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Review: Sigma DP2x

by Mike Pouliot on 08/10/2011

Like most photographers, I’m a big fan of manufacturers stuffing large sensors into small cameras. Sigma was one of the first companies to do this with the DP1. While the DP1 had a big sensor in a relatively small body, the odd controls, cryptic menu system, lackluster feature set and sluggish handling hindered the DP1 from being a truly great camera. Since the DP1, Sigma has released several updates updates to the DP line which have not been met with the same fanfare as some of its rivals like Micro Four Thirds (MFT) systems and other advanced compacts (e.g. Panasonic LX – 5). Sigma recently released the latest version of the “DP” line, the DP2x. So has Sigma been able to iron out all of the issues with their large sensor compact? Let’s find out.

Specifications

It’s not secret that the real selling point of the DP2x is the sensor. Sigma managed to stuff a fairly large sensor into a small body. So how big is the sensor? Well, it’s bigger than MFT but it’s smaller than an APS-C  sensor. What does this mean for the photographer? Better ISO/noise performance and better dynamic range which should equate to better overall image quality.

Format FOVEON  X3® Direct Image Sensor (CMOS)
Image Sensor Size 20.7×13.8mm (0.8 inch×0.5 inch)
Number of Pixels Total Pixel 14.45MP (2,688×1,792×3 layers)
Effective Pixels 14.06MP (2,652×1,768×3 layers)
Aspect Ratio 3:2
Focal Length 24.2mm F2.8 (35mm Equivalent Focal Length:41mm)
Lens Construction 6 Groups 7 Elements
Shooting Range 28cm – ∞ (Full Mode)
Storage Media SD Card / Compatible with SDHC, Multi Media Card
Recording Format Exif2.21, DCF2.0, DPOF
Recording Mode Lossless compression RAW data (12-bit), JPEG (High, Wide, Medium, Low), Movie (AVI)
Voice memo to still image (10 sec./30 sec.), Voice recording (WAV)
File Size(Number of Pixels) RAW High Approx. 15.4MB (2,640×1,760)
JPEG High Fine Approx. 3.3MB (2,640×1,760)
Normal Approx. 1.9MB (2,640×1,760)
Basic Approx. 1.4MB (2,640×1,760)
Wide Fine Approx. 2.7MB (2,640×1,485)
Normal Approx. 1.6MB (2,640×1,485)
Basic Approx. 1.2MB (2,640×1,485)
Medium Fine Approx. 1.6MB (1,872×1,248)
Normal Approx. 0.9MB (1,872×1,248)
Basic Approx. 0.7MB (1,872×1,248)
Low Fine Approx. 0.8MB (1,312×880)
Normal Approx. 0.5MB (1,312×880)
Basic Approx. 0.3MB (1,312×880)
File Size/Movie

QVGA:320×240 (30 Frames Per Second) “Approximately 30minutes is possible with a 1GB SD Card.”

White Balance 8 types (Auto, Sunlight, Shade, Overcast, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, Custom)
Color Mode 7 types (Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Portrait, Landscape, B&W, Sepia)
ISO Sensitivity AUTO (ISO 100-ISO 200) : With Flash (ISO 100-ISO400),ISO 50, ISO 100, ISO 200, ISO 400, ISO 800 (ISO 1600, ISO 3200 in Raw mode only)
Auto Focus Type Contrast Detection Type
AF Point Selection Selection of 1point from 9points
Focus Lock Shutter release halfway-down position (From Menu Settings AE Lock is possible by AE lock button)
Manual Focus Dial Type
Shutter Type Electronically controlled lens shutter
Shutter Speed 1/2000-15sec.
Metering System TTL Full Aperture Metering [1]Evaluative Metering, [2]Center Weighted Average Metering, [3]Spot Metering
Exposure Control System [P]Program AE, [S]Shutter Priority AE, [A]Aperture Priority AE, [M]Manual
Exposure Compensation 1/3 EV Steps up to±3EV for Appropriate Exposure
Auto Bracketing 3 pictures in appropriate, under and over exposure levels. It can be set in 1/3EV stop increments up to ±3EV.
Built-in Flash Pop-up (Manual)
Guide Number 6 (ISO100/m)

