Sigma DP1 Review and FAQs


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Table of contents

Introduction

The price of the DP1 dropped after the DP2 came out, but it remains above $400 due to the quality of the photos it takes. The DP1 and the subsequent DP1s have risen in price in early 2010.

I'm very impressed with the DP1. I bought it against the advise of others, both people I know and reviewers, who argued that the DP1 is a limited camera that lacks key features that other compacts have. But it's a camera with excellent dynamic range, which results in stunning photos.

And to be sure, it lacks:

  • Zoom lens
  • Image stabilization
  • Super-high megapixels
  • Fast focus for action shots
  • Usable movie mode

But for my needs it is excellent. It is what it is: A small camera with a big sensor, a good fixed lens, an excellent manual mode and the option to add filters.

This is not a camera for consumers who are crybabies. If you whimper when the people at Starbucks don't make your latte "just so" (I've seen that firsthand), or if you can't imagine driving a stick-shift car because it's too difficult, or if you shiver at the idea of camping outdoors, or if talk about skydiving makes you faint, then please forget this camera.

Early reviewers gave this camera a lot of bad press. I suspect most of that much of that was motivated by the price of the DP1, because at the time it cost $800. At that price the camera is indeed deficient, as it lacks a zoom, optical image stabilization, a decent movie mode, etc.

DP1 Specifications

  • Camera format: pocketable compact
  • Sensor type: Foveon X3 CMOS
  • Sensor size: 20.7 x 13.8 mm (about the same as sensors used in DSLRs)
  • Sensor pixel area: 60 square micrometers
  • Sensor pixel density: 1.6 MP per cm2
  • Sensor resolution: 2640x1760 = 4.6 MP
  • ISO range: 100 to 800 in RAW
  • Shutter range: 1/1000 to 15 seconds
  • Apertures: f2.8 to f14
  • Display size: 2.5 inches
  • Fixed lens focal length: 16.6 mm (28 mm equivalent)
In Foveon sensors, red, green and blue are layered at each pixel site, which greatly improves sharpness. A Foveon sensor's sharpness provides images equivalent to Bayer sensor two or three times the resolution of the Foveon. Almost all non-Sigma cameras use the Bayer sensor type.

My video review

Written Review

The DP1 is a very nice camera in most respects.

So far I can say:

  1. It is very well built.
  2. Photo quality is ultimately very good, but you need to achieve that using the provided Photo Pro software.
  3. In Photo Pro, the untouched photo will appear desaturated if the saturation setting in the camera menu is 0. The automatically-adjusted photo will too.
  4. I don't sorely miss not having an optical zoom but it would have been nice to have.
  5. I don't mind the delay incurred when a RAW photo is written to my SDHC card, but using a generic SD card it is slow. (I recall that my Nikon D70 was about 5 seconds.)

Image quality

The RAW photo quality is typically very good, unusually so in fact, however the photos are desaturated when the saturation setting on the camera is 0. So I find that I need to keep it set at a higher value. Otherwise each and every photo would need re-saturation in the Sigma Photo Pro software.

Once saturation is taken care of the photos are spectacular.

The DP1's JPEG photos are just acceptable, not great. But they're not the purpose of the camera. You buy this camera for the RAW photos, just as you buy a sports car for the fast driving, not for delivering newspapers.

Bright reds

With the DP1, very bright reds tend to "bleed" and appear as a pinkish or even a yellow hue. From what I can tell, this is due to the weak infrared filter in the DP1, which was replaced with a stronger one in subsequent DP-series cameras.

You can attenuate the reds in The GIMP, or you can get a DP-series camera other than the DP1.

Yellow blotches

Sigma's Photo Pro software performs some chromatic noise reduction that unfortunately can actually add noise to some low-light RAW photos. I've found that using non-Sigma software to process RAW photos can alleviate this.

Speed

Focus

The focus speed of the DP-series cameras is notoriously slow, and much slower than $100 point and shoot cameras. It takes about 1 second to focus.

