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Wednesday, 09 April 2008

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Ed says the DP1 is the first PS to use a DSLR sensor, but I think that honor actually belongs to the Sony R1. Other than that, it's a nice writeup. Thanks!

Your review of the Sigma DP1 sums up my own experience very well. However I don't agree with your opinion on poor auto exposure.

In my experience the auto exposure works as good (or bad) as in my Canon 5D. Also it helps that the DP1 raw files are less prone to blown highlights than Canon RAW files.

"There is something really beautiful about the images that come from the Foveon sensor. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but the images are smooth and luxurious."
Such a pity that other camera manufacturers aren't trying the Foveon, from what I've seen it does indeed look less "digital" than the normal Bayer sensor.
We can dream of an Epson RD-2 with Foveon....now that would be interesting!
Thanks for the very candid Sigma appraisal Ed.

Cheers, Robin

Nice little review, looking for a small walkaround camera myself and I think I will buy the Olypmus 420 with it´s 25mm pancake lens, small and faster than sigma DP1 and still larger sensor than Canon G9 and it´s almost same price as a Canon G9. Will probably also buy the Y-strap for easy carying around.

Thank You Edward,

I had been very interested in this camera as I do a lot of Street Snaps but had always been worried about the shutter lag more than anything else. Based on this and other accounts I have read it seems best that I saved my pennies. On the other hand it seems to render images rather nicely. If I were a man of means I'd likely already have one........so maybe being poor has it's merit after all.

This makes the Olympus E-420 and 25mm pancake a much better buy in my case as a current Oly shooter.

Thanks for your candid and real world observations of this much heralded camera.

I have a DP-1 myself and agree with pretty much everything Ed has written except for his comments about "shutter lag." In fact, my experience is that (in manual focus mode or with focus locked in the autofocus mode) the shutter lag -- i.e., the amount of time that elapses from when you first push the shutter button until the shutter fires -- is actually quite reasonable for a P&S camera.

What bugs me, however, is the processing time between shots, which runs ~7.8 seconds in my camera when using an Extreme III card and just over 9 seconds with an Ultra II card. Being able to take three shots in a second in the burst mode (which is what Sigma claim for the DP-1) is NOT the same as taking three shots a second apart (which is what I'd hoped could be done)!

Also, while the "locked" LCD is definitely an annoyance, it's not so much an issue if you pre-focus and/or lock the focus at the hyperfocal distance and use an external viewfinder, such as the one Sigma sells as an accessory. Then you can compose and shoot almost as quickly as you would with any other camera.

Lastly, although Ed didn't mention them, there are a few other operational quirks as well (for instance, you can turn off the icons on the LCD display in autofocus mode but not when using manual focus and when you're using the magnified view in manual focus mode, you must either push the shutter button halfway then wait a long second or two for it to return to the non-magnified view or turn the LCD off and then on again, all of which I find annoying) but the quality of the images it captures is such that I'm willing to overlook these issues and (for the moment, at least try to) adapt my shooting style to the camera, something I ordinarily wouldn't do.

I think this is a very nice review Edward, and it highlights the IQ of the sensor. But I would enlighten Edward and others that the camera can be very, very fast if one puts it into manual focus mode and the continuous shooting---disabling the autofocus will make it instantaneous, and you'll be able to snap off three shots (the buffer's capacity) in a second.

So set the focus to 2-3 m, and blast away... The manual focus is a very nicely implemented feature too---it uses a wheel on the back of the camera versus the rocker switches of most compacts...

To Roger -
I thought someone would bring up the Sony R1. Good observation, but that camera is not pocketable and although it may qualify as a point and shoot, it is about as large as an SLR. Perhaps I should have said "first small P&S."

