The Sigma dp2: Rich Images, Without Bells and Whistles

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I appreciate a camera that allows its restrictions to become benefits, a camera that optimizes its best qualities over the addition of secondary and often unnecessary features. The Sigma dp2 Quattro Digital Camera has limitations, but to its credit, it isn't designed to do everything, and what it is designed to do—take incredibly sharp and tonally nuanced high-resolution images—it does very well. This is thanks, of course, to its optimized 29MP Foveon X3 Quattro Direct Image APS-C CMOS sensor and TRUE III Image Processor.

Above photo: 30mm, f/2.8, ISO 100

30mm, f/2.8, ISO 100

Unlike most digital camera sensors that use a red, green, and blue color array on a single horizontal plane, a Foveon sensor provides separate stacked layers for each color, eliminates the low-pass and color filters, and captures complete color information in each pixel vertically, not interpolated data. This new Foveon X3 Quattro sensor has further improved resolution and signal-to-noise ratio with a structure in which the top blue layer also captures luminance information and, therefore, features a red, green, and blue pixel ratio of 1:1:4, with the 4 lending itself to the new sensor’s name, Quattro. The design and color capture specifics of the Foveon sensor are well noted and, in my experience, more than match their hype. The color tones of sunsets and delineation in detailed images that I have shot in my short time with this camera are, frankly, incredible. Also, 11 very effective color modes with contrast, sharpness, and saturation adjustments are available, and enable fine-tuning your color settings.   

30mm, f/2.8, ISO 100

It’s fair to say that there are no other cameras like the Sigma DP series. From their sensors to their integrated fixed-focal-length lenses to their physical design, they separate themselves from the pack. The first thing one notices about the dp2 Quattro is its long, protruding handgrip. This angular design challenges our notions of comfort. Nevertheless, I found that I could hold the camera more securely than most point-and-shoots and reach the controls quite easily. The narrow, extremely lightweight chassis added to this ergonomic ease and the combination of an angled grip and extended profile provided solid purchase for my thumb, as well as the ability to “fling” the camera into position for quick shots. With point-and-shoots, and even some mirrorless cameras without viewfinders, I often find it difficult to “approach” my shooting angle, but the form factor of the dp2 conveniently alleviated that, probably because my hand is a good distance away from the LCD. The bright TFT LCD measures 3.0", with 921k-dot resolution, and its colors were extremely accurate. However, the camera, like most point-and-shoots, could benefit from a tilting LCD. Sigma has also introduced the new VF-41 as the dedicated optical viewfinder for the dp2.

 

The button and dial controls are spare, but efficient and simple to navigate. I realize that because the camera system is relatively basic (no video!). The menu system follows suit, but getting to know the buttons and dials took very little time and making adjustments on the fly was easy. The two customizable dials are right were your finger and thumb rest, so adjusting exposure compensation, aperture or shutter speed is lightning fast, and the QS button brings up a panel with ISO, white balance, drive modes and other functions so those changes can be made quickly as well. The mode dial, with manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, program, and three custom modes, is right on top of the camera, next to the power button. All menus can quickly be scrolled through using the main dial to navigate. There is no built-in flash on the dp2, but its hot-shoe mount accepts Sigma DSLR flashes as well as the new EF-140S SA-STTL flash unit. An SD card slot and USB port are the only interfaces. 

30mm, f/5.6, ISO 100

Like the absence of an onboard flash, Wi-Fi and video, the fixed-focal-length lens on the dp2 is limiting; however, it is a limit that offers opportunity and benefits. The opportunity is to simply move yourself to take better photos and the benefit is the knowledge of what your camera can and cannot provide and the creativity of shooting within those boundaries. Fortunately, the integrated lens is a 30mm f/2.8 lens with a 35mm focal-length equivalency of 45mm, which is an ideal all-purpose focal length that is wide enough to incorporate vistas and get close to subjects, but not so wide as to lose your subject in an expansive frame. And of course, the camera’s detailed high-resolution images are fine enough to crop and enlarge.

30mm, f/5.6, ISO 100

Its f/2.8 maximum aperture is suitable for working in low light and enables shallow depth-of-field control, while a 9-blade diaphragm helps in creating pleasing out-of-focus areas when selective focus is employed. The lens itself handles more like an interchangeable prime lens than that of a point-and-shoot camera. A simple touch of the focus button puts you in manual focus mode, where you literally turn the lens to obtain focus. A quick push of the OK button gives you a clear magnified view of your subject for accurate manual focus assist.

30mm, f/6.3, ISO 100

The contrast-detection autofocus system has nine selectable points and, while it did hunt in dim light, its accuracy and speed in daylight were without flaw. I was surprised several times when I heard the confirm focus beep before I anticipated it, and the accuracy of the focus throughout the frame was exceptional. It’s true that speed of focus in both manual or auto modes is not its calling card, but if you’re working in high-contrast conditions or shooting architecture or portraiture or product work with studio lighting, the accuracy of focus and, of course, the detailed high resolution make the dp2 a great choice. 

