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From the days of film compact cameras to the current digital era there has always been a demand for a compact camera of superior quality. The desire has been SLR, and now DSLR, quality in a pocketable package. Leica, Konica, Nikon, Contax and others have been in this market segment and now we have the Sigma DP2x, pitching itself as “a full spec compact digital camera with all the power of DSLR”. Of particular interest is the use of the Foveon sensor with all three primary colours being received at each pixel site.
How does this translate into practice and does the Foveon sensor give an improved “less digital” appearance as claimed? Read on....
At the heart of this new camera lies the Foveon sensor, with three layers of pixels laid on top of each other in a sandwich that is similar to the construction of colour film. Each layer comprises around 4.7MP and as a result Sigma claim this should be multiplied by three to give an effective resolution of 14.06MP. However, the image size is still just 2652x1768 pixels, and I was keen to see if this gave enough detail when compared to a standard bayer-filter type construction.
The fixed 24.2mm lens is equivalent to using a 41mm lens on a 35mm film camera. Effectively this is a wide standard lens and could well be of interest to those shooting street photography. The lens comprises 7 elements in 6 groups and is, interestingly, a retrofocus design. This is normally used with DSLR lenses to allow room for the mirror and I would have expected a straight lens design here to improve performance.
The sturdy construction is equally well a fairly uninteresting design, but of course looks do not prevent the DP2x being an effective photographic tool. The weight at 260g without battery or card is reassuring and helps us to hand hold the camera steadily.
Viewing is via the 2.5 inch TFT screen, which displays 230,000 dots. This is quite low for current high-end cameras. The AF system is of the contrast detection type. The specification is rounded out with a shutter speeded from 1/2000sec to 15sec. There is a pop-up flash that has to be brought into action manually, which is good because it does not pop up when not required. There is also a hotshoe, a nice touch. This also enables attachment of an optical viewfinder.
Sigma DP2x Key Features
- 14.06MP Foeveon sensor measuring 20.7x13.8mm
- Fixed 24.2mm lens (41mm equivalent)
- Contrast detection AF
- Shutter 1/2000sec – 15sec
- Pop up manual flash
- Hot shoe for flash
- 2.5 inch TFT monitor
- 250 shots per battery charge
The first impression is of a very well made, sturdy camera that looks quite bland and boxy. It is compact enough for a jacket pocket, just, so the potential is there to substitute for a DSLR for general shooting. In terms of handling I would describe it as quirky. Even the lens cap is designed oddly so that one edge has to be lifted first to remove it easily. A lens cap should not really need explanation.
The shutter operates smoothly and AF locks on well enough, but oh so slowly...compared to a DSLR this is not a quick camera. This is a shame because purists may well be enticed by the lack of program modes – just P, A, S and M are provided. The manual focus wheel is excellent and placed just where the right thumb can operate it easily. This is the first compact camera I have seen with a really usable manual focus system.
The button layout works very well, but only when the function of each button in which circumstances is worked out and memorised. Nothing is labelled with a single function and for a while each button press or re-press reveals a new surprise. In the end though I am happy enough with the unusual function layout.
The same applies to the menus, which operate in a fairly laborious way and take some getting used to. There are no rights and wrongs here, but Sigma do seem to be in a world of their own with the fine details of the design. Hence my original comment that the camera is quirky.
Much of this revolves around a high asking price and the claim that this camera can challenge a DSLR on its own ground. It is actually more like a compact system camera with a fixed lens and this does at least make it more pocketable. There is also no tendency to accidentally operate any dials or buttons as everything is well made and firm in operation.
Unfortunately the camera is really, really slow. Switch on time was around 3.7sec and the shutter lag perhaps as much as 1 sec. Many shots were missed where there was any action happening at all. It is significantly slower than most current compact cameras. The write time is also slow, especially with RAW capture. The buffer only allows around four JPEG shots before the camera stops. Flash makes the process interminably slow and even portraits with fill-in flash in daylight proved difficult to capture.
Battery life proved to be satisfactory. The claim is for 250 shots per charge and this looks likely to be accurate. The battery lasted the period of this test without any particular drain on the display and I shot in excess of 150 images.
Exposure, is excellent. The metering system is difficult to fool and access to exposure compensation is quick and easy. The focusing action itself, although slow, is accurate and also equally difficult to catch out.
|ISO800||ISO1600 (from RAW)||ISO3200 (from RAW)|
ISO performance is not wonderful. Noise reduction seems to operate in JPEG capture and this works up to ISO800. Beyond that we must shoot RAW to use ISO1600 and ISO3200. Both these settings are not good. For best results, I would recommend no higher than ISO400.
|ISO800||ISO1600 (RAW, default)||ISO3200 (RAW, default)|
Colour reproduction is of special interest as the Foveon sensor offers the possibility of a different look to our images. A more natural film-like quality is the suggestion. On the basis of the DP2x I am unable to say that the results were exciting. General shots were clean and colourful, but a tendency to a magenta bias was very noticeable and for the best results this camera clearly needs the use of RAW capture. It seems Sigma have been unable to bring out the best qualities in the JPEG capture and it results in a rather strange unreal look. RAW is much better and I would suggest its use at all times if possible.
Resolution is good but I think not as good as a 14MP bayer-filter design, no doubt because of the reduced number of pixels in the image. Dynamic range seems very satisfactory and presents no problems in a wide variety of difficult lighting conditions. The lens gives a good account of itself, having excellent resistance to flare, minimal barrel distortion and virtually no colour fringing at all. Despite the oddity of using a retrofocus design on such a compact camera this is an excellent lens.
AWB performed well in most circumstances, but there was an overall tendency for the camera to show a magenta cast. Colour fidelity was not the strongest area of performance.
|Auto White Balance - Tungsten Light||Tungsten Preset - Tungsten Light|
|Auto White Balance - Fluorescent Light||Fluorescent Preset - Fluorescent Light|
Using the presets for Tungsten lighting improved results, however a slight magenta cast is still present. View more sample photos from the Sigma DP2x here.
Value for Money
Looking at the alternatives is not totally straightforward. The DP2x falls into an unusual slot. Fixed lens, no zoom, no shake reduction, but the promise of high quality. This suggests competing with the Fujifilm Finepix X100. If this is the case, then the DP2x certainly wins on price. However, for a similar, or even substantially less, sum of money we could have an Olympus E-PL2, a Sony A55, perhaps a Pentax K-r. All of these are faster and easier to use to best effect.
The Sigma DP2x is a quirky camera that becomes a pleasure to use once we have familiarised ourselves. It still needs further development in terms of speed and image quality, particularly in relation to its relatively poor JPEGs and its tendency to a magenta cast. It is pocketable and operationally effective. More work on some of the details would be most helpful and make for an attractive package.
Sigma DP2x ProsExcellent lens performance
Good build quality
Firm and predictable controls
Compact enough for a pocket
Excellent manual focusing system
Sigma DP2x ConsMagenta cast
Slow response time
|VALUE FOR MONEY|