page 15 of 23

Sigma SA-9 
by Jim McGee

I have something of a love/hate relationship with this camera.  I love it for the features that Sigma has packed into this camera.  Many of them features that other manufacturers seem to have forgotten.  But the camera is uncomfortable in my hand and has some serious limitations that give me pause...  

On the up side is the long list of features. Top shutter speed is 1/8,000th of a second and 3 frames per second film advance.  Focus can be set to either single or continuous focus.  We found continuous focus to work well with subjects moving predictably, but it would occasionally lose a fast moving subject when an object appeared between the subject and the camera; for example, a bird flying past a tree.  Focus in strong light was fast and accurate, however in low light the camera would sometimes hunt before locking in on it's target.  But when it locked in, focus was dead on.

Metering is via an 8 segment evaluative meter and you are given a choice of 8 segment metering, average metering (center weighted), and center area metering (spot metering).  The metering mode is controlled via a button on the left side of the camera and the control dial which surrounds the shutter release button.  Test rolls showed the meter to be accurate for the most part, including several tricky lighting conditions, but it was fooled into underexposure by the sunset shown here.  However, if this is the only problem the meter experiences, it is possible to compensate for it using exposure compensation, easily accessed with a button to the rear of the shutter release.  Exposure compensation is adjusted in half stop increments  3 stops.  Auto bracketing is also available over the same range. 






The built in flash is typical for cameras in this price range and is useful mostly for light duty fill flash, and informal portraits.  Rear curtain sync is available on board the SA-9, as is red-eye reduction.  A nice flash feature is that you have full TTL flash control even when the flash is used off camera via wireless control if you are using the Sigma EF-500 flash unit (available separately).

Other features not found on every camera include mirror lockup - for increased sharpness in macro photography or when using long lenses.  A depth of field preview button, MIA from a number of cameras for a while, but we're glad to see it making a comeback.  Also found on the SA-9 and making a general comeback is a multiple exposure setting that allows you to expose a single frame multiple times - up to 9 separate times on the SA-9.  A viewfinder diopter adjustment that allows you to adjust the viewfinder for your vision.  The self timer has setting for either a two or ten second delay - useful for long exposures if you're not using a remote cable.

The manual is well done and approachable with ample illustrations and setting the camera up is easy.  Just install the single 2CR5 battery (included), mount up a lens and you're off.  The date function is easily set using the controls on the camera back.  A separate battery (CD 2025) for the date back comes pre-installed.

Operation is straight forward as well.  The shutter release sits in the center of the command dial, and most of the SA-9's functions are controlled by pressing an option button, then choosing it's setting with the command dial.

Sigma 28-80mm f3.5-5.6 HF Macro

At a Glance
Filter Size:
Lens Hood:
Weight: 9 oz
2.7" x 2.8"
Front Rotate w/Focus:
Close Focus:
Macro: Yes
Mounts: Sigma, Canon, 
Nikon D, Minolta, Pentax

This is a fairly typical consumer grade lens.  It's construction is light weight and it's optics are typical of the class.  That means you'll be able to get reasonably sharp images at the middle apertures, but at the extremes you're likely to be less than thrilled with the sharpness and contrast of prints blown up to 11x14 or larger.  

The good news was, we didn't observe any noticeable distortion in any of the images captured with this lens, which is sometimes a problem with consumer lenses.  The lens mount is metal, which will make some folks feel better, but frankly our experience is that the polycarbonate mounts hold up very well, even with heavy use on lightweight lenses.

A nice feature is Sigma's new helical focusing (HF) system.  This system allows the lens to zoom and focus without rotating the front element.  A real blessing for anyone using a polarizer or graduated filter. 

However we did notice that when shooting wide open (f3.5-5.6), images were noticeably soft - even in four inch prints.  At f22 images evidenced some softness but would likely be acceptable for prints up to 8x10.  With a street price of around $89 this lens is targeted to the casual shooter, who will probably never be bothered by it's shortcomings, and for many, this will be a first lens that will be bundled with an SLR.

Those seeking higher quality in the Sigma line should check out the 28-105mm f2.8-4.0 (street price around $200) or the 28-70mm f2.8 (street price around $300) reviewed elsewhere in this issue.

One problem we experienced is the viewfinder information is difficult to read in bright light.  So much so that we found ourselves taking the camera away from our eye to check shutter speed and aperture settings.  

The SA-9 doesn't use a standard cable release.  Instead it uses a wireless remote (available separately) that allows you to trigger the camera and set the delay time.

Sounds like the SA-9 is a pretty well equipped camera, and it is, so where does the hate come into this love/hate relationship?

Well that's the subjective part that a reviewer always wrestles with.  I tend to like a camera with a bit of weight to it, so I was happy when I picked up the SA-9 and discovered that it wasn't a featherweight.  But when I went to shoot, it quickly became obvious that this camera was designed by/for someone with small hands.  Unfortunately I possess rather large paws.  While this has left me feeling a bit cramped on some cameras in the past, the SA-9 is the first one that felt uncomfortable for me to use.   

Now this is a purely subjective area - we routinely tell folks that when comparing cameras they shouldn't just buy on features, they should also try the cameras out to see how they feel.  

I mention it here because the shape of the SA-9 caused me to alter the way that I normally hand hold a camera.  This had two obvious effects on my images.  The first was that I had a high percentage of images that weren't sharp due to camera movement.  The second was that changing my grip to try and better balance the camera caused me to rest my thumb over the exposure compensation button.  I can already hear some of you smirking out there.  Yup, I had more then a few images on the first three rolls where the exposure was off because I bumped the exposure compensation button while dialing in the aperture.  Once I figured out what happened, I was able to keep watch and not do it again - but frankly it was a real pain to watch and occasionally have reset my exposure compensation.

A final concern is availability.  Not everyone carries this camera, and not everyone carries SA mount lenses.  Sigma makes a wide variety of lenses for the SA mount but you can't go elsewhere for lenses.  

Buy a Minolta, Canon, or Nikon and you can get lenses from the manufacturer, Tokina, Tamron, or Sigma, not to mention several other lens makers.  But buy the SA-9 and Sigma is your only choice.  

Another issue is the availability of those Sigma lenses.  Most shops that carry the Sigma line will have a limited availability of SA lenses, meaning that it is likely you'll have to wait for anything exotic.

With street prices ranging from $390 to just over $400, the SA-9 packs a ton of features into a reasonable price.  Whether it's the right camera for you depends on how well it fits your hands and your comfort level that Sigma makes every lens you'll need.


                            Subscribe to Vivid Light 
Photography by email 




It uses a wireless remote instead of a cable release













The SA-9 packs a ton of features into a reasonable price


text and photography copyright 2001 Vivid Light Publishing