Friday, March 13, 2009

Sigma DP2 A Non Review

This is not a review but just my impressions about a camera which has the potential to be promising. This camera was announced around Photokina 2008 and now at PMA 2009, more details are emerging.

The Sigma DP1 was released in Q1 of 2008. This is a compact camera but what distinguishes it from other cameras are its Foveon Sensor, Fixed focal length lens and APS-C size of the sensor. Many of us want a compact, light weight, carry everywhere camera. We also want the camera to have very high image quality, one that is fast and responsive. The Sigma DP1 with its large sensor, excellent lens and with a lot of useful controls and available RAW capture had exactly the combination that would interest a broad range of enthusiast and professional photographers. But personally I felt that the camera itself did not live up to the promises. Now we are in 2009 and once again we are tempted with an upgraded version of DP1.

Lets digress from the present and see what the Sigma DP1 had to contend with in Q1 of 2008. The DP1 had to compete with compacts like the Canon G9, Panasonic LX series and Ricoh GRDs. The DP1 had advantages in the image quality but the price was 1.5 to 2 times that of the competitors. It also faced competition from compact entry level DSLRs which were priced similar to DP1 but offered competitive image qualities and other useful features unavailable in DP1.

The reason why the DP1 did not achieve the success that it had intended was due to the following reasons.

1. The total MP was 4.7 (Sigma claims it to be 14 but it is not). Granted due to its unique sensor, the per pixel quality was good and uprezzing the images produced almost comparable but not better results than competing compact DSLRs.

2. Focusing in low light situations was another problem due to non availability of AF assist light.

3. Speed, The camera was slow, extremely slow than even its competing digicams. It took 10-12 sec to write a RAW image that it was useless immediately after you capture a photo.

I also feel that personally a focal length choice of 28mm (35mm equivalent) is not ideal to appeal to broad range of photographers. Something like a 35mm or 40mm was better.



Now come march 2009 and we have an upgraded Sigma DP coming in the form of DP2. This camera comes with an upgraded Processor, faster normal lens (41mm f/2.8), a new 3 inch LCD monitor and upgraded, Increased frame rate, selectable color mode, in camera image tweaking, Custom My settings Dial and other ‘fine tuning’ of controls.

Now let’s see what we are sure about the Sigma DP2.

The lens is absolutely wonderful even when looking at the handful of images available. Considering what Sigma achieved with the 30mm and 50mm DSLR lenses, the DP2 lens (41mm) should be excellent. It is also faster than the DP1 by one full stop (f/2.8). The images produced by this lens has excellent clarity with smooth background transition. There is very little distortion and the images have good contrast and color saturation.

The DP2 sensor is the same as that of DP1, only the image processor is different. The good side of this is that this sensor has superb per pixel image quality and yields very good results with uprezzing. The color rendition, especially in RAW images are absolutely brilliant. Better in camera image tweaking will satisfy jpeg lovers.

The faster processor should help in the speed and responsiveness of the camera that was sorely lacking in DP1. The availability of Custom My settings and fine tuning of controls should also help in the camera’s responsiveness.

Thus far it looks good. But this is 2009 and the competition is also evolving. There is first the Micro Four thirds format which has exactly the same target audience and there is a lot going in their favor. Then there are the entry level compact DSLRs. Heck even small sensor digicams have 12-14 Mps. These cameras may not have the per pixel quality of the DP2 but they produce huge file sizes (real 12-14 Mp) and by their sheer size they are going to have better image quality since you have to significantly upsize the DP2 images to reach the level of their competitors. Sure megapixels are not “the all and be all” but when the difference in size is so huge, it may matter to some if not a lot of potential users. Then there is also the issue of noise. The DP1 sensor is not exactly a noise champ. Sure it trumps other small sensor digicams but not so much with compact DSLRs and Micro FTs. In fact looking at some DP2 images at ISO 200 to 400 there is some chroma noise in the shadows that concerns me. Minimal luminescence noise is not a big deal and can be easily removed but not so with the chroma noise. The noise of the DP2 needs to be better than the competition if it hopes to capture the interests of a broad base of photographers. The processor is improved but how significant is it to affect the responsiveness of the camera remains to be seen though I am hopeful that there is going to be some definite improvement in this regard since the file size is the same as DP1. Then there are also additional features like image stabilization, swivel screen are some of the factors that are going in favor of the competition.

Last but not the least of importance is price. How is Sigma going to price and position the DP2? The price is definitely going to play a role in deciding it’s competition. If it is priced at $300-400 it is going to compete with compact digicams and then it is in a good position but if priced at $800-1000 then it is going to compete with the compact DSLRs and Micro FTs not to forget that the midrange DSLRs like the superb canon 40D and Nikon D90 are also in this price range though exactly not so compact.
(Update: Available for pre-order for $650 from Amazon and Adorama).

Finally the key is that buyers need to justify the purchase of this camera with regards to the competition. The Sigma DP2 brings in lots of promises especially for a niche audience who have been waiting for the perfect compact carry everywhere digital camera. The DP1 did not cut it but Sigma is taking another chance at it with the DP2. The expected release date of Sigma DP2 is probably April or May in US and it will be interesting to see what the full production camera brings to the table.

7 comments:

  1. what is " per pixel image quality "?

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  2. " the Micro Four thirds format which has exactly the same target audience" I'm not so sure about that one. Panasonic states that they are marketing micro 4/3s cameras towards longtime digicam users who want more power and better image quality but are afraid to make the jump to DSLRs because they are still too big and difficult to use. The DP series compact cameras are for serious users who no doubt already have a great DSLR but want a smaller more discrete camera to have with them at all times. As far as I'm concerned, the only real competition Sigma has in this segment is the Panasonic LX3.

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  3. With regards to the three reason DP1's failure to gain popularity... Are they based on any research or just your guess?

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  4. Sigma DP2 is a 14 mp camera. It has a very simple design. The body is quite thick. The features are not very satisfying. Battery life is not very long, shutter button is quite stiff. Performance-wise, its average. It is good for black and white photography. For more details refer sigma dp2 review

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  5. I own both and I love them. There still is not one camera that size with the similair size sensor, the Leica X1 is much bigger. The results are stunning, both the DP1 and DP2. Speed of the (old) DP1 is slow, but I use the camera for nature photo's, there is no problem for me. Auto focus in dim lights is not good, but you have a very useful manual focus. There are more all round compact on the market, but none of them give you the results the DP series does.

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  6. I want to purchase a DP2, but money is tight and was hoping the price would drop closer to $500 or below. However, if Sigma ceases production (since the "DP2s" is supposedly replacing it), then I may lose the chance to own a new one. I currently own a 50D (12k ticks on the shutter counter and climbing) and some lenses, recently got a tripod...all of this has cut into my spending money!

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  7. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

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