To Peter -

Thanks for your comment. I have only had the DP1 for a week or two, but in my opinion, the 5D and the DP1 are worlds apart when it comes to auto exposure. I often had my 5D with me when taking shots with the DP1 and it was right on almost all the time, while the DP1 was way more erratic. There have been several reports of highlight clipping with the DP1 even with RAW, and I experienced that problem myself on a few occassions. The 5D handles highlights quite well in my opinion.

I would love to see Olympus or Panasonic/Leica do something like this with a 4:3 sensor. This, it seems to me, would be a fantastic application for the touted benefits of that system. If they could fit the optical quality of the e-3 in a package that small, with better performance than the DP1 and a comparable price, I would be first in line to buy one.

And yes, I recognize that the e-420 is small, but it's not that small.

Oh shoot! My search for the perfect P&S continues...

Thanks for the review, at least I will save myself the money! I already have the G9, which is a nice little camera but far from perfect. I also have the Fuji F30 which is actually faster to focus than the G9, but more limited in other ways... I even considered the Ricoh GX100, but apparently that is very slow when shooting in RAW... so I'll just wait and hope for something better to come along.

My search continues...

Ed:
You broke my heart. When the DP-1 was first announced I looked forward to getting it. But it turns out to be a "slug". The whole purpose of a P&S is to grab shots on the fly. If I want to take my time setting up a landscape or portrait shot I'll use my DSLR. If the lack of an internal viewfinder (no matter how inacurate) wasn't enough, the slow setup (shutter lag & slow AF) are dealbreakers. The price is not that much of a problem; it's the performance in aquiring the image that is disappointing - no matter how good the IQ. Thanks for the review.

Thanks for the review. Very informative. However, I thought that a couple of your points were not thorough.

First of all I don't think the DP1 is meant to be a "Point and Shoot". Its a compact camera but not meant for the p&s market.

You also failed to mention the great manual focusing/ pre focusing ability of the camera. This in itself sets it apart from any other compact.

You had trouble using it as a "decisive moment" camera. Did you try pre-focusing to mitigate the shutter lag? Or even try setting it on manual operation for exposure?

The only reason I bring up these points is because all the greats used Leica and had no automation to get in the way. If you try your DP1 that way, you may get different/better results.

I'm not trying to make excuses for Sigma. The autofocus and exposure should be fast and accurate, its just not the only way it can be used and that should be clear.

I don't think the DP1 is supposed to replace a dslr or P&S. Its a new class. (Perhaps where the rangefinders sat in the film era)

Thanks for taking the time to write the review. Maybe a follow-up on the manual controls?

There are a couple more DP1 sensor-specific artifacts that can't be fixed in firmware by Sigma.

The first is an unavoidable star effect on night scene points of light. That gets excused as being some kind of bonus "built in star filter" but it's not optional as a filter effect should be.

The second is much worse. There's a red "waffle" pattern of spots the camera produces from bright highlights or other bright scene elements. I've seen it in daylight reflections off buildings, BB King photos with spotlights in the scene, and some dark scene candle flame photos. The artifact is blamed on the proximity of the IR filter to the Foveon sensor. Whatever the cause, the effect is not pleasant and it signficantly limits the types of scenes you can capture with this camera.

Sigma's announcement on the green edge fix is a little coy. It says the color will be "improved". User will have to find out how much improvement there is.

I might be willing to work around the limitations of a slow camera with a slow lens and with the artifact limitations imposed by Sigma's shoehorning a large sensor into a pocket camera. But not at $800.

I also vote for a compact DSLR with a pancake lens and put the cash I save into some clothes with bigger pockets.

Oh, man, that review breaks my heart. I've been pretty enthusiastic about the DP1, but those speed problems really kill it for me. I don't even do much street photogaphy, but when I want the camera to respond, it has to respond. I am NOT going back to 2002 with all those lags, no matter how good the IQ is.

Thanks for the review. My conclusion is to carry around my 5D until there will come a decent digital rangefinder with interchangeable lenses and a price tag much below the Leica M8.

To conclude: a serious point-and-shoot needs DSLR processing power as well as a DSLR sensor.

