It pains me to write this. It really does. In so many ways, Sigma has made a valiant effort to create the kind of camera I first called for four years ago, and that I think is still needed in the marketplace: the DP2 is a true compact, with a fixed lens of highly utilitarian focal length and acceptable lens speed, yet with a DSLR-sized sensor. Compliments of a generous reader (thanks again, T.J.!), I had a chance to shoot with a DP2 for a few days last week.
My reaction could be confined to the two sentences in the second-to-last paragraph of this post, except that would be the world's shortest camera review.
The good news is that Sigma did two of the most important things very well: the lens in this camera is superb, and the sensor's image quality is beguiling. Despite one or two minor IQ oddities that I consider basically inconsequential, the overall look of the image files is distinctive and remarkably pleasing. These two important parameters are good enough that for some people, the results that are possible could be worth putting up with the camera. In some ways, DP2 images look better than what I get from my DSLRs.
The bad news is that the camera is slow. I mean like 2002 all over again.
The only way to get good shutter responsiveness in AF mode is to pre-focus, but as soon as the action around you fires up to more than leisurely-stroll-level, pre-focusing seems to take forever. It takes so long that you can't even pre-focus directly on moderately fast moving subjects, because the subject moves before the camera can lock on to it! As for throughput...well, when a camera uses an hourglass symbol to indicate progress writing a single picture to the card and you find yourself not infrequently watching that hourglass symbol as you wait to take the next shot....
The DP2 is a camera that would virtually force you to work out a method that it's capable of and that's acceptable to you in order for you to use it, virtually to the point that it would dictate the kind of subject matter you could use it for. At least comfortably. If you shoot almost exclusively static subjects at middle distances or greater, it could work. Sean Reid describes using it with a clip-on optical viewfinder for medium-distance subjects outdoors, guesstimating focus distance with the handy manual-focusing wheel. (In my past experience, this works reasonably well at middle apertures for subjects farther away from us than we are tall, roughly—with practice. For closer subjects, like maybe four or five feet on in, you often need more exact focus, so you'd either need to be really good at the aforementioned guesstimation or switch to AF.) You'll also be better off shooting JPEG, so the camera has a chance to keep up with you. Shooting raw with the DP2 is like walking holding hands with a three-year-old: it's just gonna slow you down.
For me, the camera's egregious lack of responsiveness makes it a non-starter. Workarounds are all well and good, but I would just prefer to have a camera that works better.
I wanted to like the Sigma DP2. I really did. But it's like a tripod with two legs: what's missing overwhelms what's done well. I have to call a personal verdict of "not recommended."
(Thanks to Ted Johnson)
UPDATE: I just found out the camera I used last week did not have the latest firmware, which is said to improve AF speed. So add a grain of salt—or another one, if you disagree with what I said—to my comments about that. —Mike
Featured Comment by Colin Work: "The problem with workarounds with the DP2 (and many other cameras) is that they were not designed to support this.
"Old film cameras were designed for manual focus and a pleasure to use in this way as well as being quick.
"When technology works well, great, but when it doesn't, trying to work around it is generally worse than not having the technology at all—try retuning a modern TV when you've lost the remote!
"For me, the best cameras (old and new) are those which reduce the need to take the camera into consideration when shooting. An old manual film camera achieves an almost perfect level of 'transparency'—it works pretty much exactly as fast as you can think and react.
"Very few DSLRs in my experience can match this...my 1D3 comes close, but even then I occasionally have to make a focus point change when it 'mis-locks.'
"From what I read, the DP2 has nothing like the level of transparency I would want. Yes, IQ is very important—but of no value whatsoever if the critical moment is missed.
"I think we will wait a long time for the perfect DMD—not because it can't be made, but because the manufacturers will not risk bringing a stripped down, feature-limited camera to market. We may get a usable DMD, but only by using a sub-section of an otherwise highly spec'd (and priced) camera."