as the hand grips which are very subtle and available in small or large. This for me is part of the beauty of the system. Yes, the camera on its own is small, but it’s been designed as a modular system that people can personalise to their own specific requirements, whatever their chosen genre of photography or indeed videography. Personally, I think it’s a visionary step from SIGMA.

Kholtby-Elphin barn
KHoltby-Assynt church

I love getting out there and escaping to the many hills and mountains of the Highlands but equally just driving around can offer countless photographic opportunities. On occasion, if the weather is particularly bad, which it was, especially on the first trip, heading up a mountain in 50mph wind isn’t advisable at any time. The  two images above were roadside captures, both handheld at 500 ISO in a howling gale. Shooting in this way with the fp is taking advantage of the Bayer sensor. Images are noise free at ISO500 (and way upwards of that).

KHoltby-Clachtoll

The wind certainly did pick up and as Storm Dennis (Deirdre?) came in I thought it would be a good idea to head to the coast. Perhaps only a landscape photographer would be stupid enough to do this, but I figure you’ve got to push yourself to get the good shots! I could barely stand in the ferocious winds on this particular day, but I got hunkered down behind a rocky outcrop which is something I’ve become accustomed to of late. In hurricane speed winds there really is no point attempting to set up with tripod and filters. The  image above was captured with the SIGMA fp + SIGMA 24-105mm | Art lens again at ISO320. Furthermore, I had the SIGMA fp set up to shoot in continuous mode. The SIGMA fp is capable of shooting at 18fps, here enabling me to catch this gull in flight over the stormy sea at Split Rock.

KHoltby-James

For the past couple of years I’ve seen my work expand to travel rather than solely landscape photography. As the storm continued, I’d decided to indulge in a spot of culture by visiting a gallery that I’ve driven past countless times over the years, the Rhue Gallery if you’re ever in the area. Long story short, but I got talking to the artist who owns the gallery. We had a great chat about the art world and life in general and is it was very inspiring. I asked if James would let me take his portrait to which he enthusiastically agreed and we drove out to Knockan Crag. The portrait here was captured with the SIGMA fp camera + SIGMA 45mm DG DN | Contemporary, wide open at f/2.8.

KHoltby-Cam loch #02

With the wind finally subsiding, I was itching to get back out for a walk. I’d recced this spot at Cam Loch back in January and I’d hoped to return to shoot the scene with snow on the distant peaks, which there wasn’t in January. I was excited to return to this spot with the upturned boat. For me, the scene evoked the wildness of this remote location. Snow on the hills and a moody sky; I love it when a plan comes together. Having bagged this shot, I wanted to head out further on the trail but out of nowhere a lightning bolt struck just metres from where I was stood. This really put the wind up me and I decided to very swiftly head back to the safety of my cottage for the rest of the day!

KHoltby-Blue hour

Blue hour in Assynt, ice and mountains, sat by a tranquil loch unable to feel my fingers but so worth it. No words required for this scene.

With the end of my trip in sight I spent the last day looking out over the view in the image below which was shot from the patio of my B&B. I’d waited all week for the passing light to illuminate that tiny village of Elphin. I spent an entire morning meditatively watching the changing scene before me, whilst journaling the finer details of the trip.

KHoltby-Elphin

The drive home also proved a productive one photographically, stopping a couple of times to capture the two images below from the roadside.

Snow #1
Power

To conclude, I am thoroughly enjoying my time so far with the SIGMA fp . A small do-it-all camera that can be personalised to suit your requirements is a fantastic concept. As a primarily outdoor photographer who likes adventure, the small system is a no-brainer. Additionally, as with all SIGMA cameras, the SIGMA fp is a joy to use which is so important. Lastly, I must say that I did panic a little when it was announced as the camera does not come with a viewfinder; without one I feel detached from the whole image-making process. Thankfully, SIGMA do make a viewfinder, the LVF-11, of which I’ve since taken ownership . This is the same ‘loupe’ type viewfinder that I use with my SIGMA dp0 camera and it works wonderfully. Other third-party viewfinders will also be available.

You can also see more images created by Karl Holtby on one of the following links:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karlholtbyfoto/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarlHoltbyPhotography/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/karlholtbyfoto

Website: https://www.karlholtby.com/

Featured product: SIGMA fp Camera