Why is this so difficult for the camera companies?

/disappointment

You wrote;

"Sigma claims that the DP1 is a 14 megapixel camera. In my opinion it is not. Raw files are 4.7 megapixels "

When stating that it is 14 MP, Sigma mulitiplies the 4.7 MP per colour by the number of colours, i.e. 3. For the file it writes, it only uses the colored pixel in each instance.

BTW, the blonde lady is so good looking, why did you not get closer to her? All that background we do not want!

Very good analysis Edward,

In my own short experience with the DP1 I concur with almost all of your findings. I would mention, however, that while the shutter lag and LCD blackout are a drag, the ability to fire off 3 frames (bracketed or not) in 1 second is quite good and much better than the G9, which fires 1 frame, waits and then another.

I also have some issues with the UI system. For example, to set up bracketing, takes a deep plunge into the menu system, and there is no option to have it for 1 set of shots, or "permanent". As it is now, it is permanent until the camera goes to sleep, and then it is gone. To shut it off, I tend to power cycle the camera, rather than go back into the menu system. But to turn the bracketing on, I can find no shortcut.

I think that as you point out, we need a G9, with a large sensor, potentially the Foveon. And of course an LCD screen that works well in bright daylight (the Canon G9 does well, and the DP1 does not).

Thanks again. I hope to do my own comparison of IQ with the DP1, G9, Canon XTs, and Nikon D60 in the near future.

Michael Tapes

Bravo. Thanks for getting this out. It should really help us fence-sitters. I must admit that the Olympus E-420 is looking very nice indeed.

Great review, Edward. The one thing thing that I don't understand is the f4 lens. You say there are technical limitations that kept this from being f2 or f2.8, but I've owned compact film cameras that used f2.8 lenses and took fantastic photos. 35mm film is larger than the Foveon sensor, so what's the deal here? Is there something inherent about digital that makes it harder?

A rangefinder camera with a manual focus lens is the best solution to the problem of combining compactness and image quality. I suppose the "manual focus" mode of the DP1, using the small wheel, makes the camera a much faster device. I don't understand why the shutter is so slow though.

Nice review, Edward.

I too have posted a review of the DP1 (among other compacts) here: http://www.mountainphotographer.com/ultimate-compact-camera/

My main problem with my DP1 is the green corners issue. I've only been shooting in snow, though, where it become much more apparent because of all the white in the scenes. I am really hoping that the updated firmware will solve this problem, because the WB workarounds that are suggested don't completely solve it.

As for the speed, which seems to be your main issue, I actually didn't even notice or think about this until I read your review! I've been shooting skiers and snowboarders for the last two weeks, and have been able to easily pre-focus. Granted, the subjects are usually far enough away from me to be able to do this. With the skateboarders you mention, I can only assume that you were trying to get closeup shots - in this case maybe you could use the manual focus?

Thank you all for the comments. Needless to say, this was not meant to be a super in depth review. I tried to keep it as short as I could and still provide a decent amount of information. I did mention that there were things that could be done to make the camera faster, but I still would not call this camera fast. You can get off a few shots sometimes, but not if things are changing or you have to wait for writing. I don't think you should have to disable everything to grab a shot either. It takes time to disable everything, unless you always keep it disabled, in which case you are paying for a lot you are not using. Last, there is a reason why wider lenses could be placed on film cameras. It may have to do with the depth of the body and the distance to the film. Perhaps someone else can elucidate this further.

I just bought the DP1 today and while I wouldn't ordinarily comment, I had to in this case. The first thing I did in the store before buying was test shutter lag. When set to manual focus - which this camera is well setup for - there is no perceivable lag at all. I press the shutter and an image is captured instantly. I can see from other replies that your review has put several people off buying the DP1 which is a shame. If like me you want an extremely well constructed and small camera for street shooting with negligible shutter lag (in manual focus) and easy to set focus distance, then the DP1 is perfect. By the way, I owned a G9 and found it far slower than the DP1 in terms of lag - not to mention the terrible implementation of manual focus.

