Sigma DP-1

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.
Sigma DP-1 front and back views
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).
Sigma 200-500 f/2.8 APO EX DG
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.

Additional Info:
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.

Comments

  1. David Philips - March 8, 2007 @ 16:44

    “There’s also a very curious “Manual Focus: Focus aid (Dial Type)” entry that I’m at a loss to explain.”

    Looking the images of the DP-1 in the specifications PDF linked to in your post, it appears there is a physical dial that allows the user to set the focus distance. Assuming one could use this dial to bypass AF for quick shooting situations, this could prove to be an interesting feature.

  2. Allen George - March 8, 2007 @ 18:50

    Ah – thanks for the find David!

    This reminds me of Mike Johnston’s DMD AF comment, namely:

    You’d pre-set the focusing distance and then be free to shoot as many shots as you wish at that focus distance until you re-engaged the AF.

    If true, then you’re right – it could prove to be an interesting feature.

    By the way, I perused the work at your site and was extremely impressed. I was particularly fond of some of your black and whites there…

  3. David - March 9, 2007 @ 23:32

    Curiously enough, I was just spending a whole hour looking at this new machine & LX2.

    Allen, I’ve talked with some guys who are at Vegas right now. They talked with the Sigma guys, and rumor has it that DP-1 costs around a mid-range DSLR (~$2000?) That’s a lot to ask for a DC, unless its performance (at least in the ISO sense) is close to a DSLR. Which makes me wonder… do you have insight into how the foveon chip were performing on the Sigmas SD14? I would be interested in such a camera, even if a little pricy, if it gives me the freedom of weight and the benefit of low noise.

  4. Allen George - March 10, 2007 @ 09:29

    …rumor has it that DP-1 costs around a mid-range DSLR (~$2000?)…

    That sounds completely off and I’d disregard that rumor completely.

    Sigma Japan – the arbiter on pricing – hasn’t released any information on this, official or otherwise. Yes, compactness commands a premium, but when your competitors are pricing DSLR kits like the D40, D40x, Rebel XT(i), E-410, E-510 and the K-100D below $1000, the premium can’t be exorbitant.

    As to image quality…

    Sigma, commendably, releases X3F files and the SPP RAW converter to process them, allowing you to evaluate image quality in your workflow. That’ll allow you to get a feel for Foveon images. I’ve linked to SD10 images and SPP 2.1.

    There is a gallery of SD 14 images, but these are JPEG only and taken at ISO 100 or 200. Frankly if any modern DSLR had problems at those ISO ratings…it’s a failure. Anyways, X3F files and SPP 3.0 links will be released later.

    I’ve seen some SD14 high ISO shots and think Nikon, Canon and Pentax do a better job. There’s a gallery of baseball photos using the SD14 taken at high ISOs. Although the grain’s fairly pronounced, I can live with that (especially in a compact). I’m much more troubled by the occurrence of color blotching. This shows up here in the little boy’s red shirt and here on the pitcher’s cheek and fingers.

    Having a traditionally small sensor, the LX2 is in a different class from the DP-1. Images are much, much noisier and Panasonic’s Venus engine doesn’t help. But Panasonic does make some interesting designs…

    Some points to consider.

  5. David - March 10, 2007 @ 12:43

    The basball photos taken with the SD14 looks completely unacceptable in terms of image quality and “cleanness” of image… OMG. If this is how good the Foveon is doing no wonder not too many people knows about Sigma’s camera… “-___-

    Damn. I think I will stick with either LX2 or SD1000 for my girlfriend.

  6. Allen George - March 10, 2007 @ 13:06

    Hmm. Prepare to be disappointed then…

    The image quality of the two cameras you’ve listed is much worse at ISO 1600 (which is what the baseball picture is at). Especially the LX2.

    Like I said earlier, the DP-1 and SD-14’s sensor dwarfs the sensors in those two cameras. The images are cleaner. The blotching remains an issue but I don’t have a sense of how common it is.

  7. David - March 11, 2007 @ 13:00

    “The image quality of the two cameras you’ve listed is much worse at ISO 1600 (which is what the baseball picture is at). Especially the LX2.”

    Yeah… I did a detail comparsion of LX2 photos with previous Canon series… and I sent them to my gf for her own personal judgement.

    The thing is though… don’t you think the SD-14 photos @ high ISO is pretty bad? It’s almost the same as the performance of any canon DC right… and when canon DC has such good color and features, I probably won’t advice my gf to get an expensive DC with no performance gurranteed. Then again, we will have to wait for the sample photos to come out.

    On another note… two of my photos got published on a Taiwanese magazine. Guess how much I got paid.

    8 bucks Canadian!

  8. Allen George - March 11, 2007 @ 18:11

    The thing is though… don’t you think the SD-14 photos @ high ISO is pretty bad? It’s almost the same as the performance of any canon DC right…

    No… I think it’s better than the output I’ve seen from the current crop of Canon digital compacts.

    Congratulations on being published! Do you have a link so I could take a look at the photographs?

  9. Mr. Fartleberry - March 18, 2007 @ 11:08

    Even so I hope you will all have a look at Edwin’s statements at camerahobby.com. Why is it now that Nikon are reduced to a few P$S cameras and someone like Sigma are bringing out the BEEF. After looking at the Nikon.ca showroom a few weeks ago it seems they really are retreating from the pro photography business. I’m looking at a “new” Nikon lens. In computer terms I would be buying a 400 Mhz G3 and paying top dollar for it. Something’s really wrong with this industry.

  10. Allen George - March 18, 2007 @ 12:31

    I read camerahobby from time to time. Edwin has far more money than I.

    My take on Nikon’s product rollout is mixed; I don’t share your (and others’) overly dim view of Nikon’s product line, but agree they’ve still a lot to improve. Impressions of Nikon’s performance are heavily dependent on one’s perspective. Problem areas are the patchy prime and fixed-aperture lens lineup, the poorly-performing “me-too” Coolpix line and both real and perceived weakness in the upper pro segment. Conversely, 2006 was a bumper year for entry-level and high-amateur DSLRs, entry-level consumer zooms and new models were generally available 1 month after announcement (a first for Nikon!). They’ve also constantly refreshed their lineup by putting out (s) updates and making firmware updates whenever possible. So definitely a tale of two performances here.

    Cameras like the DP-1 are a niche, and unfortunately too small a market for the incumbents. Sigma has nothing to lose – and everything to gain – by bringing out a model that increases their stature in the eyes of photographers. Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Olympus don’t have to establish that pedigree, so right now their product releases are jostling for market share.

    Finally, you never said which “new” lens you were considering. If you’re talking about primes, I’d accept your analogy. If you’re talking about zooms you’re on far shakier ground. A lot of Nikon’s zoom lineup is very current.

  11. tcoen - April 5, 2007 @ 17:08

    Hehe, that lens is pretty huge. Not quite as big as this one though:
    Zeiss Lens: It’s a Giant, 1700mm and 564 pounds

  12. Allen George - April 6, 2007 @ 22:15

    Oh.

    My.

    Gosh.

    I love this line:

    …that little black rectangle on the end is a Hasselblad…

    It’s the first – and probably last – time I’ve heard someone refer to a Hasselblad as “little“.

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