Sigma DP1 Review
Review Date: April 21st 2008
Author: Mark Goldstein
Ratings (out of 5)
|Value for Money||
The Sigma DP1 offers the best image quality, JPEG or RAW, of any compact camera currently available today and in many ways equals DSLR cameras with APS-C sized sensors. There is virtually no noise throughout the ISO range, only at the fastest setting of ISO 800, which left me wondering why Sigma didn't extend the range to ISO 1600 and make the DP1 more versatile in low-light. Chromatic aberrations like purple and green-fringing, typically a problem in this class of camera, are simply non-existent on the DP1, testament to the excellent lens, which is also the reason for the almost complete lack of pincushion or barrel distortion. Although it's slower than many people would like, the DP1's lens is a very important part of its armory.
The X3F sensor produces wonderful looking photos, but be aware that the quoted 14.06 megapixel resolution isn't comparable to a Bayer sensor, in that it creates much smaller 2652×1768 pixel images which you'll need to interpolate for larger print sizes. The DP1's flash is under-powered, but there is the option of fitting a flashgun to the hotshoe, and the macro performance of 30cms is poor but can again be improved by fitting the optional lens hood and a close-up filter.
In terms of features, ease-of-use and performance, the case for the DP1 is much less clearcut. I'll already assume that you haven't ruled out this camera because of its fixed 28mm lens, which obviously makes the DP1 a non-starter for a lot of people. It's also not as small as you might think, being comparable to the Canon Powershot G9, especially if you add the optional viewfinder which slots into the hotshoe. The DP1 has a distinctly back-to-basics feel with only the bare minimum of features, something which I actually enjoyed after recently testing cameras offering all the detection technologies under the sun.
Sigma have also made more than a few strange design decisions. Selecting the aperture and shutter speed using the left and right navigation pad buttons is all well and good, but having a dedicated control dial as on a DSLR camera, or even using the digital zoom buttons which naturally fall under your right thumb, would have speeded things up. The manual focus dial is a welcome addition, but it freely rotates with no clickable positions, causing it to often be changed when stored in a pocket. Virtually every important function, such as ISO speed, white balance and AF point, is buried in the menu system, and even the humble lens cap is a source of frustration, as it isn't tethered to the camera and has to be mounted on the lens at a certain angle.
You should forget the Sigma DP1 if you're interested in photographing anything fast-moving. The contrast detection auto-focus system, whilst accurate nearly 100% of the time even in low-light, has a noticeable time-lag when locking onto the subject, and you can only use one of the nine AF points at a time. Selecting the central AF point and pre-focusing on an area or switching to manual focus is a better idea if you need to focus quickly. The DP1 also suffers terribly from slow file write times. Despite using a fast SDHC card, RAW files took around 7 seconds to store and best quality JPEGs 2 seconds, which is simply inexcusable on a camera that claims to offer a DSLR-like experience. The DP1 can commendably take 3 frames per second in either full-sized JPEG or RAW, but don't expect to be able to use the camera for another 10-15 seconds.
Finally, there's the frankly terrifying price-tag. At $800 / £550, the Sigma DP1 costs as much as either the Canon EOS 450D, Nikon D60, Olympus E-420 and Sony A350 DSLRs, all complete with kit lenses. All of these DSLRs offer comparable if not better image quality, larger ISO range, better handling, greater versatility and faster performance, but crucially none of them will fit in your pocket. The DP1 is the first ever camera to straddle the divide between compact and DSLR, and Sigma are certainly milking that fact for all it's worth.
So in summary, the Sigma DP1 is a camera that demands a lot of patience and understanding, but also one that rewards you with fantastic image quality, albeit at a hefty price. I think it will come to be seen a break-through camera, especially if it sells well and inspires the other manufacturers to follow suit and release similar products, but the DP1 is certainly not the right choice for everyone. If it does match your photographic vision, though, the Sigma DP1 will reward you with simply breath-taking images, which in my view are well worth the high price of admission.
PhotographyBLOG is a member of the DIWA organisation. Our test results for the Sigma DP1 have been submitted to DIWA for comparison with test results for different samples of the same camera model supplied by other DIWA member sites.