Some things are better as perceived concepts than as realities.

To witness:

Nikon E3
All Sigma DSLR products
Kodak DCS Pro 14n (and variants)
Olympus E1
Leica M8
Fuji S5
Sigma DP1

I wait with the rest of the serious photographers of the world for a state of the art small high quality high performance digital camera

An optimists responds:

Don't ask something to do what it was clearly never designed to do. The DP1 fills one very small niche. It is capable of producing DSLR quality results (6-8MP equivalent seems to be the consensus, ie. enough to produce decent 13x19's), in a package small enough to fit in you back pocket. That's it.

High quality, small package.

I'm not an electrical engineer, but I can only assume that the physical size of the circuitry required to process raw data as quick as a dslr must not fit into the form factor of the DP1. Every camera ever built has compromises inherent in it, whether that be caused by form factor, price point, or the technological limits of the era. DSLR's are fantastic machines, but there wouldn't be the level of interest in the DP1 if they were perfect in every way. I've never seen a review of a DLSR complain that the camera is flawed because it doesn't fit in your back pocket.

Compact car's are great around town, they're fuel efficient, easy to park, insurance is cheaper, I could go on. But on the open highway they get cramped and pokey, and they're fuel efficiency goes right down. On the other hand a full size sedan is luxurious and comfortable in comparison, it has room for the whole family and handles the open road with ease. But around town... well you get the idea.

From all accounts (comments above and on other blogs), the DP1 has a very well thought out manual focus system. Clearly the designers put some thought into it. So why not use it? The 16.6mm lens coupled with the 20.7mm x 13.8mm sensor, set at f/8 and manually focused to 2 meters, gives you everything from 1m-infinity in focus. Wide open at f/4, focus at 4 meters and you get everything from 2m-infinity in focus. Shooting in close quarters? f/5.6 focused to 2 meters gets you everything from 1-8 meters in focus.

For the landscapists, you've nothing to complain about: enough resolution for 13x19's, wide angle, good colour (ok, a little work needed here), huge depth of field, and all in a package small enough to fit in you back pocket. What more can you ask for?

Simply put: don't try and jam a square peg into a round hole.

I am sure someone else has already chimed in, but digital sensors seem to be much more sensitive to the *angle* of the light impinging on the sensor. A larger aperture would increase that angle.

The foveon sensor would be even more sensitive to angle since the sensor is "stacked":
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foveon_X3_sensor

The red sensing is deeper in the silicon than the green and blue sensing.

This could be what is causing the green fringe--it is really a lack of red because the light can't reach the red-sensing sensor at such an acute angle.

If the criteria is a good 13x19 print, Canon made that expectation a reality years ago. I have 13x19 prints that have been displayed in galleries that were produced from my Canon G3 from just 4 mega pixels.

I am very happy that some users of the DP1 find it to be a fast and quite usable camera. I want photographers to buy it and, as I said, I really like this camera myself. I personally believe that the fact that such a small camera can produce images that are better, in my opinion, than any other camera its size is good enough. I agree that under the right circumstances (like switching everything to manual, prefocusing, and not taking more than three quick images in burst mode), the camera can be more responsive. Even under those circumstances, though, my G9 is still faster. With my cameras, the G9 can take 5 raw captures on full auto way faster than the DP1 can even when the DP1 is set to manual focus and exposure. Most of the limitation with thte DP1 in this circumstance is write time, but there is also slightly more shutter lag.

Again, I like this camera, but fair is fair.

I dunno, at this point I am thinking the hot setup would be an Olympus 420 with the 25 mm pancake lens, and about $100 less than the DP-1.

The DP1 will apparently write much faster with some high end cards. I was using Sandisk Ultra 2 cards.

