Sometimes I suspect that one reason companies announce things so far in advance of their actual release is because it means they get to show the product at more than one photo show. I noticed (with a certain bemusement) that Pentax is announcing its medium-format digital camera yet again. This thing has been doing duty as an upcoming product at photo shows for so many years now that I wonder if it qualifies as some sort of Orwellian perma-vaporware, as unending as the distant wars in 1984 (or Afghanistan). I'll probably have snow-white hair and not be able to remember the way to my rocker and I'll still be reading about the Pentax medium-format digital camera that's just about to be released. Generally, it seems a condition of the New World: seasons flash past with a cloud of promised products always hovering tantalizingly just out of view. Imagine the money our strapped car companies could save if they could keep showing the same new models and the same concept cars at show after show, year after year. It would sure beat the challenge of having to come up with something new for every exhibition.
Sigma has renewed its promissory note for its upcoming DP2 large-sensor compact at Las Vegas, by unveiling a flashy website (the adjective is chosen advisedly) with some impressive new samples, one of which is above. Sigma can take its time with the DP2 as far as I'm concerned, though, as long as it gets the details right when the product finally gets here. The first iteration of the concept—the DP1—was fascinating, but some of its highlights were, um, lowlights, mainly having to do with several kinds of speed—lens speed, for one, and raw throughput speed if I remember correctly. Many wholly-new products are vastly improved by their second major iteration, however, after the product's public has time to sort out its pecadilloes and the project engineers have time to respond.
You can't really tell a whole lot from a website that moves slowly from scenic to scenic with soporific Satie in the background, or from a handful of online samples. But one thing I could tell from the samples is that ƒ/2.8 is likely to be a fully usable aperture on the DP2. Remember, with lenses—especially fixed ones—especially slowish fixed ones—it's not only important what the widest aperture is, it's also important that the widest aperture be fully usable. Meaning, the performance wide open can't exact too much of an optical penalty, something wide-open apertures often do. Long ago I had a camera that I really liked that had a fixed ƒ/4 lens, but the lens ended up limiting the camera too much: ƒ/4 was a useless aperture. Performance was so bad at that setting that you had to stop down at least to ƒ/5.6 to get it to behave. And that was just too slow in those days, pretty much limiting shooting to broad daylight. I lugged around a tripod with that camera for a while, and did take some very nice pictures with it, but what the experience mainly taught me was that I do not want to lug around a tripod.
But I digress. The point is that five of Sigma's 17 sample DP2 images were shot wide open, enough to make it easy to see that the DP2's faster ƒ/2.8 lens's ƒ/2.8 aperture is plenty sharp enough to make it a fully usable setting (the earring is a tiny detail of the second-to-last sample—sharp enough for me). So, then, good news—so far. Let's hope that that langorous Satie is not a reflection on the new camera's responsiveness in other respects. Now we resume waiting, patiently, still with our fingers crossed and our eyes on the prize, hoping not too many more shows go past before this interesting camera actually appears.
UPDATE: The U.K. magazine Amateur Photographer is reporting that the DP2 is due in the U.S. later this month, with U.K. availability still several months away. Thanks to William Wragg for this intelligence.