Sigma DP1 Quattro Review

November 11, 2014 | Mark Goldstein |


The Sigma DP1 Quattro is a compact camera with a newly developed 39-megapixel APS-C sized Foveon X3 Quattro sensor. The DP1 Quattro's unique sensor outputs 5424x3616-pixel raw images at the highest resolution setting, and is comprised of four seperate layers, with three dedicated layers for capturing Red, Green and Blue. The DP1 Quattro also features a 19mm fixed lens (28mm equivalent) with a fast aperture of f/2.8, 8 elements in 6 groups and a 9-bladed diaphragm, TRUE III image processing engine, 3-inch TFT colour monitor with 920,000 dots, full range of creative shooting modes, manual focus ring, external hotshoe, Quick Set button and RAW format support. The Sigma DP1 Quattro officially retails for £899 / $999.

Ease of Use

At the heart of the Sigma DP1 Quattro is a brand new APS-C sized Foveon image sensor. The exact size of the image sensor used in the DP1 Quattro camera is 23.5x15.7mm, slightly larger than the DP1 Merrill's sensor. Sigma are still the only manufacturer to use the Foveon X3 sensor, quoting the resolution of the DP Quattro as 39 megapixels.

The Foveon solution uses 3 layers of stacked on top of each other, with each photodiode capturing all of the RGB data. The Quattro sensor differs from the prvious generation by allocating 20 megapixels to the top layer which records both blue colour and luminance information, and only 4.9 megapixels to the other two layers which record green and then red colour information respectively. Sigma say that this important change offers an an increase in resolution compared to the previous Foveon sensor, along with faster processing times and less noise, at least in the red and green channels.

Sigma and Foveon also continue to claim that the 3-layer approach results in better looking colour images straight out of the camera when compared to a CCD/CMOS sensor. Whilst this may be true, from the user's point of view the final image is 5424x3616 pixels in size, which limits how big you can print or crop the native image without interpolating it in Adobe Photoshop or another application.

Sigma DP1 Quattro
Front of the Sigma DP1 Quattro

The Sigma DP1 Quattro has a very unusual design that's quite unlike any camera that we've seen before. Measuring 161.4mm(W) x 67mm(H) x 87.1mm(D) and weighing 425grams, it's substantially wider and heavier than the DP1 Merrill, no longer fitting into a coat pocket. It's much too wide and bulky for that, primarily because of the lens housing which protrudes about 4cms out from the front of the camera body, not to mention the angular hand-grip. The DP1 Quattro becomes even more cumbersome if you add the optional VF-41 optical viewfinder and/or the LH4-01 lenshood.

Utilising an aluminium alloy body, the Sigma DP1 Quattro is an exceedingly well built camera, certainly up there with the best that the other manufacturers have to offer. The DP1 Quattro has an under-stated, all-black appearance with a subtly textured surface, and together with the heavier weight this lends the camera a professional look and feel. The all-metal tripod mount directly inline with the centre of the lens is a giveaway sign that this is intended to be a serious camera (most compacts have a plastic mount squeezed into one of the corners).

The 19mm, F/2.8 lens dominates the front of the camera. Offering a fixed-focal length of 28mm in 35mm camera terms, the lens doesn't extend when the camera is turned on. The construction of the lens feels rock-solid with no play at all in the metal lens barrel. The DP1 Quattro has a tactile manual focus ring, which makes it much easier to operate the camera if you prefer that way of focusing. Sadly it doesn't over-ride the auto-focus mode though, which would have been a nice feature, although the manual focus assist complete with on-screen magnification is a nice touch.

Obviously the fixed-focal 19mm lens, equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm camera, will immediately put a lot of people off the DP1 Quattro. If you want a different focal length, then the DP2 Quattro has an equivalent 45mm lens, or the DP3 Quattro has a 75mm lens. 28mm is a good focal length for both candid street and more formal landscape photography, and the combination of the DP1 Merrill's lens and every photographer's constant companion, their legs, proves to be more versatile than you might first think. The maximum aperture of f/2.8 and the large APS-C sensor makes it easy to blur the background and importantly makes the camera more versatile in low-light.

