The Foveon X3 Quattro is not your typical image sensor. Where traditional Bayer sensor designs split up pixels along a single surface to capture color data, the APS-C-sized X3 uses a stacked three-layered design. One layer captures red chrominance information, the other green chrominance data and the top layer captures blue chrominance plus luminance information. The X3 sensor has no optical low-pass filter, either, so it’s providing as much resolution as possible.
Because of its unique design, the dp2’s megapixel math gets a little convoluted. Sigma claims that the three individual sensors collectively have an effective resolution of 29-megapixels—the blue sensor accounts for 19.5-megapixels, the other two for 4.5-megapixels—but that these 29-megapixels have the resolving power of the 39-megapixel traditional Bayer sensor found on most digital cameras. However, the resulting JPEG images coming out of the camera in Super-High measure 7608×3296 pixels (about 25 megapixels), and the RAW image EXIF data reveals the resolution coming from each sensor (for a total of about 29-megapixels). No matter how you parse it, the X3 does produce very large image files, with RAW images weighing in close to 53MB, and JPEGs at 12MB and above.
The X3 sensor is making its way into a total of three revamped dp series cameras from Sigma that differ only in the focal length of the lens. We spent some time with the dp2 in conjunction with frequent co-tester, photographer and director David Patiño to see whether this unique camera deserves a place in your gear bag.
Beyond the unique sensor, the dp2 boasts a fairly Spartan feature set. There’s a 30mm, f/2.8 fixed focal-length lens (45mm full-frame equivalent) with a nine-point AF system and a minimum focusing distance of 28 centimeters. It features a sensitivity range of ISO 100–6,400, 11 color modes, and shutter speeds from 30–1/2000 sec. Alas, there is no video mode.
The dp2 is not only distinguished by its sensor; its design is also strikingly unique. At 6.4 inches, it’s extremely long, but relatively thin, and the frame takes a sharp turn and bulges into a prominent handgrip at one end. Together with the bulbous lens, the dp2’s length makes it impossible to slip into even deep coat pockets. Still, Patiño found that the large grip made the dp2 relatively comfortable to carry, if less so to shoot with. We would have liked to have the lens and display a bit more centered—given the overall length of the camera, your left hand runs out of room quickly and the camera can be a bit awkward to hold.
Nevertheless, the camera’s build quality is excellent. It feels sturdy and well-constructed.
We found the dp2 to be something of a Jekyll and Hyde when it came to image quality. In some scenarios, it produced gorgeous, richly detailed images. The sensor really shone in full daylight and did an excellent job in capturing fine details. In an image we took of a scattering of leaves, we could zoom up close to observe the skeletal capillaries in great detail. The dp2 is well-served by its lens, which showed few signs of optical aberrations and did an excellent job at resolving details.
In other scenarios, the dp2 did not fare as well.
Patiño found skin tones to be a bit flat. He shot a series of RAW+JPEGs indoors at the National Air and Space Museum and found that JPEGs showed a noticeable color shift at ISO 400 and above. Noise was also quick to rear its splotchy head at ISO 400. In an era when cameras routinely push the boundaries of low-light performance, Patiño was hard-pressed to recommend shooting the dp2 above ISO 400. Devotees of film-style grain may enjoy the look, but if you don’t want it baked into your digital negative, you’ll need to be mindful when using the dp2 in poorly lit environments.
The RAW files, fortunately, showed little of the color shift that marred the JPEGs, though the grain was still there. While photographers don’t need to be reminded to shoot in RAW, with the dp2 it’s a necessity—and therein lies the rub. Third-party processors like Adobe Lightroom don’t support Sigma’s unique RAW file format, so you’re left with the company’s own free Photo Pro RAW utility. The software proved sluggish on both Patiño’s 2013 MacBook Pro (2.6GHz Intel Core i5 with 8GB of RAM) and our Mac Mini (2.6GHz Core i7, 16GB of RAM). Even simple operations, like scrolling through images in the editing menu, produced delays. Patiño encountered several bottlenecks as well.
You can coax some very beautiful images from the dp2’s RAW files in Photo Pro, but it takes a considerable investment in time to do so.
You won’t mistake the dp2 Quattro for a thoroughbred. It’s not all that quick to start up, and autofocus and shot-to-shot times were somewhat pokey compared to compact cameras. You can catch some motion with the dp2, but this isn’t the camera to bring to the sidelines.
The included battery is rated for a meager 200 shots and, not surprisingly, Sigma packages two batteries with the dp2. We quickly became accustomed to keeping that spare with us at all times.
The dp2’s 3-inch display proved difficult to view in bright sunlight and while its resolution is a very respectable 920,000 pixels, it didn’t look as crisp as the high-resolution displays we’ve become accustomed to on other high-end compacts. There’s no viewfinder on the dp2, though Sigma sells an optical viewfinder—for a cool $245—that you can slide into the hot-shoe.
They say patience is a virtue. If you opt for the dp2, it will be a necessity.
From its shooting performance to its post-processing software, the dp2 is not going to be first across the finish line. In some cases, it’s worth the wait. There are shooting conditions in which the dp2 will unequivocally delight owners—outdoors with mostly still subjects. Set-piece nature photos, architecture and outdoor portraits are among its killer apps. The images bristle with resolution and the X3’s claim to film-like fidelity is definitely vindicated in these environments.
Outside of its comfort zone, however, the dp2 struggles to compete with comparably priced compacts. Sigma’s RAW utility, while generously functional for a freebie, is often slow. It makes little sense to shoot JPEGs using this camera but Photo Pro proved to be a serious bottleneck, making us wish that third party editors supported the camera’s unique RAW file.
PROS: Film-like image reproduction; excellent color reproduction; great lens; sturdy build.
CONS: Poor low-light performance at ISO 400 and above; sluggish; limited battery life; slow post-processing software; awkward design.
(© David Patiño)
(© David Patiño)
(© David Patiño)