There are two things that immediately come to mind when we talk about the new Sigma dp2 Quattro: the new new Foveon X3 sensor (the book), and the shape of the camera (its cover). Do either matter? Are either necessary? Why do/don’t I like it? And overall, should we all go out and buy this camera today? I had some time to myself with the camera for a preliminary review this week. Here are some thoughts.
Whenever I compare cameras, I have to talk about features I expect — which all come from today’s top-of-the-line DSLRs like the Nikon D4. They’re quick, sharp, handle extremely well, and are true workhorses. If I can get a compact camera as close to that as possible, well… that’s the goal. So how does the dp2 Quattro measure up?
The new body is fascinating, no doubt. And surprisingly, it feels okay in the hands. I actually much prefer this body to that of the majority of tiny point and shoot cameras I can barely get my hands around. I’m definitely not gripping this camera with just the tips of my fingers, and I like that.
The shutter button has a nice feel to it. And almost more importantly (not because of function, but because of how awful they often are), the aperture and shutter dials are very well designed. While many of the mirrorless-style cameras have dinky, plastic-y knobs that rotate too easily or are too stiff, these seem just perfect. And best of all, they’re perfectly adjustable by just sliding your thumb and/or index finger over the corresponding knob while grasping the camera normally in your right hand.
Speed is also important when you’re talking about handling. You don’t want to be fumbling around with the camera and miss your shot. While I wouldn’t say autofocus is as fast as a pro-level DSLR’s, it’s quite snappy — surprisingly so. And I would call shutter response “adequate.” Let me put it this way before you judge what that means: I was taking some photos at the famous “Wedge” in Newport Beach. But I was always talking to some people that were with me. Every time I saw a wave whip up with someone about to go over in the corner of my eye, I would lift the camera up and try to grab the shot. I was sure I missed the moment. But sure enough, about a second later, the shot I was looking for popped up on the screen. I got it! And in the end, that’s all that matters, isn’t it? Who cares how it feels. Did you get it, or didn’t you? We’re probably not shooting sports with this, but it’s good to know we probably can do so, as I said originally, adequately.
A few notes:
1.) You do have to stretch your thumb back a bit to catch the directional pad and menu selector on the protruding part of the back grip. But with time, this gets easier. The menu buttons, on the other hand, are well laid out and easy to use.
2.) I never thought I’d worry about this too much, but for the great weather we’ve been having in California (by great, I mean weather with too much sun that’s leading us into a horrible drought), 1/2000th of a second at the high end is seeming quite slow. While many cameras these days give at least 1/4000th, I would have hoped to see that in there. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but something to note.
This is the meat. This is what we really care about, isn’t it? I have to break this into two parts: the sensor and the lens.
The Foveon X3 Quattro Sensor
First things first: size is king and for the foreseeable future, always will be (watch me eat my words when something new comes out next year). But for the most part, bigger sensors mean better quality. That said, what manufacturers have been doing with APS-C sensors is quite amazing. They’re right up there with full-frame sensors less than a single generation ago. And so I’m happy to say Sigma didn’t skimp: they gave us an APS-C Foveon X3 and it shows.
The Foveon X3 sensor technology has gone through several refinements over the years and there’s no doubt this is the best yet, naturally (it’s the newest). What’s special about it is that it takes advantage of the fact that different wavelengths of light penetrate silicon at different depths. This property allows Sigma (who bought Foveon — old news) to create a sensor with three different layers of pixels, where each layer records one channel of red, green, or blue.
This in turn allows for three things:
First, color data is captured vertically instead of horizontally (in traditional Bayer-filter sensors, the RGB pixels are next each other), so the dp2 Quattro doesn’t need an anti-aliasing filter. While many cameras such as the D810 are letting go of these filters for better image quality, you’ll still see moiré in certain cases with those cameras. Not so, however, with the dp2 Quattro. You can still get some luminance moiré, but it's minor and monochrome, so it's not nearly as bothersome and even then, it's fairly rare.