Sigma DP1 Quattro
Rear of the Sigma DP1 Quattro

The DP1 Quattro has a subtly sloped handgrip with a small leatherette area which helps you to keep a firmer hold, although we'd have liked to see a much bigger area covered by this material. Unusually the DP1 Quattro grip is bigger at the rear of the camera than the front, an arrangement that we could never, ahem, quite get to grips with properly, especially as the Focus button and Control Pad are located where your right thumb naturally wants to sit, while the metal lug for the shoulder strap digs into your fingers. The DP1 Quattro's handgrip is definitely distinctive, but it has a rather detrimental effect on the camera's handling.

The 3 inch LCD screen on the rear displays 100% of the image and the 920,000 pixel resolution is good, plus there are a couple of options for increasing or decreasing the brightness of the screen if you don't like the default setting. Rather strangely the DP1 Quattro's looks bigger than it really is at first glance, until you realise that the 3-inch LCD is positioned within a much bigger glass panel, with a tiny activity LED on one side and Play button on the other.

If you'd prefer using an optical viewfinder to frame your images, Sigma offers the optional VF-41 viewfinder, which fits into the flash hotshoe on top of the camera (you can also use other third-party viewfinders with the DP1 Quattro). This system does give you a choice, but it comes at the cost of not being able to use the optical viewfinder and an external flashgun at the same time, and also the hefty literal cost of £180.

Just like a DSLR, the DP1 Quattro offers both JPEG and RAW recording formats. There are 3 different JPEG compression levels (Fine, Normal, Basic), three resolution settings (Super-high, High Low) and a choice of five crop modes (21:9, 16:9, 3:2, 4:3 and 1:1). The RAW files are saved in the Sigma X3F format, which currently can only be processed using the free to download Sigma Photo Pro RAW 6 image developer (not supplied in the box). Sigma Photo Pro is a simple, straight-forward but rather slow application that doesn't compare that well with Lightroom or Photoshop in terms of features, but gets the job done and is free of charge. We really wish that Sigma would support the Adobe DNG format so that we could use our favourite processing software from day one. Note that if you shoot in the RAW mode, you can't also choose the Super-High resolution in-camera, although you can develop the RAW file into a Super-High file using Sigma Photo Pro in post-processing.

Sigma DP1 Quattro
Side of the Sigma DP1 Quattro

The start-up time from turning the Sigma DP1 Quattro on to being ready to take a photo is OK at around 1.5 seconds. It takes around 10 seconds to store RAW files, although thankfully you can take another shot almost straight-away, which addresses one of our main criticisms of the previous Merrill generation. The DP1 Quattro even has a respectable burst mode of 3.5fps should you feel the need, although it can only capture 7 RAW/High files before the camera locks-up completely for a few seconds. Still, it's a big improvement on the DP1 Quattro's predecessors.

The Sigma DP1 Quattro offers a full range of advanced exposure controls via the Mode button on top of the camera, including aperture-priority, shutter-priority, manual and manual focusing, with Auto and Program AE modes catering for the less experienced and three Custom modes so that you can save and recall your preferred settings. There are no auto-everything or scene modes on this camera, which is a veritable breath of fresh air at a time when most manufacturers are stuffing their cameras full of clever technologies that take control away from the user. The aperture or shutter speed are set by using the forefinger-operated control dial on top of the camera which encircles the shutter button, with a new smaller control dial just behind the first one setting the aperture in the Manual shooting mode and exposure compensation in the other modes.

The DP1 Quattro has three metering modes, Evaluative Metering, Center Weighted Average Metering and Spot Metering. Exposure compensation can be set in 1/3 stop increments from +3.0 to -3.0 stops and a simple auto bracketing function is also available.

