Sigma dp2 Quattro Field Test Part II

In the details

By Eamon Hickey | Posted: 11/07/2014

1/160s / f/4.0 / ISO 200 (converted using SPP v6.0.6)
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Performance

In my reviews of previous Sigma Foveon cameras, especially the DP-series, I’ve complained about squandering what’s left of my youth shooting with them. I was talking about needing to change batteries every 60 shots and waiting much too long for the camera to turn on, focus, save images to its storage card, or display the picture I just took. Performance has been arguably their biggest weak spot.

And when I unpacked the DP2 Quattro and found that Sigma had seen fit to include two batteries with it, I knew not to expect too many miracles on the performance front. Still, on my first two or three outings with the camera, I found that battery life on the DP2 Quattro is definitely better than it was on the DP1 Merrill that I reviewed last year. In six different shoots with the DP2 Quattro, I’ve had to change batteries three times, but that’s typically after a couple of hours of fairly steady shooting and reviewing the LCD. Nearly all other contemporary cameras do better than this, but I would feel perfectly comfortable carrying just one spare battery for the DP2 Quattro on any photo outing I’d be likely to take. If you often take a lot of pictures without ready access to an AC outlet, you might feel differently.

The Sigma DP2 Quattro also focuses faster than its predecessors. Although it’s still certainly no autofocus champ, I haven’t missed a shot with it because of slow focus, even in the street shooting I’ve done. This has included the punk rock fans mentioned in Part 1 of this report as well as tourists in Central Park, families walking along Broadway, and folks getting their evening exercise in East River Park. In all cases, the DP2 Quattro has locked on to my subjects with acceptable speed and sureness — it’s not lightning fast, but it’s adequate.

1/60s / f/4.0 / ISO 100 (converted using SPP v6.0.6)
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Improved overall focus speed. Adequately fast autofocus let me capture this selfie-in-the-making at Strawberry Fields in Central Park. Note, however, the strange highlight artifacts on the blond girl's arm.

In some other ways, there’s still need for improvement. Shot-to-shot time on the DP2 Quattro lags a little bit, and if you’re very quick to press the shutter for the next shot, sometimes it won’t fire. To be fair, I never experienced this in real-world shooting; only when testing.

More annoying to me, there’s also a long lag while the Sigma DP2 Quattro saves an image to the SD card. You can shoot another picture while it writes — the buffer holds a decent 7 frames — and you can operate most of the camera’s shooting controls during this time, but you can’t review the image you just shot. I ran into this constantly in my tripod shooting, such as in Brooklyn Bridge Park, when I wanted to check the histogram in order to really fine tune my exposures. It’s more of an irritation than a real problem that could cost me a picture, but it’s a fairly constant irritation.

1/125s / f/5.6 / ISO 100 (converted using SPP v6.0.6)
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Decent autofocus and shutter response helped me catch this youngster's first, very scary encounter with bag pipes near 72nd St. in NYC.

Lens

A 30mm (45mm equivalent in full-frame 35mm terms) f/2.8 lens seems pretty plain vanilla at first glance, but it’s a focal length I find very useful. In fact, I own a Sigma 30mm f/2.8 interchangeable lens for my Sony NEX-7, and I was interested to see how this built-in unit in the DP2 Quattro compares.

Well, it’s really impressive — among the best lenses I’ve used (and better than my interchangeable E-mount version, which is no slouch in its own right). The shot of the Domino Sugar Factory (see Part 1) shows a good example of the superb edge-to-edge sharpness of the DP2 Quattro’s lens, along with its low geometric distortion, as does another image I took in Central Park, which I’ll talk about a bit more below.

On that same Central Park walk, I got a chance to test the bokeh of the DP2 Quattro’s lens with a shot of some bees on pink flowers. I set the lens for f/4, and that plus the short focus distance produced a very blurry background. I find the bokeh quite pleasing in this shot. Another example can be seen in the picture of the white dog in Part 1. There is some green fringing in the out-of-focus background of that shot, but this is a small complaint.

1/320s / f/4.0 / ISO 100 (converted using SPP v6.0.6)
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Bees and bokeh. Fairly smooth bokeh behind bees at work near The Lake in Central Park. Converted in Sigma Photo Pro 6.0.6 using "vivid" color mode.

