The successor to Sigma's DP1 arrives with big expectations and striking design. But how does it fair on the WDC testing bench?
What differentiated the DP1 from other models was the capacity of the models sensor; the model featured the same Foveon CMOS sensor as Sigma’s SD14 DSLR, meaning the very real prospect of DSLR image quality within a compact camera.
Sigma’s relatively new DP2 features the same technology as its predecessor, with the advanced compact features the same CMOS Foveon X3 sensor as before. As mentioned, this sensor has the same unique technology as found in the SD15 – it boasts three separate levels, each offering a 4.7MP sensor site and recording different colour data, with the sensor itself measuring in at some 20.7 x 13.8mm. The sensor offers ISO performance of between 100-800 in standard JPEG capture, which extends up to ISO 1600 and 3200 in Raw capture mode.
The sensor is not the only quirk of the DP2. The model features a prime lens, lacking of any type of zoom and offering a 41mm fixed focal length in equivalent terms, along with maximum aperture of f/2.8. One of the potential benefits of the fixed focal length lens is that flaws such as fringing and the like should be kept to a minimum thanks to the lack of movable lens elements.
Outside of the sensor and fixed focal length, the model also features the quirky expandability of an additional optical viewfinder, hood adapter – that itself can be combined with a close-up lens adapter – as well as external flash gun and hard case.
Meanwhile, the DP2 features a fairly standard 2.5in LCD screen, with resolution 230k pixels, as well as an on-board pop-up flash. The dimensions of the DP2 fit in well with its advanced compact peers, measuring in at 113 x 60 x 56mm, and weighing it 280g.
Design and Performance
The design of the DP2 is much the same as the DP1, and owes a lot to cameras of yore. The camera of solid, black rectangular form, and as such has a reassuringly sturdy feel. However, the fact that the DP2 features a fixed focal length lens does no favours for the profile of the model, with the camera featuring a large protruding element on its front.
The rest of the models sports a black finish, with minimal demarcation for the various commands of the camera, such as focus, flash and mode dial, in white features. The harsh metal finish and lack of an ergonomically-minded body make the DP2 a touch difficult to handle, feeling clunky in the hand and making the preferable shooting hold the two-handed approach.
The button layout and design of the menus on the DP2 is a touch confusing – even the most basic operation or change of mode and functions is long-winded, with often three, four or more clicks needed to perform the desired operation.
There are several issues with performance that hamper the DP2 in use. For example, the AF system of the camera is slow in even optimum conditions, often hunting, with an audible whirr to boot, before settling on focal points. Of course, there is the pleasing option of manual focus, though is not an option you necessarily want to rely on.
The model’s LCD screen is also far from perfect. While it’s unarguable that the image quality provided by Sigma’s Foveon sensor is of a high standard, the quality of the DP2’s LCD screen does the images no justice.
As mentioned above, the DP2 also suffers from a poorly thought-out menu system, and all of these little performance pain points make the DP2 a fairly unenjoyable camera in use.
Value and Verdict
With a current street price in the region of £500, the DP2 is priced into an intriguing area of the market. For the same amount of cash could bag a decent entry-level DSLR – such as the Pentax K-m or Sony a350 – and a lens to get you started, and then develop into a system. Granted, the DP2 does offer a more compact option than a DSLR, and there are more and more photographers looking for an advanced compact to accompany their enthusiast-level gear, so there is no doubt an area for this type of camera.
It is worth noting that the image quality provided by the combination of the fixed focal length lens and large Foveon sensor is genuinely impressive. However, there are too many flaws in the build of the camera to make image quality alone recommend it, and for the price-tag of £500 there are many better options on the market that offer comparable quality
Sigma made a bold move with the DP1. They stole a march on other manufacturers by inserting a DSLR-sized sensor into a compact body, and really caught the imagination of the market. The DP2 followed on where the DP1 left off, packing the same sensor with a slightly altered specification. The only issue with this continuation of the camera’s identity is that a range of niggles that were existent of then previous model, as Sigma seem to have not attended to them. The DP2 suffers from some real operating issues. To start off with, the ergonomics of the camera are disappointing and make the model difficult to handle. The camera’s menu system is frustrating, while the button layout seems to lack planning.
Then there are niggles with standard imaging functionality of the DP2. Focus is frustratingly stuttering, seemingly searching for the right point, and making a loud noise to boot. Finally there is the price – for £500 you could buy a host of similar cameras that suffer none of the same issues as the DP2, while they also offer more flexibility than the DP2.
The DP2 does offer excellent image quality, but there are far too many flaws for it to be recommended.
There are several features of the DP2’s specification that mean that image quality is pretty impressive in general. The combination of the large Foveon sensor and fixed focal length lens mean that image flaws should be kept to a minimum, and that is very much the case. Noise is well controlled up to the maximum ISO 800 in jpeg, and continuing to be reasonably non-intrusive right up to the maximum ISO 3200 in raw. The dynamic range displayed is also impressive, with detail well maintained in both highlight and shadow areas. Images are short out of the camera, with little or no barrel distortion of fringing. Colours appear pleasingly natural, if a little flat, while exposures are more often than not correct.