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Sigma DP1s Digital Camera Review

Sigma DP1s Intro Image.jpgA guest Review of the Sigma DP1s by Patrick Dean from NeutralDay.com.

The idea is simple really. Put a large sensor inside a small compact body and you’ve got a camera that enthusiasts can carry around easily and still secure the same level of quality from their captures as they would from their larger DSLR camera. Recently a number of cameras have been released that fit this bill, but just a short time ago, Sigma was flying solo in this market sector with DP1.

Using the unique Foveon X3 sensor, the DP1 offered users a 28mm equivalent lens, excellent image quality, all in a fairly compact body. The “DP” lineup was then augmented with the DP2, which provided the same sensor technology and form factor, but brought users a 41mm f/2.8 lens, along with some improved functionality (a quick set feature). Now Sigma has in effect refreshed the DP1 by adding the DP2’s quick set feature and improving the DP1’s ability to shoot backlit subjects. Though this review is of the DP1s, it largely applies to the DP2 and DP1 as well. The key differences will boil down to the users lens length preference, remember the DP1s offers a 28mm f/4, while the DP2 provides 41mm length at f/2.8. Image quality and usage is essentially identical.

Sigma DP1s Highlights

Sigma-DP1s-exterior-and-components.jpg

DSLR sized full color sensor: The DP1s uses the Foveon X3 sensor, which at 20.7mm x 13.8mm is much larger than a compact sensor. The X3 is a full color sensor, and unlike the Bayer sensors found in most DSLR cameras doesn’t require demosaicing. Sigma claims the Foveon X3 used in the DP1s is a 14 megapixel sensor, but in dimensions it is actually a 4.7 megapixel sensor, while in resolution it appears to offer about 10 megapixels. Long story short: the X3 takes high quality, but modestly size images that are full of detail, while offering a certain unique “look”.

28mm f/4 lens: The DP1s is perfect for wide angle fans, and is well suited for landscape work. The lens manages distortion and flare quite well for a wide angle.

RAW and JPEG recording: The DP series offers the ability to record RAW files, as well as JPEG files (though not RAW+JPEG)

Accessorize: With the DP1s, users can opt to accessorize with an external flash (via hot shoe), lens filters, viewfinder, and a number of filters.

In The Hands

Sigma-DP1s-exterior-rear.jpg

The DP1s is a simple black box and is about as minimal as a camera design can be. The front side of the camera offers a slightly dimpled surface for grip and the lens bezel, while the back is home to the 2.5 inch 230k LCD, several camera function buttons, and a multi-directional D-Pad type controller that also doubles for additional camera functions. Up top you have the mode dial, hot shoe, power button, pop-up flash, and shutter release. Overall the DP1s is a solid, well built camera. I do have two gripes with the DP1s (and the other DP models), the first one being the rubber cover that hides the USB port is easily bent out of shape and fails to line up flush with the camera if the cable is left in for too long (though it eventually returns to position). The second complaint is with the lens cap that given a lack of connector, could be easily lost. Neither complaint has stopped us from liking the overall design of the DP1s though, it’s comfortable to hold, good to look at, and able to handle a fair amount of abuse.

Sigma DP1s – In Use

Sigma-DP1s-exterior-front.jpg

Much like the DP1 and the DP2, the DP1s is a quirky camera to use, to put it nicely. From the typical point and shoot photographer’s point of view, the DP1s will be entirely unsatisfying, and any photographer looking for “AUTO”, or worse “Sunset”, “Birthday”, and “Fireworks” shooting modes should look elsewhere. There is no face detection here, no image stabilization, and no art filters. The DP1s is a “PASM” shooting camera only (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual) and is intended for enthusiasts, but specifically enthusiasts with a bias toward image quality rather than user experience. Even for such photographers there will certainly be some frustrations. The LCD remains quite poor, offering low resolution and less than vivid colors. Also the AF, though consistent, is definitely on the slow side, and it can make capturing dynamic and low light subjects quite difficult. But getting past those 2 issues, if you’re used to shooting in a programmed shooting mode, the DP1s is easy to use. The added quick set feature from the DP2 makes changing settings like ISO and WB on the fly very easy, the manual focus dial works quite effectively, and we like being able to bracket shots in the field to ensure having good results when getting back home.

