Despite an unplanned leak a couple of weeks prior to Photokina 2006 Sigma were one of the few manufacturers brave enough to keep their announcements very close to their chests.
On the first day of the show, they announced not one, but two cameras and two new lenses, along with 4/3rd mounts for a number of existing lenses. Expected was the announcement of their new ‘flagship’ DSLR, the SD14 and they complemented that with an all new compact, the DP1, both utilising the 1.7x crop Foveon 14MP X3 sensor. SD14
We managed to get a play with both of the examples on show, with the SD14 being a considerable improvement on the now 3-year-old SD10. Gone are the brick like features of the old camera, having been replaced with a body that can best be described as being somewhere between the D70 and D80 from Nikon in styling, although the build quality is somewhere around the 20/30D from Canon. Along with a new, optional, battery grip it is a very comfortable camera to hold and use.
Also gone is the clunky shutter mechanism of the older models, being replaced with one that is much quieter and smoother. Much of the dust generated in the older models did not come from outside, as the dust protector does a very good job, but came from the shutter/mirror mechanism loosing tiny bits of its anatomy during operation. The new shutter, claim Sigma, will overcome this problem and, from the sound of its operation, it is a believable claim. The dust protector is retained, changing its shape from the old rectangle to a new and more easily cleaned circular pattern.
A new five point autofocus system is also a good upgrade from the older single point and its speed of operation brings it well into the 21st century. AF point selection can be carried out manually as well as automatically.
One of the biggest criticisms of the older models was a lack of JPEG output from the camera and Sigma have also addressed this point, with a total of 12 JPEG file sizes complimenting the 3 RAW files sizes the camera is able to record in. the only thing the camera doesn’t do is capture RAW and JPEG at the same time, but as the camera will not be seen as an instrument for high speed news reporting it is not a great shortfall.
Sigma have also refrained from adding numerous scene modes, keeping the controls as simple as possible. The menu system is uncluttered and worked well on the 2 ½ inch screen. The ‘sports’ viewfinder has gone, with the new model showing 98% of the captured view both horizontally as well as vertically.
The camera will be available by the end of the year, by which time Sigma will have sorted a couple of more tweaks in the new software, Sigma Photo Pro 3 for PC and SPP 2.2 for Mac. The X3F files produced by the Foveon sensor can still be processed with the older SPP 2.1 software but the new version, which will be supplied with the camera and will be downloadable from Sigma websites promises a number of advances.
(Of course, I didn’t have a spare CF card in my pocket, so I could not pop it into the camera when no one was looking to shoot a couple of surreptitious frames, but if I had, I would have said that the output in JPEG mode at 800ISO is certainly usable, an area that the older models were knocked for)
The camera has been a long time coming, as Sigma have concentrated on their main product of lenses, but the wait seems to have been well worth while. As soon as we can get a production model, we will give it a more thorough test! DP1
This was a surprise announcement that took a moment to sink in for many people. A compact camera with an APS-C sized sensor, sporting 14MP and a fixed lens, was not something many anticipated.
The models on show were early examples and the camera is not expected to be available until into the New Year, however the concept proved to be a popular one. The one feature that was disappointing is the lack of an optical viewfinder but, having said that, the rest of the camera showed a quality of build not normally associated with compacts and the choice of a single focal length lens will give the ability, combined with the Foveon sensor, of an image quality not previously seen in a digital compact.
CF card compatible, with a dedicated Li-ion battery and positive feeling buttons were all pleasing points, but with the menu screens in Japanese on this sample, with a serial number of 00000001, it was not possible to assess it much further. It will be interesting to see what develops of the concept!
Preview by Ian Andrews www.wildaboutkent.com