"The saving speed goes from 10 seconds to 3 seconds (preview off) using the sandisk ultra 3 cards (or other cards with *writing* speed 20)faster if a fast card is used."

I will try this. If the display is turnrd off, and the camera is set to manual focus and exposure, and the wriring speed was improved, it would indeed be a faster camera, but it still seems like there would be a few seconds between snaps.

I was trying the camera out as a general purpose P&S, but the point is well taken that this camera may not fit into any current category and is a great camera for what it can do regardless of speed.

Again, the image quality is fantastic.

"Last, there is a reason why wider lenses could be placed on film cameras. It may have to do with the depth of the body and the distance to the film. Perhaps someone else can elucidate this further."

while the issue of 'light angle' may be a contributing factor, I think the real reason that it is difficult to build a fast small lens for most digital sensors is related to the sensor size. Folks are comparing apples to oranges. While the 35mm equivalent for the DP1 may be 28mm, one has to remember that this camera actually has a 16mm lens, when was the last time you saw a fast, light, compact 16mm lens for ANY camera?

Jim Couch

"when was the last time you saw a fast, light, compact 16mm lens for ANY camera?"

Lenses for 8mm and 16mm movie cameras.

Ahhh, you were using a slower sd card. Yes, others have documented much faster write times with Sandisk Extreme III.

Please post back when you test it out. It will be interesting to see if your opinion changes.

Thanks again

One thing to keep in mind about the DP1 when looking at why it isn't faster, doesn't have more features, isn't equipped with a better lens, etc. is that these are not primarily engineering problems, but economic ones. Many of the objections brought up about this camera would be straight forward to address by upping the engineering game -- but at what extra cost?

Here we have a package of components that defines a new category of camera, more or less the first of its kind to combine "keep in your pocket" size & convenience with DSLR-type image quality. It's based on a sensor and imaging pipeline platform that does not have a lot going for it in terms of production or market economies of scale. And it's from a company that, in camera terms, practically is the definition of "niche player"... but without the cachet that can command Leica prices for example.

The question is not whether Sigma could have done things differently or better, but whether they could have done so in a way that: a) we could & would afford to pay for; b) would get an internal green-light to actually go to market; and c) would not be a financially ruinous experiment for the company.

The resulting trade-offs, I imagine, virtually forced it coming to market in something like its current form. To hit the size, high IQ and price targets -- which I reckon to be the "holy trinity" of strategic goals for this camera -- it would not surprise me at all that the rest of the "deficiencies" are the result of conscious decisions that were pretty much unavoidable on an economic basis -- not because of engineering-driven choices.

It may be reasonable to ask whether the camera should have been produced as it is for sub-$1000, or improved and marketed for $1500, $2000 or some other price point. That's part of the product strategy, and I guess Sigma have their reasons. (Time to market may be a big one; it took them long enough to get the relatively simple DP1 to market as it is.) The current price already is too high for some folks who otherwise like the concept. But assuming that the price point was a key piece of the product strategy, then a lot of other things flow directly from that, given the other realities of Sigma's camera business.

I'm just glad they did bring it to market. Partly because I think the camera, even with all of its limits, could be of use to me. I certainly intend to give it a shot. But also partly because it's an innovative move that I hope will help carve out a new product category and lead to better follow-on models.

Sigh. Has anyone seen a review anywhere of the Olympus 25mm f/2 pancake lense?

Jim, You should search for "16mm lens" on google. The first two results are small, fast (f/1.4) 16mm lenses (for cctv cameras).

"when was the last time you saw a fast, light, compact 16mm lens for ANY camera?"

OK, I'll play too! Too big for the DP-1, and not any faster, but the Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical Super-Wide Heliar is pretty small and light...

Royce,
Very interesting points. It would be fascinating if, after a year, we could get comparable sales figure for, say, the Canon G9 and Sigma DP1. I'd bet the former would be many times the latter. Economies of scale do matter in the camera business.

Mike J.

I don't own a DP-1, but I don't think the review gave it a fair shake.