30mm, f/8, ISO 100

The new TRUE III image processor enabled approximately 3 fps continuous shooting and does a yeoman’s job keeping up with the giant files produced in JPEG Fine and even RAW.  Noise at high sensitivities, which tops out at ISO 6400, was noticeable, but night shots at ISO 800 were clean and in all images shot below ISO 400, noise was imperceptible and the contrast was crisp in both day and night shooting. There was very little buffering delay except when the batteries were almost dead. I did note that the camera felt warm after extended shooting, which is possibly due to the sensor being constantly at work for contrast-detection AF as well as the heavy processing load. Also, batteries seem to go flat faster than I would have liked, due to the factors mentioned above and reliance on the LCD for composing. However, Sigma supplies two rechargeable batteries with each camera, enabling long shooting sessions.

30mm, f/2.8, 6 seconds, ISO 100

No bells, very few whistles, just incredible still-photo imaging in an oddly comfortable form factor is the best way I would describe this camera. And at a time when the trend is to add every imaginable feature to a camera, I applaud Sigma for releasing a lightweight, simplified camera that can produce images on par with the best DSLRs.

30mm, f/2.8, ISO 100


Image Sensor Foveon X3 Quattro Direct Image Sensor 
Effective Pixels 29MP
Total Pixels 33MP
Maximum Resolution 5424 x 3616
Aspect Ratio 21:9 / 16:9 / 3:2 / 4:3 / 1:1
Still Image File Format Lossless compression RAW data (14-bit), JPEG (EXIF2.3), RAW+JPEG
Storage Media SD / SDHC / SDXC
Card Slot 1x
Lens Type Sigma
Focal Length (35mm Equivalent) 30mm (45mm)
Aperture Range f/2.8 - 16
Lens Construction 8 elements in 6 groups
Diaphragm Blades 9
Minimum Focusing Distance 11" / 28 cm
Filter Thread Diameter 58mm
Viewfinder Type VF-41 Optical Viewfinder  (Optional)
Shutter Speed 1/2000 - 30 sec. (Depending on the aperture value, shutter speed changes)
Flash Sync Speed Not Specified by Manufacturer
Drive Modes Single, Continuous, Self Timer, Interval timer
Top Continuous Shooting Rate 3 fps
Self-Timer 10 or 2 seconds
Exposure Metering System Evaluative Metering, Center-Weighted Average Metering, Spot Metering
Metering Method TTL
Exposure Modes (P) Program AE (Program Shift is possible), (S) Shutter Speed Priority AE, (A) Aperture Priority AE, (M) Manual
Exposure Compensation ±3EV (1/3 stop increments)
Exposure Bracketing Appropriate, under, over; 1/3 EV steps up to +/- 3 EV for appropriate exposure
ISO Sensitivity ISO 100-6400
Autofocus System Contrast detection
Number of Focus Points 9
Focus Modes Auto, Manual, Face Detection AF, Free Move (Spot, Regular, Large)
External Flash Interface Hot-Shoe Mount
White Balance Modes Auto, Auto (Lighting Source Priority), Daylight, Shade, Overcast, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Color Temperature, Flash, Custom
Monitor 3.0" TFT Color LCD 920,000 pixels 
Interface USB / Cable Release Switch
Power Source Li-ion Battery Pack BP-51; AC Adapter SAC-6 with DC Connector CN-21 (Optional)
Dimensions 6.4 x 2.6 x 3.2" / 161.4 x 67 x 81.6mm
Weight 13.9 oz / 395 g (without battery or memory card)

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what about the problem of battery life? We bought a Sigma and the only available battery rechargers were cheap awful things that did not work well. The camera sits on a shelf because of this recharging problem. Is a high-quality recharger now available?

Diane:

Well this is a much bigger battery than the other Sigma DP cameras, so that may indicate something there.

The battery pack supplied with the camera is essentially twice the size as the previous models were using.  According to an agent with Sigma the battery should yield approximately 230 images on a full charge and can take 1-3 hours to charge depending on the  batteries remainging capacity.

I suggest you post less heavily compressed JPEGs. The images here do nothing to convince it takes detailed images.

Ben:

There are raws for download at both Imaging-Resource and PhotoGraphyBlog.

You can find the extraction software (Sigma Pro Photo 6.0) with some web searching.

Well, at least you made your ponit clear enough!

 The tech-data specifies some sensor information, but the actual size of the sensor is not to be found!  :(

 It would be interesting to me what size quality enlargements can be expectet.

The sensor is an APS-C sized (23.5 x 15.7 mm) Foveon type sensor.

@Kozak:

Shooting raw at ISO 100, the files can be extracted to tiffs that allow for prints of 3.5 feet by 5 feet at 300ppi. No "feet" is not a mistake; the fine hairs on a tomato vine remain are sharply rendered. (8bit tiffs are 225MB apiece.)

You can test this yourself by getting Sigma Pro Photo 6.0X and setting the extaction to 2X. There are raws (X3F files) for download at Imaging-Resource.

The raw extraction software takes significant CPU processing power. So best to have an i7 machine, or even better a Xeon workstation.

 Thank you for ALL the information!    Quite impressive, indeed!   Almost too good to be true.     All they need now are exchangeable   lenses.

nice idea - trop couteux

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