Have I actually lost it now? Not really. As a photography nut that ship sailed long ago.
This camera is weird.
Weird functional limitations.
- Usable ISO tops out at about 800 for color and maybe 1600 for B&W.
- 1/2000s top shutter speed.
- Contrast only 9 point AF.
- No video.
- No EVF even add on and the offered viewfinder solutions (OVF and back of camera) cost more than some film cameras… and are also kind of ridiculous. Classic SIGMA.
- Initially hobbled RAW file processing. More on this below.
Weird in that it is at the same time the best and worst camera I have tried.
What do I mean?
Before I go further let me describe a type of camera.
- Stellar color rendition.
- Tonal detail that provides plenty of information even in black and white images.
- Extremely sharp images.
- ISOs typically run from 100-800.
- Not meant for fast moving subjects.
- Tripod use recommended in low light situations.
- Lacking modern aids like phase detect AF or IBIS.
- Ergonomics may not be a strong suit.
- Oh yeah. Blindingly expensive.
So what am I describing here?
If asked this I would have most likely answered a film or digital medium format camera. That could describe:
- Hasselblad 501c
- Fujifilm GW690III
- Fujifilm GFX 50R
- Hasselblad 907x
- etc. so on and so forth
But the Sigma dp2 Quattro is a camera that ticks off almost all of those items listed above except the last. If you can get past the limitations it costs less than anything listed above film or digital.
There is an impractical reason I can overlook all of this. As stated earlier it is weird. I like weird cameras. Most any modern camera looks and feels very similar nowadays. Most modern mirrorless cameras even have faux DSLR designs even though there is no mirror to be found. I like to reward companies willing to zig instead of zag with my money if possible.
But I do not see this camera as a modern digital camera, or even as a digital camera necessarily. Sounds crazy I know but I will try to explain.
I mentioned medium format cameras above. Here is a quote from Steve Huff from his review 7 years ago:
“I have found the images to have a medium format feel in color and details. In fact, the IQ is so special with this camera that I feel the speed increases seen, while still slow, make the camera worth a purchase for those who value superb color and IQ.”
Quite a few other reviews echo the same sentiment regarding the image quality. So here is the thing, if there is any truth to this at all this immediately puts this camera on my potential want list.
At the end of the day is not the resulting image the ultimate goal of this whole pursuit called photography?
So how does Sigma manage such praise from an APS-C camera?
Long winded version from Wikipedia:
“In the Bayer sensor, each photosite in the array consists of a single light sensor (either CMOS or CCD) that, as a result of filtration, is exposed to only one of the three primary colors: red, green, or blue. Constructing a full-color image from a Bayer sensor requires demosaicing, an interpolative process in which the output pixel associated with each photosite is assigned an RGB value based in part on the level of red, green, and blue reported by those photosites adjacent to it. However, the Foveon X3 sensor creates its RGB color output for each photosite by combining the outputs of each of the stacked photodiodes at each of its photosites. This operational difference results in several significant consequences.“
Color is captured at each pixel location rather than requiring computational tomfoolery to guesstimate “skipped” pixels on a traditional mainstream sensor.
Sigma does something that I wish Leica would do with their Q line. Same camera with different lens models.
- dp0/14mm/21mm FFEQV
- dp1/19mm/27mm FFEQV
- dp2/30mm/45mm FFEQV
- dp3/50mm/75mm FFEQV
I chose the dp2 that brings a 45mm full frame equivalent focal length which lands near my favorite focal length, 50mm. Everything I had read about this lens was positive. And I agree.
But still, why this camera? What of other fancy pants point and shoot EVF having all in one cameras like:
Welp. They all have their advantages, but:
- Most are more expensive new or used.
- New the dp2 Quattro was $1,000 upon release, is still for sale, but can be had for around $500 or less used.
- Not able to offer dp2 levels of image quality under ideal conditions.
- Even though the dp2 has a peculiarly narrow ideal operating band if you land in it the results are amazing.
And there is another reason.
In comparison they are all boooooooring. Same-y. Normal.
If I wanted normal I would pick up one of the cameras I already have. I would get myself any number of nice, respectable interchangeable lens cameras on the market. I like the fact that Sigma is trying to do something different.
Ok. There is another camera that is trying to do something new.