Software

As of this writing, there’s little or no support for Sigma DP2 Quattro raw files from third-party software makers like Adobe or Phase One. That means that if you want top-notch images from this camera, you’ll soon find yourself converting raw files with Sigma’s own Photo Pro software (SPP), which is a free download. (See elsewhere in this review, as well as this separate article, for a rundown of some issues we had with earlier versions of SPP, as well as in-camera JPEGs.)

The good news is that with SPP 6.0.6 it’s possible to consistently get very sharp, technically excellent images from DP2 Quattro raw files. Like its predecessors from Sigma, the program includes a wide range of advanced image processing controls. (In contrast, many other free raw converters from camera manufacturers are fairly rudimentary.)

1/80s / f/3.5 / ISO 200 (converted using SPP v6.0.6)
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There's nothing you can't buy in NYC. ISO 200 image quality and bokeh at f/ 3.5 in DUMBO, Brooklyn, NYC.

The bad news is that getting those quality results is a real pain. Sigma Photo Pro is very slow on my fairly well-specified quad-core Mac, which runs other advanced raw converters fast and well. By all accounts, SPP is not much better on even the hottest machines. It’s really too slow to work interactively at high resolution — when you move an adjustment slider, it can take 10-20 seconds or even longer before you can see the result in the image.

If you’re willing to patch together a somewhat kludgey workflow, you can minimize your use of SPP — saving it only for creating good base images of your very best shots, for example. But we shouldn’t have to do that. You need Sigma Photo Pro to get the super high quality images the DP2 Quattro can produce. As such, Sigma should approach its development with a rigor and dedication similar to what they bring to the camera’s lens and its sensor.

Images

For me, one of the pleasures of reviewing Sigma Foveon cameras is the chance to play a fun, if not necessarily very useful, game. Let’s call it the Foveon Detail Dive, wherein the besotted photographer blows an image up to 100% on screen and scrolls around gazing goofily at all the fascinating details thus revealed. Yes, you can play this game with super high resolution images from non-Foveon cameras, too, but somehow it’s not as fun, at least for me.

I’ve enjoyed this game on one image that I took of the Bethesda Fountain area of Central Park. Along with the Domino Sugar Factory picture and the night shot of the Brooklyn Bridge, it’s a great example of the really crisp, fine edge-to-edge detail that the Sigma DP2 Quattro can capture. This crisp detail is the defining characteristic of Sigma Foveon images, of course, and if you shoot the kinds of things that benefit from it, the DP2 Quattro is hard to match for anywhere near its price.

1/160s / f/5.6 / ISO 100 (converted using SPP v6.0.6)
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1/125s / f/5.6 / ISO 100 (converted using SPP v6.0.6)
Deep diving with the dp2Q. What does the Foveon Detail Dive reveal? Two brides, a lost Venetian, a missing poet, a multitude of smartphoneographers, a puzzlingly placed (American) football, and much else.

A bigger surprise for me is how well the DP2 Quattro does at higher ISO settings — something I didn’t see until I re-processed one ISO 1600 images with SPP 6.0.6. It’s a shot I made on my way home from the Brooklyn Bridge, inside a subway station, and I think it would look fine printed at 8 x 10 inches or perhaps even a bit bigger. It warrants more testing, but ISO 1600 images that can reliably be enlarged to medium sizes would be a modest breakthrough for Sigma Foveon cameras. [Editor's note: When we actually printed ISO 1600 SPP 6.0.6 conversions at 8 x 10 inches, we found they weren't bad, but they did not quite meet our "good" standard for print quality.]

On the minus side, I did notice occasional strange effects in image areas where highlights transition to blown out white, and SPP 6.0.6 doesn’t appear to handle this any better than previous versions of the software. If I owned this camera, I’d be very careful about exposing highlights.

1/50s / f/5.6 / ISO 1600 (converted using SPP v6.0.6)
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Wrapping it up

All in all, I found the Sigma DP2 Quattro to be a lot more usable than its DP-series predecessors, even with its unique shape and design. Though no speed demon, it’s performance is acceptable. I’m also impressed with the camera’s high ISO improvements, and I’d feel comfortable shooting it up to ISO 1600 in many situations.

In day-to-day use, the one big drawback that still remains is software — Sigma Photo Pro is, of necessity, a core part of the DP2 Quattro ecosystem, and it’s unfortunately still a pain to use.

[To see more of Eamon's gallery shots with the Sigma dp2 Quattro click here!]

 



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