There are cameras that you love because they are perfectly designed and work flawlessly. And there are cameras that have lots of flaws but you still love carrying around and shooting with them. The camera I’m reviewing this time is definitely not the first type. But could it be the later one?
The Sigma DP2 Quattro is the latest update to the Sigma DP2 series camera. The DP2 series has always been an unusual camera, and the latest DP2 Quattro is even more unusual than before. Especially about it’s body design.
So, let’s talk about the camera’s body design first.
The previous Sigma DP2 cameras all have pretty conservative or in other word boring body design. Not any more with the DP2 Quattro. The DP2 Quattro has a very interesting and unique design. The body is basically a long black rectangle block with a “reversed” grip at the end. What I mean by reversed grip is that the grip is actually facing backwards, opposite to the normal forward facing grip design.
There are no buttons or controls on the front of the camera, the 30mm f/2.8 lens is the only thing extrudes from the body. The camera looks very clean and sleek. However, it would be great if Sigma can shrink the size of the lens a bit, after all, the Nikon Coolpix A and Ricoh GR has a similar size sensor and the (slightly wider angle) lens on those cameras are much smaller and can be collapsed into the body when not in use. I think the DP2 Quattro would look even sleeker if the lens is made like that and then maybe we can slide it into our jeans pocket.
The back of the camera is predominantly covered by a 3” LCD screen. The LCD screen isn’t really the brightest one compare to some of the latest camera i have used recently. And since there is no built-in viewfinder of any type , it gets a bit tricky when you are shooting outdoor at daytime. There is a LCD viewfinder LVF-01 designed for this camera, which is basically a magnifying loupe that changes the LCD into a big EVF. Unfortunately attaching this accessory to the camera kind of defeated two of the selling point of this camera: the size of the camera become a lot bigger and frankly it makes the camera quite ugly. But if you are serious photographer who shoot a lot under bright sunlight, this is something you probably would want in your camera bag. Wouldn’t it be great if sigma has included an electronic viewfinder for this camera, even an external one.
With the minimalism design and reversed grip, the DP2 Quattro looks like a conceptual prototype more than anything. When I was out shooting with the camera, pretty much everyone who saw the camera would come and ask me what camera am I using. I don’t remember any other camera has created so much interest when I was carrying it around, not the Nikon D4s, not the Nikon Df or the Olympus OMD E-M5.
If you wonder why no other company has designed a body like this before? Pick up the camera and you’ll understand why. Yes the DP2 Quattro looks very sleek but once you hold it in your hands you’ll immediately notice it’s not the most comfortable camera to hold and shoot. The reversed grip just doesn’t provide enough support at all. It maybe ok if you are just holding it, but once you move your fingers into shooting position, you really have to use your left hand to help support the camera or you feel like the camera is about to drop from your hand any time.
With both hands holding the camera , then everything works quite well and the buttons and dials are easy to reach. Anyway ergonomic definitely is not DP2 Quattro’s strong area especially if you prefer shooting with single hand, it’s a price you have to pay for having such a cool looking camera.
The camera’s menu system is pretty simple and easy to navigate. Even if you have never used a Sigma camera before you should not have problem finding the settings you want to adjust.
There is also QS button at the back of the camera, which brings up the quick set menu. Most of the commonly used settings are listed there allowing you to adjust them quickly.
While the menu system reponse quickly, the camera completely locks itself up for a few second after each photo.
When you are taking photos, areas with fine details would keep flickering and changing, even when the camera and the scene is completely static. Its a bit similar to what you see when you are shooting under low light and the camera has to boost the signal which creates noise. But with the Sigma DP2 quattro, this happens even when I was shooting under bright light and at base ISO. This doesn’t affect the output image but is a bit annoying and makes the camera feel unpolished.
The camera’s autofocus system is very basic. The nine autofocus points area arranged in a 3 x 3 grid. You can choose to limit the focus range to exclude the very close distance and i recommend you do that as otherwise the autofocus speed is really quite slow, even during the day. When there is not enough amibient light, the autofocus performance become even worse and sometimes can’t autofocus at all. Fortunately manual focus is pretty easy to use and I found myself using manual focus quite a bit especially after dark.
One of the most important selling point of the Sigma DP2 Quattro is its APS-C size, 29M effective pixels Feveon sensor and 30mm f/2.8 lens. If you don’t know what a Feveon sensor is, basically it’s completely different to the typical Bayer filter sensor we have in 99% of the digital cameras.
With a Bayer filter sensor, the red, green, blue (RGB) sensors are located at different location on the sensor, and an interpolative process is required to generate the final colour image.
And with a Feveon sensor, the RGB sensors are stacked on top of each other, what it means is no interpolating is required and the sensor capture pretty much exactly what will be in the output image. The advantage of the Feveon sensor is that there should be less color artifacts and the sharpness should be very good.