Adobe built in, unique design, and all are tempting. Until you find out that it costs $6,000. $6,000 of weird? Especially when I am not blown away by the sample images I have seen online. Weird camera, normal results?
$500 of weird used? Sure. Let’s give it a go.
Things That the Internets Got Right – Negatives
The battery life is atrocious. Almost mockingly the battery drops from full charge in just a shot or two. This is unnerving for someone like me. And instead of 2 batteries like when purchased new my used copy only came with 1. As soon as I was certain that it was not going back my first order of business was ordering additional batteries. Plural. Have not seen a camera drain a battery like this since early mirrorless cameras with their PEZ sized batteries.
- I received the aftermarket batteries and I think I gave this camera a bum rap due to the 1 battery this came with. The newer batteries hold their charge much better and do not drain right away. Looks like they will perform significantly better.
- Dynamic range is meh.
- Not optimal, but not awful either.
- Slow and heats up.
- Bullet above about covers it. This camera takes a good while to write an image to the card and heats up quite a bit under heavy use.
- What about the RAW/Software elephant in the room so many justifiably go on about?
- Addressed below.
Things That the Internets Got Right – Positives
- Great build quality.
- It has a quality texture to it and is nicely weighted. Feels premium.
- The Image Quality.
- The Party Piece and this camera’s reason for existing.
- Briefly touched upon above but there are plenty of articles out that explain how a Foveon sensor works if you want to deep dive.
- There are some major caveats to this camera, but when this thing hits its sweet spot? Oh, man. I see exactly what they are going on about regarding medium format levels of image quality. When it hits it definitely delivers big negative/sensor levels of performance in two main areas:
- The stacked Foveon tech delivers with almost slide film levels of color detail and accuracy.
- Tonal changes best noticed in B&W images have tonal ranges I have never seen in digital before. Perhaps digital medium format can deliver this, but so far full frame and smaller have not in my experience. May sound over the top but there will be samples below.
Things The Internets Did Not Tell Me – All Positives
- DNG files on a Foveon Sigma camera are a thing now.
- Have read and watched boatloads of Sigma dp2 Quattro videos and never knew this. Not only that time and time again the Sigma RAW processing software was the main punching bag. A necessity since you cannot import Sigma RAW files into Lightroom. Sure you could go all JPEG, but I have long been a RAW shooter only. The JPEG card on 2 card slot cameras never leave the camera and single slot cameras recently became RAW only once I noticed how many out of camera JPEGS I have never touched that live on my hard drive and cloud.
- No article told me this. I was going over the QS menu options and there it was. DNG as an option. A quick Google search and exactly one tiny article later there it was confirmed. What? The internets would never lie to me would it? Of course it would so I tested it and it worked perfectly.
- They import into Lightroom with no fuss or muss.
- This is HUGE! Not only that…
- Lightroom has a camera/lens correction profile.
- Did not expect this. There are much more mainstream lenses I have used that do not have lens profiles in Lightroom.
- DNG Files shot in B&W stay B&W in Lightroom Develop
- Sounds subtle but this addresses an issue I have at times with shooting RAW. I choose RAW over JPEG when I shoot B&W so I can retain more headroom for edits in post. When I do this the images are still color in Lightroom Develop which is a bit of a buzzkill for me. I know all I have to do is hit the Black and White button in the Treatment tab, but this is Lightroom’s B&W and never fully replicates the camera’s take.
- May be a meh to many but this is right up my alley. B&W RAW files? A company that rhymes with Mica charges extra for that feature.
- Yeah. I am an odd duck. This is not new news.
- Super High Resolution JPEG in color mode is amazing.
- Not only that…
- Super High Resolution JPEG in B&… sorry… Monochrome mode is just lovely.
- Just lovely.
- I half wish that you could shoot B&W DNG and Super High Res at the same time but given how this camera already heats up it might spontaneously burst into flames if not drain the battery in 3 shots if they did.
- So sharp and so full of tonal changes it makes a simple shot of a soda bottle taken in the middle of writing this post look amazing.
So what of those weird functional limitations. Admittedly I would not put up with this foolishness for a standard issue sensor. But here I can get by. And this brings me back to my earlier statement:
I do not see this camera as a modern digital camera, or even as a digital camera necessarily.
