By Laurence Matson
Modern photography is rife with Holy Grails, and certainly one of them is the reinvention of the street shooter’s ideal camera as originally embodied in the Leica M series—and in the hands of Henri Cartier-Bresson.
H.C.-B. is to street photography as Ansel Adams is to landscape photography. These three and other icons used a specific tool and molded their defining concept around the tool. The tool essentially becomes a defining factor in how you take pictures.
When Sigma set out to develop the DP series of cameras, they had a specific concept in mind: to house the technology of their DSLR cameras in a pocketable device. One of the models used during the concept phase was the Leica M. Although not pocketable and certainly not digital at the time, it was considered the first true street shooter’s camera.
At photokina 2006, Sigma showed the first concept of the DP1. It was small enough to fit in a large pocket and promised best-of-class image quality with the first APC-size imager in a compact camera. For many, this was the Holy Grail.
But no sooner was the DP1 announced than the discussions about performance began. And there was plenty of time for them; the time delay between the concept camera shown at photokina and the final version shown at PMA 2007 was considered horrendously long, to say nothing of the period from PMA 2007 and the final launch of the finished product. The longer this discussion went on, the greater the expectations—and skepticism—became.
What prospective users underestimated—and in some cases, what Sigma employees before an open mike admitted to underestimating—was the challenge of packing so much technology inside such a tiny package, and doing it for the first time. An honest appraisal of the DP1 was that they succeeded at the time of launch, but just barely. Firmware updates followed quickly to handle major issues, and adept users managed to produce some amazing images. But it was clear to many that a future DP camera would require more horsepower for processing and some changes to the interface.
Enter the DP2. Once again, anticipation and expectations were high, and some felt that the "little camera with outstanding image quality" came up short. However, Devices are rarely perfect, and never are in the eyes of all. Devices have an intended function and propose through their designs how to go about it. Ultimately, the buyer has to decide whether the device suits his or her needs or not.
In my opinion and from my experience, the DP2 makes a very good street camera. It is not perfect, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Here is how I use it for that purpose:
• Set the camera to M mode on the dial, and adjust the ISO, shutter speed and f-stop for the prevailing conditions. I tend to set it for ƒ/8 and adjust the shutter speed on the fly as light conditions change. If my final result will be B&W, I only adjust the ISO using the QS menu.
• Set focus to MF and use the wheel to set it for a hyperfocal point around 1.5–2 meters. Again, this can be adjusted on the fly.
• Use the fastest card you can. I use 32 GB Delkin class 4 cards. There might be faster cards around now.
• Use the OVF and keep both eyes open to see the action evolve. Capturing the moment is about anticipation.
• Turn off the LCD. It is a distraction.
Set up like this, I can capture an image every two to three seconds for as long as I want. There is no shutter lag.
If there is a company out there that listens to what its users want, it is Sigma. This has been shown time and again in their response with new firmware or products. As we move towards the DP3 and beyond, it is good for people to discuss problems openly in forums or blog comments. But as with any criticism, the constructive form is best, and this acknowledges what is right as well as what could use improvement.
Laurence Matson, one of the initiators and stalwarts of the Sigma Users Group, describes himself as a "strong Sigma and Foveon proponent." I invited him to write this "counterpoint" when he criticized my take on the recently introduced Sigma DP2. —MJ