A look at the shooting screen and quick set screen

A look at the shooting screen and quick set screen

From a performance point of view, the DP1s is best described as average. It takes several seconds to power up, focus to capture time can take several seconds, and write to card times can also take some time. By now you’re sensing that the DP1s isn’t well suited for run and gun photography, and I’ll admit, it does require some patience. Still the DP1s is a fine performer for doing landscape work and general walk around type photography, and is quite adept at grabbing the little slices of life that is so easily turns into fascinating and unique looking images.

Sigma DP1s – Image Quality

Exposure: 0.017 sec (1/60) | Aperture: f/4.0 | Focal Length: 16.6 mm | ISO Speed: 200 | Exposure Bias: +0.3 EV

Exposure: 0.017 sec (1/60) | Aperture: f/4.0 | Focal Length: 16.6 mm | ISO Speed: 200 | Exposure Bias: +0.3 EV

This is where the DP1s and the Foveon X3 sensor really shine. Open an image up in the included Sigma Photo Pro raw converter software, and be prepared to be quite enthralled with your results. Thanks to its lens and sensor combination, the DP1s can take very sharp photos, full of detail, that frequently take on a 3-D look. Color accuracy is typically a tiny bit off, but usually in an aesthetically pleasing way. In short, the DP1s takes fantastic looking pictures that easily best the best compact and rival many DSLR cameras. Photo Pro is uniquely suited at developing the images too, producing distinctly better results than Adobe’s Lightroom and other RAW editors, but like the camera, Photo Pro can be slow to use. The time is well worth it though, as it doesn’t take very much work at all to dial in crisp, vivid, and extremely dimensional looks from your DP1s captures. It remains hard to describe, but after all the time I’ve spent with various “DP” models, I remain struck with how much different their files look versus any other camera. It doesn’t translate well via the confines of the internet, but there’s definitely something special, and yes, unique about the Foveon “look”.

Note the saturation loss at ISO 800

Note the saturation loss at ISO 800

As for low light performance, the DP1s tops out at ISO 800, but does provide much better results at this level than your average compact. There is a degree of noise to be had past ISO 200, but even at ISO 800 the images are very usable despite having lost considerable saturation. Optically the 28mm lens, is very sharp and handles distortion and flare quite well for a wide angle lens, but you will find some chromatic aberration in the files in areas of contrast.

Conclusion

Exposure: 0.017 sec (1/60) | Aperture: f/4.0 | Focal Length: 16.6 mm | ISO Speed: 200 | Exposure Bias: +0.3 EV

Exposure: 0.017 sec (1/60) | Aperture: f/4.0 | Focal Length: 16.6 mm | ISO Speed: 200 | Exposure Bias: +0.3 EV

Clearly the DP1s is not without it its flaws, but the real question is given the cost, is is worth it. For me personally the answer is unhesitatingly yes. It’s important to reiterate though that I tend to have a strong bias towards image quality, and I’m quite willing to accept the given confines of working with the DP1s in exchange for its unique looking files. To be clear, this camera (or the DP2 if you prefer a longer focal length and shallower depth of field effects) is absolutely not intended for beginners, nor for folks looking for a point and shoot camera/experience. If however, you’re comfortable using a camera manually, and are anxious to turn the everyday and ordinary into works of art, the Sigma DP1s certainly comes “Recommended”.

Sigma DP1s Availability

The Sigma DP1s Digital Camera is currently $619.60 at Amazon.

Additional Sample

Exposure: 0.04 sec (1/25) | Aperture: f/4.0 | Focal Length: 16.6 mm | ISO Speed: 200 | Exposure Bias: +1 EV

Exposure: 0.04 sec (1/25) | Aperture: f/4.0 | Focal Length: 16.6 mm | ISO Speed: 200 | Exposure Bias: +1 EV

About the Author: Patrick Dean is the editor of the photography news and review website, NeutralDay.com. He also frequently tweets at twitter.com/neutralday.

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