When nothing matters more than getting the perfect picture, you want the best camera money can buy. A good candidate: the Sigma SD10, a hulking slab of an SLR aimed at wannabe Leibovitzes. This camera makes few concessions to user-friendliness. But in capable hands, it has the potential to produce outstanding images.

The secret to the Sigma SD10’s image quality is its large (20.7 x 13.8 millimeters) Foveon X3 image sensor. Most camera sensors record color in a mosaic pattern of alternating red, green, and blue pixels. The Foveon has three sandwiched layers of sensors, so each pixel in your image has the full red, green, and blue color data. The result is a picture that far outstrips the seemingly low image resolution of 3.4 megapixels, because the sensor is actually recording 10.2 megapixels.

Getting good pictures with the SD10 requires patience and care, and spending time with the manual is virtually mandatory. The 50mm macro lens we tested produces razor-sharp close-ups; other lenses are also available from Sigma. Sigma’s external flash (there’s none built in) is overpoweringly bright, so you need to fiddle with it, too.

Finally, the SD10 does not record JPEG images natively. You must download images in the camera’s X3F format — an agonizingly slow process over USB — and then convert each one to JPEG using the included Sigma software. But if you’re committed to image quality, these are small sacrifices to make. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Terrific color fidelity and image quality
Worst Feature: Records images in X3F format, not JPEG

Sigma SD10
$1,200 (body only); $1,630 as tested
Weight: 2.6 pounds (with lens)
Size: 6 x 4.6 x 5.3 inches (with lens)
Specs: 3.4 megapixels; no zoom (as tested); 1.8-inch LCD; accommodates Sigma lenses; flash hot shoe; CF slot; USB 1.1; FireWire; video-out port; requires two CRV3 disposable batteries

* * * 1/2

Link: Sigma SD-10

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