This problem has finally been fixed in the new DP2s and DP1x cameras, and the DP2 firmware can be upgraded to achieve a faster focus. But the DP1 and DP1s will always have the slower focus.

Personally I didn't mind the slow focus that much, but then I've also used manual-focus-only cameras in the past.

Writing to SD

Writing to the SD card is slower than most cameras but this is not in my opinion a problem. I have found that I can shoot one RAW photo (2640 x 1760) every 8 seconds using a generic SD card, or every 4 to 5 seconds using a Transcend "class 6" card. That includes 1 second to focus.

But do note that, with the DP1 and DP1s models, you cannot take a new shot while your RAW photo is being written to SD. This problem has been fixed in the DP2s.

Durability

The metal case is tough and impressive and reminds me of pre-digital cameras.

One minor gripe that all reviewers express is the lack of a wrist strap. It comes with a neck strap instead. So I just bought one for $6 at my local camera store. It can be tightened around the wrist so it's better than most of the straps that come with cameras.

Another minor gripe is that the lens cap does not have a cord to attach it to the camera. But it can be replaced by an automatically closing cap (see Accessories below).

Infrared

The DP1 and its Foveon sensor, when combined with an infrared filter like an R72 on the end of the HA-11 hood adapter, is extremely useful for infrared photography. The infrared photos that I've taken so far have frankly been astounding.

Note however that this is in part because the DP1's infrared filter is weaker than subsequent DP-series cameras.

An acceptable IR photo that I took is this:
Sigma DP1 infrared photo

Ultraviolet

The Foveon sensor is capable of detecting UV light, which I know because I bought a UV-pass filter and tested it. The filter I bought is a B+W UV Black Glass 403.

At this point it's clear that very long exposure, low F stop, and high ISO are required, not to mention the brightest possible sunlight. An overcast day will produce grainy pictures. Alternatively for closeups one could use a UV lamp or UV LED however as you probably know, UV light is hazardous to the skin and eyes.

FYI, the 403 actually passes both UV and IR. To choose one or the other you need to decompose the image into its constituent red, green, and blue channel in The GIMP (or I suppose Photoshop has such a feature) and select the blue channel for UV or the red for IR. Green is almost always dark.

Video

Everyone says the video capability of the DP-series cameras is a joke and they are basically correct. The resolution is 320 by 212 with a black bar 28 pixels high at the bottom, to make it 320x240. It is barely at the quality level of a decent mobile phone. Panning leads to jerkiness. You can buy a $100 compact cameras that do better. That said, in a jam you may need to use it.

I have found that some programs cannot read the AVI files produced by the DP1. The best free video converter that's available, called FFMPEG, which is a command-line program, can read them but there are some builds of FFMPEG circulating that cannot, for instance the one included with WinFF.

Windows users may need to use Windows Movie Maker to convert the AVI to a WMV, and then use WinFF to convert that back to a readable AVI.

If you have a copy of FFMPEG that does not reject the AVIs outright, you'll have best results if you use the command-line options -an -sameq and try to convert to an AVI using the MS AVI codec.

For your edification, here is a video of a beautiful country scene that I made using my DP1: DP1-video.avi.

Timelapse films

The fact that the Sigma DP1 produces such amazing images increases the temptation to use it to create time-lapse films.

But unlike the DP2, which has a built-in intervalometer for taking a time-lapse photo series of any length, with the DP1 you must create the series by hand, as I have done.

There are 2 potential obstacles:

  1. There is no remote control.
  2. There is no PTP mode available so you cannot use your PC control the camera and take a photo every few seconds.

To convert a series of frames to a movie under Windows, use AviSynth and VirtualDub. But if you find that it's hard to keep the camera steady, for instance due to your pressing the shutter button, you can use VirtualDub in combination with the Deshaker plugin to remove any jitters.

You will definitely need a fast class 6 SDHC card.

