Free Camera! Field Testing the Sigma dp2 Quattro

on August 10, 2014

When Sigma sent me an email telling me that they had already shipped a tester of their new sigma dp2, I started salivating.

 

It’s no sectret: I’m a camera nerd.  I LOVE playing with cameras, and I love getting packages in the mail.  I suppose that someday there will be something in the DSM-IV for people that get addicted to the rush of packages coming to their house from Amazon.

And this was FREE.

Such a beautiful word.

 

Well, not TOTALLY free.  it was just a loaner to test out their new camera before launch.

First off, the basics:  It’s marketed as a point & shoot.  It’s expensive. ($999.00).  It has a fixed 30mm f2.8 lens.  And of course, it has their Foveon sensor.  I have always loved SIGMAs lenses, and sometimes prefer them to the manufacturer- the Art Lens series is gorgeous, so I had high expectations.

They descried the new sensor technology to me and it totally made sense.  Instead of a tradition sensor that has to be debayered, it has three levels of sensors, for a vertical capture on different parts of the color spectrum.  It gives intense detail and precision to the colors.

 

Now, all of this sounds too good to be true on a point and shoot.  The reason why mirrorless cameras are becoming more popular is because they are able to capture the quality of DSLRs in a smaller package.  Anyone who has shot all day with multiple cameras and lenses around their neck knows how this can effect the quantity, and more importantly, the quality of what you shoot.

Shooting is exhausting.  It requires a lot of mental focus and creativity.  Pile on physical fatigue and you have shots at the end of the day that look like you just want to “get it over with.”

 

A great sensor in a small body could change all that.  It’s one of the reasons why the Fuji x100s is so popular, even over the Xt1 and the X-pro.

The camera came to me in a Pelican case, very neatly packed.  they included an SD card, a flash, two batteries and a charger.  I was dreading having to set up a new camera because to be honest, I have all my cards formatted for different iterations of Magic lantern for my different camera.  I didn’t want to have to sacrifice one for a test.  I’m also very glad they included two batteries, as this thing eats through them very quickly, as do most cameras that rely on the LCD instead of a viewfinder.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

The first thing i noticed: no video.  Yes, the Nikon DF doesn’t do video either, and i think that’s a mistake.  I had just assumed most high end cameras nowadays would have some sort of video capabilities. There’s an entire filmmaking sector that exploded just because Canon put video on the 5D MKIIi, and no video is a snub to all of those filmmakers.

 

But ok: they want this to be a “photo” camera.  I can roll with that.

 

The screen gave me a little pause.  It is exceptionally sharp- so much so that I thought something was wrong with my pictures.  It wasn’t until after my first session that I saw that the actual images came out fine, and not to rely on the LCD for image issues, only composition.

The menu interface is actually very straightforward, and i only went through the manual after the fact to see if there was anything I was missing.  I wasn’t

The biggest thing I noticed, however, was the time between shots.  It took a painstakingly long time for the image to appear n the back of the camera.  I guess this will break you of the habit of chimping, but still, I prefer to use a viewfinder if iI want to trust my shots without a screen.

There were some issues with the screen hanging for a split second as the camera hunted for focus, which i suppose is just a glitch in the early version of the firmware.  Version 1’s are always a litle buggy, and no doubt this will resolve itself in a future update.  Autofocus was ok, I guess.  Not great, really, but about what I was expecting with a viewfinder based point & shoot.  There is an easy way to switch to manual focus, and I found myself using that frequently just to move on to the next shot.

The other thing you notice about this camera is the design.  If the Fuji X100 is a throwback to retro appeal, this is the opposite.  It barely looks like a camera, with an elongated handle and a very slim body.  The positioning of the buttons could use a little work.  I found myself accidentally pressing the wrong button frequently, and the mode button, which is one of the more used buttons, is actually on top of the camera, making it a little difficult to reach while holding in one hand.  That’s the other thing.  The power button is just too far to reach while holding the camera.  This is a critical mistake for a point and shoot.  you want to be able to grab the camera in one hand and power it on as you raise it to frame the shot.  A little annoying, but still- not a deal breaker.

I did find the two rotating dials to be very easy to use.  They had a great feel to them, and especially if you like to shoot on manual, it’s nice to shutter speed and aperture simultaneously with two knobs.

But lets get to the real reason why we’re trying this camera: the pictures.

 

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I shot in RAW + jpeg so i could see the differences between what the camera does to process the image vs what the sensor could really do.  Again, this is the opposite of the Fuji X100.  While the Fuji takes good RAW photos and does a great job of creating beautiful jpegs in camera, the sigma is the opposite.  i found the vivid setting too unnatural, the portrait and landscape too underwhelming, and there was too much color tint in the “cinema” and other color cast modes.  I ended up choosing neutral for most of the settings, just because I am used to ProLost Flat, and I could better judge the images unclouded that way.

As I had mentioned, the LCD wasn’t my friend- and it ate through the battery hungrily.  But I was very excited about this Foveon Sensor!  That’s when I learned the other part of the the catch: RAW images have to be edited with Sigma’s proprietary program (which was free).  OK.  SO i downloaded it.  the interface was ok, fairly intuitive.  But on several occasions, i though the program had crashed, when in fact, it was simply the loading time for the images.  It was abysmal.  I tried editing a few pics, and it took way too much time.  There is the X-fill light feature in the program, which is amazing, but other than that, I never want to use that program again in my life.  I ended up exporting all the images as TIFFs and opening them in Lightroom.  I really hate conforming one file into another format.  There is always something lost, but were t not for Lightroom, these images would simply stay on my card.

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Part of the reason is because the images were so large.  This sensor is meant for a serous photographer with a  serious camera.  It should be used for studied and practiced shots, in a studio setting where everything is controlled.  i can see where this system would excel in that environment.

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But this is marketed asa PONT & SHOOT.  Street photography, vacation photos, parties- these would all be a nightmare to go through on the Sigma software.

 

SO we’re finally in Lightroom, and I am finally looking at these images and: they are GORGEOUS.  Truly breathtaking.  There is so much information in the image that you can do a lot of pixel punishing.  You have such incredible latitude wit the image, and it takes color correction extremely well.  I loved zooming all the way in on these images just to see how incredibly clear the picture was.  I was at first a little disappointed in the f2.8 lens speed- for a zoom, i would have been satisfied, but I’ve been spoiled by primes and expected at least a f1.8.  But the lens performed competently.  The other reason I wish the lens was faster is because the camera also doesn’t perform well at higher ISOs.  and by higher, I mean anything over 800.  That’s kind of a shame, but I try to keep below 1200 for best practices, so I wasn’t struggling too much.

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That also made this not the best “going out at night” camera to take to a party.  the focus is too slow, and the handle too awkward anyway.

AT the end of the day, I loved the images with this camera.  This camera’s greatest asset is the sensor, which is also its greatest weakness.  This is a studio camera trapped in a point & shoot body- and trapped is exactly the right word.  As a proof of concept, this camera has a great sensor and it can be put into a tiny body.  As a functional tool- which is all a camera is- it is unyieldingly self-conscious.  The artist uses the paintbrush to express whatever is flowing through him from the inspiration, and out the body through the brish.   If you find yourself spending too much time with the brush,, you miss the whole point.  I would be very anxious to try some of Sigma’s higher end camera’s.  A little more horsepower under the hood and the right conditions could make this a great camera/sensor combo.  But for now- I’ll go back to my Magic Lantern Canons.

 

 

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