Built-in Flash Coverage Range

28cm to 3m (ISO200)
External Flash Hotshoe (X Sync. Contact, dedicated contacts)
Drive Modes [1]Single, [2]Continuous, [3]Self Timer (2sec./10sec.)
LCD Monitor Type TFT Color LCD Monitor
Monitor Size and Pixels 2.5inches / Approx. 230,000 dots
LCD Monitor Language English/Japanese/German/French/Spanish/Italian/Chinese (Simplified)/ Korean/ Russian
Interfaces USB (USB2.0), Video Out (NTSC/PAL), Audio Out (Monaural)
Power Dedicated Li-ion Battery BP-31, Battery Charger BC-31, AC Adapter (Optional)
Dimensions 113.3mm/4.5″(W)×59.5mm/2.3″(H)×56.1mm/2.2″(D)
Weight 260g/9.2oz. (excluding batteries and card)

What’s Included

Along with the camera and battery, Sigma also includes the following:

  • Manual
  • Charger
  • USB Cable
  • Sigma Photo Pro 5.0 software
  • Protective pouch
  • Neck strap
  • A/V Cables

The pouch is a nice touch. It will not protect the camera from a drop but it will keep dust and small scratches off of the body. My only complaint with the accessories is the battery charger. I like the chargers that have the flip out prongs, like most Canon chargers, instead of the wire that has to be plugged into the charger. This cable just another accessory to carry and or lose.

Look and Feel

The Sigma DP2x is kind of an odd camera when it comes to look and feel. When I first pulled it out of the bag, I was pretty impressed. The all metal body feels good in your hand but things started to go down hill from there. The buttons on the back feel cheap, like they are from a child’s toy. Also, the battery door feels like it could break off after a few months of constant use. I still don’t understand why camera companies cut corners when it comes to the battery door. You are constantly going to be opening and closing the door to get the battery and SD card from this area, it should be built to last. I’m not saying it should be made from titanium, but it should be sturdy enough to take some abuse. And don’t think this is unique to Sigma, most compact cameras, event the Leica X1, have a cheap plastic battery door.

After hitting the power button, the DP2x roars to life…and I do mean roars. The motor that extends the lens is a loud and somewhat crude sounding. I expect to hear some noise as the camera extends the lens, but it should be a small whisper or mechanical perfection, not the grinding of gears and the wine of stressed motors. I’ve used cameras that cost a third of what Sigma is asking for that extend the lens faster with much less noise.

Another area that needs to be updated on the next DP is the screen. At 230k dots, the screen is far behind the competition. Sony’s offerings are over 900k dots and even my 1.5 year old GF-1 has twice the resolution of the DP2x. The screen is good enough to get you through shooting, but it definitely does not give you an accurate representation of what the DP2x is capable of capturing.

Menus

As a Canon and Panasonic shooter, I find the menu setup of the DP2x is slightly odd but I got used to it quickly. Each category is clearly labeled and, because the DP2x doesn’t have a bunch of bells and whistles, you don’t have to cycle through a million rows to get to the setting you’re looking for. For quick access to the most used settings, Sigma has include a dedicated quick set menu which can be accessed by pressing the dedicated “QS” button on the back of the camera. This feature allows you to quickly change ISO, meeting modes, flash functions, white balance, etc.

In addition to the Quick Set menu, the Sigma DP2x also has a “Save My Settings” feature that allows you to save all of your current settings to be pulled up at a later time. You could create a setup for shooting in low light or you could create one for RAW shooting and one for JPEG. The amount of customization is actually quite good. The following are all settings you can choose in the Save My Settings menu:

  • Picture quality (for JPEG photos)
  • RAW or JPEG
  • Flash settings
  • Drive mode (single, continuous, timer)
  • Metering mode
  • Auto Picture Rotation on/off
  • Sound (peeps)
  • Color Modes
  • Color space (sRGB or Adobe RGB)
  • Auto Bracketing
  • Picture settings (color, saturation, sharpness
  • AEL Lock
  • Button functions (up down arrows and +/- buttons)

