March 8, 2007 by Allen George
Today Sigma – known primarily as a third-party lens-maker – announced the Sigma DP-1. The DP-1 is unique in that it’s the first large-sensor, fixed-focal length digital ‘compact’ out there. With a 28mm (35mm equivalent) f/4 lens, there’s no doubt that the DP-1 is a niche camera, targeted to serious amateurs.
The DP-1 is the closest product I’ve seen to Mike Johnston’s Decisive Moment Digital (DMD), though larger and with a wider, slower lens. There are other dissimilarities like AF, ergonomics and viewfinder, but the dimensions and lens stand out. Like Sigma’s SD DSLR series, the DP-1 uses a Foveon three-layer sensor. This sensor has its adherents who praise its acuity and ‘depth’ (both subjective, hard-to-evaluate qualities) when compared to traditional Bayer sensors. I reserve judgment on those points, but am not overly impressed with its high ISO output to date.
That said, every camera has trade-offs and the DP-1 is no different.
It’s an interesting release for Sigma, and one that speaks volumes about its aspirations. The DP-1 was announced along with a 200-500 f/2.8 (!!) lens, a unit so massive that it deserves the name Godzima (Godzilla-sized Sigma).
These products are design statements. Sigma is well aware that the market for the DP-1 and the 200-500 is extremely small, but they’ve produced them anyways. That, taken with other specialty releases like the 30mm f/1.4 and the Bigma, paints a picture of a company with goals beyond its “just a third-party lens-maker” standing. I think they want to be spoken of in the same breath as Olympus and Pentax, both small, but highly respected optical companies. Sigma’s changes after public response to their DP-1 concept (Photokina ’06) bolsters this impression. Initial reaction was critical, knocking its lack of hot-shoe and optical viewfinder. The production DP-1 touts a hot-shoe, accessory viewfinder and external flash. This responsiveness to a niche customer base speaks volumes.
My initial reaction to the DP-1 is mixed; I reserve full judgment until I see sample images over its ISO range and can handle one in the flesh. I wish it had a longer, faster lens and had hoped for a form factor more reminiscent of the svelte and minimalist Ricoh GR-D than the current chunky, chrome-buttoned incarnation. The chrome buttons are particularly off-putting. There are also inexplicable gaps in Sigma’s specifications. There’s no image write-time, shot-to-shot timing or ISO range listed and no menu images shown. There’s also a very curious “Manual Focus: Focus aid (Dial Type)” entry that I’m at a loss to explain. In addition, there’s no question that Sigma’s AF, metering and exposure expertise is far, far behind Nikon and Canon. I’d also have appreciated an in-camera retouching system – now offered in Nikon’s newer cameras – with options for black-and-white and associated digital color filters.
But even with these limitations the DP-1 remains compelling and I’ll keep an eye out for one at Henrys.
Let’s Go Digital has an interview with Kazuto Yamaki shortly after Photokina ’06 in which he talks about the design choices behind the DP-1. Interesting background reading.