Two days ago, I wrote in the post titled "My Two Answers" about the ongoing lack of large-sensor compacts. Today, as if in answer, no less than than the COO of Sigma Corporation, Kazuto Yamaki, has posted an announcement about the DP1 to update what we know.
As you can read for yourself, the news is good. Sigma has not abandoned the DP-1. Mr. Yamaki's information gives a glimpse into the process of bringing a new camera to market: he references "long and sometimes intense discussions" about the proper direction for the product, and several times mentions the hard work that goes into its gestation. I'm delighted to learn that the groundbreaking DP1 project is still on track.
How would a large-sensor compact differ from a good small-sensor point-and-shoot or a larger DSLR? I would suggest thinking about it as a complement to a DSLR. (Not compliment, polite praise, but complement, "a thing that completes," for our readers for whom English is not a primary language. I always worry about that word.) It would be a camera that you can wear all day long that nevertheless gives you the same image quality as your DSLR in the prints on the gallery wall—or in two-pages spreads in a magazine, in the case of photojournalists.
Let's say your main camera is a Sigma SD14 with, perhaps, the 18–50mm ƒ/2.8 EX lens. When you have time for concentrated photographing—when that's all you're doing, on an assignment or a photo-walk or a vacation—you take your big camera, and you don't need anything else. But what about when you're in the airport traveling on business, or picking your kids up at school, or caught in traffic on the freeway, or find yourself in a corporate meeting room with a distinctive view? You'd like to have a camera with you, but you're unlikely to have the SD14 and 18–50mm around your neck. Are you with me when I say that a DSLR need not be bulky and awkward generally for it to be bulky and awkward in some situations? Can you image your big DSLR around your neck during a day at the office?
But what if you take a picture in those offhand circumstances that turns out to be particularly fine? (I happen to have pictures in my portfolio taken in each of those particular situations I named.) The criterion for an exhibiting artist or photojournalist is that such pictures need to be able to be used alongside the pictures made with your main camera without apologies—indeed, without being distinguishable to viewers at all.
If your main camera is a pocketable miniature point-and-shoot, obviously you've got no problem—you carry it with you all the time and that's that. If your main camera is a DSLR, then the criterion for a compact camera is that its image quality be the same as that from your DSLR. In this regard, it sounds like Sigma has made the right choice with regard to the further development of the DP1.
Receiving information directly from corporate officials is the exception rather than the norm in this industry. Isn't it nice to get the straight skinny right from the horse's mouth? (Two more expressions that could be a problem for non-native speakers! I suppose "the straight skinny from the horse's mouth" could translate to standard English as "the pertinent information from an individual who is directly involved.")
Mr. Yamaki owes us no apologies, of course. But it's pleasant and refreshing to read such a frank and forthright communiqué.
ADDENDUM: I don't want to turn this into the Sigma Dp1 forum, but before we leave the subject I have one more comment to make about the camera: namely, that I believe the ƒ/4 lens may kill it. Sorry to say so, but that's what I'm afraid of.
Over the years I've tracked numerous products and tried hard to analyze consumer acceptance and rejection vectors. I believe the crucial metric in a compact large-sensor camera with a fixed lens like this one is that the fixed lens must be faster than an ordinary zoom. That means ƒ/2.4 at the borderline; ƒ/2 would be best. I would much rather see the Dp1 debut in a version with a lens of more moderate focal length and a faster maximum aperture at first, with a wide-angle version (even an ƒ/4) to follow later. As Chuck A. says in the comments, "If a company came out with a 28mm f/4 lens for your DSLR, nobody would buy it." Just so.
Why care? Because any niche product bears a special burden: the first iterations need to prove their viability before other, similar products will follow along. I want to see Sigma succeed with this product. The ideal situation would be for it to be so successful that Sigma could quickly follow up with a whole handful of variants that would also sell; its innovation deserves to be rewarded. But other manufacturers will be observing, too. If the Dp1 takes off, you can bet similar projects in various stages of development will be fast-tracked; if it tanks, though, the opposite will happen.
Sigma knows lenses, and doubtless the specs were chosen for good reasons. What I worry about is that the wide focal length was chosen first, for its appeal in the Japanese home market (Japan has a special love affair with this angle of view), and then the max aperture spec followed along as a consequence of the focal length and the target lens size.
I don't know anything about this. I'm just speculating. I do hope that Sigma has the right handle here, and that I'm the one who's wrong. Whatever sells is the right decision. —MJ
Featured Comment by Dave Sailer: I've looked at this camera before and found the front of my shirt getting wet (whatever is causing this seems to be coming from my lips). And then fretting over details like everyone else seems to be doing.
Personally speaking I'd like a few interchangeable prime lenses, or something like a difocal (maybe 24mm and 40mm equivalents), or a shortish zoom (maybe 24mm to 48mm equivalent), or as a last resort a slightly longer fixed focal length lens (say 35mm equivalent). I think about this and then gnaw on the carpet some more, and then go back to looking at the photos of the camera and wondering if I could live with it as-is. And so on.
Sound familiar, anyone?
It seems that the most important points here are that the IDEA (cuz there ain't no camera yet) of a camera like this is getting some smart people excited, and that a camera company is actually thinking about a camera like this, perfect or not.
Eventually we'll get some really simple, really small, high-image-quality cameras designed for usability, and built from first principles as digital devices. If this Sigma camera reaches production then it will be the advance scout of this new breed. There will be others, whether this camera is a success or not, but if we can start now, with this camera, it will bring the future along a bit faster.
Humans aren't changing. Cell phones will not replace real cameras. Eventually (some) cameras will re-evolve to suit the needs of agile and perceptive still photographers, and we will be able to get away from imaging devices designed as mindless add-ons for those goofy twitchy people who just like gagets and have short attention spans.
I recommend the "Inside Straight" column by Herbert Keppler in the November Popular Photography magazine. Go look at it. The column is titled "What today's camera makers can learn from the very first Leica: Keep it simple." It has a photo of the original Leica next to a modern DSLR. You will get the point immediately.
Now for some more carpet gnawing, then lunch.