Here's an HD timelapse movie that I made with the DP1:

Gripes

I do have a few minor gripes.
  • The hood adapter from Sigma works but it is rather loose. It is much too easy to brush against it lightly causing it to turn and then fall off. The solution I found is to keep it on all the time and secure it with a small piece of black electrical tape. This however means the DP1 no longer fits in a coat pocket.
  • There is no remote control for this camera.
  • There is no PTP support in this camera so you cannot control it with your PC.
  • The Photo Pro software has crashed for me several times under Windows XP. It only happens when I rotate photos.
  • Very bright reds appears on the LCD as pink or white -- even after the firmware attenuates them.
  • The built-in flash is not compatible with the hood adapter because the hood blocks some of its light.
  • The longest exposure is only 15 seconds. Consider that a Nikon D70 can do 1 minute and that a hacked Canon Powershot can do up to 2048 seconds using the CHDK firmware.

I don't list the video mode as a gripe because video is not what this camera is made for.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is the DP1 slow?
Somewhat but not especially.

When I take a RAW photo, it writes to my generic 1GB SD card at about 1.5 megabytes per second. Therefore storing a photo requires, on average, 8 seconds.

However it writes to my 16GB SDHC 6 card faster, at more like 3 megabytes per second. Therefore the average 12 MB RAW photo takes 4 seconds.

Note, typically with the DP1 at longer exposures, as with my former Nikon D70, after the photo is taken and before it starts writing to the flash card, there is an 2 second average delay when it is thinking.

The DP1's speed writing to generic SD flash is about the same as I experienced with my former Nikon D70 with generic CompactFlash, whose 5 MB NEF files took about 3 to 5 seconds to write.

If you are a professional working under a tight deadline, the DP1 is probably not be a good choice for a primary camera. The DP1 was not intended for taking rapid shots or for sports photography. If you need that and are a pro, you are already willing and able to invest in super-fast DSLRs.

The experience of quickness or slowness shot-to-shot using my generic 1 GB SD card is roughly the same was what you would have using a manual film camera, such as the Nikon FM10. Using SDHC 6, the speed is more like using a Canon Powershot.

Is the DP1 especially loud?
Not in my opinion. The focusing motors are a bit noisy but I've used louder compact cameras and of course DSLRs are much louder.
What to do about the lens extending when I power up with the lens cap on?
Normally if you power up with the lens cap on the lens will push against the lens cap and stop. This may not be too good for the camera.

One method to prevent this problem is to simply keep the hood on all the time and buy a generic lens cap to put on the end.

You can secure the hood to the camera with a small piece of black electrical tape.

Another method that may work (it does on the DP2s) is to always make sure that when you turn off the camera that it is in Audio Record mode. This mode prevents the lens from extending on accidental power-up.
How does it perform in low light situations?
Quite well, especially in manual mode. In my experience most cameras do not handle low light well in automatic mode. The long-exposure, low-light photos that I've taken with the DP1 are clearer and less noisy than ones that I took with my former DSLR, the Nikon D70.

As other reviewers have noted the image on the LCD image desaturates in low light but the photos are fine.

I will post some night photo sometime soon.

Anything to know about the manual focus dial?
There are two versions of the DP1. One has a manual focus that has a definite start and stop. The other is a wheel that spins without end. I have tried both and they both work. Neither has a click-stop for infinity.
Do you miss not having image stabilization?
I have never owned a camera with IS. I briefly used a Canon SX100 that has IS and I would say it is certainly a convenience.

But listen: If you want really good quality photos you need to rest the camera upon or press the camera against an unmovable surface. Or just bring a tripod. Use the 2-second timer.

Automatic image stabilization helps some but there is no free lunch.

The macro lens (for close-ups) costs $85. Is there a cheaper one?
Reviewers who have bought the Sigma macro lens (which is diopter +10 close-up filter) say it offers a focused image even at the corners. Whereas the claim is that cheaper macro lenses like the $30 Tiffen kit (+1 +2 +4 diopter) do not.