Controls

The DP2x has a fairly standard set of user controls but it has some strange quarks and is also lacking in a few areas.  For the most part, the DP2x has what you would expect, a mode dial on the top along with a shutter and on/off button. On the back is a 4 way cross type selector with an “OK” button in the middle. Pressing up on the 4 way selector allows you to change the focus modes while pressing down gives you access to the 9 AF points. The middle AF point is selected by default for focus and recompose shooting. The right and left buttons on the 4 way selector give you access to exposure compensation in priority modes. If you switch to manual mode, the left and right buttons change your aperture settings.

On the top right section on the back of the DP2x are + and – buttons. The function of these buttons change depending on what mode you have selected. In priority modes, these buttons control aperture values when in aperture priority and shutter times when in shutter priority. I would have liked to have seen a wheel where instead of two buttons but they are still usable. One nice touch is if you hold down on either button, the camera will cycle through the values very quickly so you don’t have to hit either button a million times if you are going from one end of the value range to another.

Next to the +/- buttons is a manual focus dial. Why on earth do camera companies put a dedicated manual focus dial on a camera like this? Leica did this with the X1 and I found it completely useless. Sadly, the same can be said for the DP2x. I tried this out for a bit and I could not think of any reason why someone would want to use this function other than to preset focus. Does that really warrant a dedicated dial? Also, the low resolution screen means manual focusing is pretty much impossible. Yes, the DP2x does have a magnification option, but it still doesn’t help. Sigma, if you want to put a manual focus dial on your camera, fine, but PLEASE make them programmable so they can do other functions because the majority of your customers will most likely NEVER use this function.

In addition to the controls mentioned above, you will find and AEL, QS (quick set), play, menu, and display buttons on the back of the DP2x. I have to applaud Sigma for including a AEL button to the Dp2x. Most users are going to have to rely on the focus and recompose method of shooting and being able to lock your focus and exposure separately is extremely helpful.

Overall, I wouldn’t say that I genuinely like the controls of the DP2x, but they are definitely useable.

Features

The DP2x falls into that category of cameras that relies more in it’s spec sheet rather than it’s feature set to draw in buyers. It has a big sensor, a relatively fast f/2.8 lens and decent controls. So does it have anything beyond that? Not really, but below are a few things that I thought where worth mentioning:

  • In Camera Picture Adjustment: If you don’t like the way images are coming straight from the camera, you can adjust saturation, contrast, or sharpness right in camera. Playing with these settings may save you some post processing time. Is this a groundbreaking feature? No, but it is a nice feature to have in-camera.
  • Color Modes: While it’s nothing like Olympus’ creative modes, the DP2x does have a few in-camera color modes to choose from: standard, vivid, natural, portrait, landscape, b&w, and sepia.
  • Exposure Bracketing: The DP2x will allow for up to 3 stop of exposure bracketing. This is pretty impressive as some DSLRs only allow for 2 stops. You can also select the order that the camera will take the shots. For example, 0, -3, +3, or -3, 0, +3. This is helpful for any HDR shooters out there.
  • Voice Memo: I found this rather odd, but the DP2x has a voice memo setting right on the mode dial. I would probably never use this but some people may find this helpful.

One thing I didn’t mention as a feature was video and it’s for a reason…it’s awful. Sigma, if you aren’t going to include HD video, just leave it out all together. Most cell phones shoot HD video so there really is no excuse for not adding that feature to the DP2x. I’ve probably shot video less than 20 times in my life but I wouldn’t buy a small camera without this feature. At least give us 720p at 30fps…I’m not asking for much.

Another major strike against the DP2x is the lack of RAW + JPEG capture, it’s either one or the other. Like the video, I find this completely unacceptable. My 7 year old Canon Rebel XT can capture RAW and JPEG at the same time, there really is no excuse. Due to the wait time when shooing a single RAW image, my guess is the DP2x simply doesn’t have the horsepower to handle both at once. This is a real shame as managing RAW files form the DP2x isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do, more on that later.

