Foveon reinvented: Radically-styled Sigma dp-series large-sensor compacts get equally radical full-color sensor


posted Monday, February 10, 2014 at 3:00 AM EDT


It's been almost eight years since Sigma announced development of its first compact digital camera, the Foveon sensor-shod Sigma DP1 -- a radical camera which spawned the large-sensor, fixed-lens compact category. Today, the company has completely reinvented not just its dp-series line, but the Foveon technology inside it, revealing the Sigma dp2 Quattro compact, as well as its siblings the Sigma dp1 Quattro and dp3 Quattro (for which slightly less info is available). Each features radical styling, an equally radical sensor that almost defies categorization, and a new lower-case only model number. The trio will have Foveon fans talking, without question.

With the Sigma Quattro cameras, the company uses a brand-new image sensor that's fundamentally different to those of its forebears. It's still a Foveon chip, and in fact still carries X3 branding, but the Foveon X3 Quattro image sensor is a huge departure from the sensors which have preceded it. The chip looks to have been designed with an eye to correcting some of its predecessor's deficiencies, namely in terms of performance and sensitivity / noise.


Where previously there was full-color recording with stacked photodiodes at every pixel location, the X3 Quattro sensor now has variant resolution on each photodiode layer. The topmost layer has an effective 19.6 million photodiodes. Both layers beneath have just 4.9 million photodiodes, however. That brings up the potential for color moiré and false color artifacts, the very thing Foveon sensors have until now managed to avoid.

But the new design also means a vast decrease in the amount of data that must be read out after every exposure, and larger photodiodes for the bottom two layers, something that could help reduce noise. Luminance resolution hopefully won't be affected too strongly, given that much can be ascertained from the uppermost layer, although we wait with interest to get the camera in our lab and test this out.


Without question, though, these are among the most unusual and unexpected announcements so far this year. It might be a niche player, but Sigma's latest entries will be the talk of CP+. Read our Sigma dp2 Quattro preview for the full story, including an in-depth look at the new sensor. You'll also find separate previews for the Sigma dp1 Quattro and Sigma dp3 Quattro, but each model differs only in size, weight, and choice of lens. (And slightly less info is currently available for the latter two models, so you'll get the most detail in our dp2 preview.

Pricing and availability for the trio hadn't been disclosed at press time.