I bought the 46mm +8 macro filter sold at DealExtreme for $8. Here are a few shots. Most of these are F4, hence blurriness around the edges, but look at the 2nd book photo, which is F11.0. The image quality is very good even at the edges.
Sigma DP1 close-up photo Sigma DP1 close-up photo
  Sigma DP1 close-up photo
F-stop 4
Sigma DP1 close-up photo
F-stop 11
Sigma DP1 close-up photo
What do I need to buy in order to put a filter on the camera?
Sigma sells a 46mm $20 hood plus filter adapter. I have one and it seems fine although it does not lock in place well and there is a risk of it turning and falling off.

Here is the hood adapter with a lens cap that fits on the end. I got the cap on Ebay. [Photo taken with mobile phone].
Sigma DP1 hood adapter

What can I do to more securely attach the hood adapter to the DP1?
I decided to keep the hood adapter on all the time. The simple solution to ensure that it does not fall off was to apply a little black electrical tape.
46mm is such an odd size. Is there another hood adapter that is bigger?
Oddly enough there is. Lensmate makes a hood adapter that is 52mm.

52mm hood adapter link.

Is there a 46mm infrared filter?
Yes and I bought the R72 equivalent (720mm wavelength). It was $19 on Ebay from China with free shipping.

I have received it and it works although much sunlight is required.

In bright daylight I used F4.0 / ISO50 / 6 seconds. The results were astounding after using Photo Pro and then of course The GIMP.

Does the DP1 take a telephoto lens?
You can in theory attach one but I would suggest using a step-up ring.
What is a good filter kit?
I cannot say that I am an expert on the range of filter kits that are available. I did notice that there is a Zeikos kit available on Amazon (at right).

I bought my filters one by one from DealExtreme.

Also see my DP1 Accessories Summary below.

Is there a lens cap available for the hood adapter?
Yes. They cost $6 for two on Ebay. I ordered a pair and yes they fit the hood adapter just fine.
How much does a wrist strap cost?
I got one at my local camera store for $6 that can be tightened around my wrist.
Is there a screen protector available?
Yes. They cost $10 on Ebay.

Note that flip-up shades usually include a screen protector.
Is there a flip-up shade for the LCD?
Yes. I am using the Delkin 2.5 inch that I bought on Amazon.

This shows the Delkin on my DP1 as well as a $6 wrist strap. [Photo taken with mobile phone].
Delkin camera shade

I use a Delkin shade to protect my screen. Its screen protector film is glossy however so in bright sunlight it reflects and this will sometimes defeat the purpose of having a shade.

Where can I attach a level and how?
If you have the Delkin shade, you can tape a level to that.

This shows a level (removed from its aluminum housing) taped to the top of my Delkin shade on my DP1. [Photo taken with mobile phone].
Sigma dp1 with level

Or better yet: You can also get a level that slides into the flash shoe.
Is there a good protective case?
The cheapest leather case seems to be the Sigma case on Ebay for $65.
Is there a cheap viewfinder?
There is one that is being sold for a Ricoh camera for US$100 that also apparently fits on the Sigma DP-1. I have not bought or otherwise tried it.
Where can I get a replacement battery?
Replacement BP-31 batteries are being sold on Ebay direct from Hong Kong for about $6 to $12 w/free shipping.

Or you can buy the official Sigma batteries on Amazon for $30. These might be safer. Remember the Sony exploding battery scandal from a few years ago?

Does the camera support PTP?
Unfortunately no. This means that making timelapse movies is more difficult.
Does the camera support a remote control?
Unfortunately no.

DP1 Accessories Summary

You don't have to spend a great deal of money to fully outfit the DP1.

