One of the unique features of the SIGMA sd Quttro H has now made its way to all Quattro cameras with the latest firmware updates but what exactly is “Super Fine Detail” and how can we use it to create better images?
What is SFD?
Super Fine Detail or SFD mode is an automated bracketing feature that combines seven exposures in 1EV increments to create a single X3I Raw file. It greatly improves dynamic range while giving us less noise and also provides more detail, improved colour as well as tonal range.
What does it require?
Because this mode requires taking multiple images there are a few other items that are recommended in order to achieve the optimum results:
Any movement during the multi-frame exposure can cause artifacts. Therefore I recommend using a tripod for the set-up or a stable flat surface at the very least.
2) Cable Release
A remote shutter release such as the CR-31 Cable Release for sd Quattro. This will help to avoid any movement in the first frame when pressing the shutter. Alternatively you can use the 2 second or 10 second delay timer which is found in the quick menu where you change shot mode.
3) Continuous light source
The camera controls the exposure by varying the shutter speed so the use of flash isn’t available and a continuous light source is needed instead.
Why use “SFD”?
The most common use for SFD mode would be to increase the dynamic range for scenes like this sunset at the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis which the camera was able to capture.
Here’s how far I can push this image in post processing in Photoshop with the exported 16bit Tiff file.
SFD mode also offers improved image quality for products or still life photography by increasing the amount of detail and colour information that the camera is able to capture. This takes the clarity of the image to an even higher quality and the SIGMA cameras already excel above most other models in this regard. Below are some enlarged cropped images which help to demonstrate the improvement.
How to set up “SFD” mode
You can access the SFD mode by first selecting ‘Menu’ then navigate to the second blue tab displayed in the camera menu. It will be the second or third on the list depending on the camera model. If you are using a DP Quattro and can’t see the SFD mode then please update to firmware 2.01 or newer.
Once SFD mode has been activated the camera will automatically take seven frames for each image you want to capture as you can see in the example below:
The main limitation with this mode is the change on minimum and maximum effective shutter ranges. Anything faster than 1/500 on the sd Quattro H or 1/250 on the dp Quattro cameras will result in a loss of information. The same applies for anything slower than 4 seconds. The reason for this is that you will hit a shutter limit at either end resulting in several frames with the same exposure. This is something you’ll want to keep in mind during your set-up.
Another important tip to consider is that the files it creates are very large. The dp Quattro and sd Quattro are often over 300MB and the sd Quattro H files are often above 400MB. Therefore I suggest you take your time and think about each image before pressing the shutter since it will require storage space not to mention time for the camera to process the files.
My tip: I find using Manual Exposure works best and to shoot around -1 EV, although this can change depending on the scene you are shooting.
Processing your files
Once you have your SFD images it’s time to open up Sigma Photo Pro. Now don’t be alarmed if you can’t see your X3I raw files at first. Simply go to “view” then “Display X3I only” or “Display all formats” and they should appear.
There are two ways to open the X3I files, the first is by simply double clicking an image which will open it in your standard Sigma Photo Pro editing window which you use to edit the file as if it was a normal X3F image.
The second is to right click on an image and press “Edit in X3I edit window”,
This new window will show you the seven frames that make your X3I raw file and from here you can select/remove images that might be causing issues for example any movement in one frame. Or you can even extract one of the frames by highlighting the one and pressing the X3F icon*. This is handy as you can pull a frame that looks close in exposure to the SFD export and layer it on top in Photoshop, to help clean up any issues with blended motion and use the mask tools to blend.
*note pressing this button doesn’t create a file, it simply copies one into your computer’s clipboard and you will have to navigate to a folder and paste the file manually to create it.
Here’s an example of how I edit my X3I images and to show what the SFD mode can do with a high dynamic range scene. Below is a scene with very demanding dynamic range, the Devils Pulpit in Scotland taken with the dp0 Quattro.
The image on the left is a single frame pulled from the XFI. As you can see some of the highlights are lost, the colour is pretty muted and I would struggle to bring out the deep blacks without noise issues.
Moving to the middle image, I created a flat look from the SFD shot to export as a Tiff. It looks very bland and rather dark but as you can see in the right image, after exporting to Photoshop, there was lots of detail there for me to work with. Here is a larger version of my final image.
Something I also find the helps when shooting SFD of scenery with movement is to use longer exposures. This allows the parts of the scene with movement to blur and blend easier in Sigma Photo Pro. Plus a good ND filter also helps!
For this next example, I set up a small scene in my kitchen using only the natural light coming in through the windows.
As you can see from the single frame I have lost a great deal of the highlight detail but by shooting in SFD mode, and simply adjusting the sliders in Sigma Photo Pro, I was able to achieve this result.
Finally, I leave you with some of my favourite examples to inspire you to try the SFD mode and see what you can achieve with a SIGMA camera.
Featured product: New Super-Fine Detail exposure mode