Sigma DP-1

Incredible image quality from an unusual camera

Sigma DP-1
  • Sigma DP-1
  • Sigma DP-1
  • Sigma DP-1
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Brilliant image quality, basically no chromatic aberration, manual shooting modes, manual focus dial

Cons

  • Very slow, some exposure issues at times, no viewfinder, no RAW+JPEG, poor autofocus, expensive

Bottom Line

Sigma's DP-1 is a very interesting camera. On one hand it captures some of the best shots we've ever seen from a non-SLR camera, making it great for enthusiasts. However it also has slow performance, an annoying interface and lacks a viewfinder. The price will also buy you a good, entry level digital SLR.

Would you buy this?

Sigma's DP-1 is one of the more interesting cameras we've had through the office in recent months. Utilising a Foveon sensor, rather than the more traditional CCD or CMOS, this unit also carries a fixed 28mm lens with no zoom capabilities. While it captures some extremely impressive images, it has numerous issues with speed, interface and usability that mean it will only really suit a select group of people.

The interesting thing about the Foveon sensor is that it isn't all that it seems. While the quoted resolution is 14.1-megapixels the actual output images are merely 4.64Mp. Each pixel is captured by three separate photo-sites on the sensor, each of which records a different colour — theoretically producing a richer picture. It is also considerably larger than regular digital camera sensors, matching some SLRs, which has a huge impact on image quality.

After our tests we can comfortably say that despite the low output resolution, the result is worth it. The DP-1 captures some of the best shots we've seen from a non-SLR camera. They were extremely natural looking: edges weren't at all over sharpened and had a very soft, filmic look. That isn't to say they were blurry — Imatest gave the DP-1 solid scores in its sharpness test.

What was even more impressive was the lens' performance. There was no visible haloing in our high-contrast indoor shots, and only extremely minor purple fringing outdoors. Furthermore, only hints of corner softening could be seen.

Colours were rich without being oversaturated in most instances. We did have a few issues with exposure, however. The camera sometimes seems to struggle to accurately adjust, particularly indoors. This resulted in some pale and washed-out colours.

You can snap away in either RAW or JPEG, although you'll want to use RAW to make the most of this unit. We were slightly disappointed that you can't do a RAW+JPEG shot, but that isn't a huge deal.

Noise performance was impressive. At every sensitivity up to ISO 400 our shots were clean and smooth. ISO 800 saw some extremely fine chroma noise creep in, but it was fairly minimal. One issue caused by higher sensitivities was a change in colour saturation; this again was most evident at ISO 800. The camera doesn't offer anything beyond ISO 800, which may bother some users.

Despite our glowing response to the image quality, the DP-1 isn't without flaws. Most notably, it is one of the slowest cameras we've ever used. Because it takes over 4sec to start up and roughly the same time between shots, you won't be capturing anything spontaneous. Its shutter speed is a slightly more adequate 0.11sec, but the autofocus times adds greatly to this; in total it will take about 1.6sec to capture a shot from start to finish. The interface is also sluggish. Sigma has gone with an animated menu system, which can lag and takes a second to render. This is particularly frustrating as it is the only way to adjust the settings, such as white balance or chainging the focus point.

The feature set is fairly plain and will do nothing to wow users. All the regular manual shooting modes are present (shutter, aperture, program and full manual) as well as video recording and exposure/focus modes. As it has a fixed 28mm lens there is no optical zoom. However, there are wide and telephoto buttons which activate the digital zoom.

Another somewhat nifty inclusion is the manual focus wheel. This may sound like a good option, but we struggled to use it accurately on the small screen, even with the included zoom tool. It is also very easy to knock out of place (it has nothing holding it in place).

Also irritating is the lack of a viewfinder. While you can purchase an external one that attaches to the hot shoe, it doesn't really do a great job of framing your shots and can even be blocked by the shroud if you have that attached.

As with other high-end compacts, the DP-1 has a very boxy, utilitarian reminiscent of older film cameras. We'd call it sophisticated rather than sexy or stylish, but it certainly stands out from the crowd.

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