Second, the Foveon sensor is supposed to be great for color. With untouched files, it’s hard to say at first glance, but you can tell it definitely is smooth. I have no complaints about the color in the images I took — none at all. If I adjust the saturation a bit in post (JPEGs were taken at the neutral setting, so they look flat and full of dynamic range/"potential” before editing), color pops brilliantly. The images look well-reproduced with no shocking, other-worldly distortions.
Finally, the Foveon filter apparently produces high-quality files at smaller file sizes. That didn’t happen in my experience (a 39-megapixel JPEG is about the same size as my D800 JPEGs)- but as you just read, yes, I said 39-megapixels. The first 29MP sensor combined with the following two 4.7MP sensors allow for a 39-megapixel JPEG to be recorded. That’s pretty cool. While I wish it allowed for that in a RAW format, a JPEG that large for a $1000 camera isn’t half-bad and has many uses for the average person these days from oversampling for less noise in low-light areas to printing large art prints for home without breaking the bank at a gallery.
We could argue all day long about how many megapixels the sensor really has, but in the end, I’m going to look at what I get in the final file on your computer, and that would be up to a 19MP RAW file or a 39MP JPEG. Either way, that’s more than enough in this silly era of megapixel wars and quite good for the price-point. Finally, something we can all be happy about.
I thought I was only going to be able to process JPEG files for this review since the camera is not yet supported by Adobe Camera Raw, but luckily Sigma does have their own Photo Pro 6 software that can process the X3F files that the dp2 Quattro kicks out.
And let me tell you, the RAW files are special.
I did confirm that the +/- 2 metric in the Exposure slider in the program directly corresponds 1:1 to actual f-stops. On one hand you could argue, why not more? But on the other, who needs more? And moreover, what file actually looks good when you push past two stops?
Well... actually... these just might.
I pushed up two stops to see what detail I could pull out of the shadows, and everything -- not just about everything, but EVERYTHING -- came out. I pulled the files two stops lower to see what I could bring out in the highlights, and again, nothing looks bad whatsoever. Everything holds up remarkably well. I don't know if I'm used to older cameras or what (please excuse me, as I'm on the D4 and not the D4s), but these new technologies coming out are really proving themselves. Based on this, I wouldn't be at all opposed to seeing a full-frame Foveon in the future. Better yet, skip full frame and jump into medium format (pretty please?).
For perhaps the first time (and to be fair, it's probably the entire "era" we're entering, not just the Foveon sensor), shooting two stops off is becoming a completely recoverable offense. At this point, if you can't get recoverable exposures, you really need to be investing in some $25 beginner-level, group photography classes and get your basic exposure stuff down. Or better yet, learn to look at the back of your camera every now and then and ask yourself, "Am I close?" That's all you have to do. It's that easy.
In all, take a look for yourself (above) if you haven't already. These files are creamy. The color is there. The shadow and highlight detail is there. They're just really nice 50-megabyte files. Yes, 50 (although you're looking at smaller JPEGs exported directly from the X3F files). So they'll eat up your hard drive worse than the D810 does already. But those are getting cheaper, too. So quit whining. I think we can all finally admit we're completely willing to buy eight more hard drives as long as we can say we shoot 50-megabyte files. And when you look at these, it's all well worth it.
One note: if you plan on using Sigma's Pro Photo 6 software to process all of your photos, it's as slow as it is free to download. Lightroom may be ever-slowing, but it still doesn't take 15-26 seconds for me to export a RAW file to a full-sized JPEG on my maxed out 15" Retina MacBook Pro. So until that improves or until ACR is updated, just be aware and beware.
30mm f/2.8 Fixed Lens:
Prime lenses are fantastic. Sure, I was in 8th grade once. And sure, I used to think people were stupid for not spending LESS money to get a WIDER range in focal lengths with brilliant 10-500mm zoom lenses. But I grew up, and so should we all.
