Sigma DP2 Quattro Review – A Compact Camera That Catches The Eye

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The first time I heard of new cameras launched by Sigma I had my doubts. I didn’t know what to first look at: the design that’s totally different from what I had seen so far, or at the technical specifications. Of course, I was captivated by the appearance of the camera. The first in a series of three announced was the Sigma DP2 Quattro, a compact camera that’s an attention grabber as soon as you see it.

I admit that I started off with some preconceived thoughts on this camera, so as soon as I received it for tests, I set off to either confirm or dispel them. My main thinking was, this is a camera that sports good looks to the detriment of technical specs. As you will see throughout the review I was proven wrong in some respects. And I was glad that it was so. Let’s see what it was all about.

Sigma DP2 Quattro-technical specifications

  • The Foveon X3 Quattro sensor with an equivalent resolution of 39 megapixels:

The new sensor is structured on three planes, the pixels being distributed at a ratio of 1:1:4 between the top, middle and bottom layers. The first layer, the upper, captures both colors and brightness, while the bottom captures only the colors. Throughout the process the intensity of the light captured on the first layer is transferred automatically to the pixels of the other two planes.

Thanks to this new sensor model, the manufacturer claims that the images have better resolution, with more details and more natural colors, the nuances being true-to-reality.

  • TRUE III image processor:

The image processor is also structured on three levels. Information (both light intensity and colors) is processed separately for each level of the sensor. The result is a crisp image, with well rendered details, with a 3D feel to them.

  • 30mm f/2.8 lens:

That is the equivalent of 45mm on a full-frame D-SLR. I wondered at first why a fixed lens and not one with zoom. I realized later, seeking more information and discussing with Sigma representatives, that the main reason is the compatibility between lens and sensor. At this focal length, the lens is built in such a way as to deliver very good results on the new type of sensor. A zoom lens would have made the whole process more complex, would have increased the price (which is high anyway, but let’s keep in mind that this is a camera from the premium segment) and, most certainly, the overall size of the camera.

Why not make it with interchangeable lenses then? The answer is the same. With an eye to maintaining a certain standard in terms of image quality, it was difficult to implement a system of interchangeable lenses. The picture quality might have been damaged and there would have been huge compatibility issues between the lenses and the sensor that I just mentioned.

  • The body is cast of magnesium;
  • The QS button offers quick access to eight of the most used functions of the camera;
  • There is a wheel to control aperture and another for controlling exposure (can be switched between them);
  • The focus system has 9 points, covering a large area at the center of the frame;
  • The camera generates 14-bit RAW files (not common in compact cameras);
  • Continuous shooting at 7 frames per second;
  • ISO sensitivity reaches up to 6.400;
  • Works with SD/SDHC cards;
  • No optical viewfinder;
  • No video shooting;
  • Weight of the camera is 410 grams.

And now let’s see how well it did during the tests I made. The Sigma DP2 Quattro is available at the price of $999.

Ergonomics – How useful is the camera’s design?

At first glance it doesn’t seem to allow for a comfy handling. But that’s not the case. The device fits well in hand, and the grip on the back (the majority of the cameras have it in front) makes it easy to use regardless of the position in which you hold your hand when you photograph. Its shape also makes it comfortable to hold on the shoulder and tuck it flat on the hip.

Details test – Day Photos – ISO 100-200

I must confess that I haven’t seen many compacts up to now to render details so well in day time. So sharp, so crisp and with colors extremely close to reality. I was pleasantly surprised when, transferring the images to the computer, I could observe how well the details were rendered. In my experience, it is hard to get pictures so sharp right out of the camera with a compact, albeit a premium one.

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But before observing the details, let’s ee the whole photos. The Foveon sensor has a wide dynamic range and retained a large number of details in both the bright and shaded areas. A wide dynamic range makes the subsequent processing of photos easier, and makes it easy to convert to HDR from a single frame. Have a look at these images on the beach.

And now let’s check out the details. The pictures you see below are crops between 75 and 100%. All the frames were made in JPEG format and are as they came out of the camera. You don’t really need the RAWs if you photograph under good light conditions. One more thing to mention: the frames were not made at the maximum resolution of 39 megapixels, but 25 megapixels instead. I think that’s more than enough for most cases. Let’s see the crops.