But there is one thing DP2 Quattro’s Feveon sensor is different from the previous Feveon sensor. The top layer (blue channel) is of high resolution (19.7MP) while the middle and bottom layers (green and red channels) are of lower resolution (4.9MP). That’s where the name Quattro comes from as the ratio of the top and bottom layer pixel is 4:1. This is to combat the biggest weakness of the Feveon sensor design, poor high ISO performance. By having a lower resolution and hence larger photodiodes in the bottom two layers, this allows a lower noise level and improve the high ISO performance. The downside is that there is now a bit of processing required to generate the full resolution photo, instead of just straightly readout the RGB value of each pixel.
Reviewing the photos on the camera’s LCD screen gave me some positive feeling about the image quality, but it’s not until I loaded the photos onto my computer, then I truly understand the magic of the DP2 Quattro.
The image quality from the DP2 Quattro is really good. I was really amazed when I was exaiming the photos at 100% zoom level, even the corners has tonnes of details. The photos are really sharp. There are so much details captured I completely forgot the images are from a compact camera. I nearly thought I’m looking at images from a medium format camera! Its not just the sharpness and details, the colours are just beautiful. The colours of the trees, grass, sky are rendered beautifully and everything just look amazing.
All of a sudden, all the negative things about this camera doesn’t matter any more, because when a camera can take such beautiful photos, you can forgive pretty much all it’s flaws.
The photos from the DP2 is so nice that I just want to go out for a walk when I have time and take some random photos as the world looks more beautiful when captured by this camera.
And below is a 100% crop:
On a related topic, when I’m writing this review, Adobe still doesn’t support the RAW files from the DP2 Quattro. It means I have to use Sigma Photo Pro to edit the RAW files, which really is one of the clunkiest image editing software I’ve ever used. But to be fair, the output image quality is excellent, and pretty much all the camera manufacturer’s own software are slow and clunky, it’s just a matter of who is the worst .
While the images from the camera is beautiful, the sensor is not perfect.
Maybe I’m just being spoiled by the amazing dynamic range from my full frame Nikons, but the DP2 Quattro’s dynamic range could really be a bit better. It’s quite easy to have blown out highlight that cannot be recovered in post processing.
If you have used the previous Sigma DP cameras (DP2 Merril), you will know that despite its large sensor, you need to shoot at ISO 200. Anything above that and the image quality degrades significantly. Luckily this has been improved with the new sensor design. You can go up to ISO 800 and still get reasonable picture quality. For sure ISO 800 is still very low for a APS-C sensor camera but compare to it’s predecessor, it’s already a huge improvement. A tripod is still your DP2 Quattro’s best friend, otherwise you can only shoot under bright sunlight.
Interestingly, while every other camera manufacturer are trying to do something to attract the keen videographers, Sigma is doing the opposite with the DP2 Quattro. There is absolutely no video recording capability (the predecessor DP2 Merril allows you to capture VGA quality video). I guess Sigma just want to focus all their resources on the still photo side and make it a fantastic photo camera instead of spreading out their resources on multiple areas. I don’t really mind that and think it’s a smart move. Unless you can do a very good job at something, you might as well skip it and focus on improving your core functionality first instead of just adding another tick on your product specs sheet that nobody would use.
Dp2 Quattor’s battery life isn’t too great. I can take around 100 photos per battery, maybe slightly more when I’m lucky. But if you think 100 photos per battery is bad, I have to remind you the DP2 Merill’s battery can only last 30-50 shots per charge. So comparatively speaking the DP2 Quattro’s battery life has already improved dramatically. And Sigma also gives us two batteries with each DP2 Quattro.
Battery life is not that good, but at least each camera comes with two batteries.
The Sigma is a controversial camera. It has a very unusual body design that looks futuristic that you either love or hate. It’s not cheap, battery life is poor and very hard to operate with one hand. The basic autofocus system and limited usable ISO range means the camera has a narrow shooting envelop.
But there is one thing it’s really good at and that’s the most important thing for a camera, the image quality (when you are shooting within it’s limits). The DP2 Quattro outputs stunning images. The images from the Sigma are almost as good as the images from a medium format camera. Yes the resolution is lower, but in terms of the amount of details captured, the sharpness, the colours, the Sigma DP2 Quattro is comparable to those big, heavy expensive cameras.
To me the image quality makes me forgive all the flaws of the camera.
Have the picture displayed on a big screen you’ll understand why people are crazy about these Sigma cameras.
It’s not a camera I would recommend to parents who want to take photos of their children, there are lots of cheaper cameras that does a much better job if you want to take daily photos. But if you are a landscape photographer who doesn’t want to carry a big and heavy camera bag, the Sigma DP2 Quattro is what you should carry.
Sigma DP2 Quattro ISO 200 1/13s f/3.2
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