What on Earth am I on about? “Of course, it is a digital camera.”, you may be quite accurately saying to yourself. Technically yes of course. But functionally? I put together a checklist comparison of the limitations from above.
|Limitations||Film Camera||Sigma dp2 Quattro||Notes|
|Usable ISO tops out at about 800 for color and maybe 1600 for B&W. ||X||X||I tend to use 100, 200, 400, and 800 speed film. Rarely do I shoot 3200 film.|
|1/2000s top shutter speed.||X||X||Like the Contax G1.|
|Contrast only 9 point AF.||X||X||Even the best AF with film is pretty rudimentary.|
|No video.||X||X||For very different reasons, but yeah. Same.|
|No EVF even add on and the offered OVF costs more than some cameras.||X||X||For very different reasons, but yeah. Same.|
|Initially hobbled RAW file processing.||X||X||Before getting the camera I felt the pain of the RAW process paralleled nicely with the added faffing about film processing/scanning requires.|
But that is not where the film comparison ends for me.
Up to this point digital could not quite get there consistently. I mean they did well and sometimes very well. I primarily shoot Sony. Some have complained about Sony colors, but I have gotten along just fine.
I keep a Pentax on deck largely because of the way they have tweaked their Pentax K-1 sensor (also a Sony sensor I have read).
Have tried Fujifilm, Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Panasonic, and even Leica digital cameras, and regardless they never seem to get me all the way there color wise. Acceptable. Close. But to my eye something was missing. That warmth. Started thinking either:
- Perhaps I just need to let it go and accept that this is as good as it can get?
- Am I making this up just because I have an emotional attachment to film?
And that is why I have always been interested in the promises made by Sigma Foveon sensor technology from the first time I heard about it. Too expensive to try on a whim and too rare to try out beforehand I could not approach it at $1,000 new. But now having waited long enough for a used copy to be available at half that price I thought it time to give it a try. Result?
There it is. That warmth and quality of color that I have been looking for. A richness that I typically only see with film. Under the right conditions and staying within the limitations of this camera there it is. And it is not a fluke.
With patience and care, you can get amazing, easily repeatable results.
Black & White
A lot of hay is made about the color technology and performance of this camera’s sensor. But it has another trick up its sleeve. For reasons I am not sure of and will not speculate upon the how and the why but this sensor creates absolutely amazing black and white images. One of the stated advantages of medium format cameras is their ability to reproduce tones. Slight shifts that are really noticeable with black and white images. Take this simple, sample shot.
I was impressed with this image as is. I really liked the way the shifts in light and tones were captured. But I was further impressed when I looked close. Here is a crop of that image to show what I mean.
You start to see how many shades of black are captured in the door seal. Then I noticed that you can readily see the metallic highlights in the paint. Open the image above in Flickr and zoom in further. It is amazing how much detail is captured.
One of my favorite film stocks to use is Rollei RPX 400. Here is a sample shot taken with it:
Same location shot with the dp2 Quattro:
Another comparison. Rollei RPX 400:
Sigma dp2 Quattro:
There it is. One more before I move on. I love the tones captured below.
Now onto that medium format comparison mentioned above. It is there in my opinion. Already mentioned the sharpness and tones often mentioned when discussing medium format, but there is a bit of “that” certain look for me as well.
In addition to the image quality this is a camera I find myself using in a similar fashion to medium format cameras. I take it slow. Sky high ISOs are not available here also so I have to brace for shots. You do not blaze through exposures here either. This camera would be perfect for landscape and architecture.
I could go on. Pretty impressive for what is arguably not that good of a camera due to its limitations. But there is a crucial area where this camera excels. Image quality. For less money than a lot of lenses out there I would put this camera up against much more expensive cameras. But I state again:
At the end of the day is not the resulting image the ultimate goal of this whole pursuit called photography?
So I will close here with some product shots, some samples from my first few days with the camera, and a brief conclusion.
Do I recommend this camera?
If you are a rational, sensible person then no.
But I would recommend this camera to those similarly afflicted as I. Those who love film, but would like an opportunity to streamline the process now and again with little compromise image quality wise. Image quality geeks who are willing to sacrifice common conveniences offered elsewhere. Those who are drawn to a bit of weirdness. Well. It does not get much weirder than this.