The Lens

In order to keep the DP2x as compact and light as possible, Sigma opted to equip this camera with a fixed 24.2mm (35mm equivalent length = 41mm) lens. I prefer shooting with primes and 41mm is a great general purpose length.  So how does it perform? Quite well actually. It is impressively sharp wide open and it only gets better as you stop down. When wide open, the corners are a bit soft and a slight vignette is noticeable but completely both are perfectly acceptable for me. Flair is essentially nonexistent and chromatic aberration is very well controlled. With a fairly fast lens and a nice large sensor, the DP2x produces very pleasing bokeh. If you can get close to your subject or if you can put enough distance between your subject and the background, the f/2.8 lens is fast enough to produce a solid DOF.

Take a look at the 100% crops from the image below. This lens and sensor combo can capture quite a bit of detail.

100% Crop - Top Right

 

100% Crop

Unfortunately, the lens does have one flaw that drives me nuts and that is its minimum focus. To most, 28cm (roughly 11 inches) does not sound like a lot but my Panasonic GF-1 can focus MUCH closer than this. There were several times where I wanted to get right up close to a subject and the DP2x would just choke. The inclusion of a macro mode would be a welcomed feature.

In the Field

Using the DP2x in the field felt similar to my GF-1, only slightly slower and clunkier. Accessing settings and menu features takes just a bit too long, it could use a little more power under the hood. This lack of power can also be felt when shooting. Pop off a single image with the camera set to capture in RAW and you will be waiting several seconds until you are able to make another capture. Many cameras, including my 1 year old GF-1 can capture RAW images at roughly 3 fps and it will go for quite awhile before the buffer locks up. While the images from the DP2x are slightly bigger than the GF-1, it shouldn’t require that much more time to clear the buffer.

As you would guess, the more I used the DP2x, the better it felt in my hands. While the controls aren’t great, they are usable in the field. As I said earlier, I’d much rather have dials and wheels instead of buttons, but you get used to them after a short time. I found the QS menu to be very useful for quickly changing settings while shooting on the street and having access to the core exposure values with physical buttons will make DSLR owners feel right at home.

Focus speed is decent, but it feels slow in comparison to my GF-1 which is more than a year older. On top of that, the latest cameras to hit the market in this price range focus incredibly fast, like DSLR fast. With all of that being said, the focus speed will not hinder you from shooting in most situations. I wouldn’t want to take this to a sporting event but it should be able to handle most of your daily needs.

I used the DP2x in a variety of situations and it performed well in most. I did some landscape photography at my family’s lake house in Maine, I took it to the streets of Boston and I took it with me on typical daily excursions. Out of all of them, I think the DP2x feels most at home on the street. It’s compact, all black body gives it a very stealth and unassuming look which is key for going undetected. You look more like a tourist than a street photog.

Image Quality

Warning, I go on kind of a rant in the next section…

Let’s face it, if a camera takes less than stellar photographers, most people aren’t going to want to own or use it. The DP2x can produce very good images (notice how I said can instead of does), but there is a catch. The catch is, you MUST use Sigma’s proprietary software to edit RAW images or you are going to have quite a mess on your hands. For some reason, when RAW images from the DP2x are processed using something other than Sigma Photo Pro, almost all color information is lost for RAW images over ISO 400. I noticed this when I was testing the ISO noise capability of the DP2x with my Colorchecker Passport. This may not be the case with other RAW editors, but I noticed this in my Adobe products. JPEGs at any ISO are fine, it seems to only be an issue with RAW files.

To make matters worse, Sigma Photo Pro is simply awful. I don’t think I’ve ever been so frustrated using a piece of software in my entire life. You can tell it was designed by engineers but I doubt any of them were actual photographers. I would rather import all of my images from the DP2x into Lightroom and convert them all to black and white than use that program.

