Sigma DP1

In doubt

2008, Photography

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.

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.

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

28 thoughts on “In doubt

  1. Perhaps I have simply missed your explanation elsewhere, but why do you not move to a dSLR? Is it the more compact size of these other cameras (your Ricoh, the Sigma, etc.)? What about the Canon G9, with it’s ability to shoot in RAW?

  2. Why not consider the Olympus E420? It’s the smallest DSLR made today. The zoom lenses in the kit are very good. They seem to make all the right compromises: If they were any smaller, they would be too slow. If they were any faster, they would be bigger than necessary.

    You’d also have the option of getting the 25mm pancake. I don’t have it yet, but it would make the camera small enough to fit in a coat pocket. And, it’s more than a stop faster than the kit lens.

    You don’t need the high-grade lenses. They are faster, but the kit lens are fine for landscape work. The kit lens is sharp and it will you a lot of weight and money as well. Still, I like the fact that a DSLR gives you the option of expanding into other kinds of photography if you interests change in the future.

  3. I forgot to mention that my E410 does better at 1600 ISO than my GRD does at a more moderate ISO. So, the kit lens does OK in low light even if the specs seem to be on the slow side. I can use ISO 100 most of the time and the result is very good IMHO.

  4. I have always had SLR cameras in the past. Butthey were just too heavy for me, especially in combination with more lenses. That is way I opted for the Ricoh GR1 in the nineties. Simply said, the GR1 was one of the best (and small sized) 28mm lenses on the market. And as a bonus there was a camera attached to it.

    But I have thought about it too the last couple of days again. Maybe buying a second hand camera with a wide angle lens. Keep it simple and I could get that for less 500 Euro.

    The Canon G9 is not really an option for me. It sure feels solid and it has RAW, but the lens isn’t that fast as the Ricoh GX100 lens. And I really don’t need the extra zoom.

    In many aspects does the DP1 come close in my opinion. It is still small, the quality of the images is high. I just hope other manufacturers will produce a compact camera with a APS sized lens (rumors: Nikon and Leica).

    So, I think I need to have some little patience.


  5. Thanks Wouter for that honest opinion/impression/initial thought! A meeting like that works in two directions, as in any good communication, if people are willing to listen. I learned more about taking the picture from you and certainly by posting these color version as well, I do know that I have to invest some more time in the post processing (and unfortunatly) in the hardware that goes with that, to keep SPP and programs like Lightroom, running smoothly.

    I do tend to use the custom white balance more now, but on auto if the conditions are equal (like my sea session in poland) I personnaly did not notice a certain color cast. I do like to mention that the zoom buttons are now free to program a setting of your choice, so for example ISO. In that case you have the exposure triangle there without getting into the menu… (firmware 1.04)

    Do not forget the apsect you mentioned about DOF… Any other small sensor camera (no mather what serious), would give you the same ‘look’ as your gx100. I think that either a dp1 [2]?, or a smaller dslr, or a still to be announced (but I doubt they will) new camera, will give you that different look, next to your replacement gx100.. Make your choice a team, don’t let them compete against eachother.

  6. Wouldn’t it be more fair to compare it with the more similar GR-D II?
    Personally, I’ll stick to the gx100 (and a couple of DSLRs πŸ™‚ as the quality is sufficient for my purposes and I don’t really want to live without the zoom lens.

  7. @Ronald: I know you are right and I have tried to little of the camera to fully appreciate it. And it is unfair to compare the GX100 (or any other small sensor camera) with the DP1 regarding image quality. I would continue to use the GX100 like I do now, and use a camera with a larger sensor for the more special purposes. That is the main reason I won’t consider the LX3.

    @jorgen: I personally don’t think it is fair to compare the GR-D II with the DP1. That is apples to oranges. The image quality is so much better due to that larger sensor. Otherwise, the Ricoh would beat it on user friendliness, handling, and speed of working. The Ricoh’s are more fluid in their handling.


  8. Wouter, you just compared them in the four lines to me. πŸ™‚
    Based on what you wrote and your excellent article (and other articles that agree with you), I for one would choose the GR-D over the DP1 anytime. Image quality is only one element in the equation.

  9. This is a great summary about the DP1 and the pictures are great, at the same time they are different than most other Foveon pictures I’ve seen that are either too saturated or too oversharpened. Seems your processing skills work independend of the cameras and you get more out of them.

    I believe you should wait and see what else comes up before making a decision what to get. Maybe buy a used camera in the interim period in case there are any more problems with the GX100 (*touch wood there won’t be any*).