Photos at sunrise or what you can get by processing the photos taken with the Sigma DP2 Quattro

Some hours later (about 15 hours after I’ve taken the photos above, to be exact) I photographed the sunrise on the beach, in Mamaia, Romania. I witnessed one of my most beautiful sunrises yet. And I had the good fortune to find a beach that looked peculiar, just a few minutes before the Sun went high above the horizon.

The photos were done in Aperture priority mode, all being taken between f/2.8 and f/4, at an ISO sensitivity range between 100 and 400. The images were taken out of hand, in JPEG format, and then edited in Adobe Lightroom. In short I did the following: I reduced the brightness a little in the burned out areas, I added more light in the shaded areas, then I increased the contrast and brightness of the colors, and added a “fade” effect by raising in Curves the level of the dark areas.

At the end I added some sharpness, and you can see the results below. And keep in mind that I started from a JPEG. Of course, this is not something very complicated, but it’s enough to show that the JPEGs from the DP2 Quattro allow for an image processing without detail loss and artifact formation.

Nevertheless, I noticed two things:

  • There appears around the Sun (in the original photos also) a disk of a reddish/orange tint;
  • The lens generates a flare like I haven’t seen before, of red color. It has an unusual shape, but it’s easy to get rid of it if you frame carefully.

Continuous shooting mode at 7 frames per second

The Sigma DP2 Quattro can photograph at 7 frames per second (including in RAW format). The only thing that bothered me was the buffer being too small. Maybe it was because of the card. Although I don’t think it caused the problem. It’s a very fast SDHC card, which so far didn’t have a problem in various other cameras.

So I concluded that the internal memory buffer is quite small, and that makes you wait for a few seconds after you’ve taken the seven frames while they are copied to the card. It doesn’t take long, but you still have to wait those few seconds. The same happened with other memory cards that I tried. Have a look at the photos.

Photos in dim light – ISO 400-800-1,600

Unfortunately in the area of low light photography, I cannot say that the new Sigma compact is the best choice. Although the pictures look good, from ISO 800 up the hues of the colors are affected quite a lot (in particular those from the red/yellow range). If you are careful you can avoid these situations, but not always.

You can see the photos below. Those taken outdoors are at ISO 400, and those inside are at ISO 800. The last frame at the subway is taken at ISO 1,600. To the credit of the camera, I must tell that it behaves very well up to ISO 800. Above that, problems common to compact cameras start to affect the image and the colors at the same time.

Here are a few crops at 100% from the same pictures. As I said, with a little care you can get successful shots. Just that the chances that they might not come out exactly as you would expect grow significantly with the increase in ISO sensitivity from 800 to 1,600.

To add, I believe that the main reason for this is the camera’s sensor. It is much harder to control the results at high ISO sensitivities when you have a sensor with a resolution so high. It is for this very reason that the Hasselblad with 60MP sensor gives very good results at ISO 100-200, 400 max. Above these values, the results are not usable. The explanation is the same.

Creative modes – The Sunset Mode

The Sigma DP2 Quattro allows you to photograph in some 10 creative modes. You can isolate colors, shoot in black and white and in all the other ways found in most cameras of the same class. However, one caught my eye in particular. It is the Sunset mode, which behaves much better at sunset or sunrise and gives good results even at high ISOs (the following frames are made at ISO 800 and 1600). Thumbs up for this mode!

Conclusions – pros and cons

The Sigma DP2 Quattro is a compact camera that behaves perfectly during the day. Maybe it’s one of the best compact cameras for day time photography. The image quality decreases, however, with the increase in ISO sensitivity close to the 1,600 mark. However, I don’t think it’s a solid reason to count out this camera from the list of premium compacts to purchase.

The sensor, the details and the colors displayed in day photos, its solid build and the fixed lens with wide aperture makes the Sigma DP2 Quattro a good choice for a large number of photography-taking situations.

Sigma DP2 Quattro is available at the price of $999

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