Every photographer is different, but for me, this is software restriction a deal breaker. I’m an avid Adobe Lightroom user; my entire workflow is centered around Lightroom.  If a camera’s quirks or lack of compatibility is going to force me to disrupt my workflow, I’m simply going to find another camera. I’m not sure who is to blame, Sigma or Adobe (it’s probably Adobe), but I’m not going to use different software to work with photos from an advanced compact. If I was shooting medium format, it would be a different story. This camera is supposed to be an everyday camera. If I owned one, I would probably take it everywhere with me…that means LOTS of pictures. I don’t want to have to bounce back and forth between Sigma Photo Pro and Lightroom when processing files of family and friends, I just want to get in and out using my standard workflow.

Below are two examples of the issue. The images on the top were imported into Sigma Photo Pro and then a JPEG was created from that untouched RAW image. The same thing was done with the images on the bottom but instead of Sigma Photo Pro I used Lightroom to process the RAW imgae. You can see how noticeable the difference is between the two.

With all of that being said, when you do process RAW files using the included Sigma Photo Pro software or if you have an image that you can use in Lightroom, the results are actually quite good. Luckily, I took several RAW images with the DP2x are under ISO 400 so I was able to use Lightroom to process most of the photos. The RAW files are flexible and the lens and sensor combo produce a surprisingly good amount of detail. I really didn’t feel the need to add clarity or sharpening to most of my photos.

If you want to avoid the RAW issue, you can always shoot JPEG. I almost always shoot RAW but many people are very content with JPEGs. Luckily, the JPEGs from the DP2x are actually very good. Color accuracy is spot on, they aren’t over sharpened and even though they are JPEGs, they are still fairly flexible in post processing. In many cases, I prefer the JPEG image to the RAW image. If you don’t like post processing, I would suggest sticking with JPEGs as you will get faster performance from the camera, very good image quality, and you will not have to worry about compatibility with any third party software. Below is a comparison of RAW vs. JPEG files. The image on the top was converted from a RAW file and the image on the bottom is a JPEG straight from the DP2x.

ISO Performance

ISO performance from the DP2x is good, but I was hoping for more. Things are very good up to ISO 800, but anything higher will result in quite a bit or noise but more importantly the color accuracy really goes down the tubes. The Sony NEX and the Olympus EP-3 definitely have the DP2x beat in the high ISO category. You can clean up the noise in post processing, but unless you use Sigma Photo Pro, you will have lost all of your color data due to the RAW file issue…frustrating. Another strange limitation with this camera is the ISO range. The DP2x’s ISO range is 50-3200 when shooting in RAW but the range drops to 50-800 when shooting JPEG. Strange. This makes the RAW file issue even more of a problem as you cannot rely on shooting JPEG for ISO shoots above 800.


Video

As I said earlier in the post, video with the DP2x is a joke and the sample below proves my point. Any manufacturer putting anything lower than HD video in a camera at this point in time has really lost touch with today’s market. Honestly, I would rather they ditch the video and add some additional feature like a built in ND filter or a better screen. It may be good in a pinch, but I’d rather rely on the DP2x’s photo performance to catch the moment.

Likes

  • The lens/sensor combo & image quality: The lens in the DP2x is actually quite good. There is very little vignetting, the corners are sharp even at f/2.8, and there is minimal distortion. In combination with the sensor, the DP2x can produce some stunning results.
  • AEL button (yay!): They always say it’s the little things in life and this is one of them for me. If you are going to rely on the focus and recompose method of shooting, a dedicated AEL button is simply a must have. Thank you Sigma for adding this to the DP2x, someone at Sigma is paying attention.
  • Good access to frequently used functions: While the menu system is rather odd, after shooting for awhile you get used to it and I think it works well. My favorite feature is the QS menu which gives you quick access to the most used settings and features.

Dislikes

Another example of color loss due to the RAW issue in Lightroom. There is quite a bit of color lost in the sky, the church and the stained glass windows.