Contrast-detection autofocus is necessarily slower than the phase-detection used in DSLR cameras. Based on what other commenters have said, I don't think the reviewer tried to judge how fast the camera is in manual focus mode. I note that with the wide angle lens of the DP-1, the camera has a very wide depth of field, so zone focusing, or setting at the hyperfocal distance, sounds like a viable strategy.

The reviewer also only shot in RAW. The camera might be faster in JPEG mode because then it writes less data to the memory card.

That said, I'm not sure I'm sold on this camera, it's a one trick pony. It would be ideal for "street photography," and maybe good for certain types of wide-angle landscapes or scenic shots, but not much else. For most landscape, I prefer the zoom range of the Canon G9.

And I'm not sold on the Foveon sensor. I think this would have been a better camera if it used the sensor that's in the Canon 40D, for example. Or maybe even the sensor in the new Olympus E-420 (which seems to be a big improvement of earlier Olympus DSLRs)--and about the E-420, it's only a tiny camera in the marketing hype, in reality it's only slightly smaller than other entry-level DSLRs, which meants it is huge compared to a camera like the DP-1.

I would buy the DP-1 for $400, but I'm not so sure I want to spend $800 for it.

Mike, I could only dream of getting figures like that. Perhaps in a year or so you could make a few calls. :)

In the meanwhile, here is a data point. This week I went into my favorite local camera shop to look at, and perhaps purchase, either or both of the Canon G9 and Sigma DP1. The shop was out of both, including the floor model of the DP1 which meant I couldn't even look at it. There was a floor model of the G9 at least.

I talked to the folks about the two models. They have been blowing through G9's like there's no tomorrow. Their current order is for approximately 100 more G9's. The DP1 has been out for less time, and so far they have only received and sold one shipment, which was 10 units, I believe. They have another 10 on order. Not a scientific sampling, but it gives the flavor of what is likely to play out.

I would not be surprised at all to see a couple of orders of magnitude difference in sales between the G9 and the DP1, over time. The sales curves also will look very different as well; I would guess the G9 curve would ramp far faster than the one for the DP1. The only reason it might be only a couple orders of magnitude difference, is that Canon is far more likely to put out a G10 (and maybe even a G11) much sooner than Sigma is to put out a DP2! :)

Add the fact that the G9 is an incremental evolution of a mature P&S platform, one of a large number of other models from a dominant vendor that has all kinds of economies of design, production, marketing, sales and support. Then compare that to the DP1 which is a new-to-company and new-to-market product based on a fringe imaging technology from a niche player with dramatically less in the way of scale, resources, etc. in any area except the lens components.

Yep, a lot of the digital camera business is dominated by scale factors. And because it's a hyper-obsolescing industry now, too, like most other consumer electronics industries, other factors also can play a bigger role than was perhaps the case with the camera business, historically speaking. This includes stuff like time to market, time to profit, shelf life & windows of competitive advantage, etc. Considering all of this, my hat is off to Sigma for making this happen. I hope it works out.

Mike,

I just hope the figures for the Sigma are enough to encourage one of the big boys to give it a shot. I've done my bit in propping up the figures. I think if you really believe in this product category, it is your duty to do your bit too!

Maybe I'm missing something, but isn't pre-focusing pretty standard technique with rangefinder film cameras? Perhaps that's a more appropriate comparison.

I just got back from my first trip with the DP1 and did find the slow write times to be a frustration. It just takes too long to follow up one shot with another.

But for me there is no alternative. I don't find the image quality of any compact including the G9 to be good enough for my purposes. In the review, the typical regret at capturing an image with a compact is expressed. "I wish I would have had my DSLR". After a 3 day international trip in which I had 3 hours to walk the city and shoot, I'm really glad I had the DP1 and not my Nikon D300. The images are of comparable quality, but I didn't lug pound of camera with me.

I'll keep the DP1 until something better comes along.

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