    Ricoh needs to come up with something special for the GRD III if they want to keep the GR series as their flagship camera. Since the GX200 has surpassed the GRD II in almost every respect I believe the GRD III will be the change we are hoping for.

    Maybe Panasonic will surprise everyone and announce the LC2 at Photokina with the same specs but slightly smaller? The LC1 is a wonderful camera and although as big as the E410 with lens it is a joy to use and definitely worth getting even now 2nd hand.

  10. Great work from the DP-1. I love the seed pods catching the light in an earlier post.
    Your PP skills are terrific.
    Excellent sumation of the DP-1, part of me still wants one but the rest adore the UI of my GRD First Gen too much πŸ˜‰
    I think once was has experience he world as seen by small, inconspicuous cameras. one become firmly addicted to their ‘transparency’.
    I hope the Ricoh and SIgma pioneering thisrealm leads others to take the plunge.
    Perhaps the LX-3 will prove to be as good as the specs say it might be.
    Perhaps even Canon and Nikon have larger sensor compacts waiting in the wings.
    Sigh, cannot wait…..

  11. @Cristi: I personally don’t know what the particular Foveon characters are. But it becomes clear to me that this camera captures a lot of subtleties.
    I will wait until Photokina and wait for the Nikon rumor to be true πŸ™‚ I thought about buying a smaller DSLR (probably Nikon) and go for a single wide angle lens.
    I have hardly enjoyed photography last month. No camera, and in the meantime I kept writing about it. I miss my camera I think.

    @Lili: Thank you Lili. The Sigma DP2 or a Nikon compact with a larger sensor are some of the expectations. Lets wait and hope πŸ˜€


  12. Thanks for the explanation as to why you haven’t gone with a dSLR Wouter. Regardless of what camera you own and use it is clear you have a gift for great pictures!

  13. It is always funny to me when people claim that many of the Foveon images they see are “over sharpened” The reality is the sensor produces much sharper images than standard Bayer sensors due to the lack of an AA filter on the Foveon.
    In general images from the Foveon don’t have added sharpening on them, they are just naturally sharp.
    I think the problem is people are so used to seeing images that aren’t truly sharp so when they see the Foveon shots they look sharpened to them.

  14. Hi Britton, Thank you for your explanation. But I only said it looks very sharp, not “over sharpened”. And I will not (and I didn’t) make a connection to the Foveon sensor. Yes, I know the Foveon lacks an AA filter, but the Leica M8 with the Kodak CCD does so too.

    Because I haven’t used any DSLR, or cameras with larger sensor for that matter, I can’t judge for myself whether there is something special about the Foveon. I acknowledge that the images looked good to me, although I had some problems with a magenta overcast. And I did notice some addtional red around highlight parts (, despite the latest firmware).
    But, when no other manufacturer introduces a compact camera with a larger sensor, than I wil very likely go for the DP1


  15. Wouter,
    My comments on over sharpening were in response to Cristi not yours.
    I thought your article was thoughtful and well written.

    Sigma’s own marketing for the DP1 says it’s not a camera for everyone. I applaud them for having the courage to bring out a camera like this and to be so honest in the marketing.

  16. Hi Britton,

    Cristi also said: “Like how it is very crisp and almost 3D.” And that sure must be a compliment for the camera capabilities too.

    I agree with you that it is brave to bring out a camera like the DP1, althought Sigma raised the bar pretty high in 2006. And after all, it proved harder than expacted. Despite all it is a very challenging and eventually rewarding camera. Something Chris Kresser (aka switters on Flickr) is mentioning too.

    And compliments by the way for your most recent waterfall photographs. Absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking.


  17. Wouter,

    Good point calling out the additional comment Cristi made.

    Many thanks for the comments on my latest waterfall series. I was quite pleased with how they turned out. I went out on a group shoot last weekend to Stony Brook State Park in Dansville, NY. Everyone else in the group had their dSLRs (Nikon D70s and some misc Canons) and I only had the DP1 and my tripod. Nobody else was able to get shots like these even though they tried. It’s things like this that make me love having the DP1 even if post processing is challenging sometimes.

    When I get frustrated with post-processing, I just remember back to what it was like in the film days. No matter how challenging the computer-based post processing is, it is still far easier and faster that it was with film. :^)

    Best Regards,

  18. LOL! For most the post-processing was just time consuming. I used to shoot slides too, so you had to wait a couple of days, and than you checked your processed slides on a lightbox and framed the good ones. The control and speed of current day post-processing is a great benefit of digital photography.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s