  • RAW image processing issues: This is the deal breaker for me. Like I said before, I’m not sure who is to blame but I think it may just be a quirk of the camera. Being forced to used specific software is not something I’m fond of nor am I a fan of strictly shooting JPEG. Sigma or Adobe needs to rectify this issue right away.
  • RAW + JPEG capture: This is another one that makes me just think really Sigma? How can you make an “advanced compact” that cannot shoot in RAW + JPEG? If that was actually a feature, I think I could live with the whole Lightroom compatibility issue but it’s not so it’s just another strike against the DP2x.
  • Minimum focus distance: This may not matter to many photographers, but I find it very annoying. At least add a macro mode…I’ll take anything.
  • Slow lens: A maximum aperture of f/2.8 really isn’t that impressive anymore. The Olympus XZ-1 has a built in zoom lens that is faster or just as fast throughout it’s entire zoom range. I’d like to see at least an f/2 lens on the DP2x.
  • High ISO Performance: With a significantly larger sensor than a MFT camera, I’d expect to see better ISO noise performance from the DP2x. From what I can see, I wouldn’t give the DP2x a full stop of difference from the my GF-1 as far as noise goes.
  • Focus Speed: The DP2x isn’t a complete slouch, but it is towards the back of the pack, especially when you compare it to the new Olympus E-P3 and Sony’s NEX series.
  • Controls (I don’t hate them, but they could be much better): Sigma, and all other camera manufactures, PLEASE ditch the dedicated manual focus wheel or at least make it programmable.
  • Writing time, needs a faster buffer: Having to wait several seconds after shooting one RAW image gets old fast. The DP2x is in desperate need of some more processing power.

Competition

Unfortunately for Sigma, the DP2x has some serious competition at the moment. MFT systems have come a long way in the past two years and other manufactures (Sony, Leica, Fujifilm) have managed to stuff even larger APS-C sensors into similarly sized bodies at the same price or a few hundred more (a few thousand more for Leica). Yes, MFT systems have smaller sensors but performance is very close and I’d personally rather have interchangeable lenses than a slightly larger sensor. Also, with the Sony NEX system, you get both a large APS-C sized sensor and interchangeable lenses. The Fujifilm X100 is roughly twice the price, but I also think it packs twice the amount of features and technology. On top of all of that, it’s almost September and we all know that means new products are just around the corner. It’s rumored that Panasonic will be releasing a true successor to the GF-1, the GF-7 and Sony will be releasing the NEX-7 which looks to be more of a photographer’s NEX.

Conclusion

I can honestly say that I enjoyed using the DP2x over the past few weeks. I’m very pleased with the image quality produced by this small camera. Some photos are even going to go up around the house, the same can’t be said for a lot of the camera’s I’ve tested. Sadly, I don’t think I can confidently say GO GRAB ONE NOW for two reasons. The first is the RAW file color loss issue. Again, I don’t know who is to blame and it may not be an issue for some people but it is an issue for me and I think it will be for many photographers. The second reason is the DP2x’s competition. There are dozens of other cameras that have entered this segment and I don’t think I could tell someone to grab the DP2x without trying out at least a few of it’s competitors.

Suggestions to Sigma

While Sigma may have been one of the first to create a small body, big sensor camera with the DP1, it was never really accepted by the masses. Before Sigma could rectify the issues with the DP1, other manufactures entered the segment with better marketing, exposure, price and performance. As a result, the DP series has survived off of a cult follow of Foveon lovers which is not a bad thing, but it may not be enough to sustain this product line. If Sigma is going thrive in this category, their next product needs to really step it up. Here’s what I’d like to see in a DP3:

  • Fix the RAW file problem STAT.
  • Better button layout. Ditch the buttons for dials and wheels.
  • Lose the manual focus dial or make it capable of performing other functions.
  • Replace the current screen with something MUCH nicer.
  • A built in EVF or at least and accessory EVF.
  • A faster lens, at least f/1.8.
  • Faster AF. While it’s not terrible, the DP2x’s AF is not up to par with a lot of it’s competitors.
  • Better video or ditch video all together.
  • RAW + JPEG shooting.
  • Built in ND filter.
  • Sexier styling. Look at the FujiFilm X100; that is a beautiful camera. I feel many people are buying them just because they have that retro look and feel.
  • Much more power under the hood. Advanced compacts have reached the point where people are expecting to be able to shoot several RAW images in a row without having to wait for the buffer to clear.

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