Item Cost From
LensMate 52mm Hood $23 Link
Hood lens cap 46mm $6 Ebay
46mm +8 diopter macro lens $7.90 DealExtreme
46mm R72 infrared filter $20-$35 Ebay
Adjustable wrist strap $6 Ritz
Automatically-opening/closing lens cap $10 Ebay
The GIMP photo editing
software
$0 GIMP.org

Conclusion

The DP1 is the cheapest pocketable compact camera with a large sensor. I have found that it's a very nice camera and the shots are quite good, better than shots taken with many DSLRs.

That said, DSLR sensors are leaping forward in megapixels and high-ISO performance. Yet there is something more lifelike about the shots that the DP series camera produce.

Yes, I have seen the two telltale minor issues that official reviewers have complained about: The under-saturation of the DP1's photos generally and the clipping of very bright reds. The undersaturation is handled in Photo Pro (in Auto mode), or you can increase the default saturation level in the camera (I set it to +1).

While the Foveon sensor has excellent dynamic range generally the reds on the DP1 are a problem. But a byproduct of the extra sensitivity to reds is that the DP1 is an excellent camera for infrared photography using a 720 nm IR-pass filter.

Three things are striking about the photos that this camera provides:

  • The big sensor really pays off in terms of there being very little noise. Noise has only been a problem for me when shooting at high ISOs. At the time I was using an ultraviolet-pass filter that blocked all visible light.
  • The sharpness that the Foveon achieves is extraordinary. A Bayer sensor need 2X as many pixels to achieve the same clarity.
  • The photos are very lifelike. I see in the photo what I remember seeing with my eyes. I never felt this way about the photos that I took with my Nikon D70.

This camera is being made available at an affordable price and at just the right time in the history of digital cameras. Until recently, no other company had stepped forward to put a serious sensor into a compact camera. For a time, this put Sigma's competitors at a disadvantage and in my opinion, showed their lack of initiative. Now the DP1 and DP2 do have competitors but they are, of course, Bayer sensor based because Sigma has bought the Foveon company.

Addendum: Comparing to the Sigma DP2

The DP2 has three important improvements over the DP1:
  1. Faster lens i.e. the aperture goes wider to let more light in.
  2. Longer fixed lens i.e. the focal length is greater therefore the object appears to be closer.
  3. Time-lapse movie mode: useful but runs down the battery.

As of January 2010, the DP2 price was $550 and the DP1 was $400. Is the higher price worth it? I think so. Is there a better alternative on the market? At the moment, no.

"DP2 vs. DP2s"

As this point, it appears that the DP2's firmware can be upgraded to provide a faster focus than it originally had.

Sigma customer service says that the DP2s offers better algorithms, faster focus, and cosmetic improvements to the body. And they say, future firmware updates for the DP2 have ceased whereas this is not the case for the DP2s.

In forums people have also said the DP2s will offer a longer battery life.

A Sigma trade show representative in a YouTube video says that the Foveon sensor in the DP2s is newer and has an analog output for better precision.

Addendum: Comparing to the Olympus PEN EP-1

Major points:

1. The zoom lens of the $690 EP1 kit is reputed to be poor quality compared to the fixed lenses of either the DP1 or DP2.

2. The video mode of the EP1 is far better than the video mode of the DP2. However highlights are notoriously clipped.

3. The EP1 kit that is $690 comes with a zoom lens whereas the $550 DP2 has an excellent lens but it has a fixed focal length.

4. The EP1 only fits in a coat pocket when paired with the pancake lens, which is included in the $750 kit. This pancake lens is reputed to be poorer quality.

Personally, I have tried very hard to find sample EP1 photos that do not look horrible, and I have come to the conclusion that all the hype about the EP1 is just that, hype. Sure, it shoots HD video. But are the photos any good? And are the videos any good, in truth? To me, the EP1's photos and videos look washed out, overly contrasty, and the colors just don't look right. And given that you can't pocket it, what's the point of getting it over a bulky DSLR like a Canon Rebel?

DP1 links

Support email addresses are: intl at sigma-photo.co.jp Japan and info at sigmaphoto.com USA.

Optics links

Links


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