Prime lenses let camera manufacturers pull the best possible quality out of a piece of glass while spending as little as possible. And thankfully, that lets us enjoy brilliant image quality for relatively little cost. Need to zoom in? There’s a great way to do that: put the camera down, put one foot in front of the other a few times, check viewfinder (or back of screen, in this case). Not close enough? Repeat process.
The 30mm lens on the dp2 Quattro is equivalent to a 45mm lens on a 35mm camera, which is considered “normal.” Personally, I prefer a slightly wider view for general walk-around photography; but I’m not worried, since that’s coming soon in the dp1 Quattro with its 19mm (28mm-equivalent) f/2.8 lens.
The 30mm works great, but is not without issue. Upon close inspection at wider apertures, it does seem to suffer from some rather distracting spherical/comma-type aberration. If you stop down a bit, that starts to go away but little reflections on the leaves in these photos end up making things seem blurry- slightly. So the true image quality isn’t always apparent when shooting wide open.
Stop down a bit, however, and the lens is a joy. It focuses quickly, is still quite light and compact, and opens to a respectable if not quite dream-shattering f/2.8.
Menu and Screen:
I am in love with this menu. It’s not so much because it’s so great (which it actually really is). But honestly, it’s so great especially in comparison to its competition.
When I look at a new menu that I’m not used to, I’m usually quite confused. I inevitably feel like settings are buried and find myself talking in my head, making suggestions to camera designers about why that shouldn’t go there and why this should go here. However, I’m so pleasantly surprised with Sigma’s simple menu, I’d give it an award if I had one to give.
Don’t mistake simple for lacking, however. The menu is still plenty robust. But an easy-to-read and -understand layout lets you feel like everything is right there in front of you. There aren’t too many options, but there is everything you’d ever really need, plus a few things you just want, even if you never intend to use them. Want a quick menu? The dp2 Quattro has that, too. And I like it. Again, simple, yet robust. And most importantly, intuitive.
The screen is another story... sort of. It’s nice and big. It bursts — no, explodes! — with color and boy is it sharp. It’s so very sharp. In fact, this is the slight problem I have with it… It’s so sharp that it actually scared me. Naturally, when I got the box, I took the camera out and started shooting as quickly as possible. I like to see how easily things just “come” to me with new cameras.
And naturally, I’m chimping away. Meanwhile, the sharpness of the screen is scaring me into thinking the camera’s processing is crushing the sharpness of the JPEGs. How will it process RAW files (processing is incredibly important with these Foveon sensors…it’s important with any sensor, really)? Is there a way to change that? My mind started spinning…
Luckily, this issue is specifically something with the screen. It isn’t reflective of any aspect of the final files. The files themselves are handled beautifully once you get them off the camera. And so, I’m alleviated of my worries. Just know not to be scared. And at least Grandma and Grandpa will look over your shoulder in amazement at the “clarity” of images these days.
I think Sigma really has something, here. They’ve been on a roll with their lenses (their new 50mm f/1.4 Art series lens took the product shots in this review with the help of my D4) and seem to be speeding up with their cameras.
I do hope the lenses can become something to cherish. They’re good. There’s nothing “wrong” with them. But I’m always a sucker for a good, sharp, Zeiss-like lens. In essence, I want an “Art” lens on this dp2 Quattro.
Until then, for 1000 bucks, you can’t get much better. That's the main takeaway. Most people looking at this camera (or any camera, for that matter) are probably looking for the perfect walk-around, vacation, family-event camera that will produce images to impressively cover your days' events. This will do that well, and then will still be able to handle studio shots if you so desire. You might be able to get about or close to the same quality with other offerings, but then you won’t have the option of the glorious and brag-worthy 39-megapixel JPEGs. And don’t forget, while “39" dwarfs the 19-megapixel RAW figure, 19 megapixels is nothing to scoff at.
If you want to understand the Foveon X3 sensor, here's a great infographic that helps explain the layout:
Infographic provided courtesy of the Sigma Corporation of America.
Here are a few more images taken with the dp2 Quattro for reference (all shot at f/2.8). Notice the rather beautiful bokeh and sharp details thanks to the relatiavely large APS-C sensor.