Sigma dp2 Quattro Conclusion

Pro: Cons:
  • Phenomenal detail and "depth" at low ISOs
  • Incredible image quality for the price and size (at low ISOs)
  • No demosaicing artifacts
  • Extremely high resolution
  • Superb corner-to-corner sharpness and contrast from fixed lens, even wide open
  • Low geometric distortion and chromatic aberration
  • Decent autofocus speeds, though still slower than average
  • Very fast manual focus and prefocused shutter lag
  • Flash hot shoe
  • Fast x-sync speeds (up to 1/2000s at f/5.6)
  • Elongated design is unusual, but comfortable and balanced
  • Controls are straightforward and easy to use
  • Fixed focal-length lens
  • Poor macro reproduction ratio
  • Moderate vignetting wide open
  • High ISO performance is still poor; much below average for the sensor size
  • Below average dynamic range
  • Auto and Incandescent white balance produce color casts indoors
  • Slow startup
  • Sluggish continuous mode (~3.7 fps)
  • Shallow buffers (7 frames) with very slow clearing times
  • Very poor low-light focusing
  • No built-in flash (but bundled flash is included)
  • Very slow flash recycling
  • Poor battery life (but Sigma does provide 2 batteries)
  • SPP software very slow
  • Limited third-party raw file support
  • No movie mode
  • LCD screen doesn't tilt or swivel

When it comes to doing things a little differently in the photo industry, Sigma is usually quick to enter the conversation. Renowned for their well-priced and well-regarded lenses -- especially nowadays -- it's their camera systems that really stand out, and their radical new "dp Quattro family" of large sensor, fixed-lens cameras are perhaps the most head-scratchingly unique versions to date.

Starting with the 30mm f/2.8-equipped Sigma dp2 Quattro, this new 'dp'-series camera sports a brand new Foveon X3 Quattro APS-C image sensor. Still constructed around a three-layered RGB sensor array, the new 'Quattro' gets its namesake due to the top-most blue layer being split four ways into 19.6 million photodiodes with the underlying green and red layers remaining at 4.9 million. Effectively, the new dp2 Quattro produces images with a 19.6-megapixel resolution though there's also a Super High-Res image size that produces a whopping 39-megapixel image size (7680 x 5120). Suffice it to say, like Sigma's earlier DP cameras with Foveon sensors, the dp2 Quattro produces some absolutely stunning images with phenomenal detail at low ISOs -- especially if you shoot RAW and process them with their proprietary (though sadly rather clunky) Sigma Photo Pro software. With the ability to capture tons of detail at very high resolution, despite the APS-C size sensor, the dp2 Quattro competes, in some ways, against high-res full-frame cameras like the Nikon D810.

But there was a key phrase toward the end of the previous paragraph: "low ISOs." Unfortunately, like Sigma's previous DP models such as the predecessor DP2 Merrill camera, the dp2 Quattro's image quality severely degrades as the ISO sensitivity is cranked up, and to a much more severe degree than other APS-C-sensor cameras. In fact, even at just ISO 400 we start to see detail degradation due to noise. However, the most severe and noticeable color shift and loss of detail are seen at ISO 3200 and 6400, and we'd be hesitant to recommend shooting at anything higher than ISO 800. To its credit, however, the high ISO performance is much improved compared to the DP2 Merrill, but compared to other, standard Bayer-filter APS-C cameras, the high ISO performance just isn't there with the Sigma.

For some good news, though, given Sigma's reputation as a lens manufacturer, it's no surprise that the fixed lens on the dp2 Quattro exhibits superb performance. The 45mm-equivalent 30mm f/2.8 prime lens is indeed very sharp, with excellent corner-to-corner sharpness, low distortion, and minimal CA. It's a fabulous lens, indeed.

While this camera certainly has a radically different sensor, we'd be remiss to conclude our review of such a camera without talking about the Sigma dp2 Quattro's eye-catching external design. In a huge departure from the brick-like shape of the "Merrill" cameras -- and from most other camera designs -- the new Quattro models have a slim, elongated design with an almost reversed protruding handgrip. We actually found the camera's shape to be surprisingly comfortable, though you need to get used to holding it a different way -- with two hands on either side -- almost as if you were holding a tablet. It's quite comfortable and makes for a nice, stable hold. However, we will concede that the design and handling might not be for everyone, and certainly takes some getting used to.

So, who's this camera for? Well, to be honest, it's still a very niche camera. While AF speed and battery life have been improved somewhat, making the shooting experience less frustrating than with the earlier Merrill versions, the disappointing high ISO performance is still one of the biggest drawbacks. And it still suffers from slow startup time, sluggish burst shooting, and shallow buffers with near-exasperatingly slow clearing times, significantly limiting its versatility as an all-around shooter. Needless to say, if you're planning to photograph anything fast-paced, you might want to look elsewhere.

However, if your goal is top-notch fine detail and high-resolution images for still life subjects, such as landscapes and portraiture, this is where the Sigma dp2 Quattro shines. Far from being a quick and nimble pocket street shooter, the dp2 Quattro feels more at home mounted on a tripod, fixed to ISO 100 or 200 while calmly capturing stunning landscapes or other relatively stationary subjects in decent lighting (you really want to shoot at low ISOs if at all possible, and we can't really recommend the dp2 for low-light shooting).

All in all, the Sigma dp2 Quattro is one quirky camera, which has become the hallmark characteristic of Sigma's family of Foveon-based compact cameras. The unique sensor design and sharp 30mm prime lens together allow for some truly stunning, high-resolution files -- as long as you limit yourself to low ISOs. The strange, elongated design might scare away some at first, but it's quite comfortable after you try it for a while and provides a nice, steady hold for better handheld shots -- which is crucial for crisp, high-res shots. Performance-wise, it's still a bit clunky and sluggish, but some areas have thankfully been improved over the earlier Merrill-generation of DP cameras. Overall, if you're looking for a much more portable, high-res landscape or portrait camera, the Sigma dp2 Quattro merits consideration.

While it might have a lot of quirks and noticeable disadvantages compared to more traditional large-sensor cameras, we still think the Sigma dp2 Quattro deserves a Dave's Pick, with some caveats. This camera is not for everyone, that's for sure. However, given its ability to produce outstanding images with incredible detail -- all in a very portable and very well-priced package -- we feel that there are photographers out there, such as landscape, architectural and portrait photographers, who can work around or do not mind the performance and usability limitations if it means capturing fantastic, crisp, high-resolution photographs.

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