Auto-focusing remains one of the weaker points of the DP1 Quattro. There are 9 focusing points to choose from and three point sizes, but you can only select one at a time, with no multi-AF point system that virtually all other cameras have. There's a dedicated button (down on the navigation pad) for choosing the focus point, but it's still easier and quicker to set the focus to the middle point, then focus by half-pressing the shutter button and recompose the frame for off-centre subjects. The DP1 Quattro's autofocus system still isn't exactly what you'd call snappy, especially in low-light. It usually locks onto the subject eventually, but there's a noticeable 0.5 second delay that doesn't make this camera particularly good for action photography. Note that the DP1 Quattro does now have a built-in focus assist lamp, unusually located on the lens barrel.

Sigma DP1 Quattro
Top of the Sigma DP1 Quattro

Manual Focus is also available, which obviously avoids the auto-focus lag and speeds up the camera. The DP1 Quattro has a dedicated manual focus ring on the lens barrel. It is possible to magnify the LCD display by 8x to check the focusing by pressing the OK button, although this doesn't provide enough magnification or clarity to ensure precise focus. The Sigma DP1 Quattro doesn't have a built-in pop-flash unit, just an optional flashgun which fits in the external hotshoe directly above the lens. Sigma suggest that you use the optional EF-140S external flashgun with the DP1 Quattro.

A dedicated lens hood is the final optional accessory for the DP1 Quattro. This blocks out extraneous light and helps avoid flare, useful given the wide-angle nature of the lens, although unfortunately we didn't have one to test. The lens hood also includes a hood adapter which is designed to accept a 46mm lens filter, so you can add things like a polarizer, UV or close-up macro filter. The closest distance that you can focus on a subject is 20cms away from the camera when it's set to Full Focus mode, so you'll need to buy the lens hood and then fit a third-party close-up macro filter if you want to get really close to your subject.

It's fair to say that movies aren't exactly the Sigma DP1 Quattro's strong point, in that Sigma have now completely removed video recording. The battery life has thankfully been improved, with a CIPA quoted life of 200 shots - we managed 180 images before needing to recharge. Sigma have also commendably decided to continue supplying two batteries in the box, despite the much better battery life (the DP1 Merrill could only manage around 80 shots per charge).

The main menu system on the Sigma DP1, accessed by pressing the Menu button above the navigation pad, is still rather rudimentary but simple to use. There are three tabs along the top, Camera, Play and Settings, subdivided into 5, 2 and 4 screens of options respectively. Due to the large LCD screen and restricting the number of on-screen choices to 5, the various options and icons are quite clear and legible, and each option uses a combination of text and helpful small icon.

Sigma DP1 Quattro
The Sigma DP1 Quattro In-hand

The more intuitive Quick Set menu is accessed via the QS button above the Menu button, as the name suggests providing quicker access to eight key features - ISO, Metering, Burst Mode, White Balance,, Image Size, Image Resolution, Crop Mode and Colour Mode. The navigation pad keys and rear control dial are then used to select the various options for each feature.

Once you have captured a photo, the Sigma DP1 Quattro has a rather limited range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (9 onscreen at once), zoom in and out up to 10x magnification, view slideshows with various configurable options, set the print order, record a soundclip, lock, mark, and rotate an image.

The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, and there is a small histogram available during playback and also when taking a picture. You can also turn on the useful Exposure Warning which shows a flashing red area for any overexposed parts of a recorded image. When taking a photo, pressing the Display button toggles between the detailed information, the small histogram with an electronic level, a status screen with no live preview, and turning the LCD screen off.

In summary the Sigma DP1 Quattro is a no-frills, niche camera that most people won't see the point of, but which a minority will be delighted by. Despite improvements to the processing speed, it's still a camera that is best suited to slow-moving or stationary subjects, while you'll either love or hate the unconventional design.