By Roger Suppona
It didn't take long into the ownership of my first DSLR for me to realize that a heavy slab of a camera would not be the best choice for many occasions. So I've been on a somewhat futile search for a carry-around camera that would be the digital equivalent of the classic 35mm rangefinders like those from Yashica, Canon, Minolta, etc.: Competent devices with decent lenses. The Sigma DP2 is my current choice as their equivalent. And, as Ken notes in his review, the DP2's got issues.
The DP2 shines a bright light on a sad fact: purchasing a "prosumer-grade" digital point-and-shoot camera is to understand and accept that you will not get what you want. You will get a subset of what you want. For everything else you will either do without or you will accept the manufacturer's methods and specifications for those features you once deemed "must haves." Imagine if the DSLR side of the house was run that way. There are certainly compromises to be made when choosing a DSLR, but I'd argue that many of them result from brand loyalty or very specific requirements.
I'm into my third attempt at ownership of a small, high-quality digital camera. My DP2's predecessors were a Konica-Minolta A2 followed by a Canon G9. The A2's battery life was about as bad as the DP2's. The vertical grip/two battery holder was pretty much required and pretty much made the A2 as bulky as a DSLR. Couple that with a sensor and firmware that turned images captured at speeds over ISO 100 into mush. Still, it had a fly-by-wire focus ring mounted on the lens; manual focus was a dream compared to most digital P&S cameras. The G9 almost made it to ISO 800 before its images turned to mush. The viewfinder was useless enough that it could have been omitted. Manual focus was fiddly and shoving it into or taking it out of a pocket generally resulted in some dial getting twisted from its intended setting. More than once I was confused by the camera's antics until I figured out it had ended up in video mode. For all that it was one well-built camera. It felt right in the hand and turned out very nice images at sensitivities below 800.
point-and-shoot camera is to understand that you will not get what you want. You will get a subset of what you want.'
Now there is my DP2. I've owned it for about a month. What a ride: It has locked up three times (but not since I've since updated the firmware to v. 1.01). I thought it was defective the first time I experienced the cacophony that is the sound of its autofocus. The icons on the black buttons are also black. I have to remember which menu-entry point has the thing that I want to do. I suspect I will end up with a third battery to overcome the camera's electrical gluttony. Despite all of that, I'm picking up the DP2 and taking it out and using it almost every day.
I want to learn this camera, understand its weak and strong points and figure out how to make it all work. It's a love-hate relationship that seems worth the effort. I did not feel the same way about the A2 or the G9. Blame it on the sensor and the glass in front of it. I like the look of the images that come off the DP2's lens/sensor combination. I described it in my comment to Ken's review as "film-like." I can't think of a better quality for any lens/sensor combination.
The glass works well: It's a fixed-focal length that opens to ƒ/2.8. It's field of view is equivalent to a 41mm lens. Close enough to my favorite focal length of 35mm. A sweet wide-normal lens with a practical maximum aperture; life is good. Then there's the sensor. It's DSLR-class in a P&S body. There's a pushed-processed film look to its ISO 1600 images that work very well when converted to monochrome. It's as if Sigma decided to embrace sensor noise rather than fight or obfuscate it. I've not played with ISO 3200 much but there are excellent examples on the web. I'll get around to trying 3200, but I suspect that 1600 will be my top end: I like its look. On the low end is ISO 50; more opportunities to shoot wide open.
About that green cast. Mine has it under certain conditions. It is easy to spot if I make a test shot through the Chinese "white balance" lens cap I've stuck on it. But otherwise I have a hard time seeing it. I convert my images to monochrome so I'm not going to agonize over it. I do hope that it can be corrected or at least the conditions identified that contribute to the effect. I've noticed that it's less pronounced when I process images via the new release candidate version of Adobe Camera Raw instead of Sigma's software, so there's hope.
The DP2 is Good Enough. I would recommend one to a friend. It would be an Informed Consent, The Usual Disclaimers Apply, Your Mileage May Vary sort of recommendation. It's a good camera that's much more capable than my duffer-class photographic ability. I don't know if Sigma is listening to all of the yammering about the various issues folks are having with the DP2. I hope that they are and that they will take them to heart should they announce a DP3.
This camera's got legs. They just need to be a bit stronger. Regardless, I'm keeping mine and investing time to learn how to use it.