In doubt

Last Saturday I was able to try the much debated Sigma DP1 for myself. I was curious about the handling of the camera, the image quality, the post processing, and whether I do need/want that image quality. Since my camera is still at Ricoh, I was interested in how another (and different) camera could be useful for my photography.

Sigma DP1

Impression or something else?
I first intended to write an impression of the camera. But after reviewing the photographs from the DP1, the limited amount of time and photographic options I had used of the DP1, and reevaluating my thoughts and needs I thought an impression of the camera was not justified in my opinion. So I will just briefly name it an initial thought of the DP1.

Positive
The image quality just really amazes me. The photographs are very sharp, and there are so many color subtleties captured. Almost film like and simply gorgeous. And I had forgotten how much fun it is to get shallow depth of field with a digital camera (I never used a DSLR), and my Ricoh can only do it well in macro mode.

People said it is slow a camera. Well it is not the fasted camera either, but I think it isn’t that bad. It is a thoughtful camera.

Negative
I just said the DP1 wasn’t that slow, but it does have its con too. The DP1 lacks some responsiveness, and the camera is not so intuitive. The LCD screen is quite dim, and does not make framing and exposing easy and accurate. Even stranger is that in playback mode the images look brighter. In playback mode you can also use the histogram, but I would personally prefer the histogram before making my photograph. I just never playback my photographs.

While the image quality is great, the white balance is not that great in my opinion. Off course you could use the custom white balance, but that would slow me down considerably. I often had a magenta overcast on my images. And that is how I finally come to the software supplied by Sigma to view and edit the RAW files. Sigma Photo Pro 2.5 (SPP) is slow in my opinion (Windows version, the Mac version is even slower), adjusting the settings is awkward, and changing the white balance in SPP takes forever. So I just keep it as much as possible in auto and save the file and import it in Adobe Lightroom. Unfortunately the DP1 RAW files are still not supported by Adobe (or any other vendors). Not even in Lightroom 2 (sigh). But when you nail it, the images look absolutely stunning.

Sigma DP1

Rethinking or doubt?
The ultimate question is whether I want a DP1 or not. Or if I would like a DP1 after some time. And I simply can’t give a straight and complete answer to that. I really like the quality of the images, although they are absolutely different to those of the Ricoh GX100. But I shouldn’t be comparing apples to oranges.

I like the user interface of the Ricoh, and it is so much more logical for me. The best feature of the DP1 is the manual focussing wheel on the back. It is just so much better than using two buttons. For white balance, ISO settings, and other items you have to get into the menu. The location of the exposure adjustment button seems unlogical to me. I often pressed the playback button instead of the exposure adjustment button.

I haven’t had any necessity for higher quality images with less (to zero) noise before. I like, and love the look of the Ricoh files. But after using the DP1 I think I wouldn’t mind the extra quality improvement too. Thankfully the 16 bit TIFFS look great in Lightroom, and in particular with Lightroom 2 it is a joy to process. Although I really dislike the thought of having a work around, and lengthening my workflow.

So my general feeling of the Sigma DP1 is a feeling of doubt. It is not the perfect camera, although the camera certainly brings back the joy of photography in me. Essentially it is not the camera that makes the photographs, but me again. I am in charge, and I like that. You rethink your photograph making again.

But do I want one?” Probably not for the initial price. I just have too much doubt of the camera. That doubt does not entirely come from the DP1, but also from the fact that I still don’t have my camera back. I think I don’t want to use the Ricoh exclusively anymore. But I think I don’t want a comparable camera either (like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3). It needs to be something different (especially in terms of image quality), but still be small enough. So, I just don’t know it yet!

Many thanks to Ronald Bunnik for lending his DP1. And for those who are interested, you can find some interesting read about the DP1 here, here and here.

Sigma DP1

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

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